Thursday, February 12, 2015 – University of South Florida / Tampa, Florida
It’s funny where writing inspiration comes from sometimes. For me, it’s usually through circumstances and conversations, even transitory thoughts or words that unintentionally pop into my mind. Today, it came from the back of a leather airplane seat. A most unlikely place.
For the 40 minutes of idle time during which we were stuck on the runway at LaGuardia Airport aboard our mid-afternoon JetBlue flight, I casually flip-flopped between small talk with those around me and the calming escape of my headphones, in order to ease my anxious anticipation of our impending takeoff. Just before our plane’s wheels circled towards the sky, the familiar sight of a ball field on the small, soundless television screen in front of me naturally caught my eye. Intrigued, my headphones immediately shifted from the inside of my primordial iPod into the armrest connecting me to the previously silenced words from the moving mouths on the screen.
In a matter of minutes, an impressive New York Times Op-Docs video piece took me through the story of the San Quentin Giants – a baseball team unlike any of the ones I had previously been familiar with. It featured prisoners who were afforded the opportunity to play baseball despite their incarceration at the San Quentin Bay Prison in San Francisco. Baseball not only gave these men a physical outlet away from their prison cells, but it also provided them with a mental escape from the confines of their pasts, as well as a way to learn about themselves and cope with their current realities.
I gained a great amount of perspective from watching the Times’ moving seven-minute feature, and of course, thought about how I could apply the San Quentin Giants’ story to ours.
What stuck with me most after viewing the video piece were the prisoners’ beautiful descriptions about how baseball made them feel. One man called the game “a relief.” Another said, “When I am on that field, I am not locked up.”
During a week in which it felt like we were just going through the motions, at practice and otherwise, as we were similarly (though not nearly as drastically) confined to the four walls of the Lombardi Center, these were just the words I needed to hear to be reminded about what a tremendous blessing it is to play this great game every day.
Perhaps things felt differently this week due to a combination of tiredness from school and practice, and the letdown from returning indoors after playing in beautiful Arizona weather. Whatever it might have been, I believe the reality of the 55-game grind ahead hit us collectively, whether consciously or subconsciously, and caused our week to drag a bit.
Oftentimes, the hectic lifestyle of the Division I student-athlete experience causes the actual games themselves to get lumped in with the sometimes stressful undertakings leading up to competition. As a result, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling overwrought while playing; haunted by looming statistics and a fear of failure.
It is vital for us to remember, this weekend and always, that the practicing, lifting, and long days of classes that turn into late nights of homework are the hard parts of the experience. The games, however, are supposed to be fun; the times when our hard work and God-given abilities are demonstrated. The times when we should experience feelings of relief like the San Quentin Giants did. The times when we should relinquish the stifling grips our minds often have over our bodies, which hinder our physical performances. It’s time for us to play like prisoners set free.