1. Trevor Bauer Will Not Be Babied. Although let’s think about babies maybe, and about how we view children, or just education. I mean that mostly these days schools don’t teach children how to think, how to ask questions, how to learn. I mean that we don’t learn: we memorize, we recite, we are given tests to measure what we’ve learned and most of what we’ve learned is how to take tests. But this is about, ostensibly, baseball, which is, in all likelihood, a metaphor, and also whatever it is when you’re talking about an actual thing. I’m saying baseball both is and is not a metaphor here.
2. I’ve been thinking lately about identity, about how we identify and label and codify ourselves and our actions, which is a great way to transition to this next sentence, about how most of my life, I’ve fucking hated the idea of intellectuals. In that there was this idea I had of people who lived in their own heads, who lived lives divorced from the world in some imaginary ivory fucking tower, where they came up with ideas for how people should be, with prescriptive thoughts leading to prescribed modes of thinking. And anyway, recently I’m pretty sure this is bullshit. I mean that I’m pretty sure that’s not what an intellectual is. I’m pretty sure that being an intellectual is about having a mind and using it. I mean that being an intellectual is the opposite of what I thought it was. I mean that I feel like the best thing for a person to be is inquisitive, questioning, searching, learning. And part of me feels that this requires an openness. A sincere openness is, I feel, maybe important to hold on to if you want to try to learn, to search, to figure out the root of a thing. And part of me also feels that it requires a bit of stubbornness. That a person should maybe, at least a little, be able to have a certain amount of unshakeableness to them. Something to hold on to in the dark, in the night, in whatever terms we want to through at the unknown, and at the experience of not knowing or of not understanding.
3. And anyway the framework of this is about Trevor Bauer as a stubborn intellectual.
4. I’ve been fucking obsessed with Bauer since that Sports Illustrated article. Ideally you read the article. If you didn’t, basically: Trevor Bauer was a pitcher. Trevor Bauer wanted to be a better pitcher. Trevor Bauer felt that how we prepare to play baseball seemed divorced from the actual act of playing baseball. That how we teach people to pitch seemed divorced from not just the idea of bodies, but from the idea that every single person has a body. We all have bodies, you guys. And every single one of them is different. Because of this, Trevor Bauer went to college and took Engineering and Physics courses to better understand the concepts behind throwing a ball into a grid called a strike zone. He reworked and redesigned his delivery to maximize what he had to work with, which was his body. He maybe invented new pitches, like what he calls the reverse slider. Trevor Bauer decided, by watching and measuring countless baseball plays, that the average baseball play occurs in 12 seconds. Trevor Bauer felt that, knowing this, that in baseball the body operates in giant furtive bursts punctuated by silent observation and preparation, his workouts as a baseball player should better reflect how baseball is played, so all his exercises are designed in 12 second bursts. Trevor Bauer tried to determine at which point the batter would have to make a decision about his swing [I’m gendering this because we only let men play Professional Baseball, which is dumb] and so he tried to throw the baseball so that it went a certain length looking the same before it broke into whatever direction it would go. OK so imagine a baseball is flying through the air at you. Imagine you have a grasp enough of what this entails to have an idea of where a ball will break its path, and you know that, based on where it is in the air at this time, it will probably go in a certain direction. Now imagine a kid built a giant grid and placed it at the average distance for when you, the hitter, would have to figure out when to swing. And imagine this kid taught himself how to throw the ball so that it always went through the same point in the grid, and then, only after it reached the decision point, broke its path. Imagine how fucked you would be, to have your ability to know what was happening taken from you because of a restless, stubborn, bubbling brain.
Basically Trevor Bauer felt that, with due respect to baseball, he had some ideas about his life and his body and how he could go about doing that. Trevor Bauer had a system of beliefs, and he has, thus far, done his best to hold on to them.
This has at times earned him the label, possibly totally invented due to our need for narrative, of being “uncoachable,” which is a thing I don’t feel capable of commenting on at all. What I do feel capable of commenting on is that, in my experience as a teacher, teaching is about preparing a student for the epiphany. Learning has always seemed to me to be a private, individual act. The role of a teacher is, in my experience, to create an environment where learning is possible. That, as a teacher, you give your students the tools you possess, and instructions as to what possible uses they could be put to. You make suggestions, and you nudge, as best you can. In my head, coaching isn’t that different than this. You contain the room [in which the room is a metaphor for the space you are in]. You direct the energy in productive ways. You try to find a way to get each person to be their best self, and to find their best use.
I would imagine that coaching Trevor Bauer is very hard. Trevor Bauer more or less invented his mechanics. If you were to tell him to do something different, I would imagine he would try to explain the physics behind his action, the science behind its purpose and how it worked, and while I’d love to imagine a world wherein this resulted in two people learning how to communicate to each other and to build an astounding pitching machine dressed as a person, that is a world whose construction requires much more imaginative effort on my part than one in which someone said “fuck this, this kid is an asshole who thinks they know fucking everything.” And maybe they’re not wrong. Bauer knows more about lots of things than I ever will. Probably some of his coaches, too. But still.
5. But still.
But still a lot of this was maybe better in theory than it was in practice. Bauer’s delivery was a fucking joy to watch, but his pitches were often wild. His ideas were there, and sound, and real, but he couldn’t always manage to execute them.
Which happens a lot when you try to invent something new. Dear reader, have you ever tried to create something that is yours, and that is an extension of yourself? When you did this, did you do it alone, and fail alone, and learn alone? Or did you do it in public with thousands of people watching you? How fucking hard would it be to hold on to your ideals when your every failure to be a perfect living embodiment of a brilliant and rebellious and sensible notion is cause to say that everything about you is wrong?
Here’s a story that presumes anything in my life relates in any way to anything important: So I’m a writer. And anyway a few years back I finished grad school. My writing wasn’t mine anymore, it felt like. I fought a lot in grad school. I made work that came out of a tradition that people seemed unfamiliar with, and I became defensive, and combative. I felt criticized and misunderstood on a personal level, because almost everything was personal. I felt incessantly alienated, and I felt this on a visceral level. I wanted to throw up and crawl out of my skin at all times. And then I graduated, and I barely recognized myself, and I barely recognized my art. And so anyway since I view one as an extension of the other, I slowly set myself to learning how to write something that felt alive again. And I fucked up. A lot. I wrote a year’s worth of poems. It took me well over a year, in private, to figure out how to get them right. I mean that every time I looked at them, and saw them, that I saw exactly what they were going to be, and but I could not, in any way, see how the fuck I was going to get there. I had, at times, absolutely no faith that I would figure it out. But I was stubborn as hell, and also the idea of getting these things right seemed like the main thing I had to live for. My girlfriend at the time and I weren’t able to figure out how to talk to each other anymore. Our lives had started to diverge in ways we couldn’t understand or give voice to, and that was fucking hard, and my work, the thing that sustained me and that rooted me in the world, was changing in a way that I could see, and that seemed good and big and important, but it was doing it slow, and broken. I was getting in the way of my ideas. It took me well over a year to get the first of those poems into something approaching wonderful. It’s been 4 years since I started down that path, and I have those things figured out mostly, in that I have mostly figured out how my head and heart were working, and how to use language to give voice to that.
6. I read mostly everything written about Bauer over the last 2 seasons since his trade to the Indians. I remember reading what he said and thinking that he was too in his own head, that how he talked about attacking a hitter seemed like he was talking about some platonic ideal of a hitter, that his pitch sequencing was almost an intellectual exercise, that his plan wasn’t deviable because it was, intellectually, perfect. And I believe that it probably was perfect! But I also believe that life isn’t plannable, and that people aren’t perfect, which extends not just to Bauer, but to the hitters he faced, and the team on the field behind him, whose defensive performance was widely regarded as being total shit wrapped up in failure and tied with a bow of utter disaster. What I’m saying is that an idea and its execution are not the same thing. What I’m saying is that that doesn’t mean they can’t be.
7. What I’m saying is that this season Trevor Bauer has an ERA of 1.80. In 25 innings and 4 starts he has struck out 28 batters. He has also walked 13. He has given up 15 hits, and 5 runs. His first start this season was against the Astros. He walked 5 and struck out 11 in 6 innings. Nobody scored, and nobody got a hit. He has faced the White Sox twice. The first time he went 6 innings, gave up 2 runs on 4 hits, 4 walks, and 8 strikeouts. The second time he faced the White Sox he went 7 innings, gave up no runs on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts. This last start he faced the Royals, who are for some reason hitting a lot of baseballs. In 6 innings he gave up 3 runs on 7 hits, 2 walks, and 2 strikeouts. 4 days before this start he had food poisoning, and so he got pushed back. His fastball was sitting at 90 instead of 94.
8. And his delivery remains hypnotic. He stands mostly perfectly straight, but holds his body as though he is resisting the fact that it is being drawn, inexorably towards home plate. He takes a step back with his left leg, opening up his body and allowing him to check the runner. Then he lifts his left leg up quickly and as he drops it down it leads him where he’s always been going, home, as he whips his right arm over and across his body where it reacts as though a rubber band, snapped.
And so but anyway 4 starts isn’t enough data to say TREVOR BAUER HAS BECOME HIMSELF. But honestly? It looks like he might have.
9. And am I conflating myself and my ideas about myself with Trevor Bauer and my ideas about his self? Shit yes. I’m a fan. This is what we do. We wrap parts of our lives up in manifestations of our selves. Do I take his success as a symbol? I do. To my thinking, Trevor Bauer is a stubborn intellectual who believes, as near as I can tell, in the fact that all people have bodies, and all bodies are different, that all bodies have minds and that all minds are different, and that there must be a way for each mind, each body, each person, to find their most effective self. I believe in the victory of the stubborn intellectual who makes space for the concept of the individual. I really do.
If his success isn’t sustained, it’ll be like when everyone said Billy Beane’s A’s were a nice idea that was never going to work because it wasn’t how things were done. Which anyone who saw Moneyball knows was bullshit. It’s the narrative constructed to keep us in our place. I’m blowing this out of proportion here, but sometimes I think we need to do that in order to be able to look at a thing more closely. This is why diagrams come with those popped out bits to blow up the magnification, so you can see how things fit together, how they work, how they do what it is they are intended to do, and how they will, at times, fail.