Roy Hobbs, the Natural
I occasionally remember, and think about, a scene from the movie “The Natural” starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close. It goes something like this:
Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris Gaines: And then?
Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.
It’s a great scene, a memorable scene, a scene this writer cannot ignore on this Saturday morning. Where I grew up, in our neighborhood, at that time, Roy’s dream was the dream of most of us kids. I dreamed of being a fire-balling pitcher in the Bigs, blowing fastballs past Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, bowing towards the stands as the thousands of fans stood as one, declaring me to be the best of the best. It would surely happen if I just worked hard enough.
The Best There Ever Was . . . Contrasting Thoughts
I was listening to an interview the other day, an interview with a 30+ pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Wade LeBlanc is his name, and after countless years, bouncing around the League, including a stop in Japan (the graveyard of ex-Major League players), he has finally found a home in Seattle . . . and he’s found success as well.
It seems odd for a thirty-plus journeyman pitcher to speak about just starting to understand himself as a pitcher, but that’s how LeBlanc describes his current position. Listening to a recent interview with him, I’m drawn to the way Wade emphasizes the words “good enough.”
Wanting to be good enough is one of the deepest human longings—good enough to be respected, good enough to be loved, good enough to be considered deserving of good things in life. It’s also a fear: you need to be good enough at your job in order to keep it, a margin that’s razor-thin for people who throw baseballs for a living. For years, Wade has heard about how his stuff isn’t good enough to get out major league hitters. Every article where Wade LeBlanc shuts down the opposition is written with a touch of incredulity. This guy is shutting us down?
The 30’s are a time of making peace with your life and your body. You learn about what good enough actually is, as you collect and lose love, get hired and fired and hired again, suffer through losses and re-accumulate, and realize there is more to fashion than jeans and a t-shirt. You learn that limits can be useful things, because they give you a defined space in which to see how far you can stretch, and force you to be creative and thoughtful in how you approach these limits. The wild experimentation and wandering in the wilderness of the 20’s is over, and you can focus on winnowing your knowledge down to the truest and most necessary things. Like sharpening your cutter into a weapon that carves up batters, or adding some extra nasty sink to your changeup. Like learning about angles, fooling the batter’s eye by pitching up, pitching down, inside and outside, variations of a mind-game as old as man himself. Instead of trying to fit in with what other pitchers are doing, Wade is working on being his best Wade, and the Mariners rewarded him for it. Wade doesn’t have to worry about being good enough. He can simply know he is . . . he is Wade . . . he is doing what he loves doing . . .
And in that knowledge he has found peace.
And by Extension . . .
I think we can all relate to both philosophies of life, the Roy Hobbs “be the best” and the Wade LeBlanc “be good enough.” I know I certainly can.
As a youngster I was going to be a great baseball player, the best pitcher this world has ever seen. And then later in life the best teacher, the best businessman, the best, the best, and the best; but time tends to smooth the edges into curves, like a river flowing over jagged rock, and the sharpness of our goals becomes smooth beauty of its own kind as clarity and yes, reality, come into play.
It is only natural to want to “be the best.” We humans seem to be born with a wide-eyed belief that we can do anything. Loving parents tell us the same. The sky is the limit, to infinity and beyond, clichés rain down upon us, feeding our delusions, while at the same time realities are highlighting limitations . . . we cannot all be the best, it is impossible to be so, pure folly, the stuff of childhood dreams and nothing more.
But in failing to reach those lofty goals do we actually fail, or is there a pot of gold at the end of a long trail traversed honorably and admirably? Do we . . . should we . . . receive some sort of reward for simply learning who we are, learning what we are capable of being, and excelling in that confined space?
I Will Never Be . . .
Honestly, and I say this without any trace of self-flagellation, I will never be the greatest writer of all time. I will never be the greatest husband, the greatest father, the greatest urban farmer, or the greatest friend who ever lived. When I walk down the street of life, people will never point at me and say “there goes Bill Holland, the best there ever was in this game of life.”
And I’m fine with that!
I’m pretty damned good at some things.
I suck at others.
I am human!
And I find great comfort in that knowledge.
The Mariners Took a Chance on Wade Leblanc
To the tune of $650,000, a chance on a journeyman pitcher no one else wanted, a pitcher with a reputation of falling just short of greatness, a journeyman facing twilight without any prospects for the limelight . . .
And that chance paid off, success all around, raise your glasses in a toast, a toast to resilience, a toast to determination, and a toast to the peace of mind which comes from being good enough.
And what’s good enough for Wade LeBlanc is surely good enough for . . . us all!
In a world where glamour still sells, where the poor idolize the rich, and little girls starve themselves to look like their favorite starlet; in a world where the American Dream is dangled in front of our noses, urging us to surge forward and achieve success; in a world where the Bachelor, and the Bachlelorette, are watched by millions of adoring wannabees; in that world, at this time, the truth that we are all good enough is desperately needed.
From the womb to the turbulent teens to the struggles of adulthood, we are good enough.
Through the failures and the divorces and the pipe-dreams turned pipe-bombs, we are good enough.
Through the shattered hopes and the lost loves, we are good enough.
One of a kind! Unique among seven billion! The rarest of the rare!
We are good enough, you and I . . . and there is peacefulness in that realization.
2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)