Finding Meaning on the Pitcher’s Mound

Editor’s note: In a bit of a departure from our normal fare, Isaac Boloten has decided to share one of his own stories about how the game of baseball can affect our lives in unexpected ways.

I am as awkward as they come.

No matter the endeavour, I always bring a little bit of weirdness to the table. As the last man off the bench for my basketball team, my entrance into the game is often met by the watchful eyes of people wondering how hilariously I’ll screw up. Whenever I was given a chance to hit for my baseball team, every pitch I took was followed by giggles from my dugout regarding the unorthodox way I load up for my swing. If I was lucky enough to get on base, the mere thought of me attempting to slide gave everyone at the park a good chuckle.

If I had to characterize this persona, I’d say it resembles a cross between Hunter Pence and Joe Biagini, but with significantly less coordination and athletic ability. And I’ve embraced it.

Obviously if it were possible, I would rather be smooth, seamlessly outgoing, and have an idea of what to do with my hands in a photograph (seriously, if anyone knows, let me know). But I have accepted that this is who I am and I may as well make the best of the unorthodox gifts I’ve been given.

I’ve been able to come to terms with myself because there has always been one place where all of the weirdness is eliminated.

The pitcher’s mound.

When I’m on the mound, I live in an alternate reality where I can be taken completely seriously. I can live in a world in which I can slide into second base and take ball 3 without playful ridicule. The moments on the mound where I have had success have been some of the most exhilarating thrills of my life.

At some point last winter, that went away. I started to feel tightness in my shoulder during a bullpen session. I noticed my fastball was down a few ticks and I wasn’t getting quite the same pop I usually had. These things happen routinely as a pitcher. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two off and you’re right back to where you need to be. This had been the case for every other injury scare I had been through before.

By the time spring rolled around, the pain still hadn’t subsided, so I grew frustrated and decided it was probably time to go see a specialist. My original diagnosis was a shoulder impingement, a fairly common injury for a pitcher. This came as somewhat of a relief; the way doctors described the condition indicated that the recovery would be a breeze. “Impingement” was generally preceded by the word “only” or “just”. I “only” had to see the specialist once per week. I “just” had to do some strengthening exercises daily to build my endurance back up. These were light tasks, and I completed them diligently.

Diligence doesn’t come easily to a 17-year-old who specializes in procrastination, but when it came to something as important as getting back on the mound, the work seemed elementary. This is why I was so disheartened when the treatment was “complete,” and I still felt tremendous pain with every pitch. The specialist had nothing new for me. I was told to just keep going with the treatment, payments, and exercises for another month. This process was repeated until the entire season passed me by.

A whole year. Gone.

When I tried to throw again during fall ball, it was a challenge just to get the ball to the plate, let alone do it with any sort of precision. It was at this point I decided the status quo was unacceptable. I needed an MRI.

I received my results last week. As it turns out, I have a torn labrum and will be undergoing surgery in May.

The first thing I did upon hearing my diagnosis was run a Google search for “torn labrum baseball.” The results were a wide range of articles detailing how terrible the injury is, coming in hot with headlines like “the career-ender” and “the most feared injury in baseball”. These headlines are not without substance. The success rate on coming back from labral tears is extremely low in professional baseball. And that low rate deals with players who are in peak physical shape and whose incentive to come back is astronomically high. There are millions of dollars on the line, with families to support and livelihoods to tend to, not to mention professional rehab facilities.

For me, the stakes are not nearly as high. I have never come close to being able to make a career out of playing baseball. Scouts have never given me a second look, regardless of the numbers I was putting up. My life without baseball this past summer was certainly different, but at the end of the day, I survived. And yet I couldn’t get over my diagnosis. I have been completely broken up since, unable to take my mind off of the possibility of never pitching again. I have been forced to think about why I’ve been such a wreck.

Why do I care so much? Tirelessly mulling over the answer to that question has led me to a conclusion of which I was not previously aware of.

When I am on the mound, I am alone, 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate with a clean slate.

The batter is not aware that when I speak to someone whom I have a desire to impress, the English language becomes foreign to me.

He doesn’t know that I shake and turn a potent shade of red whenever I make an important presentation.

All the batter knows is that I’m right-handed, and about 5’10’’. That’s it.

There’s a certain beauty in being able to make a first impression. The mound gives me the opportunity to recreate myself over and over. There, I can earn actual, unironic respect. Off the mound, this respect is harder to come by than you’d think.

For that reason, I will do whatever it takes to beat the odds.

I need to get back to the only place where my performance is the sole determinant of my character. The only place where I feel as if my presence is met with complete sincerity.

I will once again stand 60 feet, 6 inches away.

Lead Photo: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “Finding Meaning on the Pitcher’s Mound”

james hodgins

keep going isaac. 30 years ago i was in a similar situation but my injury gave me the rive to train harder and eventually earn a scholarship in the u.s.

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