Tuesday, June 10, 2008

For What Its Worth

by David G. Woolley

Kerry Lynn Blair is a wonderful author friend. She's a baseball fanatic. I'm a soccer junkie. She's gracious. I'm blunt. She's also battled cancer the past two months and it appears she's won. This post is for her. Forgive my baseball naiveté, but don't excuse my cold, calculating scientific methods. This is, after all, a purely scientific study.

The hypothesis? Is it possible to alter internal motivation. You know, that drive deep down inside that compels an otherwise sane human to chase down a fly ball for the sheer joy of catching it, the elation of hitting the ball over the fence, or the thrill of running the bases. Can you play baseball for something other than the love of it?

At this preliminary point in the study my baseball frenzied friend Kerry Lynn Blair screamed a very unscientific no! We confiscated her cool white scientist frock and removed her name from the study. Scientifically speaking she's not nearly as discrete about her bias as, say, I am. Baseball stinks. Soccer rules.

I was a research assistant at the university. It seemed like a harmless experiment. I mean, it was baseball not life. [insert another Kerry Blair scream here] The love of the game is an attitude. A mind set. A world view. But this was only baseball so we didn't bother to consult The Center for Experimental Ethics (CEE). A little tinkering in the name of science seemed harmless enough until, of course, we met our subjects. All sixth graders. None of them looked remotely like a white mouse.

Joey was the ring leader. He was also the catcher and the fattest kid at Gertrude Elementary. He gathered his ten closest pals every afternoon after school on an empty sand lot with a tree house marking the third base foul line. Opening pitch: 4:00 pm sharp. Come late and he'd sit on you. Hit a home run and he'd carry you around the bases on his shoulders. Timmy was the skinny outfielder in the blue cap. He never had to run at full speed. His arms were too long for that. Timmy was the reason Joey didn't carry the whole team on his shoulders. Bull was the other reason. He was their only pitcher. Fast ball speed: 25 MPH. Curve ball speed: 25 MPH. No change up, no slider. If he didn't show up, Joey climbed the tree house and threw rocks. Bull lived next door to third base. The boy never stopped talking which served him well on the mound. His favorite line was, "hey batter, batter, can't take the love," which I believed, at the time, was a reference to his fast ball. Every day Bull managed to ask us the same question. Why were we writing everything down on a clipboard? I think he's the governor of Iowa now.

Our first step was to determine participant frequency. After four weeks we concluded that rain didn't keep them away. A cold front with hail didn't stop them from playing. Not even a tornado touching down in another neighborhood could spook them enough to put away their gloves. They used the tree house for shelter. Our testing ended before winter set in, but fat Joey swore they had snow shovels. They never missed. No one wanted Joey sitting on them.

The first experimental trial was scheduled for a warm Monday afternoon in September. After the last pitch, we approached the boys and offered them a dollar each to return on Tuesday.

Joey said, "Let me get this straight. You want us..." He held out his chubby hands like a car salesman. "To come back tomarra and you're gonna pay us a buck?"

"That's right." I held up a stack of one dollar bills.

"Come on guys." Joey laid his bat over his shoulder and started for home. "I told you. He's crazy."

Tuesday they all came back. I paid them their dollar. They played with the same enthusiasm as always, Joey carrying home run hitters around the bases, Timmy bringing in fly balls and Bull talking hey-batter-batter trash between every pitch. When they finished on Tuesday I offered up a handful of fifty cent pieces and said, "If you come back tomorrow, I'll pay each of you one of these."

Bull said, "Only fifty cents?"

"That's right."

"That's it?

I said, "Fifty cents."

When they finished on Wednesday I offered them a quarter to return. On Thursday a dime. And on Friday I told them, "If you come back Monday after school no one gets anything."

At 4:00 pm the following Monday the sand lot was empty. No fat Joey. No long-armed Timmy. No hey-batter-batter Bull. We monitored the lot for two weeks. No sand lot players. The statistical report supported the premise of the study. As hypothesized, the internal motivation of our subjects had been altered to an external motivation in the form of cash awards. Once those external rewards were removed, the desire of our subjects to participate was reduced. The study was over. The hypothesis was accepted as true. The professors at the university published their findings. Everyone went home.

Except the subjects.

On a whim I drove by the sand lot on a cold day in early November. There they were, playing baseball in the rain. I said, "Haven't seen you boys out here much."

Bull tossed me a bat. "You want another crack at me crazy man?"

"I thought you grew out of all this?"

Bull stepped to the pitcher's mound. Before he threw me his twenty five mile per hour fast ball he said, "Hey, batter, batter. Can't take the love."

Bull was right. No matter the scientific results, the best things in life, the most important ones, aren't for sale. At any price. They're rooted deep down inside. Nothing, including the coldest, grimmest statistics, can take away what you love.

Well done Kerry! Welcome back to good health.

Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog and he writes commentary and opinion at the Utah Ranger's Far Post blog


Rebecca Talley said...

Kerry is one of my all time favorite people. She's been in my thoughts a lot because she is such an inspiration to me.

Kerry Blair said...

At last, Dave, you GET IT! I'm so proud. (Not to mentioned honored and touched.) What an incredible post.

One thing: the battle with cancer is over and I am triumphant! (Yea for me!) One of the things that seems to help the most is that nutrition thing you've been championing for so long. bless you.

Rebecca: Right back at you!

David G. Woolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David G. Woolley said...

Hi Kerry:

You always manage to beat the odds. How do you say that in baseball? I've got a terrible accent. Nothing like health. Right?

As for nutrition, dearest, I could talk your ear off. But then you knew that. Eat right. Always. And you'll have marrow in your bones, you'll walk and not be weary and run and not faint and that destroying cancer angel will pass you over for sure.

David G. Wool"ly"

Kerry Blair said...

Which reminds me, I still have three guesses.

Licks Yaks?

David G. Woolley said...


I hate it when I remind you.

Wrong again. Want a hint?

David G. Woolley

nascent said...

This evening I was at a little league, machine pitch, baseball game. What happen in the bleachers is what made me think of this blog. A young boy 5 or 6 years old slipped and fell in the stand. He was not physically hurt, but his ego was bruised. Through his tears he began to yell at his dad, "You hurt me! You pushed me!" In a gentle-loving manner, the father kindly said, "No I didn't." The same dialog went on and on for several minutes. Then the boy said,"I'll be happy again dad if you buy me a present."

Now where did he learn that?

Kerry Blair said...

Sigh. Yes. A hint would be good.

Cami said...

This is one post I haven't read yet. Don't know why. Probably because I didn't need to until tonight. My baby boy plays baseball. He's really good at it. He gets to start as pitcher next week. His coach informed me today that he needs someone to practice with him in a "catcher" position. He was staring me in the eyes. I can play "catch." As for squatting down and letting him take aim between my eyes where the glove will hopefully be, I'm not so sure. Sigh. This is the hard part of baseball for me. I hope I can do this. I'm going to have to. What happens if I can't? You don't have to respond...I'm just thinking out loud. :)