And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. -Num 35:17
Believe it or not, despite my looking like an offensive lineman in football, I actually used to be a pitcher in baseball. Here is a 2-part video from the late 80s showing me (#28) pitch, among other things:
I was an interesting pitcher in HS. I wasn’t the best, nor was I the worst. I probably could have played JuCo baseball somewhere off in the hinterlands but decided instead to attend locally and not play. However, 12 years of playing baseball, and much more listening and discussing the topic with my dad and my friends, gave me a love for the game that still burns today. I went to games last night and will go tonight and tomorrow night to see our local Springfield Cardinals AA League team. While I love seeing hitting, I was a terrible hitter and really focus my attention on pitchers. Last night it did bring to mind some things to share with you today:
10 Things You Can Learn From a Retired Pitcher About Dementia
- Fastball(s)-When a catcher is relaying to the pitcher which pitch he wants thrown, typically numbers are flashed out of eye-shot of the hitter so the pitcher can see them (see note below). A typical high school fastball is a 1 finger sign. Probably due to unpolished skill in throwing strikes or a latch of practice, but this is typically a 4-seam fastball...the normal kind. If you throw hard, which I did NOT, there is a natural rise to this pitch although it is mostly straight. Also with a 1 sign I might have thrown a 2-seam fastball. This highlighted my specialty: ball movement. MY 2-seam fastball was slow, but it could move sideways like a whiffle ball. If I choked it further back in my hand instead of my fingertips, it would drop. If I emphasized either my index finger or my middle finger, I could get it to move horizontally several inches. I was pretty challenging to hit despite me being a good 10-15 MPH slower than our best pitcher…all with nuance. Communication with a loved one with mid- to late-stage dementia requires similar nuance. You have to grip your loved one with your eyes. I try very hard to make eye contact with mom the moment I enter the room. She has very limited cognition now, but even 4 years ago she could only focus on and understand what was right in front of her. Probably a fight or flight response of some sort, but one with dementia seems to understand what is right there in front because everything takes time and the most likely danger is right in front. Tip: make good eye contact…you will know when you are seen. The communication will go better and, better yet, you won’t scare him or her by surprising them moving in or out of their field of understanding.
- Overhand Curve– This pitch is signed #2. I didn’t snap the ball very hard, but a combination of how I handled the ball and the angle of my hand caused the ball to spin end-over-end instead of the opposite. Therefore, with this spin it would drop…and drop it did! They nickname this pitch a 12-to-6 curve ball because its main purpose is to drop. It was devastating many days, especially if they were expecting a different pitch was coming. In the dementia world, a drop is also devastating. The 12-to-6 to which I refer here is falling. Often like a sack of potatoes, with terrible results. Falling is the fast forward button of the VCR in the dementia movie world. The more you fall, the worse things go. I am very thankful that our Area Agency on Aging has had and will continue to have wellness classes to give people tools to fight falling. Here is a discussion about the topic: LINK Falls are terrible for seniors in general. As the link mentioned, “Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.” In dementia it is most certainly worse. Not expecting it, like looking for a fastball and getting the curve, makes it very scary. If you rewind to the early articles of Digital Cornbread, you will see mom looking much younger with one exception: she almost always had a knot on her hear or a black eye. Falls are bad, friends. Do what you can to see them coming and stop them…or at least reduce the damage. Here are some good tips: LINK
- Slider/Sweeper– The #3 pitch signal for most pitchers is the slider. It may now be changed to being called a sweeper. Whether slipping’, slidin’ or sweepin’, when a rightly pitcher throws this thing to a right-handed hitter, it starts at the head and moves diagonally away from a hitter and ends upon being a strike…and somewhat scares the hitter, who has to blink figuring he was about to get hit with the pitch. It is typically thrown nearly as fast as a fastball too, whereas the number 2 is slower. This enhances the deception. This one I was pretty good at. It was a very commonly thrown pitch in the above videos and if you see a hitter freak out, it was because they thought they were about to get hit by my fastball. Deception in dementiaball is the therapeutic fib. Sometimes you NEED to NOT tell the truth, or at least stretch it. It is OK. You are NOT trying to hurt them, to scare them, or really even deceive them, you are trying to make things better. My mom asked several times how her folks were over the last 5 years. “Grandma and Grandpa have been dead for years, mom” would be the truth. However, why force someone who has forgot to re-grieve over and over by breaking this bad news??? I started telling mom “They have never been better” and/or “They are super busy”, which is true according to our cherished faith. Sometimes she would say “I want to go home” and I would say, knowing that she, minus a miracle, wouldn’t, “Before you know it you will go Home” (Home=heaven…). This is hard stuff friends. You know the reality, but you also know you love them and don’t want to hurt. Note here: You are NOT trying to trick them to strike them out, if you will, and hurt them. You are “Does this dress make me look fat”-ing her with a loving heart. While God hates lies…and I can give you 100 verses that prove this…He cares much more about the heart…your intent…than the letter of the Law.
- Sidearm pitches– I would occasionally throw sidearm. This means instead of throwing from the top on top snapping down, I would sling the ball from the side. This was sneaky, but it only would work occasionally because if you expected it, it was very hittable. In dementia, the redirect might be a sidearm pitch. Redirecting is changing the subject when things get stressful and/or sad. Some of the Sweet 17 would scream “I want to go HOME!!!” in the lockdown memory unit, or “I don’t want this food!”. A solid nurse would quickly change the subject by redirecting. If the topic needed to be returned to (eating, after they changed the subject and gave it some time, they could return afresh, with the patient forgetting of the objection. If the topic didn’t need to be returned to, the nurse would just keep them busy for a while. This is a learned skill…you will get it, and it will serve you well as long as you don’t overuse it as your only tool.
- Knuckleball– The knuckleball (sometimes signed as #4, or a fist, or squiggly fingers) is one I never mastered although our best pitcher did. You dig in your fingernails into the seam and kind of flick the ball with the intent of it NOT spinning at all…and the wind does the rest. It floats and dances such that it is hard to hit or even catch. If you watch a great knuckleball, like the two links in this paragraph, time stands still. In dementia, time also stands still. They don’t call it the 36 hour day because it seems short.
- Spitball– The spitball is technically not allowed. I won’t confirm nor deny that I would try to damage the ball here and there…or at least bust a seam on the ball to get some advantage. The term spitball, really applies to a ball that the pitcher applied a foreign substance to. It makes the ball do weird things…too weird…and can even be dangerous. In dementiaball, the spitball may refer to the challenges of toileting and other similar issues. Here are some tips in that realm: Tip and Tip and especially this LINK
- Knockdown Pitch (Best use of the pitch, ever) – This one is signed as a thumb up. The intent is, frankly, to scare the hitter by throwing at him in some form. The goal was to combine the nearly getting hit by a ball narrative with the catcher teasing the hitter a bit saying “Sorry man, he is wild sometimes. Last game he whacked several hitters!” I employed this a lot…probably 2-4 times a game, to scarer someone who swung too hard and was too confident. Seldom did I hit anyone, but one such experience does come to mind. I hit a boy in the mouth and their fans threw a huge fit, rightfully so. There was nearly a fight, but, even though we were younger than the parents, we did have a bunch of metal bats. Of course, in North Springfield, they could probably say “Silly boy, bring a bat to a gunfight”. All turned out fine, but it was stressful. In early- to mid-stage Dementiaball, remember that there is always a chance your loved one will actually swing at you…like punch Mike Tyson-style! It happens, probably more often than we want to admit. Be safe and use wisdom. Find the root of the anger. Is it fear? Frustration? Pain? Teepa Snow has some great tips in their realm. Here is one such: LINK and, sort of this one too: LINK
- Forkball– (catcher sign varies)I couldn’t thrown this very well, but I did try here and there. You jam the ball between the fork of your index and middle finger and it drops. Light’s out. It is fast until it “drops off the table” (drop straight down). In dementiaball, a fork makes me think of food and mom mixing it up. Here is one piece I wrote on the topic: LINK Does everyone with dementia do weird things with food? Probably not, but many do. Food tastes change a lot too. Sweet teeth come and go as fast as teeth come and go. Coffee is a constant for some, sweets others, and shakes yet others… Thickeners are applied to regular liquids to make them easier to swallow and harder to inhale. Just be ready… Oh, and also be ready for things to drop off the table not unlike a toddler. It will happen…just have bibs and towels handy.
- Screwball– (catcher sign varies)- This is a weird pitch, as the name implies. It curves “the wrong way”. It is the opposite of a slider mentioned before. It is very hard to throw and seems to cause injuries more than the average pitch. I could, and may very well, write a book about the screwball things I have seen and heard about for these poor folks. Suffice it to say to expect the unexpected…
- Ephus (aka eephus)– This is a very, very slow pitch. Few have mastered it because highly paid hitters, if they see it coming, will crush it (the video showed one such). However, few things make proud people look foolish like this pitch. The pitcher looks funny, the pitch is funny, and the hitter’s reaction is funny. The folks in the crowd even laugh. Perhaps the best I can do to close out this dementiaball discussion is to remind you to laugh. Laugh with your loved one. You will have a few bombs, but shake it off and keep serving them up. Smile…exhale, and start again. We face an impossible chore in many ways, friends. Find some funny and soak it up. Frankly, we need more Banana Ball than Baseball anyway.
Update: Mom has had a streak of seizures again lately, but they seem to have slowed. Praying for peace in the most recent storm… It is a terrible disease.
Baseball pitch signing note: If there is a runner on second base, to prevent anyone from knowing what pitch is coming, the battery (pitcher and kitchen as a pitching team, if you will) has some form of pattern that shows which pitch will come. For example, the first number shown MAY be the number in sequence that is the the pitch. Example: The catcher shows the sequence 3 then 4, then squiggly fingers, then 1, then 2 which signifies that the 3rd one shown is what he wants you to throw….in this case a 1…or a fastball.
I am so thankful for my decade playing baseball, and for dad and mom playing with me. Their cheering from the stands still reverberates in my mind when I struggle with not believing in myself.