Learn How Mike Macenko’s Hand Speed and Super-Human Strength Can Teach You the Secret to Writing Like a Professional

Mike Macenko, superstar of slow-pitch softball.

I used to dream of being a star softball player. It was a form of Stockholm Syndrome because in 1970s Cleveland, slow-pitch softball was considered high culture. My father played, my older brothers played, my cousins and uncles played, and every adult man in the city (it seemed) played slow-pitch softball.

When I was 12, my cousin, Mark Brown, was on one of the better slow-pitch softball teams in Cleveland, Hillcrest Tavern. [1] That team competed for national championships, year after year. Among the many great players on that team was Mike Macenko, who would go on to be one of the best softball players of all time. [2] He just seemed to eat, breath, and shit softball.

My cousin, standing, third from left. Macenko, standing, fourth from the right.

Watching those guys play softball inspired me to want to play, as well. Not that I had the talent, but I could dream, right?

I got my chance at the age of 19 when I joined one of the local city teams. I begged my way on, along with two friends, and we didn’t play much. It was a true buddy system, and we had to feed the bear, as they say in the circus, before we got to work in the big tent. We were happy to be on the team, but I really wanted to play.

The pinnacle of slow-pitch softball achievement is the home run. That’s the coup de grace. The money shot. And that’s what I wanted to do more than anything. I wanted to be like the men I knew who hit the ball out of the park and trotted around the bases, touching hands with their teammates as they stepped on home plate.

One summer evening, I got my chance. The night of the game, there was a strong breeze blowing toward the outfield. Ideal conditions for hitters. And at my first at-bat, I drilled a line drive off of the top of the outfield fence, which fell back into play for a double, just three inches short of clearing the fence. So close I could taste it, and I worried I might not ever savour that home run.

At my next at-bat, I hit a ball that cleared the fence, and I trotted around the bases in my moment of glory. Some of my teammates teased me for grandstanding, taking a bow when, in fact, the breeze had carried the ball much of the way.

Unsure of how to feel about my accomplishment, I conceded that maybe I wasn’t the next Mike Macenko or Bruce Meade [3]. But one of the Batcha boys [4] pulled me aside and said, “Kid, if you can’t hit a home run tonight, you’ll never hit one. So forget those guys. You’re in the club.”

I may have been in the club, but I was definitely no more than an associate member.

The superstars of slow-pitch softball hit home runs by the dozen. They hit them long, and deep, and when their team needed them the most.

Bruce Meade [5]

I’m glad I hit that home run that night, because I never hit another. The money shot over and done with, I was spent. I had shot my proverbial wad.

I didn’t keep finding ways to play softball. Once it wasn’t convenient — because I was working, traveling, or raising a family — I stopped playing.

I had watched hundreds of games as a teenager. My father loved softball so much back then that, when he wasn’t playing, we traveled to watch tournaments. That’s where I saw Macenko and Meade crush balls over the fence, beyond the reach of the lights, and into the black of night. The top players were in tournaments every weekend, traveling across the country to compete at the top level, facing each other in sweltering heat, misting fog, and gloom of night.

The superstars loved the game and devoted all of their creativity and talent to mastering the skills needed. To propel a slow-pitch softball over the fence, you need the strength to swing the heaviest bat allowed. You had to swing that heavy bat with all your might and at the fastest speed possible. In those tournaments, low-compression balls were used to limit the scoring. Yet these superstars delivered the extra energy needed to knock dud softballs 300' and into the stands.

The truly great ones weren’t born with that strength and hand speed. They practiced it and developed their talent. They trained in the off-season to be ready for the games. And when they weren’t playing in a game, they were at the batting cage, refining their swings. Or they were improving their strength.

That’s what it took to be at the top of their game.

As for me, I didn’t work on my softball skills. I didn’t develop my strength or bat speed.

In spite of my dreams and desires, I didn’t pursue those dreams to the point of eating, breathing, and shitting softball. I would never compete at their level, nor would I get any closer to them than watching from the stands. I didn’t keep chasing opportunities for playing softball. I didn’t beg my way onto other teams. I didn’t work on my skills in my spare time and develop my talent.

And so now my one moment of slow-pitch softball glory — that lonely, wind-assisted home run — is just the tiniest of blips in my memories.

Macenko applying the tag.

I dream now of becoming a writer. But this time, with this dream, I’m not going to try to get one thing published and be done. I intend on going all in for the long haul — until I drop dead, that is. I’ve spent the past five years learning the things about writing and storytelling that I thought I knew already.

I urge you to do the same. Learn even when you think you know. Practice what you believe you have mastered. Share what you feel is worthy.

I’m telling you this because I’ve been explaining some of the aspects of story design [6] for a couple of months, but without a long curricular vitae to back up my claims (i.e., you won’t see a New Yorker article talking about how great my writing is the way they talked about Macenko [7]). I claim to know my ass from third base about this stuff, but you don’t really know. This is the truth: I’m sharing what I know for the benefit of others, but also to help my brain lock in the knowledge. Teaching others is a great way to learn. It benefits me.

“Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” — Woody Allen

If you are interested in what I can do, here is your chance: I’m publishing a novella soon called Sally and Billy in Bablyland and Their Adventures with Kitty the Cat. It’s a fable for our times about two children abandoned in the woods who must rescue their kitten from the clutches of a narcissistic tyrant in a dystopian city.

I’m also publishing a novel called Fugue. It’s the amnesia love story that will make you forget about every other amnesia love story. And it’s a comedy.

If you’d like to see what my story designs chops are, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll let you know when the books are available for free. [8]

Seriously, sign up for my newsletter because free books.

References

  1. Hillcrest Express article on Mike Macenko’s website: http://www.bigcat844.com/teams-hillcrest.html
  2. Cleveland.com article about Mike Macenko: http://www.cleveland.com/softball/index.ssf/2013/07/mike_macenko_softball_champion.html
  3. Washington Post article about Bruce Meade: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1987/04/19/the-greatest-home-run-hitter-of-all-time-bruce-meade/0b6b33a8-fcab-4187-968c-466e572a41ac/
  4. The Batcha Boys were three brothers who were softball enthusiasts and somewhat legendary in the city of Brooklyn, a suburb of Cleveland.
  5. http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/News/2017/March/02/Legends-of-the-Game-Bruce-Meade
  6. https://medium.com/story-design-for-fiction
  7. The New Yorker, About Town article about Mike Macenko: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/09/04/dept-of-distances-the-home-run-king
  8. My website, with a link to sign up for my newsletter: www.mickeyhadick.com
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