Friday, January 19, 2024

“Fear Strikes Out” Jimmy Piersall and Me


Every so often, especially when anxiety is getting the best of me, I think of Jimmy Piersall, a gifted, but trouble baseball player who spent some time playing with my beloved Mets. It was his book, written the year I was born, that made the greatest impact on me. Eventually, what was then referred to as “crazy behavior,” we now understand as bipolar disorder.

I read the book at a young age, finding some comfort in knowing that others grew up in dysfunctional families. His mother, on occasion, needed to be hospitalized due to her mental health issues – she may even have been catatonic at times. I felt a kinship to Piersall’s childhood. My mother was never hospitalized, but it was alcoholism that kept her aloof and silent. I read his book over and over.

Many years later, I worked for someone who was scheduled to meet with Piersall at his post-baseball job. My boss couldn’t believe how excited I was, and I convinced him to take my well-worn book along with a note, asking for his signature and thanking him for writing about a then-taboo subject.

I still think that running backward around the bases to celebrate his 100th home run a was celebratory tribute to his fans as well as his tenacity to sticking with baseball, despite his mental health challenges. The Mets, however, didn’t see it that way and he was released two days later.

Yesterday, I had an anxiety attack, and I wrote about how I was feeling in raw terms. I realize that came as a surprise on a blog called “Living on the Smile Side of Life.” However, for all of us, there are days when smiles are hard to come by, resilience is depleted, and our brains slide toward the dark side. Those are the times when dark poetry inhabits my keyboard – and with every keystroke, I help myself transfer the thoughts to the page. Although Jimmy Piersall struggled for most of his life, I am grateful to him, and others, who were able to transfer their trauma to the page. What habit, practice, hobby, or action helps you strike out fear? I’m considering, once winter is over, finding an empty baseball diamond and jogging around the bases, backwards.


Piersall's 100th Home Run




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