It’s amazing how choices you make in your youth that seem innocent and even positive can have lifelong and sometimes unfortunate effects. Now believe me… I don’t blame ANYONE for how I am or who I am. I take ownership and sole responsibility for how I am and who I am. A trait I, personally, see as endangered in our society. I also believe that there is no one on this planet that can help me out of where I am and get me to where I want to be… except me.
So I was thinking about why it’s so hard for me to let things go sometimes (bad decisions, poor choices). I can still think about foolish things I did 20 years ago or more and they still upset me. I hear the sayings about letting things go all the time and I’m trying to do that but it’s really hard. And I started trying to figure out… why? And, to get back to my original statement, I think one of the main reasons is competitive sports. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not badmouthing sports. Just hear me out.
My father was a wonderful man. And of all the supportive and intelligent things he said to me, the one that has stuck with me all my life is this. Here is the story:
In 9th grade, I was about the same size as all the other kids. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, something happened though. When school started back up, I went out for football again, as usual. But over the summer (or so it seemed) all the other kids had gotten HUGE. I was by far one of the shortest kids on the team. In the first three practices I got DESTROYED on hit after hit. There was no way I could compete with kids 6 inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier that me. I was devastated. I went to my coach, who was a good man as well, and told him how I felt. He agreed and suggested I focus more on baseball (he was an assistant coach on the baseball team) and run cross country in the fall instead. I turned in my stuff. I was relieved but at the same time, I knew I had to face my father. Now what I did know about him was that he was a football star. Diminutive, yes (5’7″) but he was the quarterback 3 years straight for the high school team. He was also a point guard on the basketball team and the catcher for the baseball team. I was terrified that I was going to disappoint him.
When I got home, he was working on the front porch and he knew right away something was wrong. As I tried to explain to him what I had done, I broke down. I told him I knew about his past sports achievements and wanted to be like him but I just couldn’t cut it. That I was sorry I let him down.
Then the strangest thing happened. His face screwed up in this pained, incredulous expression. He shook his head and turned away. I just knew I was in for it. But then he turned back around just as quickly and said “Son, I don’t care if you play sports. I just want you to have fun and love what you are doing.” Then he asked if football was fun. I said no, that it actually just hurt a lot and that all the other kids were huge. He said, “Then quit! Do something else! Don’t hurt yourself… that’s crazy! Don’t waste your time/life doing something if you don’t enjoy it!” He agreed with me (with a chuckle) that we Martins were not the most vertically gifted family on the planet (my mom was 4’11′ on a good day) and that perhaps non contact sports were better.
The wave of relief that hit me staggered me. And I remember that moment vividly to this day.
From that moment on, I dedicated myself to baseball. I went out (grudgingly) for the cross country team. I sucked and was by far the slowest one, but my coach (also the JV baseball coach) knew I wasn’t doing it for the cross country. I was just cross training. He even let me go to a couple of races. Funny how I hated it then… but love it now.
One thing baseball taught me from the beginning was that I am not perfect. Even a great hitter fails 60-70% of the time. But because I played it so long (16 years by my own choice), certain traits and behaviors became ingrained in me. The constant search for perfection. Minute analysis of performance. Hypercritical (to a flaw) critiques. I had a coach in high school that told me home runs were mistakes. Line drives were the only perfect hits… Not your normal line of logic, is it?
I stopped playing my junior year in college. Oddly enough, for the same reason I stopped playing football but this time it was because of the profound words of a professional scout for the Cincinnati Reds. I was a really good hitter. I even had decent speed. I even had an above average arm. But he pulled me aside after a practice and pointed at one of the other players. A weak hitting kid with no arm and not many brains either. He said “See that kid? He’s 6’2″ . He’s not that good, but I can teach him to hit. You are 5’7″. You are a great hitter. But I can’t teach you to be 6’2″… That is the sentiment that pervades professional sports. I quit after that season. There was no reason to go on. He was right. I needed to focus on school.
The problem was that the baseball mindset never left me. I chose to play baseball. I was never forced. I chose to be hypercritical of myself. And all these years later… I still am. When I make something out of wood (which I really love to do), teach a class (my profession), run a race, even when I play with my kids or my relationship with my wife.. in my mind I never get it 100% right. I am always analyzing and critiquing everything I do. And kicking myself for mistakes I made years ago. It’s a private battle. I don’t show it much and certainly do not hold others to the same standard. I’ve been told I’m very patient. Just not with myself.
I mention this because I am trying to change it. To let go of mistakes and just learn from them. Accept the fact that I have made them and move on. This is REALLY hard for me. And one of my biggest mistakes ever was letting myself go, physically, after I stopped playing baseball. And it’s a mistake I’m still paying for 25 years later. My bad eating habits, beer drinking and inconsistent exercise have cost me greatly. But now instead of just getting mad about it and feeling sorry for myself, I’m trying to change it. It has taken me 25 years to get to this point and I realize it won’t change overnight but I’m working on it.
The one thing (looking for an upside) that I have taken away from baseball that I will always hold onto is the emphasis on fundamentals. The purity of pitch and catch. The same swing every time. Repetition. Decision making (and sticking to it). If I were ever to coach a team (I would love to), that would be my focus. And it is how I’m trying to live and exercise now. Like I said, “Just breathe”. There are things I can do every day. Simple things. Repetitive things. Just like practicing my swing, I can practice good eating habits. I can practice exercising. These things actually transfer well to sports like triathlon. Good form takes repetition. Spinning your legs on a bike, swim stroke. They all take focus and repetition.
Anyway, another positive that happened this weekend that I was not expecting was my performance at a local 10K. I only ran it because I didn’t want to run alone. It has a couple of long hills in it (actually one hill, both ways on an out and back course). I had been running somewhere around 8:30-9:00 miles and didn’t have many expectations. I was just hoping to run under 56 minutes. So I was pretty surprised to look down at my watch with a mile to go and realize I was running just a tick under 8:00/mi! I finished at 49:45. Nowhere near what I have run it at in the past… but for only running 2 times since Christmas and being really sore up to that point, this was really good! And the other good thing was that my knees and hips/pelvis didn’t hurt and still don’t today! Yay! It’s fun not to hurt…
For my quote today I will go back to my dad’s words of wisdom because it is really what I want to try to live the rest of my life by:
“Don’t waste your time/life doing something if you don’t enjoy it.”
There really is no other reason to do anything.