Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Last Temptation of Sefat Farid Yu Darvish (or) Why Perfection Isn't Always Perfect

The most perfect thing about humans are their imperfections.

Throughout our lives we often strive for things we will ultimately fail to reach. Perhaps as simple as learning to speak a foreign language or as complex as climbing Mount Everest. Yet for some reason we set strange, lofty goals on ourselves for some inexplicable reason. Is it that we desire to "live life to the fullest?" Or maybe it's a sense of timelessness that comes with achieving something worth more than a short anecdote shared over a few beers on a Tuesday night after work. Whatever the reason, and regardless of goal achievement, we will hopefully all find the pursuit of perfection is in fact a red herring. When the greatness in effort is realized, that is when we achieve perfection.

On a cool night in Houston, many miles from the juxtaposed springtime of my Indiana home, the baseball world waited on perfection. This kind of perfection is not unattainable, and has in fact happened nearly two dozen times. But here stood Yu Darvish, the 26 year old Major League sophomore and Japanese import, one out away from becoming frozen in time. Into the batter's box for the third time stepped Marwin Gonzalez, a native Venezuelan and second year utility infielder. He, the last hitter in the league's least-expensive lineup, had his own place in history to ponder. If he did not get on base, he would be merely a footnote to his flamethrowing counterpart's greatest achievement; spotting from the foothills has another man conquers Everest.

The duel between pitcher and batter is not merely a matching of brute versus brawn. Yes, strength on either side has its advantage, but the game of baseball is first a battle of wits. Batters know a pitcher's tendencies and delivery. The game's best hitters will know, from the flicker-fleeting moment the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, where it is going. So in subtle adjustments, pitchers and batters adjust to better outwit their opponent. They chase a metaphysical perfection that can never truly manifest itself until the other side gives in. Think about a chess match, but the playing surface has no borders. Always adjusting the defense and attack. Forever looming in on victory, but only strafing and tinkering with formation. So is baseball. A batter gets knocked down, he adjusts and tries again. On his second attempt, he again is bested. But the perfection of baseball is most certainly the cruel fate of a third chance.

The ball leaves Darvish's hand at 91 miles per hour. Gonzalez has but the twinkling of an eye to decide if he will swing, where he will swing, and how hard he must swing to make contact. He does. The ball is returned, in serendipity, directly to Darvish.

Between his legs.

Past the infield.

Perfection, denied.

One out from perfection, the cardinal triumph of pitching, it was washed away. And in that moment, perhaps in mammoth relief, Darvish smiled. Perhaps he was merely patronizing the crushing disappointment. Or maybe, just maybe, he had realized the perfection in his imperfection.

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