I hit a home run last night. The first of the game, the first of the intramural softball season, the first of my life. I knew it at the point of contact, and it felt wonderful. Behind me, the catcher and the umpire immediately exhaled in awe. The visitors’ bench emitted soft whoas. Even my own team had to take a moment for admiration before cheering. Everyone seemed enraptured by the streaking arc of neon disappearing deep into the night sky. I have to admit, I also admired my handiwork for just a moment, but here’s what I learned about hitting a home run yourself: it doesn’t come as a surprise.
But why should it? We’ve been practicing for weeks. Again and again, my teammates and I diligently lobbed pitches to each other. I knew how far I could hit a ball, and so did the rest of my team. But apart from me, everyone else still registered that mixture of shock and anticipation when the ball was struck. I’ve watched a lot of baseball, and I know that feeling well. Even at the major league level, the first home run of the day takes your breath away. Usually, a home run is precisely what you’re waiting to see, yet when it happens it still surprises you. So many pitches and so many swings establish the expectation that this game will be contained within the bounds of the field, and despite all the muscles and millionaires, you forget the obvious: Every batter’s best outcome is the home run. Every pitch gets analyzed for home run potential, and if any potential is found, most batters will swing for the fences. A home run is far from impossible, but it always feels impossible. In retrospect it’s obvious how it happened, but in the moment, it’s magical.
There are no fences on the intramural fields, so no matter how far you hit it, you still have to reach home before the outfielders collect the ball. As I ran, trying like hell not to fall on my face, I had a feeling of déjà vu, and today I can tell you why. I am a fiction writer. This is the same brand of magic I’m always trying to create on the page, but only when I started writing stories myself did I learn what it was like to be exhilarated by a story, but not surprised. My aim in writing is to establish home run potential and simultaneously make it disappear, so that when the potential is fulfilled, the reader feels the ineffable pulse of life. Even with this essay, in which I am only supposed to describe why I majored in English, I’ve tried to bury that intention in a metaphor so extended that perhaps, when I do bring up the connections between storytelling and baseball, you will see the logical connections, but also feel something. Some measure of revelation. A taste of intrigue.