K is for striking out
If you go to a Tampa Bay Rays game, you’ll see a section in beyond the center field fence where there are a bunch of Ks that light up as the game goes along. Specifically, each time on opposing batter strikes out, a K lights up. If ten opposing batters strike out, you can take your ticket stub to a local furniture chain and get a voucher for free pizza. In baseball parlance, a K means a strikeout. (A backward K means a called third strike; in other words, you didn’t swing at a strike, and now you need to sit down.)
Striking out is an inglorious thing to do in baseball, because there’s no way a strikeout can be a productive out. It can’t move runs up and it can’t drive someone in, as a sacrifice fly might do. Except for grounding into a double play, it’s the least productive thing you can do as a batter.
Writers strike out, too. There are days where you head back to the bench having done your work, and you’ve accomplished nothing. You just sit there and wait for the next opportunity and hope you’ll do better.
In the Major Leagues, sometimes a strikeout is the beginning of the story and not the end. Sometimes, after a hitter strikes out, he’ll analyze the strikeout and look for certain things:
- Was there a certain pattern to the pitcher’s progression? If he got two strikes on me and struck me out with a curveball, can I count on the curveball with a two-strike count next time?
- Was I doing something wrong mechanically? Just a slight mechanical adjustment can make all the difference when you’re a hitter. Former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez was once in a horrible batting slump. His father told him that since he’d gone into the slump he could see more of Hernandez’s number 17 on his back when he took his stance than before. That small piece of information was enough for Hernandez to make an adjustment and come out of the slump.
- Was it just a strikeout? The pitchers are big leaguers, too. And sometimes, a strikeout is just a case of a very good pitcher getting the best of a very good batter. Next time, it could turn out differently.
It’s the same way was writers. If you strike out on a specific day, sometimes it’s worth figuring out why? Did you maybe have the television on? Were you distracted? Was your narrative influenced too much by something you read or saw? Are you trying to force your story someplace it shouldn’t go? Or was it just a case where a strikeout is just a strikeout?