Clearing The Mechanism and Acting Like A Human

Working late while the Toronto Blue Jays play the Indians in the American League Championship Series all I can think about is staying up as a teen and listening to the World Series when the Blue Jays played the Atlanta Braves.

I can remember sitting up in the dark with my headphones on to hear third baseman (and Canadian hero) Ed Sprague drill a home run over the wall at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Damn it’s unreal to listen to baseball on the radio.  I listened to a lot of that series and I remember how exciting it was to hear the Jays when that one.

Interestingly enough, I was at Mountain Lake, Virginia (where much of Dirty Dancing was filmed) when the deciding game of the World Series was played – I had just attended a Virginia Tech football game.

The VT game that saw the #1 Miami Hurricanes come to Blacksburg led by Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta at QB and a wealth of offensive talent around him.

Little did I know there was a star on that Miami team by the name of Dwayne Johnson.

Queue the “Rock Eyebrow.”

That day the Hokies were dismantled by a team destined for a National Championship shot against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Led by Gene Stallings, the #2 Crimson Tide would take the ‘Canes apart 34-13 to complete a perfect 12-0 season and claim the title of NCAA champs.

However, on that October night in Virginia, I was the only Blue Jays fan in the small room where people had gathered to watch the game.

I was ushered off to my room before the Blue Jays could clinch the World Series for fear that I would take too much abuse.  As a young man I was very passionate about my sports.

I was ready to fight over who was the better team.  You and I both know the Jays were – that World Series trophy says it all.

Okay.

I wouldn’t have fought I wasn’t that kind of kid.

The following year I watched Joltin’ Joe Carter destroy a Mitch Williams pitch to give the Jays back-to-back championships.

I remember that World Series moment very well.

Former Jays’ announcer Tom Cheek, who died in 2005 of cancer, said “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Joe Carter never did hit a bigger home run in his life, the Jays are still waiting to clinch another World Series and Cheek passed away before being given the highest honor an announcer can receive – the Ford C. Frick Award.  Cheeck was named the receipent of the honor given annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for contributions to the game in 2013, eight years after he passed away from the cancer that would not leave his body.

Jays fans will never forget his voice not only for that famous call but for other calls throughout his 4,306 regular season broadcasts.

Maybe I’m old school but there’s something about the sound of listening to a baseball game in October.

When I was willing the Jays on to victory in Atlanta, I could sense the ebb and flow of the game but I bet it was nothing like what the players went through on those World Series nights.

I don’t remember much about what it was like to stand in the batters box although I can remember begging that no one hit a fly ball to centerfield when I was a kid. I wanted nothing to do with playing the outfield and I was fairly certain that the coach knew it.

I wonder when a Jays hitter steps up in the Rogers Centre and hears the roar of the crowd whether he must feel some sort of pressure – something I would call external pressure.  He, of course, must put pressure on himself to do well so he has the internal pressure to do well.  With those two coming together he has to find a way to deal with them.

If you have ever stepped foot on the Rogers Centre turf – or Astroturf – and stared up at the Dome and the hotel rooms that look down on the field you can feel tiny.  Everything around you looks immense.  The banners wave in the breeze, motors hum, and every so often there is a banging of something off in the distance.  All of this is just when there is no one in the stands other than the tour group.

I can’t imagine trying to clear out all the sounds of the crowd from behind the plate as a batter or anywhere else.  Standing in the box staring out at the pitcher throwing a 92+ mile per hour fastball trying to hit while thousands of fans scream must be a challenge.  However, you probably have to be in touch with all of your senses.  I imagine you block out something.

When I played in the one real hockey game, I can’t remember hearing anything.  If someone yelled I would have no idea.  I was so focused on trying not to fall or at least trying to get up.  I imagine as a player it has to be the same way – hyper-focused on the task at hand.

If you have ever watched For Love Of The Game, fictional Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) talks about “clearing the mechanism.”  He blocks out the crowd noise and turns pitching into a game of toss between himself and his catcher, Gus. Baseball becomes a simplistic ritual so that he can deal with the internal and external pressure.

As fans, we think because we pay our money we can yell and scream at the players.  In some respects that is true but there are lines which we cannot cross and we should not cross.  These players are still human and we need to treat them like humans.  Paying money to attend a game doesn’t change that.

Toronto unfortunately, has gotten a few black eyes for the fans that have sullied their name.  Paying for tickets and being a fan doesn’t mean that we can throw things at players or jump in the field with them.  We can’t forget that they must be treated with respect and just because they can “clear the mechanism” doesn’t change their humanity.  Certainly we wouldn’t want someone throwing things at us when we are playing sports.  Changing how we look at sports also means changing how we act at sports – it starts with acting like humans.

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