Ouch: Fingers, dancing and the tools of ignorance
By Tom Jackson, Old Guy Ballplayer
Baseball injuries earn no sympathy from my wife, Deb. Thatâ€™s not just a fact; itâ€™s an official rule of the quid pro quo arrangement we have. See, I play baseball six months of the year (early summer: young-guy league; late summer/early fall: old-guy league), and in return I do ballroom dancing with my wife for all 12 months.
Another rule: Baseball injuries that directly impact or inhibit dancing are not politically viable. Sure, adjustments may be necessary. For example, in the middle of this summerâ€™s young-guy season, I landed awkwardly and hard diving for a wind-blown pop-up behind the plate. As Iâ€™ve stated in this space before, I held onto the ball for the out, but I bruised a rib and further separated my already-separated right shoulder.
Ever since, Iâ€™ve merely requested that Deb keep the pressure light as she places her left hand on that shoulder. Small adjustment, easily accomplished.
But the one baseball injury impeding our dancing the most: the foul tips off the fingertip.
As a catcher, Iâ€™ll see a good 100 to 150 baseballs coming at me every game. Pitches, throws, foul balls, you name it â€“ itâ€™s my job to stop them, with my mitt, my torso, my shins, my maskâ€¦. And as any backstop will tell you, we try to keep that throwing hand out of harmâ€™s way, tucking it behind the leg before every pitch, clenching it in a fist when blocking curves in the dirt.
But that fist doesnâ€™t always stay closed. Reflexively, the hand will open as you do all you can to keep the ball in front of you.
In nine months of catching baseballs in 2010, Iâ€™ve stopped a dozen or so bouncers with the throwing hand. And at least three or four times, the ball has bounced directly into the tip of my right index finger. Iâ€™ve lost the nail once â€“ will probably lose it again in a matter of weeks â€“ and the tip remains in a constant, contradictory state of numbness and pain.
The numbness isnâ€™t so bad. It means I donâ€™t always feel the keys as I type. The pain is minor when pressure is applied to the front of my fingertip, such as when I throw. In fact, the twinge I feel when throwing has allowed me to know when Iâ€™m using proper mechanics, which has actually helped me throw better than I have in three years of playing old-guy ball.*
* Quick digression: Iâ€™m very lucky that this is the result of what could very well be a broken finger. One of my Breeder teammates, first baseman Jeff Herron, has broken pretty much every finger of both hands through the years. As a result, heâ€™s actually able to grip a football in such a way that he throws tight spirals every time. Unfortunately, his busted-digit grip doesnâ€™t translate well to baseball. He and I have therefore been brethren of the â€œEvery Throw is an Adventureâ€ fraternity the last few years. While most of Jeffâ€™s game â€“ especially his hitting â€“ has improved by leaps and bounds every year — an amazing achievement for a guy who, like me, isÂ rolling toward age 50 — hereâ€™s hoping the next, inevitableÂ broken finger allows him to toss a straight four-seamer. End of digression.
As I was saying: the only time the pain is unbearable is when the sides of the fingertip get squeezed. Sends me through the roof.
Does it happen often? Only when I dance.
See, various dance moves â€“ such as in the Swing, West Coast Swing, tango and others â€“ require the woman to grab her partnerâ€™s hand to keepÂ the two of themÂ from falling too far apart. Usually, the part of the hand snagged as Deb and I perform these moves is my right index finger. And as anyone whoâ€™s shaken my wifeâ€™s hand will tell you: She has one helluva grip.
Weâ€™ve resolved the issue by my wearing a metal splint, taped tightly to my finger. Keeps Deb in the swing of things, literally and figuratively. And it keeps me â€“ and my ability to play ball â€“ politically solvent.
Speaking of dancing: Please forgive this blatant plug, but an independent film in which my wife and I appear — and actually dance! — will be playing September 25 and 26 at the Art Theatre in downtown Champaign. As the link to the theater’s calendar show — look at the bottom for the “Extended Forecast” — the movie’s title is “Leading Ladies.” Deb and I are dancers in a big production number in a grocery store (we’re stuck way in the back, so I hope you can see us), and I also play one of the judges in the big ballroom dance competition at the end of the flick. Please give it a look — it was great fun to shoot, and it’s been playing in film festivals worldwide! Check out the trailer!