Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's a Pitcher's Game and my Bullpen's Thin

Thank goodness for Major League Baseball. Without the combined efforts of a gaggle of umpires, mangers, and team mascots focused on discovering why gifted players are requiring increasing amounts of time to deliver a finished game, I might have gone on thinking that I'm incompetent.

I now know that my situation really isn’t any different from the one perpetually plaguing the New York Yankees: I have pitching trouble.

Although the cause wasn’t clear to me at the time, I knew something was wrong when I turned into the school pick up line one day last week and realized that “What did you do today, Mom?” has officially replaced “What’s for dinner” as the Mid-Afternoon Cringer.

With my daughter’s recent interest in the culinary arts, no one in our house is really worried about going hungry these days—we have hot, tasty food popping out of the oven at all hours. What’s really got me wringing my hands is the fact that every day at 3:15 my son asks me what I’ve done all day and I end up looking like a Little Leaguer gaping at birds in left field. Now, I’m certain I’ve been busy—ever since I finally ditched Chaucer, I’ve adopted an impressive range of projects, plans, and pointless diversions—problem is, I have little to show for the four weeks I’ve supposedly been working on this stuff.

Still, I face my son’s daily query in true journalistic form, working my best material into my lead. “I was on my bike this morning,” I invariably say, highlighting the singular pursuit in which I’ve managed to make any kind of visible progress. I’ve been biking the boardwalk for a solid hour every morning, even stopping periodically to execute various crunches and dips on the seawall. And it’s working, too. I'm looking less and less like a graduate student every day.

Mmmmm. My son nods encouragingly at my report, but he’s clearly expecting more. I shift nervously in my seat. What did I do? What did I do? Is that a wren over there?

As it turns out, this sluggish, unproductive response is consistent with what the MLB task force has identified as the end result of a game lacking disciplined pitching. Valuable time is lost by pitchers who dawdle between throws or require frequent mound visits from plodding coaches. It doesn’t matter who you’ve got on the field: if your pitching is off, your game’s gonna drag. In the words of Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, it’s all about having a pitching staff that's trained "to work quickly so they establish a rhythm and keep fielders from getting too spacey.”

Well, that clears things up. No wonder I’m striking out. Life was so much easier when I had professors and editors tossing out metaphoric pitches in the form of due dates and deadlines. I am bereft of both this summer, what with not being enrolled in classes and the newspaper on the blink (I anticipate any day the news that they’ve parted out all their assignments to a fifth grade creative writing class in exchange for some free pens and a classroom subscription).

Regular readers may recall that over spring break I contemplated dropping out of my Masters program. When I returned to school to discover that my scholarship had some fine print indicating that my funding would expire if I didn't abandon the “slow and steady” plan I’d hatched with my advisor in favor of an accelerated track, I figured game over.

I got more of a seventh inning stretch, instead. My quick-thinking advisor managed to waive a bunch of prerequisites and set up a couple directed studies. At the end of the semester, she sent me home with some books, the names of a couple tests I’m supposed to take and instructions to email her every now and then, in lieu of the intense, summer-long marathon of coursework perscribed in the normal program. As far as traditional schooling, I'm pretty much done until the fall. I was pleased with the innovative plan, although all I initially gleaned was the part about not showing up for four months.

So, I'm pretty much expected to self-regulate, which, in baseball terms makes me a one-girl team. It's no wonder, then, that I'm a month in and riddled with guilt over my lack of accomplishments. Here I was, figuring I’m a lazy embarrassment to society who happens to bike on the beach every day, when I find out that my game’s just stalled because I've got no relief pitching.

With no one but me to keep things rolling, I’ve gone spacey. And as comforting as it is to know that my problems are in the same league as those of the Bronx Bombers, it's clear that I'm choking on the mound. Someone really needs to call the bullpen soon.

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