Baseball / Reading / Sports / Writing / September 13, 2011

Pitching, Chin Music, and Off Balance Readers

The best pitchers in baseball are the ones who can keep hitters off balance. They aren’t always the ones who look the part or throw the hardest.  Sometimes they look downright scholarly and barely throw 90 miles per hour. Other times they glower and intimidate and throw 100. But they always, ALWAYS succeed by keeping the hitters off balance. They throw the ball precisely where they want it. They throw curve balls to buckle the knees. They throw a little chin music to get the hitters on their heels. And no matter what, they keep the hitters off balance.

If a pitcher has the fastest fast ball or the bendiest curveball, but that’s all he can throw he might find some success, for an inning or two here and there. But in the long run they will fail. Hitters will catch up, learn the one trick he has, and crush him. The only exceptions are those pitchers whose one pitch is so good they can use it over and over again (think Mariano Rivera and his cut fastball or Trevor Hoffman and his changeup). But even then they only succeed for three or four outs at a time.

It is no different for writers. Predictability is the death of good writing. A one-trick writer might put out some enjoyable pieces, but once the reader learns that trick all the endings become predictable and the thrill is sucked right out. A good communicator varies speeds, throws a curve when the reader expects something straight, and just maybe throws something a little wild to keep the reader ducking. Readers might know his or her whole arsenal, but we’re never sure what’s coming next.
Off balance is precisely where a batter doesn’t want to be and a reader does because off balance means a person is vulnerable. Vulnerability gives away the advantage. With the advantage a pitcher generates bad swings, but what does a writer generate? Whatever she wants. When a reader is off balance his emotions and mind are vulnerable to the writer’s message. And this is a good thing. It’s where conviction, passion, and imagination happen.
So next time you watch Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez make the opposition look like bat-waving fools, think about this. Find the authors who leave your knees buckled and have you helplessly at their mercy. It’s a good thing to be off balance.
When you write, throw a changeup here and there and keep your readers on their toes. And maybe throw a high hard one to get them unsettled and vulnerable to your message.


Sep 14, 2011

So, none of these pitchers play for Minnesota? Just an observation…

Sep 14, 2011

True, Minnesota has had a dearth of great pitchers. There are some great writers to make up for it though. They aren’t nearly as photographically interesting however.

Sep 14, 2011

That’s a good analogy, Barnabas…a way of describing the great authors that I haven’t thought of previously. Thanks.

Sep 15, 2011

Good stuff, Mariano Rivera notwithstanding. 🙂

Reminds me of this poem, “The Pitcher”, by Robert Francis.

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberrant willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

Sep 15, 2011

Great poem. He writes better than I. I almost footnoted Mariano Rivera as an exception but thought it would be too baseball nerdy. The principle still applies to him.

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