Was reminded last night -- while coaching a bunch of 8 year olds in fall baseball, of all places -- of what value I place upon "passion."
Not the clichéd overwrought flimsy disposable kind that gets squirted around like squeez cheez on the afternoon soap operas, but the more classical old school poet-warrior sort more akin to the original Latin root of the word, where "passio" meant "righteous suffering."
I'd missed the last two games for my squad -- one as I was out of town for a week for the Austin Film Festival, and then this past week as I was away leading a Cub Scout campout -- and in both games the team was reported to have played "flat." We won the first of those games, but not with the usuall verve and flash. The second of those games we lost 2-1 in a game where we managed 18 strikeouts in 18 at bats. In other words, the opposing team did not once field the ball or make a play -- we simply struck out every time (versus a pitching machine that throws strikes 80-90% of the time!). We rolled over and took a pointless loss against a team we'd easily manhandled earlier this season.
Last night our guys seemed flat again, and the first three innings showed us scoring zero runs, managing only two hits against 8 strikeouts (in 11 at bats).
And thus the team got The Return Of The Loud Guy.
I'm not some gung-ho "winning is the only thing" sorts of coaches, especially not in fall ball which is designed and intended as an instructional league. I rotate my players -- good and bad ones -- every inning, and everybody sits an innings, and everybody plays infield at least an inning or two every game. yes, this often costs us hits allowed and sometimes runs allowed, but my job is not to win imaginary trophies and championships in instructional league. My job is to teach these monkeys how to play baseball better.
And for me, you cannot engage in a sport (or any activity where there is competition and failure and heartbreak and joy and the requirement of focus and work and sweat) without that magical ingredient, passion.
So in the third inning I did something I've not had to do for a season or two: I told all the parents to walk away from the dugout, and then I barked once as my team to get their attention. After a second, they all became very quiet and saw that i was not wearing A Happy Face.
"Don't talk -- just raise your hands to answer me. Who's wearing a Red Sox jersey right now?"
All the hands went up.
"Who's wearing a Red Sox cap?"
All the hands went up.
"Who wants to turn in their jersey and cap and leave this dugout and not come back? 'Cuz that's the way you guys are playing."
"We've got maybe one more trip through the order. Those guys over there are laughing and having a great time 'cuz you guys don't seem to care enough to even try. That's not what you've been taught, and that's not how you know to play. If you want to wear that jersey, and wear that cap, and sit in my dugout, you'd better start playing like you care about this team. Do you get it?"
"When they hit the ball, we catch the ball. When they run, we tag them. When we see a strike, we bang it. When we move, we move fast. Head in the game -- heart in the game. Every pitch, every play, every inning, every game. You got it?"
"We got it!"
"Then show me. Hats and gloves -- hit the field. NOW."
I'd like to say our team rallied for a thrilling comeback win. We didn't. We lost 9-1, but we did win the final inning.
Our post-game talk was calm and positive, and I thanked the guys for remembering how to play the game the way they are supposed to, but I also reminded them that it's waaaay too easy to fall back into the pattern of being lazy and uncaring.
"Here's the thing, guys: I don't care about the score, or who wins or who loses. What I care about -- what makes me come stand out here on a cool October night and scream and yell and stomp around -- is helping you guys understand how much a little effort and a little heart can do."
Afterwards, a few parents snuck over to thank me for tearing into the kids. That always surprises me, as I half-expect some of these parents to say "we don't really like Little Jimmy ever having anyone suggest that he's not perfect as-is." Instead, they seem oddly appreciative that some weird big stranger is (gently) tearing their kid a new one... even while that kid clearly never gets any remotely similar message or treatment at home.
And yes this relates to writing.
Actually, it relates to pretty much everything. Something I've noticed increasingly in recent years is the way that passion -- intense focused effort and desire -- seems more and more rare, especially among younger males. It's as if the very notion of intensity and passion is somehow an ugly thought, and that we were meant to spend our lives in some sort of stuporiffic waking coma, where we smile politely and just let whatever happens happen, with nary a thought, word, or care.
There are things in this life worth working for. Worth fighting for, and suffering for. In fact, I dare say most all of the truly good and worthwhile things we might ever have opportunity to pursue fall into this class of thing: something worthy of passion.
And I'm to the point where I very much distrust any adult incapable of summoning some real passion for something in their life. Life is too amazingly cool and potentially brief to sleepwalk through your one turn on stage. Find something you care about, and then care 'til it hurts, Throw yourselves into things with gleeful reckless abandon, and stay connected to that delicious child-like joy that comes from a really awesome wipeout. Make a mess. Make a crater. Make some noise. Make a bit of a fool of yourself. Pain don't hurt near as bad as do shame or regret. Go hard or go home.
So, the moral of today's pomposity is "passion: it's a good thing." It will serve you well, and at the very least will scare the hell out of a good chunk of those you find yourselves competing against.