Handling the Curve

Nuke LaLoosh and Crash Davis
Nuke LaLoosh accepts some baseball (and life) advice from Crash Davis

In the Show, everybody can hit the fastball.”
Crash Davis in Bull Durham

The classic 1980s baseball movie Bull Durham is full of witty one-liners. When issued by the main character, Kevin Costner’s career minor-league catcher Crash Davis, they usually arrive in the form of life advice disguised as a sports quip.

So it is with the above quote, which Crash delivers to the pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh, trying to get him to understand that to advance to the big leagues, he will have to develop a curveball because all major league hitters can handle the fastball.

It’s good advice for Nuke’s career. But taken another way, it has deeper meaning. Life is simple when you know what’s coming. For Ryan in particular, when life falls within the bounds of his preferred patterns, things tend to go smoothly. 

It’s when life veers off the rails — delivers a proverbial curveball — that things become difficult. 

A recent incident reinforced that point, while also showing us just how much more introspective he has become, which helps him find his calm.

Ryan’s weekend routine is to go to public skating at local rink. He has developed a group of friends from school and hockey who are regular attendees like he is. 

For us, these outings have gone, over the course of a couple of years, from taking him to the rink, paying for him, and waiting in the lobby for the entire session, to dropping him off at the front door with money and picking him up at the curb at the end.

Skating is one of his favorite activities. He proved he has no trouble navigating paying his admission, getting his skates on, and following the rules. It has become, dare I say, routine.

Until Saturday. I could tell as soon as I pulled up to the pickup spot that something was wrong. Ryan was very angry when he got in the car. On the ride home, the story came out: The rink cut off the session 15 minutes earlier than the online schedule suggested, and Ryan was hot. That was obvious. He told me how he refused to get off the ice when the session ended, instead staying out for several minutes before the skate guards finally chased him off.

I explained that defying the rules was unacceptable, and that if it happened again we wouldn’t be able to drop him off at skating any longer. In the past, that would have likely fueled an explosive meltdown. Instead, Ryan accepted my admonishment. 

I next acknowledged he had every right to be annoyed, because the rink was wrong. But I told him that he had to match his reaction to the level of the issue. If an early end to the session was a three on the annoyance scale, his reaction was an eight. These are lessons Ryan has heard from us, teachers, therapists and social group leaders since he was a small child. 

Ryan did not protest. He defended his right to be upset, which I agreed with, but realized he went too far in his reaction. By the time we got home — no more than 10 minutes — he was calm. He did not allow a small incident to boil over into something larger, which is a not-so-small, really important step. 

Because as much as we try to apply structure to life — in baseball terms, an endless stream of belt-high fastballs — it will not always coöperate. The world will continue to throw him the  occasional curve.

Ryan may not yet be able to hit a curveball out of the park, but it’s no longer the knee-buckling moment of terror on which so many promising baseball careers have died. 

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