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June 16, 2012

The Perfect Game ... Yeah!

You know by now, even if you don’t follow baseball, even if you don’t know the precise definition, you know that San Francisco Giants pitcher, Matt Cain, threw a perfect game last night. Perfect? Isn't that an exaggeration?

Not many sports or other aspects of life can be called Perfect. I guess a bowler can bowl 12 strikes in a row for a perfect 300 score. You can answer every question right and become a millionaire on TV (especially if they tell you the answers beforehand). But every shot a bull’s-eye? Every day of a marriage free from friction? Perfection is a worthy standard, but unattainable, spiritually or in the mini-world of sports. Most of us are stifled by our struggle for perfection. All we do is fail over and over.

Yet Matt did it. The 22nd person in the 136-year history of baseball, with several coming in very recent times, another this year even, so there were decades without a perfect game. Cain’s spent his whole life preparing for this. He exercises hard every day all year. He tries harder. He’s built himself into a pitching machine capable of perfection. He decided as a child and sticks to the plan as an adult. He made the sacrifices. Did you? No. Rather party with your mates or watch reruns of I Dream of Jeanie? Yeah, thought so. Me too.

Cain got a big contract this year, as did Barry Zito a few years ago. But Zito was crippled by the expectation of perfection that those millions carry and hasn’t pitched well since. Cain chugs ahead like a train, unstoppable, unflappable. He has the toughest mental game I ever saw. That’s where pitchers fall apart. One guy, Russ Ortiz, even forgot how to pitch a few years ago. Weird but true; one day he was good, the next he completely forgot how to do that thing. The mental game rules. For us too. You can psych yourself out every day, fullfilling your loser identity, that’s easy. What’s hard is to roll with the punches, face pressure and stress without cracking, be sensitive but don’t let it get to you. Maintain perspective. Care but not too much.

And the pressure in about the sixth inning must have been nearly unbearable. For all the boys on the field. They caught a couple balls that saved Matt’s game for him, their captain. They didn’t throw wide of first but right on the bag. Buster Posey called the game and Cain did not challenge a single pitch. Posey was the brains; Cain the arm. Near the end any lapse by anyone and it’s over. One dribble hit, a good bunt, one hit batter, a hundred things can blow it. Nobody let any of those happen. I think I would have felt sorry for the losers and subconsciously let one through. That’s why I admire Matt Cain, he showed no weakness while staying always human. The best we can be. Afterwards he said, “Wow.” The victor unashamed and unafraid.

That’s baseball. Where the best are rewarded. Doesn’t work that way in my life, my job, my game. But you show the world what you can do and the best go the Cooperstown, the faulty get sent to the minors. Everyone gets what they deserve. And everyone in the stands is down on the field with the boys like shadows. We pull for them like they're our brothers. We feel for every play. I don’t get that from other sports. I mean, Formula One car racing is an extremely popular sport here in Italy. How do you empathize watching that?

If we like metaphors (may the force …) we might go to the story of Cain and Abel in the Qur’an or Bible. The farmer Cain, though a murderer, was the strongest brother, the winner, the survivor. And without pity, Matt Cain killed those Astros, 27 in a row. I never thought I’d see it happen in my whole life.

Baseball teams don’t have captains, but Matt Cain has been the unofficial leader since he came up from the Giants farm system. Or as baseball fan, Walt Whitman, said:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting …

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Hello, dear friend, are you excited about the perfecto?
Jeff: Couldn’t care less.
Mutt: Me neither.
Jeff: Got a question that’s been bothering me.
Mutt: Shoot.
Jeff: Bang. Okay, if a mute swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?
Mutt: Dunno. If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?
Jeff: Dunno. If a stealth bomber crashes in a forest, will it make a sound?
Mutt: Dunno. If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
Jeff: Dunno. If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?
Mutt: Dunno. If the cops arrest a mime, do they still tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Jeff: Dunno. If the funeral procession is at night, do folks drive with their headlights off?
Mutt: We don’t know much, do we?
Jeff: Dunno.