Normally, when linking an interview of a player, I’ll say “[Reporter] sat down and talked with [Player] of [Team] and . . .” In this case, however, I can’t really do that because I imagine most of us have forgotten who Bronson Arroyo even plays for.
When last we saw him he was with the Diamondbacks. But then he was traded the Braves. Then he was traded to the Dodgers. And, either way, he hasn’t pitched since June of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Now he’s in Arizona, nominally with the Dodgers, rehabbing and thinking about life.
And death. A LOT about death, actually, as the intro to Tom Ley of Deadspin’s wonderful interview with Arroyo makes clear. He’s 38 and is sensing mortality. But not despairing. More observing it in himself and others and wanting to be sure to capture and preserve as much of his youth that he has left. It’s rather unusual to hear an athlete talk like this. Most of the time they’re ignoring aging and proceeding as if they’ll never get old. Not because they necessarily believe that, but because they are in a profession that requires them to have the utmost confidence and adopt a mindset that accords with that. Not Arroyo. He knows we’re all dying and that no one can negotiate with entropy. He’s just trying to contend with it as best he can.
In some ways it may be easier for him. The most compelling part of the interview is when he talks about “feel.” He knows he doesn’t have the same physical gifts as most elite pitchers. He never threw 97 m.p.h. and has never had perfect or even consistent mechanics. But he has “feel,” he says. An innate idea of how to pitch. What to throw when and how to throw it that he knows when, well, he feels it. While he may never have been a physical specimen and may be broken down and near the end now, he still has feel and wants to see if he can make it work one last time. Until he’s able to pitch again, he’s testing out his “feel” at roulette too. And he says he’s winning at that too.
Everyone has some thing they do, and likely do well, where they simply don’t think. They just feel their way through it and it clicks somehow. It could be cooking or painting or auto maintenance or playing video games. That thing where someone asks you “how did you do that?” And you say “Um, I dunno. I just sort of did it.” That’s how Arroyo describes pitching. I bet most pitchers do that on some level. The work and the talent matter, obviously, but for the good ones . . . something just clicks as well. Since Arroyo doesn’t rely on his height, strength, crazy velocity or, is seems anyway, some professorial approach to pitching philosophy, it sounds like he relies on that more than most.
Anyway, a great trip inside the mind of an interesting pitcher. Well worth your time if you’re interested in what makes ballplayers tick.