Now that we have gotten past the memory of the tragic 9/11 event, twenty years ago, I would like to turn to the higher nature of humankind. John Keats, in his poem, Endymion, began it with the immortal line: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. I would like to modify that to an act of beauty is a joy forever but retain the same idea that Keats conveyed in his poem, that we cherish a thing or act of beauty beyond its existence.
We look at athletes who perform at the top of their game with wonderment. When we see Simone Biles take leaps into the naked air with multiple twists, we applaud her mastery that appears so effortless. Our own understanding of what we can accomplish makes it easy for us to recognize the uniqueness of their skills. An athletic feat of such grandeur is short-lived but not forgotten. Likewise, the beauty of a flower in bloom is ephemeral but stays with us much beyond its happening, as Keats surmised in Endymion “will never pass into nothingness.”
A few days ago, Hunter Renfroe, of the Boston Red Sox did the impossible. With two outs in the top of the 9th inning at Fenway Park, a ball hit by Joey Wendle of Tampa Bay, in being missed by centerfielder Danny Santana, went passed him. Hunter Renfroe, who plays right field, sped to the ball, and almost in one motion, took the ball and hurled it to Bobby Daubach, who was playing 3rd base for the Sox. The throw, described by several sports writers as a “howitzer,” gunned down Wendle as he slid into 3rd base. When the umpire called him out at 3rd base, Wendle had a look of confusion and disbelief on his face. The perfect throw, some sportscasters said may have been 300 feet, ended the inning and the game with the Red Sox winning 2 to 1.
The post-game interview with Hunter was, like most spectular moments, anticlimactic. Renfroe commented that when he saw Joey running to 3rd base, he instinctively threw the ball in that direction. He modestly gave some credit to Daubach for successfully applying the tag on Wendle.
Words do not have the power to reproduce great moments. Just like the fleeting beauty of nature, an athletic feat happens quickly and, in the case of Renfroe’s throw, unexpectedly. Nowadays, seeing a great play like that, is much more available than the mere memory of it. The modern age allows us to see the event well after it happens. When the skill of an athlete far exceeds the norm, we can marvel at what had appeared impossible to reach was indeed within the grasp of humankind. It reminds us that the potential for achieving this level of greatness is a part of what we share as human beings.
2 replies on “On Athletic Prowess”
In your entry you seem to speak of flow, in this case vicarious: someone feeling completely out of oneself, totally absent self-consciousness.
To witness it in another can certainly be a thing of beauty both in the moment and in retrospect.
Prowess, while a term I usually hear in relation to athletics or other physical/technical activity, is aptly also applied to musical skill in performance.
I recently attended a performance of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti (#5), in which a harpsicordist performed a long cadenza (solo within an orchestral piece). His concentration, and his artful and flawless execution were a true thing of beauty in moment and retrospect.
I’ve (unfortunately infrequently) felt this transcendence in some of the solo singing I’ve done over the years. Experienced directly, it is a key high point of my life.
Moments of transcendence which you observed, and my instances above, form peak experiences of our humanity.
Thanks for this entry, Buz.
I will search the internet to find the baseball play you wrote about. if you already have that site please send me the link