Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Year of the No-No

Tonight is one of the most anticlimactic nights in sports: The Major League All Star Game. Sure, in theory it’s cool, but this year??.. Eh, I’m expecting an old fashioned pitcher’s duel. Sure both teams are loaded with the best bats from every franchise, but it seems this year.. pitchers are just too damn good. In fact, 2010 has been the year of the pitcher. Even before we headed into this All Star break there had already been four no hitters, two of which where perfect games. Well, there was the Galarraga incident, but I’ll try not to rub any more salt in that wound Jim Joyce. Perhaps it’s the crackdown on performance enhancing drugs. Or even just the fact the pitchers are just that good with the emergence of phenoms like Stephen Strasburg … and, who the hell is this Ubaldo Jimenez kid???... Eh, never heard of him. Could it be the fielders behind the hurlers have gotten better??? Or maybe .. Just maybe we should chalk it up to luck and chance.

After all, you can't be a diehard sports fan without having a superstitious thread or two in your body. Me? I simply believe in karma… and jinxes. Maybe that's why my personal trash talk is so limited. I know the power of the sports Gods is both mighty and swift. And having been a loyal Tampa sports fan for many years, I raise my arms to you and ask, “Haven’t we suffered enough? Did you not SEE my Bucs last year?”

My superstitions not only revolve around my favorite sports teams.. But around my personal life as well. Confused?... Let me explain.

There are certain things in life you just don't talk about. In my small albeit random dating world, I view being in a functioning relationship like pitching the ever elusive “perfect game.” The less you talk about the X’s and O’s, and the sheer mechanics of it, the better chance you have at making it work. Anyone that's been around the Game knows that the jinx is real. I hadn't come close to throwing a perfect game since 2007. And it wasn't a pretty one. It was more of the Edwin Jackson versus the Rays variety. But do style points really matter at that point in the game? Some will say I was still using performance enhancers in the form of my 34Ds. And I while I wasn't trying to write José Canseco tell-all about it, I certainly didn't argue with them.

In 2009, I laid off the "juice" I guess you could say and went back to the basics. I dusted off my heater. Shaped up my curve, and prayed to God that my slider didn't look like Scott Kazmir's. It was small yard ball, the kind you see outside your local YMCA or in sandlots across middle America or small town stadiums in generic Carolina cities. The mechanics weren’t perfect, but the talent was there. And at least no one was winning free steaks from hitting one off of the Bull at my expense.

The funny thing is I wasn’t worried about being perfect or throwing no-no’s I was just simply a girl having fun. That is until one guy dropped the dreaded title on me in public.

"This is my girlfriend… blah blah blah blah blah.”

Once someone had applied the Heimlich, I'm pretty sure I visibly shuttered. When did that happen? Better yet, how had this happened? Miss monogamy? Miss relationship? Miss perfect girlfriend? And all of the sudden I shuddered at the idea of being in a committed relationship. WTF was wrong with me? Here were perfectly good men. Who treated me well. Who I had tons in common with. And I couldn't muster up the two syllables they longed to hear. Boy... friend.

I mean, in the most literal context, they were boys, and we were friends. But, I had tons of male friends. So what made these so different.

I just didn't see the need to define things. Did relationships really need labels and boundaries? Maybe I was hiding from something? Maybe I was just keeping myself from getting hurt. I've never been the one to hide my feelings from people. Shit, I post them in my blog for the ten of you that may actually read my drivel, one of those is my own mom. But for the past year or so I had played my emotions close to the vest. I was that bad ass Angelina Jolie-esque girl. The kinda girl that had made boys cry and showed no mercy doing so. Well, at least publicly. When had I become such a cynical asshole?

Just the idea of being 'Pujolsed’ again made me haul ass faster than Willie Mays. My friends often joked when I'd show up in a new pair of sneakers, that I'd simply run the soles out of the other ones. I won't lie, I'm on my 3rd pair in less than a year... So their observations aren't totally inaccurate.

So for well over a year it seemed I did the dance about the mound. Sure, I struck some dudes out, but my pitch count bordered on insanity. Then this past spring, things were starting to come together. I was seemingly on top of my game. I had been consistent. I had been calm, and collected.. Things were awesome on this one particular day. It was the bottom of the seventh, I was playing it cool.. But then my head got the best of me over this one particular batter.

Next thing I knew there was a meeting at the mound. Self Doubt was playing first base, my emotions were at short, and insecurity was on second. Had one of those ridiculous Fu Manchu mustaches going on. He was forever in an image identity crisis it seemed and during the off season would grow out his facial hair only to shave it into some random configuration in time for team pictures. This look defined ridiculous on his young face as he tried to feign a “devil may care” persona.

Ego played third. He's the type of dude that had a portrait of himself commissioned as half horse, half man. And while we all publicly razz him for it, there's an inner voice in us that says, "Vain, and bordering on some weird Liza Minelli territory or not.. That shit is bad ass."

Each had their own two cents to add on the subject. When Self Doubt brought it up.

“Hey Sterg, you do know you’re in the middle of a …”

“SSSSSHHHH! What the French toast are you doing Self Doubt? Keep quiet,” said Ego.

Effing rookies. Don't you know the first rule of a no hitter..

By the time our meeting adjourned my mind was anywhere but on the mound. At that point in time, I might as well have been Doc Ellis mid acid trip.
“What are you doing? Are you sure you're the only one he's seeing? Don't you need to define what this is?”

“No!” I yelled back. “I don't. Why jinx it?”

I'm sure to the outside world I looked the Grant Balfour, glove to my mouth shouting obscenities at my inner voices, reprimanding them..

"Don't you jokers know.. You don't ever talk about a perfect..."

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

Maybe the time had come when I had to talk about it. This game had gone on for months now between us. And no one was willing to acknowledge what it was we were doing. So.. I did what I thought I had to do.. I broached the subject on the ride to the airport one day. The home stretch. The bottom of the ninth. “At least I would know,” I thought. So I served up what little heat I had left in me.. And..


I not only allowed a hit, but I allowed a solo home run shot. As my friend Billy Zane would say.. "It’s a walk off."

How had I committed a grievous rookie error? C’mon Sterger. Clear the f'n mechanism. You're better than this.

Maybe I had been right to just let things develop as they will and not overthink things as I tend to do. My brain often times had been my own worst enemy calling back memories of that time I’d be Albert ‘Pujolsed’ in front of my friends, my family, and on the airwaves that had watched the drama unfold before our very eyes.

Any kind of experience like that will have even a seasoned vet questioning themselves. Maybe I didn't have what it took anymore. Maybe my Smoltz years had come and gone, and not only had the team I had been so loyal to didn't want me, but I hardly had enough gas to be traded for a pile of used bats, and a half empty box of big league chew. I was doomed to wind up teaching pitching methods to dumb ass kids with stupid nicknames and hooking up with a much younger hotter Susan Sarandon as I faded into obscurity.

Why is everyone else around me pitching perfect games? What do they know that I don't? My stuff is just as good as theirs. I'm just as dedicated. Maybe it really was all just a giant mind f*ck I had put on myself. Being around sports as long as I have been, even I know a pitcher can be his own worst enemy. A few wild pitches, lousy officiating, and you could start second guessing yourself.

My next few starts didn’t go so well. Ok, they were downright disgusting. Finally, I just found myself sitting on the mound for what seemed like months, and waiting for the inevitable: for the manager to stroll out to the middle of the field and give me the business in front of a crowd of people. And put me out of my misery. But a funny thing happened.

He never came.

Instead I looked over to the dugout, and found a team had rallied around me. Mostly the usual suspects, but a few new faces that had joined the team in the past few months for no other reason than they liked me for me. The goofy girl who is far too smart for her own good. The girl who knows no strangers that spends countless hours socializing with random people whom she's never met, yet considers friends. The outwardly cynical tom boy, that's 2 parts bad ass to 1 part Julia Roberts.. all while still remaining open to the idea that the right dude could convince her to change her wild ways. Eh.. Or something like that. I made a rookie mistake that so many guys had made in their dealings with me.. but rest assured I had learned from it.

I'm not saying I'm going back to the horn rimmed glasses or carving patterns in my head that would embarrass Kid n Play.. But I’m definitely going back to the roots of the game.. And the pitch I knew best.

Confidence was crouched behind the plate. He calls all the pitches and knows me best. Sometimes we don't always see eye to eye, but he's definitely pulled me through some tough situations. I think that's the veteran in him.

He's always the first to remind me, "Hey remember that time when... Yeah? Well, this ain’t shit compared to that. So settle down Sterger. You've got this! Give 'em the heater Sterg.”

That's right..

To quote a very wise friend of mine.. Sometimes you just have to step back and look at it all.

Then say..

"I'm Jenn effin Sterger.

“I'm effin in. And they're effin out."

That’s the thing about No-No’s. Sometimes they happen when you least expect them to, but more often when you need them the most. Just don’t try to talk about them. After all, that is what arbitration is for later.