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Home » Columns, Late In The Game

Ouch: Fingers, dancing and the tools of ignorance

Submitted by on September 16, 2010 – 8:50 pm 9 Comments

By Tom Jackson, Old Guy Ballplayer

Baseball injuries earn no sympathy from my wife, Deb. That’s not just a fact; it’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 summer’s young-guy season, I landed awkwardly and hard diving for a wind-blown pop-up behind the plate. As I’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, I’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.

What happens when you don't keep your throwing hand behind your leg

As a catcher, I’ll see a good 100 to 150 baseballs coming at me every game. Pitches, throws, foul balls, you name it – it’s my job to stop them, with my mitt, my torso, my shins, my mask…. And as any backstop will tell you, we try to keep that throwing hand out of harm’s way, tucking it behind the leg before every pitch, clenching it in a fist when blocking curves in the dirt.

But that fist doesn’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, I’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. I’ve lost the nail once – will probably lose it again in a matter of weeks – and the tip remains in a constant, contradictory state of numbness and pain.

The numbness isn’t so bad. It means I don’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 I’m using proper mechanics, which has actually helped me throw better than I have in three years of playing old-guy ball.*

* Quick digression: I’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, he’s actually able to grip a football in such a way that he throws tight spirals every time. Unfortunately, his busted-digit grip doesn’t translate well to baseball. He and I have therefore been brethren of the “Every Throw is an Adventure” fraternity the last few years. While most of Jeff’s game – especially his hitting – has improved by leaps and bounds every year — an amazing achievement for a guy who, like me, is rolling toward age 50 — here’s hoping the next, inevitable 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 – such as in the Swing, West Coast Swing, tango and others – require the woman to grab her partner’s hand to keep the two of them 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 who’s shaken my wife’s hand will tell you: She has one helluva grip.

We’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 – and my ability to play ball – 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!

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  • Kevin Mallehan says:

    Tom, I appreciate the offer but Saturday was pretty busy for me. I look forward to playing a few games again next year depending on my schedule.

  • Tom says:

    Kevin, I’ll let you take my place this Saturday — no joke. Just out of appreciation for you coming out and playing with us when you have. You’re hitting better than me, anyway, and have a much better arm — I’m certain my teammates won’t complain! :-)

  • Kevin Mallehan says:

    I had a great time playing with you guys on Saturday. I wish I could play more than the three games I played this year, but….

    Good luck on Saturday.

  • Tom says:

    Thanks, Jeff! Missed you on Saturday — we still had a good game. Played against some amazing fill-ins, from their 15-year-old shortstop/catcher (he looked 12, but he was pretty good!), to their 54-year-old former minor leaguer (big guy, threw HARD — a huge contrast, sandwiched between Doc Noel and Bill Graden). We’ll see you this Saturday for the season closer!

  • jeff herren says:

    hey tom it was very good written column thank you for resending it to me it was funny and true miss at the 3pm game in a safety class with my son will not be done til 2:30 it’s in chillicothe mybe at the 6pm game ??? good luck hope we win !!thax buddy

  • Tom says:

    Eric, I dig it, man. I realize how lucky I am to have not been hurt too badly — I’d go nuts if I was too hurt to play ball.

  • Eric Christian says:

    I dislocated my shoulder diving into 2nd base with 2 outs in the 9th inning losing by 20(Yep 20) runs. What is that good for? :) My heal spur and neuroma continue to keep me out this year as well! :(

  • Tom says:

    Well, Bill, did it keep you from ballroom dancing? I would imagine the stitches and swelling that prevented you from putting the mask back on — which, as I recall, led to my being pressed into backstop service — would’ve also kept you from wearing your Fred Astaire-esque silk top hat.

  • bill graden says:

    aw shucks, and i thought my 12 stitches in the forehead from catching without a mask was an injury!!!

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