Practice Fishing Now

Questions don’t make you a fisherman. Concentration makes you a fisherman. So practice. Practice fishing now – by concentrating on this ballgame.

– David James Duncan, The Brothers K

While a game between the Yankees and Indians plays on the television in July of 1960, Hugh “Smoke” Chance admonishes his son Kade for allowing himself to be distracted during Sunday morning baseball. The boy is excited. He is missing church, home watching baseball, and pondering an afternoon of fishing with his dad; a miracle of sorts.

His attention wanes, though, as he tries to understand what concentration has to do with fishing. In a round about way his dad tries to explain that, to excel at fishing, one must also be adept at focusing on the task at hand; to be able to concentrate. The father asks him to concentrate on the ballgame.

It is 2013 and the Padres are playing the Pirates in August. I reflect on the line from Duncan’s novel and realize that I am not different from a child who lacks the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. It pains me to admit it to myself but I realize that my lack of concentration is ruining my ability to watch a ballgame.

I close my laptop. I place my phone on the armrest of the couch and vow to only check the conversation between innings.

Tyson Ross is pitching for the Padres. Fans are starting to feel a genuine sense of excitement for what he may be and what he could become. I am excited for him but honestly I don’t know. Ross’ stride is short, allowing him to maximize his 6′ 6″ frame. His delivery creates a challenging view for batters. I notice this – and I wonder if Tyson Ross is the answer.

Ross retires one batter and then on the fifth pitch to Neil Walker he is victimized by a long fly ball to dead center field. I notice this – and I wonder if Tyson Ross is the answer.

Ross throws 4 four-seam fastballs and 1 sinker to Walker none of which dips below 93 mph. But, in a 3-1 count, the fifth pitch from Ross bleeds.I resist the urge to engage in the conversation, instead opting to simply watch the ball fly. I concentrate on the game, the ball flying – and as the ball clears the fence a child makes a play on it. He catches it. And then drops it. But scrambles and picks it up. I do not see him wince in pain and this brings a smile to my face. During most games I may have missed this inconsequential aspect of a first inning home run.

The game continues along and I adhere to the promise I made before the first pitch. The conversation amongst fans between innings transitions from AJ Burnett’s tattoos and his unlikely 9 walk no-hitter in 2001 to Chase Headley‘s future as he strikes out yet again. I put my phone down.

It is the top of the third inning and Ross appears to have settled down after giving up 2 runs in the first. He has struck out his third batter – Andrew McCutchen – and he has done it on three pitches. But a problem exists for Tyson Ross – he plunked the lead-off batter in the inning – that man, Neil Walker.

On the first pitch Ross throws to the next batter, Pedro Alvarez, he gives up a triple to the left field gap. Left field is not the typical location for a triple in Petco Park and Pedro Alvarez is not the fastest player, so what happened? With Alexi Amarista shaded slightly to RCF and Jaff Decker playing a couple of steps towards the line in LF, Alvarez sees his opportunity to run, run, run. While the opportunity for a triple exists because of the positioning of the defense it does not come to fruition until Ronny Cedeno gloves the cut-off and spikes a throw to Chase Headley at third. There’s your triple.

It didn’t take concentration to discern the details of Alvarez’s triple but it did help to be actually watching the play. Alvarez dies on third when Tyson Ross induces a come-backer from Russell Martin and then strikes out Garrett Jones for the third out and his fourth K of the game. Despite being down 3-0, his final action of the inning leads me to wonder if Tyson Ross is the answer.

Between innings fans discuss whether Will Venable‘s hot streak will continue (he gets an infield single in the third), and whether Yonser Alonzo will ever hit like a player befitting his size. I’m enjoying this game. Not so much the results but the process. I am watching a game the way it should be – the way Smoke Chance would have wanted his son to watch it.

And the game continues.

Tyson Ross gives up another booming hit, this time a ground-rule double to Gaby Sanchez, but he manages another strikeout and two weak ground balls to Ronny Cedeno to bring an end to the fourth inning.

In the middle of the fourth inning, during the commercial break, I quickly do some computations in my head. Ross made it out of the fourth on 13 pitches which could allow him to push deeper into this game. Tyson Ross is showing that he can stay in a game despite not having his best stuff and I turn to my phone to see what other Padres fans are saying.

But I get too wrapped up in the discussion and the bottom of the fourth begins. My concentration broken, the first pitch of the inning arrives, and I miss it. Sure I see the replay but it’s not the same. In a game that will eventually finish with an 8-1 Padres loss, I missed the one significant offensive play because of a lapse in concentration.

I will work on my concentration during the next ballgame on Friday night. At the very least it will prepare me should I ever choose to go fishing.


I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM, where a lack of concentration is readily apparent. The dusty archives of AJM are located at

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