Playing Stupid

By Lloyd Graff

Kyle Schwarber, playing for the Washington Nationals, is on a roll. He has hit 15 homers in a 17-day span, the first major leaguer in history to accomplish that feat. His remark after his last two-homer game was striking: “To be honest with you, I want to play stupid, just keep going up there and take your at-bat. Don’t remember the one before, just live in the present. Just go out there and have a short memory.”

Watching the NBA playoffs a couple days ago, I watched Trae Young, the 22-year-old superstar of the Atlanta Hawks on his way to a 49-point performance. He was unconscious, just playing on fire. Toward the end of the hard fought game, he dribbled at full speed down the center of the court, 15 feet from the basket, he tossed the ball high off the backboard. A leaping teammate received it like the amazingly perfect pass it was and cleanly dunked it. 

You can’t plan a play like that. You can only improvise it when you “feel it.” Your teammate is in sync and “feels it” simultaneously. Could he have shot the ball and made it? Maybe. But the play he made was one play out of a game of terrific plays that I will remember and write about. He was “playing stupid,” totally in the moment, and focusing perfectly by not thinking. 

These moments are rare in life. Even more rare in work, but I think perhaps you can train yourself to cultivate them and identify them during and after they occur. 

Kyle Schwarber of the Washington Nationals at bat

For me, a signal is spontaneous tears. I usually don’t cry when I am sad or fearful. I feel the tears creeping out of my ducts when I somehow reach some precious connection, those seconds of sharing something rare and unique when two people touch one another. It’s that instant of insight, or synchrony that makes me feel human and special. It might be a memory, lost forever you thought, that pours through your body and empties out in precious teardrops. Speech becomes a stammer. You wish you could bottle it and be able to return to it whenever you need it. But you can’t, and you know it.

Noah and I were sharing a few special moments yesterday in a conversation across the big round table my father and I used to share. We were talking about our family, how hard it is to make lifelong friends, and a malady we both share. We both occasionally have simple partial epileptic seizures, in which our hearing gets uncomfortably loud for a few minutes. They often come at inconvenient times. I told him how I tried to fake my way through them over the years, and he related how he bluffed his way through one when he was walking down the aisle during his wedding.

It was a special moment of candor between father and son, when we thought we’d be talking about the relative values of used automatic screw machines. You don’t plan for those moments. They come from trust and honesty and something deep in your gut. 

You can’t reach for them. You have to be like Kyle Schwarber, batting lead-off, smelling the breaking pitch on the inside half of the plate, then swinging at the perfect millisecond to intersect bat and ball. You have to feel it in the most stupid, brilliant way, then savor it in your gut as you round the bases with fans cheering, unconscious in the perfect moment.

Question: When was the last time you were caught up in a special moment?

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2 thoughts on “Playing Stupid

  1. Dan Ewing

    I recall a special moment in 1971 at the All-Star Baseball game at old Tiger Stadium.
    My Brother and I were there in the third base press box level. I was 15, he was 13 and we got in complimentary because his friend’s dad was the head usher and they needed some boys to run copy for the press corp.
    The “moment” came when Reggie Jackson hit that magnificent home run off the light tower above the right field roof! We looked at each other and could not believe what a rocket that was! Reggie was wearing the green & yellow of the Oakland A’s. With white shoes and big hair he was just beginning his road to glory. That was something I will never forget.

     

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