It is recorded in the informal history of baseball, as well as impressed on the minds of pitchers, that once there was a young man named Dino Restelli, a rookie who never became a veteran.
Early in the season of 1949 Dino Restelli had the look of an eagle who would soar one day into the quiet dignity of the Hall of Fame. He was big and strong. His bat sang. He could not miss.
Then he came up for the first time against Ewe 11 Black well, a blackguard of a pitcher if ever there was one. Dino Restelli stepped up, dug in, then backed away and pulled out his big red bandanna. He held it up for the world to see and wiped off his glasses. O.K. A cocky kid.
He settled back into the box, dug in again and then waved like a cop directing traffic, signaling Blackwell to bring it in. Sure enough, The Whip brought it in. Dino Restelli's bat went one way. His hat went another. And Dino Restelli went a third way.
Dino Restelli finished the year hitting .250 and was sent back to the minors.
Fear is an elementary fact of life, as complex and quaking as the world that is forever shouting at us, or as quiet as drops of water constantly hitting the forehead—those snipping little terrors that are a psychiatric goldfield. The subject is all over the Bible, a lot of third-rate poets have grappled with it in curdling pentameter and it has been a favorite of politicians, who have used it often and badly. But there is hardly a whisper of dread from athletes, few pounding hearts, little residue of cold sweat, only the rarest hints that they, too, are imprisoned by flesh and blood and have minds that betray them and render their bones pulpy.
As hushed up as an ancestor's impropriety, the word fear does not exist publicly on playing fields, nor does it appear in the assembly line of "personal" books that promise to cut to the heart of a career, but only manage to clip a toenail. Where is the wide receiver who tells of that microsecond before catching a pass when the steamy breath of sheer animalism is upon him, or the quarterback who tells of being in a crumbling pocket and getting picked apart like an African kill? Where is the shortstop who, when the pressure is screaming, requests of the Deity a home run—anything except a ground ball hit right at him? What about jockeys who must guide 1,000 pounds of unpredictability through cracks that open and close as fast as a snowflake melts on a warm sidewalk? Don't they know how the stableboy felt inside?
"There is nothin' like a horse," the kid said one day. "I love 'em."
"Why don't you become a jockey?"
"I tried...no guts," he said, tapping his stomach. "That's a funny one. I can feel horses. It's like I'm a part of 'em. When I see a good one coming out at the top of the stretch, I'm on him and I can feel him. You know he's coming. You know he's tough and has it inside and isn't going to get himself licked, and I get mad when I think the horse has all that guts, and I don't have any."