The night before all-star shortstop Henry Skrimshander’s big game, he cannot sleep, and finds himself walking out in his sweats to the dark-lit ball field. He is about to play before his childhood hero–the major league great Aparicio Rodriguez, who wrote the book upon which Skrimshander’s life philosophy is based, The Art of Fielding. Aparicio’s unparalleled skills on the field were instructed by a natural mythology of the baseball, of the fielder’s relationship to the baseball–and his love for the game created standards by which to live. Taking those laws into his heart, Skrimshander became the next best ball player in college history, just before everything fell apart. Still, having tied Aparicio’s college record for error-less innings played on the field–the laws of perfection will literally be watching him from behind the dugout. The laws of Aparicio’s Art are laws of letting go, and thus, Henry finds himself trying…not to try.
He sat down on the damp sandy dirt between second and third, the spot where he’d spent so many hundreds of hours, and pulled The Art from his windbreaker pocket. The worn spine flopped open to a favorite page.
99. To reach a ball he has never reached before, to extend himself to the very limits of his range, and then a step farther: this is the shortstop’s dream.
He flipped again.
121. The shortstop has worked so hard for so long that he no longer thinks. Nor does he act. By this I mean that he does not generate action. He only reacts, the way a mirror reacts when you wave your hand before it.
He wasn’t in a box he could think himself out of. Nor was he in a box he could relax his way out of, no matter how many times Coach Cox or Schwartzy or Owen or Rick or Starblind or Izzy or Sophie told him to relax, stop thinking, be himself, be the ball, don’t try too hard. You could try so hard not to try too hard before you were right back around to trying too hard. And trying hard, as everyone told him, was wrong, all wrong.
During grade-school winters back in Lankton, his sister and Scott Hinterberg would run ahead yanking open the mailboxes that lined the streets, and Henry would trail behind to peg snowballs into the mailboxes’ waiting mouths, never missing, never, unless there was mail inside waiting to be sent, in which case he would knock down the little red flag with his snowball, then politely run over and lift it again. How did he make those throws? It seemed amazing now. A kid in a puffy coat that hindered his movement, his fingers numb and raw from packing snow, perfect every time.
…React, the way a mirror reacts.
He climbed to his feet, dusted the damp sandy dirt from the butt of his pants. He turned to the book’s penultimate paragraph. Clouds engulfed the low-hanging moon, so that he could barely see the words at all, but it didn’t matter.
212. It always saddens me to leave the field. Even fielding the final out to win the World Series, deep in the truest part of me, felt like death.