Defensive indifference

It’s a hot and humid summer evening and my grandparents would surely be where they always were — sitting on their porch listening to the Buffalo Bisons game on the radio. They listened on my grandfather’s old transistor radio, one that was held together in places with a heavy bandages of tape but one that had served them well for probably longer than I had been on the planet. Nearly every summer day it was dialed into the Bisons baseball broadcast. And as summer gets into full swing along with the midway point of the baseball season, I can’t help but think of Gram and Gramp on the porch with their radio.

When I picture my grandparents as a young couple going to baseball games, this is the photo which comes to mind.

One summer, I was determined to learn how to keep score in a baseball game (in between readings of Trixie Belden that is) and it was my grandfather who taught me. I don’t remember learning the rules of baseball, but I do remember learning how to score. Because it’s not easy. I got the basics down quickly — hits, walks, strikeouts, runs scored. But baseball is full of intricacies, like balks and intentional walks and infield fly rules. I would practice scoring by watching Toronto Blue Jays games on CFTO-TV (for those under 30 imagine, if you would, a world without on-demand channels) and inevitably call Gramps up to ask a scoring question. Luckily he had infinite patience in those days. And to be honest, every time I fill in the lineup on my scorecard, I think about him. Gramps loved statistics. There was something about the order and simplicity of the numbers which seemed to bring him joy.

Gram wasn’t into the numbers. At least not to my recollection. Baseball had a strong connection to her childhood and she would tell stories of how she and her brothers got into Offerman Stadium in Buffalo to watch the baseball team play for free, because they collected the baseballs hit outside the park during batting practice and turned them in at the gate. Gram appreciated the poetry of the game. She was about nuance and stories.

Put statistics and poetry together and with a tall glass of lemonade it’s not a bad way to pass a summer evening.

But there’s one thing about baseball which I think both my grandparents missed and it’s wrapped up in my favorite scoring play of all: defensive indifference.

Defensive indifference comes when a runner advances without any play from the catcher. It’s not a stolen base. The catcher never made a play. The defense was indifferent. I love this call. It’s like a bit old whatever dude. On the surface it makes me laugh. But look a bit deeper and it’s an important play. See defensive indifference is not at all about the baserunner or about the defense being lazy, which indifference seems to suggest. It’s about focusing on what’s important in the moment. In this illustrative life example from the world of baseball, what’s important is the batter. The runner? He (or she) is already on base. There is no need to worry about him. Focus on what’s in front of you right now. Get this batter out. The rest will take care of itself.

I wish my grandparents had a little more defensive indifference in their lives. I wish they could have let go of injuries and mistakes of the past to focus on the present. It’s not that you forget the baserunner is there. Past decisions have created the situation you are in today. But you can’t be consumed with the past decisions, with that baserunner. If you are, chances are pretty great that you’ll get yourself into a deeper hole because your focus and concentration are elsewhere and, oops!  The batter just plunked your fastball in the middle of the highway in left centerfield.

There is wisdom in playing defensive indifference. And even if Gram and Gramp didn’t quite embrace that lesson themselves, they set the stage for me to learn it. For that, I am grateful, especially on this day when we celebrate American freedom and the opportunity to continually remake ourselves.

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