Thursday, August 16, 2012

Perfection in Sports & Life: Felix Hernandez's Perfect Game

Perfect is very rare. Perfect is very hard. Perfect beckons us as a goal, elusive but challenging. Sports engages us because it always offers the possiblity of perfect. Yesterday Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw a perfect game--one of 21 in the history of the sport. If you looked at the scoreboard for hits, runs, walks, errors, all you saw were zeros, another perfect figure. Congratulations to Felix and thanks for providing a reminder of why sports can hold the attention of so many people by intensifying an experience so important to us all, finding moments of perfect.

Most of us don't find perfect in our daily live. Sometimes we have perfect moments. Moments where everything works, everything comes together. Moments when we get it right. We find it anywhere--at work, at home, even walking on the street when the light, sky, buildings and sounds carve out a pefect moment. Being perfect usually lies outside our reach, tantalizing as an ideal that can inspire us and serve as a way to assess our progress and limits.

Sports, however, has stronger rules than life and clearer outcomes than daily life. In a few moments and places, sports presents the opportunity for perfection. This latent possibility lies behind the endless fascination with live sports. A gymnast at the vault, a tennis server at the toss, a quarterback in the pocket reading progressions. Each moment opens the space for a perfect unrepeatable moment.

This is why sports can be so enticing, not just winning and losing, but achieving human excellence.Yesterday Felix Hernandez threw a "perfect" game for the Seattle Mariners. He faced twenty seven batters in nine innings, the absolute mathematical minimum. Not a single batter reached first base. Although a number of perfect games have erupted in the last six years; his remains only the 21st. in the long history of baseball. Like Mark Buehrle two years age Felix gave up no hits which is much rarer.

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This is a masterful accomplishment of discipline, talent, focus and teamwork. Sports opens a daily window into the possibility of perfection. We can experience human beings achieving perfect excellence in their chosen field. We can identify with the quest and celebrate the accomplishment. Many fans of other teams and opponents rooted for him and congratulated him in recognition of the beauty of the achievement. They are fans of the game, not just their team.

Baseball's unique structure also enables teams and pitchers to measure perfection in very clear statistical manner and measure it against history. No other sport really provides a definition of perfection similar to baseball's. The graded ones always struggle with the unevenness of judges and the almost impossible task of getting unbiassed judging. Although one could see things like never letting the other person score a point in tennis or volleyball or never letting the other team gain a single yard in football. In many way baseball's perfect game represents a triumph of defense over offense. The perfection lies in the utter denial of the chance to win the game by making it impossible for the other team to score. Teams have won "no hitters" but no team can win with a perfect game pitched against them. Most sports like life rely upon perfect moments rather than what we would call perfect games which goes far beyond a moment to a perfect performance over time of an incredibly complex task.

Hernandez's perfect game reminds us that human perfection remains fragile and unpredictable. In the first inning newly acquired right fields Eric Thames made superb running catch moving from light to shadow. A great catch but who knew that nine innings later it would be the cornerstone or history? Later Brendan Ryan made dazzling stop of a ball that whizzed by Kyle Seager's diving arm and made an superb throw to get the batter out. Most perfect games rely upon one or two amazing defensive stops. Although none really match the ninth inning of Mark Buerhle's perfect game when  DeWayne Wise leaped over the wall and caught a sure home run taking it from the hands of a fan. The perfect game could have been lost in an instant when Wise fell and bobbled ball, but he held on. But Thames and Ryan like Wise demonstrate how reliant sports perfect is upon other players and luck.

A perfect game overcomes imperfections and relies upon the skill and effort of everyone.

Welcome to human perfection; we have it daily in our lives and often miss it, but sport provides us with a daily chance to witness it because it has rules and ideals that enable us to see it. If it can happen in baseball, it can happen in our lives.


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