Thumbs define us as human beings. They are a metaphor for everything human. From sayings such as ‘under my thumb’ to gestures such as thumbs-up to the unique fingerprints each thumb leaves, thumbs inhabit a world within a world within another world.
In the world of baseball, we catch a ball, throw a ball, and hit a ball thanks to our opposable primary digits. We also communicate in the game with signs that require use of our fingers and thumb. The act of batting itself is an extension of our defining attributes. The thumb allows us to grip a bat, thus extending the power of our forearms to swing. Long ago, when we humans were first behaving as humans, we gripped clubs to kill our food, to protect ourselves from predators, to threaten our enemies. We spoke softly, or not yet at all, but we carried big sticks. In baseball, too, we carry big sticks. And we do not speak as much as we communicate with our hands – often using gestures that feature our thumbs, such as fingering our ball cap brims or pinching our earlobes.
“We can effortlessly swing our thumbs across the palms of our hands to meet our small and ring fingers, the fourth and fifth digits,” writes Chip Walter in Thumbs, Toes, and Tears – And Other Traits That Make us Human. “Nothing like this exists anywhere else in nature. It is called the ulnar opposition, and this seemingly simple ability gives our hands the power grasp and grip, turn and twist, manipulate and touch in ways foreign to other creatures. Because of this ability we can pick up and use a hammer or an ax, or turn a stick into a lethal club by cupping it in a position that extends the power of our arm, and, with it, the force of the blow it delivers.”
This applies to swinging a baseball bat as well. Because of ulnar opposition, we are able to cup the bat in a position that extends the power of our arm, and, with it, we can knock the snot out of a baseball.
“Ulnar opposition also makes all of the difference between simply grasping a tree branch the way a chimp does when it swings through the forest, and precisely grasping miniscule objects with precision,” continues Walter. Like the bill of your cap to indicate your teammate should steal second base. Or like placing a pinch of chew between your cheek and gums before you hit the pitcher’s mound to throw a curveball. By the way, if you find fame throwing curves, you will be known as a thumber.
“Hey, Thumbs! Watch out for the red ants.”
Tammie Ostrom, left fielder for the Washington Stars, yells to me during a team warm-up. I am not a thumber in the curveball-throwing sense. Actually, I am not much of a thrower in the baseball sense.
“You can come out there and play catch, too, if you want,” Coach Rick Park says to me.
I would rather expose my nipples to red ants. “Uh, no thanks, heh heh.” If we were in kayaks and Coach Rick told me to catch an eddy, I’d be good. Catching a baseball? Not so much.
I do, however, appear as if I might be desirous of throwing and catching baseballs because of my full green, black, and white Washington Stars uniform, including the sweaty gray polyester pants and the jersey, which says “CHUCK” in all caps on the back. I am dressed this way because I am required to be. And I am required to be dressed this way because I am hanging with the Stars during the Roy Hobbs Women’s National Championships in Tucson, Arizona. And I am hanging with the Stars at this tournament because I’m curious about women’s baseball, which I didn’t know existed before I started researching Major League Baseball and was told I’d have a hard time accessing any of the training camps because I was a woman.