Letter to My Younger Self

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Dear Recently Born Bill Lee,

(For the record, it’s Bill Lee, not Billy. Your first memory of rejection will be in kindergarten, when you come to class on your first day and your kindergarten teachers asks, “What’s your name?” You’ll respond “Bill Lee.” She’ll say, “Oh, well what’s your last name?” You’ll say, “Bill … Lee.” She’ll say, “Don’t be smart with me. What’s your last name?” It will be humiliating.)

(Eventually, she’ll realize her error, but the damage will have already been done.)

The first time you’ll ever drive a truck will be to take a load of elk and deer meat over the pass up on Route 80. You’ll be with your grandfather coming back from Tahoe during a snowstorm. He’ll say to you, “It’s getting slippery, you better drive.” And you, somewhat scared, somewhat intrigued, will respond, “Grandpa, what do I do?”

His response will be simple, but profound: “Don’t accelerate, but don’t brake.”

Good luck with that, kid.

Right now, things might seem slow for you. You’re a really shy kid. People think you’re weird, or that you’re dumb because you struggle with dyslexia. You’re probably a little scared about what’s to come. But as you move forward in life, try to remember your grandpa’s advice. Don’t accelerate and be obsessed about what awaits in the future, but at the same time don’t brake and be consumed by the past. There’s nothing you can do about the past, and not much you can do about the future, either. You might as well do the best you can right here in the present.

Also, this is unrelated to the metaphor, but keep two hands on the wheel. It’s really icy.

As you embark on your journey through life, here are a few bits of advice that you might want to keep in the recesses of your mind:

  • Ask questions. Always. If you don’t ask questions you’re never going to learn anything.
  • That being said, don’t be satisfied with the answers you get. Embrace the Socratic method. Have the courage to dig deeper, to seek more and more information. There’s so much to learn. Never be satisfied.
  • When you play YMCA football, Father Crow will come to the house and yell at you because it’s a Protestant sport that he says you shouldn’t be part of. He’ll tell you that you’re going to hurt yourself. The next game you play, you’ll punt a ball off the back of a kid’s helmet and have it come back and hit you right in the fucking teeth. Now, at the time you’ll wonder, How did Father Crow know that was goin’ to happen? But don’t overthink it. The universe unfolds as it should. That football was always destined for your teeth, Bill. You didn’t do anything wrong.
  • You’re destined to be a pitcher. But you already know that. Your grandfather played pro ball, your aunt played pro ball and your dad played semipro ball. Hell, when you were a baby, you had these blocks with A-B-C and 1-2-3 on them, and whenever you fell down on their sharp edges it would hurt … so you threw those fuckers out of the playpen. Pitching is in your blood. Don’t overcomplicate it by letting your mind get in the way. Throwing a baseball is feeling, not thought. It should be like a religious experience every time you go to the hill. Approach this game with sound mind, sound body and controlled emotions. When you think, you only fuck it up.
  • You’ll get your tenacity from your father, but when it comes to pitching form, listen to your aunt. There’s a reason she was the first woman to throw a perfect game in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She’ll teach you your fundamentals and delivery. When you do pitch professionally, you’ll have the same movement as her, the same pitches and the same arm slot. Most baseball players might be hesitant to learn from a woman, but guess what? Most baseball players suck.
  • Oh, and a side note here: It’s amazing what you’ll one day know about volcanology, climatology and sedimentology.
  • The most important thing in this life is attitude. The lining of your stomach changes constantly — every four hours you produce a new layer of cells. So if you’re ever feeling upset, just wait around a bit, take a good shit and you’ll be fine.
  • A big turning point for you will come when you decide where to go to college. You’ll want to go to Oregon, but your family will push you toward USC. Your dad will sit you down one day and ask, “Son, do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?” You won’t know the answer, so he’ll continue, “Well, if you’re a big fish in a small pond, you’re never gonna grow. But if you’re a small fish in a big pond, you have a chance to grow a lot.” You’ll scratch your head, and then you’ll ask, “What does that even mean?” He’ll say, “It means you’re going to USC.”
  • Just a heads-up: You’re going to get kicked out of Shanghai in ’75 for smoking dope. But hey, it’s better than being hanged!
  • On that note, let’s discuss marijuana because you’ll get asked about it a lot as you get older. It’s in the nature of man to try and alter his state of consciousness, whether it be with alcohol, peyote or religious ceremonies. The only problem with any of these things is if you become reliant on them and use them as a crutch. You don’t need pot to pitch, but you’ll recognize that it helps you. Many of the drugs you’ll encounter in the big leagues, such as amphetamines, are meant to speed you up. But marijuana slows you down, and allows you to focus. Some of your greatest athletic feats will occur while you’re high, but not because you’re high. Understand that distinction.
  • Thomas Malthus was wrong, Bill! Malthusian economics surmise that goods and services grow arithmetically and population grows exponentially, therefore there’s not enough to go around. That’s bullshit.
  • Think twice before you decide to climb up to a second-story balcony to say goodbye to that girl in Montreal. Your heart is in the right place because you don’t want to disturb the whole house by going through the front door, but when you slip and fall you’ll be placed on the 21-day disabled list and feel like a total asshole.
  • Throwing hard is overrated. Pitching is all about movement and location. Guys who throw the same speed are only pitching in two dimensions. A guy who can throw the ball at different speeds is pitching in three dimensions. He can add or he can subtract, and he can move it every which way. Always pitch in 3-D.
  • During your playing career, you’ll be mostly a loner. Not everyone has the same outlook as you, and that’s fine. But in Boston, you’ll become part of a group called the Buffalo Heads, which will include Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Willoughby and Rick Wise. The buffalo is the dumbest animal on the face of the earth. As Ferguson used say — and pay close attention, because he’ll be your idol one day — “We don’t even use arrows to kill them, we just run them off a cliff and go pick ‘em up.” The Buffalo Heads will understand that, in the grand scheme of things, we know very little about the universe that surround us. But that’s not a reason to be upset. Instead, be close with those who embrace the unknown and revel in it. Those who fear what they do not know have little room for growth.
  • If you seek revenge, you dig two graves. Get mad early, and get over it early.

Bill, for you, true happiness and joy will come from living in the moment. Try to make those around you feel relaxed and happy. Don’t get hung up on living the best life possible, instead, think about how you can make every single day the best it can possibly be for yourself and those you encounter. Influence people to have bigger smiles and more generosity. More than anything else, this is what will bring you joy.

And chop your own firewood, godammit!

From Planet Earth,

Bill Lee

Apostrophe_Break

Bill’s biopic, Spaceman, will premiere in select theaters on August 19, and is available for purchase here.

Where I’m Coming From

We’re all products of our environment. I think that’s especially true for baseball players. Where you grow up playing the game is a part of every ballplayer’s identity.

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