Then John “Mayor” Lindsey, wearing the uniform of the New Jersey Jackals, rose and addressed the Blessed One. “Lord, I was drafted in the thirteenth round by the Rockies and played A Ball for seven years for the Portland Rockies, the Asheville Tourists, and the Salem Red Sox. Then I was signed by the Mariners and played A Ball for the San Bernardino Stampede before ascending to Double-A, where I played for the San Antonio Missions. Then I descended to the Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads and then to the independent league New Jersey Jackals. Then I signed with the Dodgers and played for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s and then for their Double-A affiliate, the Jacksonville Suns. Lord, you may know them as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Then I signed with the Marlins and played for their Double-A New Orleans Zephyrs. Lord, you may know them as the New Orleans Baby Cakes. Then I signed with the Dodgers again and played for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes of the Pacific Coast League. Lord, after sixteen years in the minors, I was called up by the Dodgers. I wore Dodger Blue for eleven games. I had one hit in twelve at bats before I was hit by a pitch and broke my hand. Later, I was signed by the Tigers and played for the Toledo Mud Hens. And then I was released.
“Blessed One, counting the Mexican League and winter ball, I played 2,277 games in the minors for twenty-five teams over twenty-one years. I drove for endless miles in old buses with bad air-conditioning. I ate countless bad meals of fried food with plastic forks. I loaded countless suitcases on and off buses. I slept in countless bad hotels with stained carpets, coin-operated Magic Fingers beds, and no Wi-Fi. I sat for endless hours on hard benches in concrete dugouts. I took countless showers in cinder-block clubhouses. I played on countless bad fields and played countless bad hops before tiny crowds. And yet my lifetime average in the majors was only .083.
“O Teacher of Players and Fans, taking off my first baseman’s mitt, I ask: Why did you make a game so filled with change?”
“O son of the A leagues, I made this game to teach the truth of impermanence, that all things are subject to change, that all things will one day fall apart. I teach that the hot streak leads to the slump, that .300 leads to the Mendoza Line, that the hundred-mile-per-hour heater leads to Tommy John surgery, that the perfect game through six leads to the loss after nine, that the big league contract leads to being designated for assignment.
“I teach the wandering between worlds, where the players in the heavens called the majors are blown by the winds of their statistics to the hells of the minors. I teach that the denizens of Triple A toil in game after game, meeting a god only when that god descends for a rehab assignment and pays for the spread. I teach that even for those who ascend, the time is short, able to wear the garments of the gods only in spring training before being returned to hell, the domain of demeaning team logos.
“I made this game not to make players suffer but to make players see that to be attached to luxury suites, private jets, and Gatorade commercials is only a source of suffering. I made this game to teach players to play without attachment.” Thus spoke the Buddha.
We know from our own experience that our joys and sorrows, our physical sensations change constantly. What we don’t know is that those changes are the direct result of our past actions, seeds that can bear their fruit at any moment in a process that is completely beyond our control. This is the truth of impermanence, the first of what the Buddha called “the three marks.” The other two are suffering and no self. They are called marks because all things bear their imprint. We could also call them “the three strikes.” The Buddha invented the game called baseball to teach us about impermanence. As he said, “The end of fortune is decline. The end of rising is falling. The end of meeting is parting. The end of birth is death.”
The end of fortune is decline. The term translated as “fortune” here can mean wealth, but it can also mean fortune in a more metaphorical sense, that of being endowed with all manner of skills and powers. In baseball, one thinks immediately of the five-tool player, the position player with exceptional abilities to field, throw, run, hit, and hit with power. Even for the player of great natural ability, these skills are honed over thousands of hours of practice and in hundreds of games, beginning with playing catch with your father, to sandlot ball, to Little League, to high school baseball, and then to either college or the minors. And then, with much good fortune, to the majors, where the five-tool player is rewarded with riches, reaching his prime in his middle to late twenties, perhaps peaking around age twenty-nine, and remaining in his prime for a few more years. But the end of fortune is decline, and in the player’s thirties, the tools start to rust, beginning with speed, as the player “loses a step.” Bat speed will also decline, with the player no longer able to “catch up to the fastball.” Fielders begin to lose their range. Catchers’ knees start to go, so they are moved to first or to DH. Pitchers lose a few miles per hour off their fastball, having to learn to be “pitchers” rather than “throwers,” mastering and inventing all manner of novelty pitches. (One thinks of David Cone’s “Laredo slider.”) Eventually, the tools of the major league player will decline so much that he will be traded, or released if he wants to spare himself the indignity of being sent down. Unlike in other walks of life, when fortune ends in loss in baseball it is there for all to see, heartbreaking to the fan, as the decline of each skill is meticulously measured, charted, dissected, and discussed. It is a powerful lesson in impermanence.
The end of rising is falling. Every spring, after the Yankees lost their first game of the year, my father would call me and say, “There goes the undefeated season.” Given the length of the season and the remarkable range of variables in a given game—whether the pitcher has his “good stuff,” whether a batter is “seeing the ball well,” whether the manager calls in the right reliever at the right time—falling in the standings is an inevitable part of baseball, with players and fans alike carefully watching how far behind their team is, not in the win column but in the loss column, how many games out of the wild card they are. Almost every team goes on an inexplicable losing streak at some point every year, plummeting in the standings and often falling out of contention. Because bad teams beat good teams so regularly and because the season is so long, teams rise and fall in the standings more dramatically in baseball than in any other sport. It is a powerful lesson in impermanence.
From Buddha Takes the Mound: Enlightenment in 9 Innings by Donald S. Lopez Jr. © 2020. Reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press.
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