Finding that sweet spot isn’t easy, Sam Magee writes, but it sure helps.
I was up next. In the dugout, other male faculty members were at the ready, waiting to swing the bat with a practiced mix of ease, accuracy, and machismo. Just having a little fun with the students, no big deal, nothing much was at stake. That last part, of course, is always a lie.
Knocking dirt from my cleats with the end of my bat, a move I’d seen somewhere, I stepped to the plate. It was an annual tradition, faculty versus students, one of many rituals at this all-boys junior prep school in a small New England town, a place where the boys, groomed in a manner that assumes future positions of power in the world, are trained in sports, academics, and how to become a man.
I had painstakingly, with patience and cigars, established my credentials, over a period of five years, as one of the alpha-male teachers (or so I hoped), all of whom were now exhibiting laser-like focus toward every baseball move: fit, athletic, aloof. We needed a hit.
My son was watching from the bleachers, a shy kindergartner barely able to tie his own sneakers, yet there he was, suddenly shouting, twice, with gusto: “Hit it like you mean it, Dad! HIT IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT!”
My kid, over there on the third baseline, was telling me to man-up.
His shout reached me in a way not much did at that time, during those months in which his mother and I divorced, preoccupied as I was with trying not to feel anything. I was spinning from the loss of my identity as a nuclear family man, a position I’d adopted too young with a blind kind of zealotry. I was that guy set on a second child, off buying a family SUV, too caught up in the trappings, the image of a happy marriage, to tune in before mine was ending. But back then, I couldn’t tell you much. Only thing I could tell you for sure is that I needed to hit that ball.
Go for it, I thought, catch that sweet spot. Make it happen.
With a cocky grin, the pitcher, an adolescent muttering cryptic challenges, released an underhand ball. I watched it approach in slow motion, a high lob that I’m sure, at its apex, blocked out the sun before descending toward my bat. This was it. Time to show my boy how it’s done.
It happened. I hit it out of the park. The bat engineering, the ball dynamics, the twist from the ankles through the shoulders to the wrists, all lined up. With a ping, the ball streaked through the air and thumped to the soft grass on the far hill. In the history of softball, no homerun has ever measured up to that one, not because it was the ultimate performance, but because it was needed most. It allowed me a brief, simple, victorious return to a world in which I was golden, a hero to my son, accepted again as an upstanding member of the campus tribe. It was only a moment, but it did the trick. It gave me faith I’d find that sweet spot again.
There are things I know now, from the sanctuary of a sound marriage, one for which I am present, that I wasn’t capable of letting myself see back in those years. For one, I know life is not simply an alpha performance, that while it requires you to act, to play roles in the world, none of those successes matter if you never learn to stop. I know it matters that you keep trying, that good things do come if you keep at it, hit it like you mean it, even when you’re lost. And I know the sweet spot, the place where you are successful and loved, isn’t something you’ll find by hitting a homerun.
But it doesn’t hurt.
—Photo Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr