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  • Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC

Being a knuckleballer

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Spring is officially here, and for sports fans like me that means the start of baseball season! Having recently moved from Massachusetts to Virginia, part of me feels sad that I won’t get to experience the annual springtime right of passage that is the Red Sox season. No Fenway Park, no Fenway Franks with a cold beer, no singing “Sweet Caroline” during the 7th inning stretch. It starts every year when the Boston news stations report on “Truck Day”. That’s the day when the big 18-wheeler trucks loaded with sports equipment leave Boston for Fort Myers, Florida where the Red Sox spring training is held. As a New England sports fan, there’s nothing like Truck Day to get you excited about the end of another long winter. One of the things about baseball is that it looks a lot easier than it is. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, maybe you’ve heard of the word “knuckleball.” It’s a type of pitch – like fast ball or curveball. Knuckleballs are special – and controversial. Unlike other pitches where the pitcher can deliberately place the ball in a certain spot over the plate through the mechanics of their throw, the knuckleball has a mind of its own. When you’re throwing a knuckleball, you’re taking a leap of faith. Instead of holding the ball in his whole hand, the pitcher holds the ball with just his index and middle finger nails resting on top of the ball. The entire pitch depends on this little fingernail to make it happen. Once the pitcher releases the ball from his hand, the ball travels an unpredictable path to the plate, making it nearly impossible for hitters – or the pitcher himself – to gauge where it’s going to go. It also makes it nearly impossible for the catcher to know where it’s going to go. This is why, for hitters and catchers, the knuckleball is a beast. It makes them play the game totally differently for that pitcher. It’s a beast for the team manager because he has to sit and watch the game unfold seemingly by chance. It’s a beast for the pitching coach because everything he teaches all the other pitchers doesn’t apply for a knuckleballer. Everyone has to adjust their approach. Even more special are the pitchers who throw them. They are very rare. There have only been a handful of knuckleball pitchers in the entire history of baseball. Knuckleball pitchers have to have a deep belief in themselves because their path is so different from other pitchers. They probably have a lot of doubters. It’s easy for them to have slumps, be inconsistent in production. But when they’re in the zone – no one can touch them. They’re unhittable. Knuckleballers have to stick together because they tend to be misunderstood by other players and even the media and the public. Some sports analysts believe it’s not even a real pitch. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to relate to the feeling of being different. My guess is you know the feeling of making your own path, challenging the “normal” way of doing things. I used to wish I had a “normal” answer for the question “What do you do?”. Some people have a simple answer to that question. But not me. I’m always evolving. And I bet you are too. Even though I’m a therapist, I’m not doing it in the same way other people are. Even though I’m running a private practice, I’m not doing that the same way either. Even though knuckleballers are pitchers, they aren’t doing it the same way as everyone else. We knuckleballers have to stick together. We are challenging the way things are done. We have to hold on to the belief in ourselves when other people don’t understand what we’re about. We have to lift each other up and remind each other of how special we are when we’re in a slump. We have to embrace our quirkiness, our messy and unpredictable process, our atypical approach. My blessing for you today is that you would step boldly onto the field and play it like a knuckleballer.


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