As a pitcher on my high school’s baseball team, I’m occasionally requested by the coach to throw the ball inside. If you’re more of a cricket fan, let me explain: this means that instead of pitching within the strike zone, I would come close to hitting the batsman, thus keeping him off-balance. I’m sure this “brush-back” is meant to intimidate the batter and sometimes to retaliate if the opposing pitcher has hit one of our players.
I am from a family where Gandhiji’s aphorisms are liberally used and literally applied. Having long believed that “an eye for an eye will make the world blind,” I have never been in a fistfight. The one time I was drawn into a fight, I backed out because I was certain that even if I won in the schoolyard, I would lose at home.
But now I’m confused. Baseball is not war. It’s not as if I’m in Iraq shooting at potential terrorists. It’s just a game, and I don’t want to let my coach or my teammates down.
“Nonviolence is not a weapon of the weak. It is a weapon of the strongest and the bravest.” (M. K. Gandhi).
Some forty years ago, Tony Conigliaro, a promising baseball player for the Boston Red Sox, was hit by a pitch that caused a career-shortening injury to his retina. Although Conigliaro was able to make a comeback and hit home runs for a few years, he was forced into early retirement because his eyesight had been permanently damaged.
After all these years, there are still some who believe that the pitcher, Jack Hamilton, might have deliberately thrown high and inside to knock Conigliaro down and keep the slugger from hitting the ball out of the park. Regardless of the pitcher’s intent, it would not be surprising if to this day he regrets the fateful pitch. Even if Hamilton had won that one game of baseball, a single pitch caused damage to his reputation and tagged him as a villainous head hunter.
You are right that baseball is just a game. But like war, this game has the potential for escalation: you brush-back my guy, and I’ll knock your guy down; you plunk me in the back, and I’ll race out to the mound, waving a 30-ounce wooden club at your head. Before you know it, the benches are cleared, and we have an ugly brawl that looks nothing like the sunny, magnificent game of knuckleballs, sweet swings of the bat, and diving catches in center field.
It will not be easy for you to resist your coach’s sign for an inside pitch, but as Gandhiji wrote, “nonviolence is not a weapon of the weak.” Like a blazing fastball and a sharp curveball, nonviolence is indeed a strong and brave weapon that has game-changing consequences on baseball fields and battlefields.
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