Keith Gentz. Here was one of my first messenger’s from above. A heroic Type Four, who combined with his awesome heart and his deep inquiring soul, was his capacity to pitch a baseball. At six-foot-two, he was an Adonis. A Greek god, with a fierce wiry-slender muscular build, shoulders broad, hips narrow, strong cheek bones, curly blond hair, statuesque, blue eyes gentle and calm, infinitely but kindly deep. On the pitcher’s mound his delivery was, well, scary. Out of his windup would come a wild fastball, flaming, with teeth, unpredictable. You could tell that he really didn’t know where the next pitch was going, that control of this mean fastball was something that he aspired to, but that part of his nature would have nothing to do with this intention. It made the decisions so that randomly, after hitting the edges of the plate with this buzzing fastball—each pitch he threw captured in his intense eyes, his laser-focused facial expression—came an unconscious but nearly audible communication…”I really don’t know where this next pitch is going…I’m just waiting to see where it goes.” There was something wild in him that just took over. Maybe movement from the depth of his unconscious found its way into his motion, his arm, his fingers, and guided the next pitch in unpredictable ways. Or some force of the cosmos not inclined towards linear pathways found its way into his windup. And out of this heartfelt space of doubt, mystery and real concern would come a flare-up. In that moment, a split-second, lightning-like moment, the ball, the blur, was headed for your head, your body, sending a visceral shock wave to your core. If you were lucky and your instincts were alert, you splayed yourself on the ground, avoiding the bullet. But you knew it—you just had a close encounter with severe pain or death. Keith would look at you in shock and with remorse, particularly if he hit you. And like no pitcher I’ve ever known, he’d say to the batter, “I’m sorry.” So you heard it. And he meant it. He was sorry for causing you pain or fear. It wasn’t his intention. How did that happen, would come his expression? And this recognition alone would rattle you awake, the realization that although he could go through amazing periods of pinpoint, awesome control, his pitches gloriously hitting that one-eighth inch of space hovering over the inside or outside corner of the plate, virtually untouchable, was coupled with something wildly unpredictable such that out of the haze of his magnificent pitching would come a wild aberration. The dreaded wild pitch could arise like a volcanic eruption in the flow of his amazing grace and near-seamless-smoothness, and shock you awake. You couldn’t sleep or go into auto-pilot with Keith. And I loved it when Keith pitched because, well, this certainty prevailed. We would win the game. Always. Elegantly. Poetically. We would win. It was a beauty to behold. From my position at 2nd base, I revered his grace and the beautiful, soulful stage he performed from. Heart, soul, depth, poetry, grace, his presence a song to those witnessing him in the stadium at Oregon State University.
Later, sharing my experience of Keith with my Type Five, LSD-eating, mescaline-gulping-expert-in-physics-straight-A-whiz-kid from an alien planet located in a dark corner of Oregon, Jimmy, me catching him off guard with my baseball enthusiasm, would say to me in response, “Ah, the dudes on LSD. All the great ones are.” And would look at me as if I was the most naive human on earth, which at that time, I was. Truly.
And then there was Keith’s slider, a grizzly-bear disguised as pitched-ball. And the genius of the slider was that it appeared like a flaming-meteor of straight-on-fierce-velocity but at the last second it would tail off like a curveball, but with little downward arch (and if you were a baseball player you know exactly what that means. 😊). It would move 4 inches to the right at the last second and either jam you up on the inside corner or have you swinging idiotically into space missing the ball. That slider…well…in batting practice I faced it and swear to god, it had teeth on it, like it would bite you if you got too close to it. Something about the energy field that Keith projected through the pitch that sent shock-waves to my core. He scared me. And what made it even more freaking ominous is that he didn’t intend to scare me. He was in the beautiful flow of pitching reverie, graceful, a dancer, a poet, a type Four artist with a genuinely gentle heart, and from this fluid dance came his fastball—blowing past you like hot-heat in summer, a buzzing sound to it. Sometimes even growling as it whizzed by you. And his slider, a creature of total mystery to me, had a fiery, counter-intuitive ‘something’ coming off its vibrational field, with gnashing teeth. I never wanted to face him and can’t remember hitting any of his pitches squarely. And no one facing him appeared confident and grounded but walked on eggshells in the batter’s box. Squirmy. Death is near, how can I relax, emanating from their emotional atmosphere. Thinking, “This guy sincerely doesn’t want to hurt me, and yet, his uncontrollable baseball avatar goes haywire just often enough to let me know…he has no real control. When that wild pitch comes, it’s not calculated. Calculated would mean he has control. No, this is a wild animal that got away and is bearing down on me like a merciless razor, ax, knife, bullet, devouring mouth. F…ing duck, hit the dirt, it’s going to be close!”
And this, too, is memorable. Awesomely memorable. Against Washington State, a guy lashes a triple into the left-center field hole and arrives upright at third base. When the ball returns to Keith, and everything is settled down, he did what Keith does. He takes several steps off the pitcher’s mound towards the guy and says with appreciative authority, “Nice hit, man, you really ripped it.” Who does that? Really? Who appreciates another player when they’ve slashed a triple to left-center, has hit your best ‘stuff’? Well, that’s just how Keith rolled. The wildest humanitarian pitcher I’ve ever seen, and such a role model of humanity, as in he was aware that he was playing ball with other human beings who had feelings, had a life, had a soul, had people they loved, not robot-baseball-objects with no soul who appear in the batter’s box like video game figures in a video game, soulless objects. But real, live humans. He was unlike guys who do fake ‘friendly’ while bantering about soulless nothingness to look cool, like the cool-baseball-dude doing his baseball-PR-act with no-real-feelings or heart, or real care for the other, just cool, like those less healthy Type Threes down-the-levels-of-health. I’m cool, I got the cool going on. I could be the coolest baseball player you’ve ever seen. Never mind that I feel nothing except my attachment to my self-image as the successful one. (Combine this with baseball talent and you’ve got one of those ego-monsters roaming the playing field. But that’s a different story altogether.)
Keith had no mask.
His presence was penetrating and completely unassuming at the same time, not judging you but observing you with razor-sharp perception. Here his 5-wing kicked in. Observing without judging. A scientist. Running an experiment. A quiet, deeply probing, unassuming presence…he would not invade you with his perceptions (as unhealthier type 4s can be known for) while simultaneously he’d taken a deep photograph of you, because he was curious, genuinely, about your soul. And because he had his fair share of quiet, clear mind, which almost no one possessed in the baseball world, except of course in the heat of the athletic moment when you could not think but had to be present to the laser-sharp edge of a ball in flight, animal instincts in full gear. Then quiet mind appeared for that split second and your instinctual apparatus became your lens on reality, your eyes in the dark of split-second reaction time. Keith—he could read and see you, like watching the edges of a fast revolving baseball and always with that tender, graceful heart of his. He was soft-spoken, and almost everyone on the Oregon State Beavers liked him. Except self-possessed, braggart Danny Cunningham, who because of his too young self and blindly and innocently so high on himself that he needed to tell you about it any time he could. As our Yoda, Bill Miller, our Type Six catcher analyst on reality, our trouble-shooter and look-out for the good of the team devotee, would say directly to his narcissist ego, “Shut the F up Danny. We already know you are the greatest-lover-baseball-player on earth with the biggest ding-dong God ever created, and…(he chuckles loud enough so everyone can hear it) the only girls who date you are groupies so desperate for attention that they give you total adulation because it keeps you around. Secretly they despise you!” This would apparently cheer Danny up as he’d only grin, implying, “I feel sorry for you dude. These gals know I’ve got it going on. They just want a piece of me.” With undeserved confidence, he’d smile broadly.
Danny avoided Keith. Because Keith was a field of grounded authenticity mixed with gentleness and razor-precision understanding, which he never imposed on you. But it created a kind of heated-up-field, and those caught up in virulent, often-contagious baseball narcissism recoiled, and knew that they’d be found out in his atmosphere. If nothing else his unpretentious being would send a coil of authenticity into you and some survival instinct in you would know you were had. Gigs up. Walk away friend. Just f…ing walk away. You’ve been seen!
Which brings us to our most unhealthy coach, Mr. T, a Type Three, failed-baseball- dreamer-guy who had dreams to be a professional baseball player and made his way up the ranks and then was cut, and now coached for the Oregon State Beavers. The guy who had recruited me. Geno, he was called, was both down-to- earth-friendly, one of the guys, when feeling good. And, the tide turning in another weird direction, he was habitually wired to undermining any player who was beginning to greatly succeed. He couldn’t stand it. If you were down and struggling, he was your buddy. But the second you’d rise up and the second baseball scouts were following you, he’d freaking bench you. He did this with Keith. Winning game after game, he’d bench him for no reason. Keith would take it quietly. Till one day he said out loud in the dugout, a siren-sound shocking us all to the core of our being, “Baseball, I’m bored with it. It has no meaning for me. I’ve decided to quit.” Horror struck, we were. Beautifully skilled, headed-to-the-major-leagues Keith stunned us into quiet with his authenticity and depth. His truth appeared like a flaming-biblical-bush in the dugout. Each of us did a quick and sacrilegious inquiry (that is: thou shalt not question the deep and abiding importance of baseball in the universe) and asked ourselves the unholy question: Does this game have any meaning, or is it all a charade for our wounded egos, a bullshit act to conjure meaning in our empty, loveless life? The question knocked me to the ground. And quietly, with no fanfare, unassumingly, Keith quit. I felt like I’d been slugged in the gut because he’d named a demon that I was wrestling with. He threw a head-high fastball that knocked me to the ground. He had opened the door with a prophecy, an omen that had been circling around and through me ever since I’d read Summerhill and The Electric Koolaid Acid Test and Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Does this game have any meaning, really, for my soul, my spirit, for what is genuine within me?
And from my questioning and deeply-inquiring soul came this answer: No, it does not! As the soul of my father, mother, coaches, baseball scouts, teachers, Oregon fans, gasped, as if watching me drown at sea! I gasped too, for many, many years further, struggling to come to my own understanding, to arise out of the turbulent waters of my new identity in the wake of the drowning of the baseball-player-headed-to-the-major-leagues.. And here Keith unwittingly left a mysterious door behind him. In deeper conversations he said that he was in pursuit of his real self, that he’d read the book, The Primal Scream by Arthur Janov, and this was where he was headed, towards his core truth, eliminating all of the barriers that stopped him from being real. As he passed through this new and mysterious door, a gravitational pull of my unknowing sucked me through too. As if thrown into a turbulent dark water with only a life vest, I ventured forward, The Primal Scream my road map. A year later I’d find myself in San Francisco at the San Francisco Feeling Center ready to dive into the primal therapy waters of transformation. And in reflection, all that conspired with Mr. T had launched me into this new world.