Archive for November 2009
I thought I was back; I thought I had recovered from all that happened Thanksgiving morning 2007. By the end of last winter, I was routinely experiencing strong half-hour treadmill runs at the gym, and was throwing in frequent turns on the elliptical machine . My Achilles felt flexible and as strong as it had since I hurt it 18 months previous.
Then I went for a 3-mile run outside.
It was 2 weeks before the same 5K race that ended my comeback the year before. I figured I would rip off a few outdoor 3-milers to prepare myself. The day after my first training run, my ankle and foot were so sore that I could barely walk. I figured that was because the rigors of road running are far greater than those of treadmill running; for one, there’s a great deal more pounding. I thought if I rested a few days and just stuck to the elliptical, the pain would work itself out. So I did, and for the most part the pain subsided.
I went out the next week, and it happened again. The next day, my ankle was a rusty hinge, like I could hear it grate when I walked or when I rotated my foot. It was hard to walk the next 2 days. I could walk 5 days later, though, when the race came around, which to me meant that I could run. So I did.
The next day, forget it. I couldn’t move my foot. It stayed like that for 3 days. I thought I was finished running. Forever. There’s no way I could run if every time I did I had to spend 3 days or more recovering. Hell, if I had to spend three days barely being able to walk, I would never be able to mold myself into any kind of running shape.
The only solution was to go back to the doctor. Both he and the physical therapist shook their fingers and heads at me throughout the summer. They fit me for two pairs of orthotics; one for my everyday shoes, and one for my running shoes. Oddly, Julie (the physical therapist) found that when she pulled my heel and extended it outward from my ankle, I was experiencing pain. Lots of pain. Like there was some kind of twisted blade inside my ankle that was slicing in any which direction, slashing and scarring whatever it could. It made no sense… how often is your heel pulled away from you when you run ? I thought for sure I was having an “impact” injury from striking the pavement. But what do I know? I’m the guy who ran myself into the same injury 3 times in the past two years.
In between going to the doctor and the arrival of the “foot levelers,” I was in therapy twice a week. Julie again twisted, turned, pushed, and pulled my ankle as she had done a year before. She heated it up, iced it, and showed me ways to strengthen it. She coaxed it with electrical impulses, and massaged it until it was so loose that it felt like my foot might float away from my body. Whatever she was doing about the odd heel pain seemed to work intermittently. I had my doubts with the whole process, and grew frustrated.
Once the orthotics arrived, they were difficult to get used to. It felt like I was cramming my feet into my shoes every time I slid them on. The first week I had them, my feet were so sore and swollen after 2 or 3 hours that I couldn’t bear to wear shoes. If I had them on all day or did a lot of walking around, my feet were as sore as my ankle had ever been. But, the orthotics slowly loosened up a bit (actually, my shoes stretched in the right ways to accomodate the inserts and my foot, in addition to any sockage I was sporting). Once I adjusted, I could almost feel the inserts healing my Achilles. It seemed that some nights my tendon felt noticably stronger, and all I would have done was wear my shoes and go through my daily routine.
I was out of PT by the middle of August. At the end of September, I visited the doctor for a follow-up. He cleared me to run, but only if I started at 10 minutes maximum on the treadmill and worked up no more than 5 minutes per week. If I wanted to run outside, it was no more than 1 mile, and I would have to work myself up at the same increments. It was a maddeningly slow process. I wanted to strip my gears, to get out and run run run. But I had to remember that I am mortal, and that for two years I have been laid low by an injury that resulted from carelessness in the first place. I ultimately realized that it wasn’t a matter of condition myself physically, but also emotionally. I was going to have to adjust my head if I wanted to run, and that adjustment demanded every bit as much discipline as the physical conditioning.
Today, right now, I consider the process well under way. It may never be complete, but I’ve made enough positive strides in the past few weeks to know that I’m Back. Twelve hours ago, I ran the First Annual 5K Turkey Stampede in Elkhart, Indiana. It wasn’t the race I wanted; I wanted the one in Gurnee where I flirted with mortality two years ago and got burned. I wanted to balance the scales on the same course; it seemed like it would be perfect justice. But my family plans changed, and I found myself heading back to my hometown. On the way, I found a chance to run. So I did.
It was a beautiful morning for a race, everything an old cross country runner dreams of: wet, cold, and windy. It’s the same kind of stuff that helped forge an iron will 23 years ago. Part of the course ran along a river, and I noticed numerous large puddles of water throughout the course as I made my way to the park where I was to register. I was salivating by the time I made my way to the start line, and after several minutes of waiting, I snapped to the woman standing next to me, “Is there really going to be a race this morning, or are we just gonna stand here and get our asses rained on?”
The horn sounded, and we were off. I settled into my familiar place in the back of the pack, and worked on my breathing. My Achilles felt strong, though my calves were a little weak and crampy. They have been for the past few weeks, ever since I worked myself back up to running 3 miles outdoors. I focused on one thought: Run my race. I wasn’t going to focus on anything but breathing and finishing, position be damned. I thought it was the perfect plan, and it worked perfectly up until the final quarter mile. I was feeling strong, and could see 15 people between me and the finish line. I knew I could smoke at least twelve of them, and as soon as I realized that, a familiar thought flashed through my mind with the speed of a synapse firing: once a cross country runner, always a cross country runner. I envisioned myself flipping on a long-unused afterburner that would enable me sprint through to the end, upping my standing in the race and reducing my time.
Instead, I maintained pace and coasted across the finish line in a little over 29 minutes. I’ve been happy with that all day long, and that’s because of another thought that streaked through my brain as quickly as the cross country truism had. Perhaps it was another truism, perhaps a reminder of past wisdom; perhaps it was an epiphany born from the adrenaline and meditative state that results from the steady breathing and repetitive physical motion of running. Whatever it was, it’s something I will cling to as I continue my running rehabilitation: There is a force that pulls us to normalcy; it steers us to what we cherish the most. It has pulled me back to running; to be able to run, which I know as normal for some of my teenage years and most of my adult life. But this normalcy is at its truest only in brief moments that can pass so quickly that they may have almost never happened. Other times, that normalcy can be snatched away in an instant of carelessness or unwarranted bravado. It wasn’t worth risking losing that normalcy for another two years.
So I coasted.
I started compiling these notes once Johnny Damon found third base empty and stole it, too, after stealing second base in the top of the ninth inning of Game 4 Sunday night. It came to me then in a sad rush of reversed denial that the Yankees are too good to beat. They aren’t dominant necessarily, but are too good in too many ways for Philadelphia to defeat. The damned Evil Empire has done it again, they way they usually do– by springing loads of cash for the best of the best, and letting the dominant players do the heavy lifting. They have turned artistry into industry, and the game is worse off for having such an overpowering force.
It’s just as well that baseball has ended. The game commanded a lot of my attention for the past month; it has kept me up far too late on far too many school nights, and occupied 80% of my writing time and energy. It’s time to put it all to bed and steel myself for the cold, dark winter. At least I have 3 more months of football to occupy my mind (my prediction? Colts over the Vikings in the Super Bowl).
It’s good to see a Japanese player win the World Series MVP, though Hideki Matsui’s selection is dubious in light of him being a designated hitter, and in comparison to Derek Jeter’s overall consistency. Matsui clobbered the ball at a .615 clip, but Jeter hit .407 in more than twice the at-bats (27, compared to Matsui’s 13). Jeter also had 3 more hits than Matsui, and scored 5 runs to Matsui’s 3. Matsui’s home runs and runs batted in tower over Jeter’s numbers, though (3 and 8, compared to 0 and 1). It doesn’t help that Jeter hits lead off. There has been only 1 leadoff hitter to win World Series MVP in who knows how long (maybe ever?), and that was David Eckstein in 2006. The decision stands nonetheless, and I can live with it becasue it also serves as a benchmark regarding the international scope of the game.
General Managers around the league should pay attention to how important it is to Japanese players. Four of the last five World Series Champions have had a Japanese player on their roster. It seems that they tend to be hot commodities because of their consistently excellent play. It helps that there are so few of them, and we only really see the most excellent players of out Japan. It makes me wonder how Sadaharu Oh would have done had he come across the Pacific. He totally kicks ass in NES Baseball Stars, though the Japanese Robins typically lift him late in the game for speed and defense.
MLB needs to address the issue about the playoffs running too long. It took 4 full weeks to get through everything, and I can’t help but think that at least 5 days could have been cut from all of that. I saw this happening a few years ago when the NBA tried to stretch the first round of the playoffs out over an ungodly amount of time. Unfortunately, that causes the playoffs to drag. It kills excitement and anticipation, and allows teams to rest up and recharge in ways that they can’t during the regular season.
In the case of this World Series, all that rest could have enabled the Yankees to pitch their premier horse 3 times if it had gone to 7 games. That’s unconscionable– it’s like MLB is slanting the playoffs in favor of their their largest television market. I hope that’s not the case, because I hate to see my beloved baseball floating in a toilet bowl of money. That’s what killed the NBA around the late 1990s in my eyes– it became impossible for a small market team to win a championship. That isn’t the case in the NFL, where it seems to happen pretty frequently. There have been a number of small market teams to win the World Series this decade (Arizona, Florida, St. Louis), and I hope that trend continues. I think a salary cap could help this situation, too. It would help maintain a competitive balance, and could possibly help resuscitate franchises like Kansas City and Pittsburgh, both of whom have been floundering for far too long.
Ryan Howard isn’t the only one who has been swinging and missing the past few weeks (3 for 23 in the World Series; he whiffed 13 times). It seems I can’t get my bat around fast enough, or make solid contact when I do. Last Friday night was a perfect example of this. I was at a club where a friend was celebrating her birthday; there was a band playing that she wanted to see.
I met several women, two of whom asked my friend about me. One is early in a relationship, the other doesn’t seem my type. There was a third one with whom I made a real solid connection. She not only looked like my ex-girlfriend from 2006, but had the same name. I was picking up some greenlight vibes, thinking it’s a cinch that we’ll talk or get together some time. It turns out she’s dating someone.
This is how I know I’m slumping. And this isn’t even the killer part of this story.
Halfway through the evening, I was heading back to the dance floor from the bathroom, and ran right into my ex-girlfriend from last year. The one I called recently. The one who didn’t want to go to the corn maze because she’s starting to date someone. The one I was referring to on Day 19 when I said the corn maze denial wouldn’t be the last time we talk (it turns out that is the only prediction I’ve been right about throughout this serial). She was there with a bunch of friends, same as me. The guy she’s starting to date was there; I thought it wise to slink away before I ended up meeting him. So I slinked, but not before I twice noticed some peculiar eye contact she was giving me.
That won’t be the last time I see her.
I know I’m a streaky hitter. I can hit for a high average when I’m on (I went 9 for 19 vs. Matt’s pitching at one point during the final day of my quest in 2006). When that happens, it’s like I’m pulling the ball to my bat, and I can hit everything at my whim. And slumps disappear, if sometimes slowly. It’s important to focus on your stance, how you’re holding the bat, watching the ball from the pitcher’s hand, and watching it as you make contact with the barrel of the bat. More than anything, you have to keep swinging.
You have to keep swinging.
This serial took on a greater life than I ever imagined it would. Such is life, and such should be the life you father. It was full of the unexpected, which I didn’t really think about as I started this. As a writer, thought, nothing but good can happen when you have to deal with the unexpected. It stretches your mind and your ability, and after that mutation, you’ll never return to being the writer you were, even if that mutation is to the tiniest degree.
I had planned on this being a nostalgic “I told you so” trip to a championship for St. Louis in the World Series, something that would return me to a time 3 years ago when I wasn’t necessarily happy, but unexpectedly found joy and meaning through what I would usually use as a distraction to life’s worries. But I don’t have the power to say what something is going to be in the future, especially when everything hinges upon how the 108 stitches on a baseball spin, if and where that ball makes contact with a piece of polished pine, and what direction it bounces after it impacts sod or soil. I only have the power to respond to what is set in motion by the actions of others, and to make sense of it within its own context and the context of my universe. That has proven to be more than enough for me, and I hope I have proven myself worthy to the task. If nothing else, I have found a reason to write (and I have never produced so much new material over a 5-week span in my life).
But I think, too, that I’ve fully realized why baseball resonates so strongly in my life. I see so many parallels between the two. Both are fluid entities wherein several elements flow and intermingle: power, finesse, speed, defense, reaction, endurance, strategy, and the ability to recover from defeat. Both are in a constant state of delicate balance, and without any particular element, the flow is unpredictable.
Joe Girardi was banking on CC Sabathia being able to pitch effectively on 3 days rest going into Game 4 last night. It’s a significant gamble, especially since the Phillies have beaten Sabathia both times they faced him in the playoffs the past two years. They seem to have him figured out, at least as much as a horse like Sabathia can be figured out. They know to work him late into the count, be patient, make him prove his control.
It seems, though, that Girardi had the perfect countermeasure for what he knew the Phillies were going to do. He must have told his boys to be aggressive– Derek Jeter hit the 2nd pitch of the game for a single, and then Johnny Damon hit the fifth one to put Phillie in trouble before there was even one out. The objective was to get out to an early lead, which the Yankees did. They were up 2-0 before the Phillies even dug in. Getting out to the early lead would hopefully force the Phillies to press in their at-bats, to swing early and at bad pitches. All told in the first, Yankee batters faced 1 pitch twice, 2 pitches 3 times, and 3 pitches once.
This also points to how damn good the Yankees are– they can beat you by playing in any of a number of ways. I have to admire their flexibility.
Girardi’s approach worked. The Yankees never trailed, and were only tied for brief stretches during the top of the 5th and the 9th. They jumped all over Brad Lidge’s mistakes with 2 out in the top of the 9th, and that was the game. It’s not necessarily fair to say “Brad Lidge’s mistakes,” because it was actually Charlie Manual’s mistake to not pitch him at all thus far in the Series, until he needed him to hold a lead.
For about three seasons now, I’ve been paying attention to which players wear full socks, and which players wear their pants all the way down to their cleats. It piqued my curiousity at some point, though I can’t remember why. I’ve noticed that Alex Rodriguez in particular has been wearing full socks throughout the playoffs. It seems there are pros and cons in both directions. On one hand, wearing full socks at mid-calf or above can tip the pitcher off to the bottom of your strike zone, or at least get him close to it (the strike zone is from knees to shoulders, approximately). On the other hand, socks at or above mid-calf can keep your pants out of the way so they don’t get caught on a cleat or otherwise impede the motion of your foot as you run. I guess that would be important to speed guys like Juan Pierre. For some clarity on what the official league rule is regarding socks, I checked the rule book on MLB.com. I found no rules regarding socks.
Game 5 starts in 90 minutes. It’s not looking good for the Phillies. I think they can win tonight courtesy of Cliff Lee, but I doubt they can return to New York and win games 6 and 7.