About ten years ago, I became a little league baseball coach - kids between 7 and 8 years old. It’s really hard and really fun. The trick with kids that age is to find a way to motivate them while keeping it fun at the same time. One day at the end of a game, I chose an MVP for that particular game and gave him a box of raisins. After that, every kid wanted to win the raisins so I had to remember to stock up whenever I went to the grocery store. Raisins became the theme of that season. When someone got a hit or made a nice play, all the kids would start chanting, “Raisins! Raisins! Raisins!”.
My team’s home field is situated in a little complex where there are three diamonds - two small ones and a big one. One day someone organized a home run derby on the big field and to impress the kids, I decided to enter. After cranking a few taters, one of the other participants asked if I’d be interested in joining his men’s league team. I decided to take him up on the offer.
So for the last six or seven years now, I’ve been playing serious competitive baseball again (after having not played seriously for 20 years). It’s a good league. Wooden bats. Each team has at least a few guys who played at the national level or who played college ball in the US. There have been a few guys with pro experience. I mostly play shortstop and second base. I’m a good hitter. I’ve managed a batting average of around .400 every year. But the biggest surprise has been my pitching. I still got it! I pitch in relief (so usually no more than an inning or two per game) and for a stretch of three years, I didn’t give up a run! I had a 0.00 ERA for the better part of three years. I gave up my first run in that stretch in the last game of last season.
I have a million stories from the trenches. I’ll share one with you. In my first or second year in the league, my team was playing the perennial best team (also our top rival). I came up to bat in the 9th inning with our team losing 2-1. There were two guys on base. Pitching for the bad guys was the best pitcher in the league. This guy throws very hard. But I got the barrel of my bat on his fastball. Crack! Beautiful sound… Off the bat, I thought it might leave the yard for a home run. But it hit the fence and I ended up with a double that scored two runs, giving us the lead (which we held to win the game). It was a big moment. I was pumped and I couldn’t contain it. I looked over to my dugout to see my teammates celebrating and so I showed them a few dance moves. My guys loved it. The opposing pitcher did not. When the inning was over, he (a real mean-looking and admittedly intimidating person) ran over to me, got up in my face and said, “next time I see you, you’re getting it in the fucking ribs” - meaning: he felt as though I was showing him up by celebrating, that he wouldn’t forget it and that payback would take the form of intentionally hitting me with a fastball. He and I have had a contentious 1-on-1 ever since and to this point, the results of our battles have been about 50/50 - sometimes he gets me, sometimes I get him. I’ll be seeing him again in a few days.
This nemesis guy is fairly prototypical of the players in the league. A lot of guys drive black F150s and work blue collar jobs. Manly men. Jocks. Although they remind me of people I knew growing up in a small town, I don’t have a whole lot of interaction with this type outside of baseball these days. But I’m grateful for the experience. I think it’s good to talk to and work with all kinds of people. Spending a few days a week with old school baseball goons and good ol’ boys has given me some perspective and I’ve learned some valuable things.
I hate to be so blunt about it but most of the best players in the league are pretty dumb dudes. Once in a while in baseball, you’ll come across a person who can think their way to success but it’s rare. The legendary Hall Of Famer Yogi Berra once said, “baseball is 90% mental - the other half is physical”. Sums things up pretty well. But the mental part of the game isn’t necessarily about smarts, per se. Hitting and pitching in particular require enormous amounts of focus. And what I’ve learned is that to be successful, you have to have a very short memory. If you over-think and dwell on mistakes or bad breaks, you’re toast. You have no chance. When I’m pitching, I pretty much have to switch my brain off. I basically operate as a machine with one job: to throw strikes. I concern myself with nothing else. And this may sound weird but for me to perform at my best - to stay loose, which is so important - I tell myself: “I don’t care what happens.” I need to go into this semi-detached state.
Now here’s another little wrinkle in the psychology. To do anything well in baseball - hitting, throwing, fielding - you have to do it with absolute conviction. You have to believe in yourself completely. You can’t have a moment’s doubt. If you do, you will almost certainly fail.
These are the things I’ve learned from the blockheads I play baseball with. Don’t over-think. Have a short memory. Believe in yourself.
In lieu of music, baseball has been the most important thing in my life for the last seven or eight years. It was the most import thing for most of the first 25 years of my life too. So, in the last six months, as my attention has swung back to music a little bit, my view of things has been shaped - in part - by the baseball psychology I’ve been locked into. As I’ve been looking back at my career, I’ve been assessing my creative choices, good and bad. With the distance I’ve gained from time away, I’ve revisited my catalogue and from where I stand today, I think was onto something good/interesting/ special for just one or two years. 1996 in particular was THE year. I hit on something in 1996. I love what I was doing then. I love the energy. I just wish I could have committed to what I was doing then. CONVICTION! I wish I believed in what I was doing enough to keep going with it.
My biggest successes were in the years between 1999 and 2003 or so. Plenty of cool and fun stuff happened after that. Maybe it’s easy for me to say now - having benefitted from that success - but on a purely artistic level I wish I had stuck to the guns I was carrying in ’96.
Instead of staying true to my core artistic values, I obsessed over the idea of “bringing something new to the game”, or whatever the hell. I guess it worked, to a degree. But if I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would have gone down that same path. In fact, sometimes a part of me wishes I had never left my home town of Halifax.
I’ll break my thoughts down record-by-record in the posts I’m planning to do next month, after I set up the paid subscription thing. I hope you’ll follow me there when the time comes.
One day last fall, I listened to the first Sebutones album - Psoriasis (from 1996) - for the first time in a long time. There’s a song on that album called “Goin’ Splits”. I wouldn’t write some of the lyrics in that song today. There’s plenty I’d change about that album on the whole. But I love my performance on that song. Who the hell was THAT guy?! Where did all the confidence come from? Hearing that song again fired me up and it was one of the jumping-off points for the forthcoming King Of Drums album. I guess you could say that - in a way - I’m trying to get back to ’96. I want to reclaim the Buck 65 of ’96 even though I’m twice the age of that guy now. I’m 50 years old, for Christ’s sake. But I’m still playing baseball. I’m a better ball player now than I was when I was 25. And playing ball has helped me regain my focus.
In the next post, I’ll tell you about the secret time machine that has also taken me back to the ‘70s and the ‘80s.