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  • The Old Man and the Wall

    He was there again this morning. In khaki shorts, an old t-shirt and a ball cap, he was unassuming. He easily could have been missed, but I noted his presence in the back of my mind. The first time I saw him, I couldn't figure out the meaning. He wound up and fired again and again. His easy left handed arm action suggesting he had done this many times before. The big wall in the center of the complex was his catcher, returning each throw on a roll so he could reload and unfurl another. Every pitch made the same low pitched 'thump' as the previous one. He needed no crowd, no cheers, no teammates. It was only him and the wall.

    Old lefty, what are you teaching me?

    I stumbled upon the article written by ex-big leaguer Adrian Cardenas again. In it, he details the reasons he quit baseball. Initially, I thought it was well written and interesting, but I didn't think it applied to me. While I appreciated the quality writing and the challenge to the norm, I couldn't relate to his reasoning. Then I read it again and the ending stuck out:

    "For whatever reason, I was never the sort of player who could enjoy a game, a play, or a hit before moving on to prepare for the next one. It was only after I quit that I wished I hadn't always kept my head down, relentlessly climbing to reach the top of the game, to fulfill an American dream. I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost of some of my success. The American dream didn't tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you're standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood."

    Ex-big leaguer, what are you teaching me?

    So often I look for what's next. In minor league baseball, this is the steep mountain each player is attempting to climb. I slowly make my way up, but there is always the possibility of falling. So I keep my head down, only occasionally appreciating the moment, constantly worrying about the future. This can motivate, but it fails to encourage what Cardenas calls "acknowledging the experience." If I am always looking for what's next, what am I missing right in front of me?

    How often do you do this in your own life? How often do you reach for what's next, without acknowledging your experience? How often do you stop and appreciate the seemingly meaningless events that happen every day? How often do you enjoy the smell of burnt wood?

    So on a quiet morning, I have acquired wisdom from watching the old lefty. And on a slow evening, I have understood the cry of the ex-big leaguer. They both have taught me an important lesson-gratitude for each moment, each feeling, is the best way to gain experience. The quickest way to a more fulfilled life is appreciation for what is right in front of me-the feeling of fresh dirt beneath my feet and laces on my fingers. It is these present moments, on and off the field, where I find joy. So I hope more often this year I can stop and be grateful for the sounds, the smells and the moments just as they happen, because that's the way they were intended to be experienced. Whether it's professionally or as an old man throwing the ball against a wall, that feeling is never far away.

    Follow me on Twitter! @apettersen1
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. brvama's Avatar
      brvama -
      AJ, your writing completely engulfs me. Superbly written, but even better the message of life from such a young man. Many search high and low for that endless chase of happiness at the end of the rainbow, only to find it has been there in front of them all along. Your words and message are so well written and spot on that I am forwarding this to my young adult children. I truly hope you find your dream in the big leagues, but I am confident that you will never regret your journey. Yes, life is a journey, not a destination. Thank you and may you have a great season.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      New Years and new changes lend themselves to contemplation. You do a nice job of capturing some pretty slippery feelings and thoughts.
    1. USNMCPO's Avatar
      USNMCPO -
      AJ, you are a gifted and thought provoking young man. Well done, Sir.
    1. zchrz's Avatar
      zchrz -
      Great read these pieces are awesome.

      This reminds me of a Alan Watts line of thought. Any journey in life is like a piece of music, one doesn't listen to music for just the end note, the real enjoyment and artistry comes from the entire song and how each note interacts with all the others.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      AJ, if I draw parallels to Jim Bouton, I hope you don't take it to mean you should learn to throw a knuckleball.
    1. ChiTownTwinsFan's Avatar
      ChiTownTwinsFan -
      Another one out of the park.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Very thoughtful. Useful to anyone who reads it.

      Thanks again, AJ.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Just excellent as always. It's great to see that AJ's writing is really getting some great feedback.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great article. This country (and many) are driven to achieve, not to enjoy the journey. I hope you get a chance to enjoy the journey more. I hope you get to live in the moment, not always looking to the future and what it will bring. Life is too interesting, imo, to worry only about the goal, and not the journey.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Outstanding article AJ. I enjoy reading you here on Twins Daily. I hope in the near future you will be writing here as a member of the Twins.
    1. slash129's Avatar
      slash129 -
      Great piece, AJ. Love the burnt wood anecdote. Good luck and enjoy your 2014 baseball season.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      AJ, after reading this, I'd like to meet you just to shake your hand for this perceptive essay. It's so true that we can miss much of the experience of life, as we do so many things by habit and training. I know exactly what the old man at the park was doing. He was experiencing the sweet purity of throwing a baseball, the feel of nice mechanics and rhythm produce a satisfying whack against the old wall.

      'You can beat the wall, but you cannot defeat the wall,' I sometimes say to myself as I hit a couple hundred easy slice backhands against a wall on some dreary summer day. The experience is the endless pursuit of perfect synchronization with the forces that exist around us. The hand produces an easy flip, the ball sails through the air just so. It hits the wall in exactly the right spot, then returns to you for the next one. It is a blissful to perform this ritual, whether or not it helps you win something.

      Is that why some baseball players love to practice?
    1. AJPettersen's Avatar
      AJPettersen -
      Quote Originally Posted by brvama View Post
      AJ, your writing completely engulfs me. Superbly written, but even better the message of life from such a young man. Many search high and low for that endless chase of happiness at the end of the rainbow, only to find it has been there in front of them all along. Your words and message are so well written and spot on that I am forwarding this to my young adult children. I truly hope you find your dream in the big leagues, but I am confident that you will never regret your journey. Yes, life is a journey, not a destination. Thank you and may you have a great season.
      Thanks for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it. The reason I write stories like this are for people to chew on and think about. There are so many things in life that we all struggle with and we shrug them off or don't even realize it. Being consistently present is a difficult one for myself and for many others. Thank you for the well wishes!
    1. AJPettersen's Avatar
      AJPettersen -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bonnes View Post
      New Years and new changes lend themselves to contemplation. You do a nice job of capturing some pretty slippery feelings and thoughts.
      Thanks John. And thanks for a platform where I can share my thoughts.
    1. AJPettersen's Avatar
      AJPettersen -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      AJ, if I draw parallels to Jim Bouton, I hope you don't take it to mean you should learn to throw a knuckleball.
      Well...my 82 mph fastball probably isn't going to cut it.
    1. AJPettersen's Avatar
      AJPettersen -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      AJ, after reading this, I'd like to meet you just to shake your hand for this perceptive essay. It's so true that we can miss much of the experience of life, as we do so many things by habit and training. I know exactly what the old man at the park was doing. He was experiencing the sweet purity of throwing a baseball, the feel of nice mechanics and rhythm produce a satisfying whack against the old wall.

      'You can beat the wall, but you cannot defeat the wall,' I sometimes say to myself as I hit a couple hundred easy slice backhands against a wall on some dreary summer day. The experience is the endless pursuit of perfect synchronization with the forces that exist around us. The hand produces an easy flip, the ball sails through the air just so. It hits the wall in exactly the right spot, then returns to you for the next one. It is a blissful to perform this ritual, whether or not it helps you win something.

      Is that why some baseball players love to practice?
      I will take you up on the hand shaking. In fact, if we are ever in the same town, I'm always up for coffee or lunch. Sounds like you have a great perspective. I find the same bliss at times while practicing baseball.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Reading this, upon many reflections of my own life philosophies, I was instantly reminded of a surprisingly nice though but breezy day last week when my 14yo son asked me to play catch. This time with glove and ball rather than a football.

      And as we joyously did so, I was reminded of two things. I remembered time after time of playing catch with my own father, often under street lights, and the movie Field of Dreams when Costner spoke of refusing to play catch with his father. I know the latter is a drama, but how real it must be for some.

      Thank you AJ for your sharing. You write beautifully and share honestly. Without knowing you, but speculating the type of man you appear to be, I not only have moved you to the top of my Twins "hopeful" list to root for, but you have reached the top of my "respected" list. I'm sure your whole family must be very proud of the man you are.

      Best of luck this season!

      And while I hope for the very best success for you in baseball, I believe, eventually, you have a wonderful career waiting for you in journalism.
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