October 4, 2012


Yaz's Triple Crown: Work, Resolve, Concentration (ROBERT PINSKY, 10/04/12, NY Times)

Yastrzemski, I noticed, was 27 -- and so was I. In a certain way, you never feel older than you do at 27. Youth is about to end, and what have you done? The dentists and lawyers of your age cohort have reasons to feel better about this pressure: they have entered their career groove in a good way. And how, you might ask yourself, are you making out in yours? For artists as for athletes, the answer isn't always reassuring.

In the Boston Globe sports pages, stories began to appear about Yastrzemski's fierce concentration on improving and maintaining his skills. Certain left-handed relief pitchers gave him trouble; so he asked to practice against stand-ins who had a similar delivery. With his strong, accurate throwing arm, he worked hard, regularly, on playing wall caroms off the Green Monster, setting a model of perfectionism for the team's younger outfielders. I particularly remember a story (could it have been written by the young Peter Gammons?) about Yaz working on a little defect in his large, fluid, dynamic swing: he had a clubhouse guy throw a ball of wadded athletic socks to him, over and over, till he could hit the fluffy things consistently with the barrel of the bat.

When I was a child, the qualities of boldness, daring and speed were embodied for me by Jackie Robinson on the basepaths. (Jackie Robinson in life, embodying greater qualities, was mostly beyond me.) In my late 20s, Yastrzemski embodied qualities that were now more important to me: work, resolve and concentration. Against bitter, powerful opposition, Robinson demanded and won respect. Against his own weaknesses, Yastrzemski attained an inward respect for his own gifts, overcoming his early tendency to coast with them -- a lesser but considerable achievement. It wouldn't be quite right to say that I looked up to him: but I looked to him, as an example of focus. In that way, he was a useful hero.

In the context of Boston's academic snobbery, I and many others enjoyed Yastrzemski's distinctly non-Harvard style: here was a local sports hero who came from a Long Island potato farm and Notre Dame, which he attended as a business major on a basketball scholarship.

Posted by at October 4, 2012 7:29 PM

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