well it’s always been my nature
to take chances
my right hand drawing back

while my left hand advances

Bob Dylan, Angelina.  Circa 1981, A.D.

Preface: This little piece alighted on the author a few weeks ago when he was undergoing a bit of a midlife re-orientation.  The piece is presented as it presented itself, with edits for cleanliness only. 

Karma is simply the field of what you put in place in your last lifetime.  As a person you arrange your life in such a way that it leaves clues as to the road you took.  When it’s time to switchback, all you have to do is have the courage to take the turn.  After the turn, it’s basically just a matter of reading the tree markers in the forest.  The challenge is, some of the tree makers have fallen in the leaves, been washed out by rain, or moved by the wind.  So you are in new territory.  The map, the degraded set of markers you left behind, is not the territory.  However the last path was so densely specific that we keep trying to use our old map on the new path.  We need that old map for a bit because those markers are the only ones we have.   However we need to find our footing pretty darn quick in order to learn to navigate the new territory.  Otherwise, we follow the markers and mistake them for fresh signs.  Very quickly, the old signals become noise. And then we are in a deep dark wood and are in danger of over-exposure, or, worse, pure confusion and terror about where the path may lie.

The individual is mortal, and beyond mortality is the mystery.  Tribes and societies are forms of collectives, and collectives form a spiral pattern that we call a system. Collectives, and spirals, are mortal as well, and when a spiral approaches its switch back point, the map begins to degrade and the particles of the spiral, the people in the current incarnation of the pattern, must attempt to discriminate the signal from the noise.  Of course this is a much more difficult task than it is for an individual because there are many more tree markers and the winds and rains are howling all about.  This is simply because the field is larger to accommodate so many souls.  So instead of just having to read a few old tree markers, folks must try to receive the field.

To receive the field you have to read the field, and the only way to read the field is to be looking right at it.  In baseball, there is only one position that can see the field and this is the catcher.  That’s why catchers are said to be good management material in general. Another way to say this is they have a wider view of the constraint set.  However, although the catcher can see the field and understand the constraint set in front of him, there is one variable he cannot control.  And this is, of course, the umpire.  The ump.

The ump calls the balls and strikes and the ump is a court of no appeal.  After all, he has the power to toss you from the ballgame altogether.  The only way to deal with this particular variable is to hone the craft of a catcher.  The first piece of craft is the act of framing a pitch.  Here the catcher subtly adjusts his glove in order to obstruct the ump’s view of the location of the pitch.  It is easy for the catcher to whip his glove on a ball in the dirt back to the strike zone, but the ump will spot that in a second.  So a catcher, if he wants to be any good, has to learn a little guile.

This guile can taken pretty far; and there are other ways to work an ump as well.  The classic, “ah come on ump,” is OK, but it’s the same as whipping the bill out of the dirt really.  A more effective trick is chatting the ump up.  Becoming his friend and letting him think you are actually on his side.  This is effective to a point as well, and extends the craft.   However here is where we need to remember our Dylan.  From “Just Like the Tom Thumb Blues,” we learn the following:

I started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff/ everybody said they’d stand behind me, when the game got rough/ but the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff/ I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.

Dylan is saying that though the use of guile helps you work the ump, you can start to mistake guile for the deeper craft.  You start to fall into your own trick.  You start to think you are the ump.  And these are deeper waters indeed.  In fact, this is the most dangerous game.  And in this zone, we need a secret weapon.

The idea of a secret weapon is apparently popular in many superhero movies these days, and we can read the field just a little to see why.  These so-called secret weapons may take the outward form of a literal weapon, one which defends against the apparent enemy and leaves death and destruction in its wake.  However when we use this kind of weapon, the forest we are in is in fact that of the irreal, where the furies shriek and howl.  However the superhero’s true secret weapon is something altogether different.  His true secret weapon is the light within, which can be transmuted into gold and used to navigate the irreal, and hunt the most dangerous game.  Where is that light within?  To find it, the catcher has to go pretty far back into things to find it.  In certain eras, folks may need to do something a little difficult to get there—as the Chinese say, may you live in interesting times.  The catcher, here, has to remember.

The first song I remember my own father singing, and one of the only ones I head from him, was from Bob Dylan.  I didn’t know who Dylan was, nor did I know the name of the song.  All I remember is him singing, half to me and half under his breath this little line, “the pump won’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles.”  What was that?  I didn’t make sense to me, I didn’t even know what a vandal was!  But something about the phrase stuck with me, you know, and I carried it around with my like a little talisman.

If the catcher is blessed to have such a talisman, he has a fighting chance.  The thing to do here is to keep your eyes and ears on the field and your gut and your body tuned into the ump.  Only this way can the little catcher tell when it’s time to play his card, which is of course the joker.  People have sought Dylan in all his guises to the ends of the earth and no one, to my knowledge, has caught onto his tricks.  I can’t say for sure that I’m onto all of them either, but I knew one thing.  When the vandals have those handles, the pump ain’t working. This is the moment the catcher makes his break with the ump. This is when he calls his bluff.


For my Father, who caught me how to catch.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Connell, Richard.  The Most Dangerous Game.
Bob Dylan.  “Just Like the Tom Thumb Blues.”
Bob Dylan.  “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

Powell, Anthony.  The Kindly Ones.

Photo Credit:

3 thoughts on “The Ump

  1. Avila looks strikingly like MI in that picture. I had to follow the credit to discover that it isn’t, in fact, MI.

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