Baseball Player I Am Not.

Like most American boys I spent the springs and summers of my youth playing baseball. I say “playing” but I think “showing up” does the description of my little league career more justice. I was arguably La Jolla Little League’s worst ballplayer of the late 1980s (possibly of the entire 1980s) and of the early 1990s (but hopefully not of the entire 1990s) matched in my anti-athleticism only by the unimaginable skilllessness possessed by one of my fellow bench-mates from the notorious season of ’89 who should remain unidentified, but won’t and whose name is Mark Bauman. Sorry Mark, I love you, but the record must so reflect…

For some reason recollections of youth baseball stick out more than any other memories from the time. I remember much from those simpler days. Ill-fitting baseball pants (more horse-jockey than major league). Size “youth-small” jock-straps (“youth small” were for 8 year olds and should have offended me at 10, but didn’t). Itchy socks (why the hell I insisted on Civil War-style wool socks, I’ll never know). A snug one-size-obviously-does-not-fit-all jersey (that would grip my soft and lumpy pre-teen body like a polyester saran wrap and should have embarrassed me, but, again, somehow didn’t). Cleats one or two sizes too big (mom always bought clothes for me like she was buying futures at the Chicago Commodities Exchange: “Don’t worry sweet-pea these are for you, and your younger brother!”[1]). We didn’t wear sunglasses (that’s what the glove was for) but having just the right batting glove was a big deal (an important life lesson: if you can’t be good, look good). And who could forget the classic ball-caps of the day? Those Bush I-era caps were unquestionably amazing. Synthetic-netted backs, adjustable plastic head fittings, and that massive billboard-puffy-painted styrofoam front advertising the neighborhood sponsor-de-jeur. Great hats.

I remember other things from my baseball years. Allergy attacks. Big League Chew. Uncomfortable carpools in wood-paneled station wagons. Chewing barbeque sunflower seeds, swallowing that sweet-salty pulp and nearly suffocating to death in right field. Pretty girls I didn’t know I wanted yet (but one day would) not-watching from the bleachers in short jean shorts. Chasing butterflies in the on-deck circle. Sitting on the bench not flirting with the pretty girls in short jean shorts. Leaving each game as clean as I arrived; and, most encompassing of all, being legendarily bad at the game of baseball and not being all too interested in getting any better.

So Why Play?

I played baseball because, like most all good red-blooded American kids, I innately understood that I had to. Somewhere deep down in that chunky little body of mine, there was a chunky little heart[2] that knew there was something that moved me about the game[3]. I think I was called to action by the legacy of what it all meant, by the sights and sounds of the game’s elegant arena, and other mystifying nuances of baseball magic that is the command of this great American pastime over a young man’s soul. And who among us can deny the intoxication of a cold fountain soda and an authentic ballpark super dog covered in mustard and ketchup on a hot summer day? No, I didn’t play baseball because I wanted to…I played baseball because I had to…

The Tribulations of Fatherhood & Baseball’s Life Lesson.

My dad was really the one that had it rough back then. Me? I didn’t know any better. But my poor father. All those game days he had to endure. Man. The sheer misery this former collegiate rugby player and Vietnam Vet certainly suffered watching his (slow, fat, talentless) son strike out at the plate, miss the ball out in the field, warm the bench (not flirt with hot chicks), choke on sunflower seeds, clear his throat violently and put his glove on his head. The terrible indignity! As if coming home three times from Vietnam wasn’t hard enough, now he had to sit stoically by in active support of weakness, next to other fathers whose offspring didn’t suck.[4]

But he was always there for me. Through all the discomfitures. Sitting in those wooden bleachers with that chipped green paint, cheering me on. Doing that very thankless fatherly task of supporting his son’s mediocrity[5]. All this was the tough part. My old man’s ability to maintain a physical presence beside his fellow men under such upsetting circumstances is a testament to the Martin commitment to never showing weakness…even in the face of our own weakness.

No, my dad never gave up; he continued to coach me along with valuable lessons in the game of baseball despite my proven inability to ever demonstrate either improvement or interest.

One such essential baseball lesson became an essential life lesson and was the most important and basic message of them all (more important than the lesson that instructs a father must stand behind the real-life embarrassment he knows he’s half responsible for)…this lesson was to keep your eye on the ball.[6]

A Story that Proves Valuable Life Lessons Aren’t Always True

Sometime during the summer season of 1990 I was traded by the coach of the blue team to the coach of the red team for a warm six pack of Miller Light, a September 1987 edition of Playboy and a Jimmy Buffett CD. I learned this in the summer of 1998, when I was dating the daughter of the coach of 1990’s yellow team. Somehow, even all these years later, this is more sad than funny. But besides my own management’s heartless dealings, another thing happened in the summer of 1990: I got my very first hit.

I’ll never forget the pageantry of that at bat. Walking up to the plate, digging in my cleats (they were bought just before the season of 1988, so they fit just fine), gripping the bat, and closing my eyes tightly as the pitcher released the ball. Next I remember slow motion and white light, some b-side arena rock song by Queen and feeling the pain ringing in my hands from the sweet connection of that leather-coated rubber and string with aluminum. The bat slung the ball deep into the outfield (it should have, I had the physique of a Tely-Tubby), I opened my eyes, smiled (probably even giggled) and trotted to first base.

What for every other kid in the ballpark that day should have been a stand-up triple, was, for this young braveheart, a very long single. And my very first hit. It was a great day. It was the day I learned that skill, hard work, training, dedication and adherence to the fundamentals and principles of the game required for superior performance and execution (principles like ‘keep your eye on the ball’) could all be overcome by (quite literally) blind luck.

Yes, that day I learned that sometimes shortcuts do work. I was so happy with myself I think I waved. I probably even bowed. And I tucked that little gem of a life lesson deep down beneath the delicate architecture of my own moral courage, should life’s later challenges once again require such blind-luck-swingings.

I’m not sure what my dad did after that hit – he probably told everyone in those bleachers that the kid that finally hit the ball was his son; which if I was my father, would have been news to all of them.

The very next play I was thrown out at second. And I struck out every other at bat that season.

Luck gets you only so far.

I never did learn how to follow a baseball from a pitcher’s hand to the face of my bat (or anything else about baseball really); but I also never forgot the importance of keeping your eye on the ball.

And this, the keeping your eye on the ball part, has everything to do with Afghanistan.

Keep Your Eye On the Ball

Our decision to authorize 30,000 more combat troops into Afghanistan was a wise one. Our decision to set a timetable for July 2011 withdrawal was not. With the effects of the approved surge still unknown (the last of the combat surge units don’t even finish arriving until the end of this month) we mustn’t set dates not associated with achievement.

If success in this war is indeed critical to our national security (it is), then we must let General Petraeus, and the rugged men and women in his charge, do their job.

The General’s approach to this war has been that “any troop withdrawal would depend on the situation on the ground” and last week responded to the President’s announcement explaining that the July date “is not the date when the American forces would begin an exodus.” Which is a good thing; and Vice President Biden later back-pedaled saying it would be a “transition.” All this is semantics.

Our message simply must be one of commitment to win a war we are in fact capable of winning. And as far as fighting a successful counter-insurgency and subsequent nation-building goes, it’s the Commander in Chief that should say so.

The President must do what the Bush Administration couldn’t do with the Iraq War: ask for the patience of the American people, make his case, stress our commitment to success there, enable the mechanisms that will provide for such a thing, assure Americans, Afghanis and NATO that together we will prevail in war, and then lead us in the winning of it.

And this will be no easy task. With 155 Americans lost in the past 3 months (the most violent in this war’s history), things are as violent as ever. We’ve got to keep in mind though the reason for the increase in casualties is related to the increase in offensive operations. And with 6 out of 10 Americans opposing the war, we’ve got to keep in mind why we went there in the first place.

It should also be pointed out that we already defeated the Taliban and al-Qaeda there once, soundly, in 2001/2002. We defeated them at Mazar-I Sharif, in Kabul and Kunduz, at Kandahar and Tora Bora. Then Iraq became our main effort, and they had 7 years to reconstitute, refit, and counter-attack. This a predictable strategic consequence of a country faced with a two-front war: a main effort is assigned, and one stalls at the expense of the other. But now our focus is back to Afghanistan, and so we must accordingly rededicate our commitment to make it a place that resists the influence of evil al-Qaedists.

General Petraeus’ strategy will focus on mapping the human terrain, engaging key leaders and mullahs, conducting precision strikes on principle enemy lieutenants, engaging the intelligence activities of neighboring countries, surging combat power to essential population areas to provide the blanket of security needed to reenergize the local political and economic machines, and mobilize the local police and national Army.

Another essential aspect of his strategy will be to reconcile with the Taliban, which was instrumental in Iraq’s turn. “It’s the case in a counter-insurgency that you must sit down with those who were once your enemy in order to achieve success,” General Petraeus said. “We sat down with many in Iraq who still had our blood on their hands – but this is how counter-insurgencies are waged and won. It is how things were done in Northern Ireland. It is how it was done in Iraq. It is how they are done with any counter-insurgency. And it is how we’ll have to do it here.”

Too much is at stake for us to leave Afghanistan prematurely. Al Qaeda will regain their former sanctuary they enjoyed during the anarchy of 1992-1996 and beyond, there will be heightened regional and global risks associated with the Pakistan-India-global-terrorism equation, and a battleground to continue to engage this evil transnational enemy will be surrendered.

As the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano points out, “Fighting terrorists in South Asia is not easy. But it is a worthwhile effort that offers the promise of a more enduring peace and a safer world for our civilians and allies. Now is the time to vanquish al-Qaeda and its affiliates, not give them a second lease on life. Running away would end nothing. Indeed, it would be but the prelude to more 9-11 style misery.”

And this has everything to do with the virtue of the lessons of little league baseball.

AFGHANISTAN: AMERICA’S BASEBALL.

A withdrawal in July of 2011 would perhaps bring us a moment of national calm; those of us in uniform would come home. The casualties would stop. The money that daily pours to our efforts there would be freed up for other use. But all this, should we not proceed with a conditions based approach, will not last for long.

Al-Qaeda will grow stronger. Attacks will increase world-wide and at home and we’ll find ourselves asking why we left Afghanistan before the job was done.

So what’s the solution? Aside from allowing General Petraeus to do his job; aside from mobilizing an economy deeply rich with natural resources to replace the opium trade; aside from daily killing al-Qaeda in place; aside from nation-building; aside from a calculated and aggressively waged counter-insurgency; aside from a national recognition (led by our President) that we are a nation at war – that this is not a war of choice, but a war of necessity – aside from all of this we must all remember that this is a war we simply cannot afford to lose.

If there’s one thing my experiences as La Jolla’s worst youth ballplayer (arguably of all time) taught me it’s that a lack of dedication and focus can really only get you to first base (and then only sometimes, and rarely gets you noticed by the pretty girls in the stands), and that it’s the commitment that counts.

In the case of war in Afghanistan there is no virtue in pursuing policy that amounts to the blind-luck-swingings of my youth. Here the most essential of little league baseball’s life lessons persists: that we don’t do this because we want to, we do this because we have to…

All the rest is just keeping our eye on the ball.


[1] Though I’m now completely traumatized by this, it’s hard to argue with such prudent logic.

[2] This makes more sense when drunk. And in between tears.

[3] Something obviously other than girls in short jean shorts. Which these days, is about all it takes.

[4] Sorry dad.

[5] I have since vowed to myself that if I’m in a similar situation with my own son, I must be present, but also wildly intoxicated.

[6] To this life lesson my dad would later add: “don’t get anyone pregnant” and, “don’t worry about that grade son, the world is run by C students.”




Posted by Alexander Martin in Foreign Policy


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  • Derrick

    Did Obama promise to end the entire US military presence in Afghanistan? I just briefly read this URL http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/defense/afghanistan, and it seems to state the scaling down of military forces will start summer of 2011, but does not state anything about a complete pull-out.

  • RickWilmes

    I agree with Col. Macgregor when he says,

    “The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

    http://www.progressivefix.com/tag/douglas-macgregor

    It is too bad we can not trade the COIN stategy for

    “for a warm six pack of Miller Light, a September 1987 edition of Playboy and a Jimmy Buffett CD.”

  • Jay

    You can google the full text of Pres Obama’s West Point speech easily.

    This is the relevant portion (I think): “Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

    To my mind — he set a date to try & get Pres Karzai & others to realize they have to really work at this, and the second sentence gives the US the ability to extend that date, if necessary.

    Of course — those with an agenda (“OBAMA IS CUTTING & RUNNING & RUINING OUR CHANCE OF VICTORY!!!!”, etc. and other such assorted nonsense…) focus on the Jul date only.

    Which is why my eyes glaze over every time I hear that claptrap.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    AM,

    Excellent post. I would mention that every time GWB asked for the patients of the American people in Iraq he was shouted down from every corner. BHO faces no such hostility from the MSM, and in fact has many of them to make his case, no matter the subject. But you are correct, as is General Conway. The July 2011 date is the only portion of the President’s remarks of consequence to our enemies.

    Jay,

    You define claptrap as anything not slightly left of Trotsky.

  • http://fareastcynic.com Skippy-san

    A withdrawal in July of 2011 would perhaps bring us a moment of national calm; those of us in uniform would come home. The casualties would stop. The money that daily pours to our efforts there would be freed up for other use. But all this, should we not proceed with a conditions based approach, will not last for long.

    Come July of 2011 we will have been in Afghanistan for ten years-furthermore as has been pointed out by a lot smarter people than I-if the Afghan people themselves don’t change, it won’t matter if we are there ten years or 30 years, it will still be a screwed up place. And not once to any of this sanctimonious group criticizing the President for actually saying what the majority ofthe American people want him to say-not once do they ever single out the Afghans for their fair share of blame. It is always our fault somehow.

    Even if we stay, the forces of radical extremism are already entrenched in other places in the world, so that kind of weakens the “Al Quaeda will get stronger” argument. The question you are asking is at what point does this continued drain of our resources become counter productive to the best interests of the United States? Or as Andre Bacevich put it, ” Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention: What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work? “.

    The answer is we passed the point of getting any positive return out of our involment in Afghanistan a long time ago. Ten years of fighting on behalf of people who won’t help themselves is more than enough. We did our bit-it is time to move on. If the war’s own unpopularity does not drive us out-our economic issues will, which were aggravated by the ideas of perptual war abroad in far away lands that do nothing to help our own issues.

  • doc75

    “in far away lands that do nothing to help our own issues.” Sometimes people from those far away lands fly airliners into your buildings in your homeland. And if al-Qaeda succeeded that spectacularly the first time, they will try hard to top that when they have sanctuary again.

    And what pray tell is “our own issues.” Must they be things the government has to solve for us with our own tax dollars.

    There is another “sanctimonious group” that says Bush started two wars of choice. Odd since Afghanistan wasn’t our choice.

    I think we are all tired of fighting. What the polls never ask is do you want to win. I suspect a lot of those wanting to get out would prefer to leave soon with a win.

  • Derrick

    In the statement “BHO faces no such hostility from the MSM”, what do BHO and MSM stand for?

    What else is being done in Afghanistan other than just military operations? Is the US not educating Afghan men and women? I think educating the women would help change that culture alot; no mother would encourage her son to become a suicide terrorist.

    Also, how many terrorist/Taliban are believed to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan? A few hundred? Or a few thousand?

  • Jay

    BHO=Pres Obama, (URR seems to be one of the few Marines who lack the military courtesy to call Pres Obama by his title…) and MSM = main stream media, which to many on the right = anything not Fox…

    Not sure about the numbers of Taliban, or Al Queda believed to be in A’stan currently.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “URR seems to be one of the few Marines who lack the military courtesy to call Pres Obama by his title…”

    I use BHO the same way I use GWB. So tell me again why using BHO or GWB (or JFK or FDR or GHWB) is so egregiously offensive to you and so disrespectful of the subject? Wouldn’t be that you simply look for things to pick at instead of reasoned disagreement, would it?

    Military courtesy? Lordy….

  • UltimaRatioReg

    MSM:

    Obama, Democrats got 88 percent of 2008 contributions by TV network execs, writers, reporters
    By: Mark Tapscott
    Editorial Page Editor
    08/27/10 3:45 PM EDT

    Senior executives, on-air personalities, producers, reporters, editors, writers and other self-identifying employees of ABC, CBS and NBC contributed more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and campaign committees in 2008, according to an analysis by The Examiner of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

    The Democratic total of $1,020,816 was given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks, with an average contribution of $880.

    By contrast, only 193 of the employees contributed to Republican candidates and campaign committees, for a total of $142,863. The average Republican contribution was $744.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Obama-Democrats-got-88-percent-of-TV-network-employee-campaign-contributions-101668063.html#ixzz0xxgxI2z1

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    You should have allowed my posting, moderator, even if it isn’t supportive of the official line. It was rational and to the point.

  • Derrick

    Well…come closer to July 2011 we will all have a better idea of what President Obama’s true intentions are.

    I didn’t receive any response regarding my question of whether US forces were educating the women of Afghanistan. Is that classified intel?

    Also, what exactly does the US navy do in Afghanistan? I just looked at a map (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan) and it shows me Afghanistan is completely inland…

  • Jay

    Derrick – I doubt U.S. Forces are educating Afghan women, not really a military mission…

    Navy folks do similar missions inland similar to the other forces. Check out Navy press releases on public websites…

  • Derrick

    I am no expert, but based on conversations with people who originated from that region, I think a lot of their behavior is due to lack of knowledge. I think the US should make a concentrated effort to educate the women in Afghanistan; that would probably get the women to discourage the men from fighting. I guess my question is: are there humanitarian efforts sponsored by the US in Afghanistan that are educating their citizens (both men and women)?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Derrick,

    Sorry, no. Germany was the most educated nation on earth in 1914 and in 1939. Lack of knowledge had nothing to do with either world war. As for women somehow discouraging the men from fighting, that rings more than a little sexist, and runs counter to the legacies of Queen Victoria, Maggie Thatcher, Golda Meir, or Indira Gandhi.

  • Derrick

    Hmm…why do I get the feeling that if the NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, there will be problems?

  • http://www.buyamericangoldeagle.biz Inavihs Vishnu

    Are the losses worth the gains in these theaters of war? I think not, the troops need to come home and come home soon. The price we paid for these senseless wars has been too much. Enough is enough come home.

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