One Pack. No Turning Back.
Number of miles driven today: 367
Total miles driven on road trip: 3,852
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Not many sightings, but Starbucks wins again.
Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 17-0
Dunkin' Donuts' record: 0-17
Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.41
Number of states visited overall: 7
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 5 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee)
Number of blue states visited overall: 2 (California, New Mexico)
Best Jaime Cocanower quote: "I just wish I could have thrown the ball over the plate!"
Number of Confederate flags seen in Arkansas: 1
I may be the only person in the world with this job title: entomologist baseball writer. Not many bug scientists are also obsessed with thirty-year old baseball, at least not the last time I checked at an Entomological Society of America conference.
But being a scientist has its benefits when it comes to writing a book. Hopefully a few more people read Wax Pack then read my first book, a 378-page snoozer on the adaptive radiation of plant bugs in French Polynesia (also known as my dissertation). It was a bit thin on plot.
When I started this journey 17 days ago, I sought to answer two main questions:
1) What is it that enabled these 14 men to make the Major Leagues when so many others, many with more talent, failed?
2) How did these guys handle the transition period back to "normal" life after they retired and had to grow up, no longer able to play a game for a living?
I have approached these as research questions the same way one approaches a scientific investigation: You start with a big question, gather some data to form hypotheses, test and re-test those hypotheses, and then come up with a conclusion, with the caveat that your conclusion may be completely and utterly wrong, as it should always be subject to new (and better) testing.
Almost halfway through the pack, I'm getting a better handle on my hypotheses.
For the first question, what is emerging is that all of these guys are incredibly tough. Physically tough, yes. Steve Yeager was hit by proverbial freight trains blocking the plate throughout his career and has the crooked body to prove it. Garry Templeton essentially played on one leg for entire seasons, minimizing how badly his knee was actually hurt.
But more importantly, these guys are mentally tough in a way that I can barely comprehend. They had the preternatural ability to forget failure, almost instantly. When I ask them about some devastating loss or setback and how they handled it, they invariably reply: "It was done. Why dwell on it? Can't take it back." Sure it bothered them, but they knew that the only way they would make it in this game, when there's always someone nipping at your heels to take your job, someone who might be bigger and stronger, is to forget what happened yesterday and to do better today. In a way, there are the ultimate Buddhists, living entirely in the present, the here and now.
It was a survival strategy, and it worked. All but one of the 14 players had Major League careers lasting at least 10 seasons. And the one who didn't, the anomaly in many ways, was Jaime Cocanower, who himself told me he didn't think he had the kind of self-confidence you needed to thrive in the Big Leagues.
Of course, this approach works well in baseball, but how does it translate to the rest of your life? Is it healthy to handle real tragedy, the loss of a parent, a divorce, severe illness by burying your head in the sand and forgetting it happened? That's a question I'm exploring with each player. Some seem to have dealt with tragedy and moved past it, so that they are not in denial but just see little need to live in the past, which seems healthy. Others may be hiding a bit from their feelings, a not-uncommon trait in men of their generation.
For older blog entries, click here.
The Science of the Wax Pack
Day 17: Lowell, AR to Memphis, TN, 7.5.15