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AJPettersen

The Old Man and the Wall

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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
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