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Life Lessons from Centerfield

Baseball can teach us a lot

October is now upon us, and that means that we will soon experience a quintessentially American event, modestly dubbed The World Series. Coming as it does this month and bringing with it the potential for incredible bliss, high drama and true tragedy, the culmination of the pennant race has the potential to inspire cities and regions and to craft a narrative that can unite people and communities across lines that all-too-often divide. This is one of the many reasons why I love baseball.

For as long as I can remember, the ethos of baseball has captured me. I love the sound of the game on AM radio, either on a sunny afternoon or an otherwise quiet late night. I love the feeling of running after a batted ball, catching or fielding it, then launching a strong throw. I love the long, slow crescendo of the major league season, how it builds incrementally over the course of six months, day by day, game by game, story by story. I love the history and poetry of the game. I love watching the complex choreography of the ball park, either closely or lazily. I love how the long season holds so much opportunity for both failure and redemption. I love what baseball can teach.

And I love watching baseball on TV.

Baseball on TV gives us the special benefit of being able to delve deeply into the intricacies of pitching. Because the TV camera can zoom in, we can closely follow the patterns of location and the slight ruptures of timing that make great pitchers great. Baseball on TV can bring us much closer to the game. But sometimes, baseball on TV can truly deceive us.

Sometimes, a pitch that looks like it went right over the plate is called a ball. Sometimes a pitch that looks way outside is called a strike. Is the umpire blind or is something else at work?

The reason for this apparent inconsistency has to do with the geometry of baseball. The camera shot that we most often see, the one that helps give us the best view of the beauties of pitching, is from the centerfield camera. But if the camera is placed in dead center, the pitcher in the foreground would likely obscure the plate, the catcher, the ump and maybe even the batter. Thus, the camera is moved, usually toward the left. This way, viewers can see the pitcher, the plate, the batter, the catcher and the ump. The price of that view, however, is that some pitches that look to be off the plate when viewed from this angle are right over (as viewed and called by the umpire). Similarly, some pitches that appear to us to be right over the plate have missed their mark.

Scientists have a name for this phenomenon. They call it parallax, the error that results from measuring from a skewed vantage point.

I have used this concept from the geometry of baseball to teach many students a fundamental lesson about life: Where you stand has an impact on what you see.

If you are a teen or a tween in suburban America, the world looks different to you than if you were the same age living in a poor neighborhood of Mumbai or Lagos. Similarly, a system or institution looks and feels very different to the descendants or beneficiaries of those who designed it (the insiders) than it does to anyone who may be perceived as an outsider. Disciplinary consequences for students are always too lenient when my child has been the victim and are always too harsh when my child has behaved inappropriately.

Where you stand has an impact on what you see.

This is a lesson children and adults can use throughout their lives. It’s a lesson about empathy and difference, about understanding and acceptance. It’s a way forward to unpack and resolve disputes of all kinds. It’s a lesson that brings perspective and maturity. It’s a way to help us and our children value the gifts we have been given.

It’s a life lesson from the centerfield camera.

Go Rays!


Mark Heller is head of school at Academy at the Lakes, a PreK3 – 12th grade independent school that serves the North Tampa community. Visit academyatthelakes.org for information.

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