lessons in life from Bill “Spaceman” Lee

“The other day they asked me about mandatory drug testing. I said I believed in drug testing a long time ago. All through the sixties I tested everything.” – Bill Lee

I lived in Boston for seventeen years and I used to play softball once a week with a ragtag bunch of players who were my good friends. One Sunday morning we were playing on a field in Belmont, a suburb of Boston near Cambridge, when Bill “Spaceman” Lee walked by with his two young sons.

I was pitching that day. He stopped and chatted with us for a while then looked my way and said, “Yep, she’s a good pitcher.” Damn, I was thrilled to hear that. I could not stop smiling.

We had a short left field with a high fence attached to the tennis court beyond it. At some point Lee pointed at the fence and said, “That’s my stroke, that’s where I hit the ball.” The instant he said that I had an epiphany, one of those moments when you come to a realization that has a profound effect on your life.

Up until then I thought I had to be good at every aspect of any game I played and, by extension, everything I did else no one would play with me and they probably wouldn’t even like me. If I played softball, I had to be a good outfielder, a good infielder, a good pitcher, hit the ball to all fields and throw the ball a mile. If I was playing basketball, I had to be fast, handle the ball well and shoot the lights out.

Understandably, trying to be good at everything meant that I wasn’t too good at anything. On top of that, I was usually one of the few women on the field so you could see why I might be in mortal fear of dropping the ball. I was sure they’d never let me play again if I did.

But if Bill Lee’s natural stroke was to left field, then I could concentrate on the things I did well: pitching and hitting for average, and not worry about things I didn’t do well.

Bill Lee was a strange guy, a showman. That was a a problem at times because you were never sure when he was just trying to piss you off and when he was just being himself. But he was a good player and a hard worker. He had three straight seasons with seventeen wins. And he had a good sense of what was and wasn’t important and with a simple comment that Sunday morning, I learned something important.