I was reading a lot about Roberto Clemente yesterday, and something stuck out like a sharp pain that perpetually sits in the middle of your back, located between the scapula and spine.
This excerpt is from a 1972 article on Clemente, written in the early part of the same year in which he tragically died:
In his time, Clemente has been bothered not only by the usual pulled muscles, but also by tension headaches, nervous stomach, a tendon rubbing against the bone in his left heel, malaria, a strained instep, bone chips in his elbow, a curved spine, countless bruises, one leg heavier than the other (according to a chiropractor), hematoma of the thigh incurred in a lawnmowing accident, wayward disks in his neck and back, a systemic paratyphoid infection from the hogs on a small farm he owns, severe food poisoning and insomnia. And he has always been very open about these things, with teammates and managers, who have not always been sympathetic, and with writers, who have sometimes been gleeful. Writers report that Clemente has to “boop” his back and neck into place every morning before getting out of bed. Or they quote him as saying, “My wrist is still swollen but all the bad blood left it. I felt a pain in my stomach, like poison there, you know? think that was the blood runwrist.”
Then Clemente is incensed. He claims that he has been made out a hypochondriac. When you ask him how he feels he responds not like a hero, and not whiningly either, but ingenuously—earnestly expressing a natural resentment against having to suffer.
Around late-July 2019, I found myself passed out in the shower with a migraine, unsure if I was going to die. I’m not saying that dramatically.
I’ve had migraines all my life, but this one was so bad that it led to me puking non-stop in the bathroom until there was nothing but bile bursting from my breathless body. It wasn’t just the pain in my head, but the tension that went down my neck. If you would have decapitated me with a samurai sword in that moment, I would have mouthed a “Thank you” with the dying movements from my severed head.
Climbing and slipping my way up from the sweat soaked floor, I stumbled my way to the shower, turned on the hot water, sat on the shower floor under the stream, drank water, took Advil, smoked some weed, ate some light food, and did everything else that I do when I get a headache that makes me feel like I’m going to die.
Yes, you read all of that right. On the verge of what felt like an aneurysm, I was sitting in a hot shower smoking weed and eating cheese crackers until I passed out.
You speak of hardcore.
I’m just a product of the United States medical system.
I’ve had these migraines all my life. The source has never been discovered, and I’ve grown tired of paying doctors all of my money to tell me they are ultimately clueless about how the human body works. I’ve eliminated every food from my diet at different periods of my life. I’ve put extreme focus on hydration, eating scheduled meals, and getting enough sleep. I’ve gone to chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga classes, and everything else that has only provided temporary relief.
I’m a walking science experiment.
After that headache in 2019, I completely shut down my life. I weighed over 300 pounds at that point, was in constant pain, and the headaches kept coming — getting exponentially worse as my health got worse. I was throwing up from pain at least once a week. I figured I was on my way toward dying an early death in some form. So, what harm would it do to shut down now and attempt to find an out-of-the-box solution?
I woke up every morning starting that September with two intentions: Write a single article by 9 a.m., and focus on getting healthier. Once that article was finished, my day consisted of eating on a schedule, making sure I went to bed at a proper time, hydrating, and exercising/stretching to reduce the pain in my body.
The exercise was difficult. I had a heavy bag, but could only do a few minutes before getting extremely winded and drenched with sweat. In fact, it was an exercise in and of itself to just get down onto the floor to attempt push-ups or sit-ups. Losing weight through this minimal work was a fantasy.
So, my exercise became as simple as laying on the floor.
For one month, I slowly got down onto the floor and laid on my back on a yoga mat in my garage, listening to Alice in Chains and Chris Cornell every day during this session. That time eventually sparked an idea of a novel focused on mental health, which has since transformed to a battle between Time Travelers (representing anxiety) and Vampires (representing depression).
But mostly, that time gave me time to think back on every point of pain in my life, and all of the good advice that could help.
I had a friend in college who went on to fly in the Air Force. This was his goal in college, and he focused on his posture, which you need to be perfect when you’re flying a jet. He used to say that he slept on the floor one night a week to straighten out his back. I can’t sleep on the floor an entire night, as I toss and turn too often. But, what about doing that in the aggregate?
For one hour a day, seven days a week, I laid flat on a mat on my garage floor. I figured if I couldn’t exercise for a long period of time, I could at least focus on my posture.
My posture has always been poor. I feel like that’s something that can happen when you suddenly shoot up to 6′ 4″ in your teenage years, while still trying to maintain the perspective of the world that you previously had as a person under six-feet.
I’ve gone to physical therapy for my headaches and posture, but that helped about as much as anything else — mostly maintenance to deal with the pain, and never any solution to prevent the pain.
What I’ve never really done is focused on strengthening certain muscles that allows you to maintain a better posture. While I was laying on the garage floor each day, I got bored. So, I’d start doing micro-stretches. Lifting my head up off the ground. Raising my arms and rotating them in every direction across, outward, upward, and down my body. Doing the same with my legs. I was a torso flattening out on the ground, while strengthening the connecting joints of everything that hangs off of said torso.
Those garage floor sessions soon turned to yoga sessions, only they were Tim Williams yoga sessions. Like, they don’t name poses after the weird ways I was manipulating my body.
Being in pain my whole life has put me in tune with my body. I can identify a specific spot on my body that hurts. I’ve also studied the human body enough that I know the pain usually originates elsewhere. And doing these weird micro-stretches while laying down — basically manipulating my body in weird ways with weird movements until I felt the most relief — helped me to identify where my sources of pain were coming from.
Lower back pain? Most likely due to my hamstrings being tight and pulling. That pain in the middle of my back between the scapula and spine? I need to stretch out my rib cage on the side of my body. Tension headache in my neck? Make sure I’m not clenching my jaw, subconsciously. Pain running from my neck to my shoulder? Armpits.
In less than a year, I was down to 232 pounds. I was able to get down on the floor and hop back up instantly. I was far more mobile. I had full flexibility of my body, with better posture, and the pain in my body was either gone, or I knew the exact stretch to remove it.
I haven’t stuck with that. I went through a stressful time last summer where I drank a Sheetz milkshake daily. I moved and lost my garage space. I’ve added to my daily workload, which makes it more difficult to exercise consistently. I’ve added 30 pounds, lost 20, added 10, and now remain in the 245-250 range. Overall, a net improvement, and with all of the bouncing around, I now believe I know exactly what works, and what wasn’t working in the past.
When I went to a chiropractor, I was told I had a curved spine. I always figured that was irreversible, and I’m not sure that I’ve reversed it now. I have improved my posture with the garage floor yoga, which cut down on the pain and amount of headaches I get (I still get those when a storm comes through, which means it sucks living in Florida). My focus on posture was the primary reason for the weight loss, the increase in agility, and the ability to exercise.
If you think about it, all we are is a system of bones, muscles, and nerves that all stem out from the spinal column. If you’re constantly in pain, lack agility, or have any other body-wide issues, my guess is that it stems from the way you hold your spine, in some way.
I believe if our posture is off by any of the infinite degrees in which it can be off the normal spinal axis, then we will see cause and effect responses. I sit hunched over a computer screen all day. I’ve got a beer gut, but I don’t drink beer much anymore, and mostly eat healthy. When I’m hunched over the computer, my rib cage is largely unsupported, outside of resting on the pile of fat that my body has accumulated in this area. Is my body just supporting my bad posture habits? When I got away from the computer, and was in my garage floor period, I lost that belly fat. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
I think about this stuff daily, in terms of how it’s applied to baseball. I thought about it yesterday, because Roberto Clemente played in a time where he was more likely to hear “Just be a man and deal with the pain” over any kind of solution to his exponential pain across his body. His curved spine was just one of many ailments listed in an article. His tension headaches were another.
Today, athletes have access to technology that tracks their every movement. They can identify the best way to position their body for maximum success.
This makes me wonder if posture might be the most important thing in the early stages of player development. Making sure that a player’s body is ideally aligned, while being agile and flexible, should take precedence over any mechanical adjustments to a player’s game under his existing posture.
At least, that’s my theory.
I’m going to go stretch now, while thinking about how Roberto Clemente got criticized for not playing daily, when those days off to focus on pain might have been what made his playing days so great.
I wrote that book a different way than previous versions. I wanted to attempt to have a running story throughout the book on player development — in relation to the Pirates’ current plan, but also in relation to player development in general. All set to the tune of Stairway to Heaven.
And then, at the end, I wrote a freestyle poem, which I’ve actually been too afraid to go back and read, even though it wasn’t meant to be good.
The 2022 Prospect Guide will follow on this format, while also following up on the story from the 10th Anniversary Guide with the next stages of the Pirates’ rebuild, and my further thoughts on player development. The 2022 book won’t be released until next year, and won’t go on pre-sale until there’s a more concrete timeline. I want to avoid the delays the 10th Anniversary Book had, which were mostly due to creative decisions. Right now, I’m in the process of mapping out the 2022 story, and creating the cover art.
You can support our work in the meantime by picking up a copy of the 10th Anniversary Guide, or one of the Pirates Prospects beer glasses or shirts. The latter items won’t be reproduced, so if you want one, now is the time to get it.
The shirt, in action:
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsPBN) September 1, 2021