Batter Hugs Pitcher: Welcome to Restorative Practices

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by Alan Reinstein, English Teacher

I’d like to welcome you to the Restorative Corner, a place that’s interested in how to fix things that get broken. How to apologize, how to forgive and how to recover. How to build relationships that reduce the chances of things breaking in the first place. “Restorative Practices” are strategies that strengthen relationships so that when mistakes are made that hurt community members, repairing the harm done to the victim, or victims, is more important than punishing the offender (or offenders). I’ve got two baseball stories to start things off, both involving batters reeling from dangerous pitches. Both are stories of forgiveness. We’ll start here.  

For the first one, Google “Japanese batter hugs pitcher” to get to a scene from this summer’s professional all-star game in Japan. If you’ve ever seen a batter charge the mound after being hit or nearly hit by a speeding pitch, this scene is an unexpected moment of grace: Orix Buffaloes’ batter Yutaro Sugimoto, seemingly furious, rushes the mound after a way-inside pitch blows past his head — then suddenly, he opens his arms to Hiroshima Carp’s Aren Kuri to give him a wide-open hug. At first, the pitcher seems ready for a fight, as he flings his glove, but then he accepts the hug. It could be that all-star games take some of the competitive venom away from batters that allow room for kindness and forgiveness after a 100-mph fastball whizzes by your ear, but there is still a moment here when the frightened or surprised Sugimoto must have brought himself to forgiveness. A choice or an impulse — who can say? The change in the aura of the moment is fascinating because it seems so unnatural. And yet it happened, and we don’t need to know how, really — only that it did. That it can.

Want evidence of a more thoughtful, more purposeful restorative response to the beanball? See a kid do it: Tulsa, Oklahoma, little-leaguer Isaiah Jarvis, after getting hit in the helmet by a pitch in last summer’s Little League World Series early-rounder against East Texas. (Google “Little League batter hugs pitcher.”) It’s awful, and then it’s beautiful. After pitcher Kaiden Shelton’s fastball hits Jarvis in the left ear flap, knocking the helmet off the twelve-year-old that has him writhing at the plate, Jarvis gets up to applause from the stands and jogs to first. Then, seeing the distraught pitcher conferencing with his coaches about whether he can continue to pitch, Jarvis walks from first base over to the mound to console Shelton with an awkward pre-teen hug that is even more graceful in its clumsiness.

Of course, it’s easier to forgive a bad pitch that’s an accident and much harder to forgive one that’s aimed at you. In addition, repairing the harm should come first from the offender themselves. However, the formula for reconciliation is only that both culprit and victim are willing to meet and listen to each other, starting with either a victim willing to forgive or a wrongdoer admitting harm and seeking a route to mend it. It’s hard but important work. 

Every school year, harm happens. Relationships and people are bruised. We have four core values to guide us — show respect by listening first or choosing kindness, and then, when you slip, take responsibility. We have, too, an understanding that any one of us can spur the repair that stabilizes a relationship or a community when there is pain. A fastball that whizzes by or, worse, hits the batter, unintentionally or not, is upsetting. Whether we’re the pitcher or the batter, let’s be ready to fix what can be fixed.

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