“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” – Jim Bouton, Ball four, 1970
You are two or three years-old and you pick up your first baseball. You grip this white ball with 108 red stitches up with your whole hand. It fills every crevice of your hand. You thumb can barely wrap around the sphere. You step and throw and the ball ends up somewhere.
For some, the lucky ones, that is all it takes. A love affair has begun and the ball already has a grip on your soul.
You get a little older and your hands get a little bigger and you switch to three fingers and your thumb to grip the ball and more often than not – the ball goes closer to your intended target.
With the urging of your big brother, mother, or father you eventually succeed to the pinnacle of baseball throwing by just placing your ring finger and your middle finger across the seams and your thumb underneath the ball.
The ball spins off your fingertips and backspins towards its target.
You move up the ladder of baseball hierarchy and you learn how to grip a curveball across the seams. You learn how to hold a circle changeup. You learn unsuccessfully at first of how cut, run or slide a baseball. You fiddle around with your buddies about how to throw a knuckleball without looking like a shot-putter. By this time, you are in the grips of a baseball and the baseball will never let go.
Holding a baseball in your hand and manipulating the grips while you spin the ball in your palm is a symbolic love affair. You think you are gripping the ball but the ball is gripping you.
Every player goes through times when the grip of a baseball feels so natural and times when the grip of a baseball feels so awkward and you feel that you can never throw the ball where you want to.
The baseball isn’t always nice and sometimes does have a mind of its own.
You spit on it, rub dirt to turn the white into a shade of brown. You fiddle and pinch the seams.
But the baseball and your grip is uniquely your own. And the grip that the baseball has on you is uniquely yours forever.
You see pitchers constantly fiddling with grips while they are in the dugout. Forever searching for that level of comfort. Forever searching – rarely finding – but never giving up.
Jim Bouton the famed pitcher turned knuckleballer who wrote what many consider one the most original and insightful baseball books of all time Ball Four wrote the line at the top of this post. He spent the majority of his career throwing a firm fastball that faded through the years and eventually to stay in the game became a knuckleballer. The game had such a grip on him where he would try anything to stay in the game.
I hope all of you get gripped by the baseball. It is a wonderful way to spend your life.