Phil Humber and being ‘In the Zone’


Absolute perfection. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

On Saturday afternoon, the sports world shut down for a couple of minutes, and all eyes were focused on Seattle.

That’s because Chicago White Sox pitcher Phil Humber achieved something that only happened 20 times in Major League Baseball history — he threw a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.

27 batters up, 27 batters down. No blemishes at all.

Throwing a perfect game is one of the most difficult achievements in sports. In order to retire 27 batters in a row, a pitcher has to be so overpowering and his stuff has to be so baffling that the entire league stops to watch.

In sports, we call that being “in the zone.”

It’s such a good feeling, but it’s also really confusing. There are some days where you just can’t miss. Mechanically, the stars align. No matter how hard you hit that serve, it’s going to be in. Regardless of where you take that shot on the court, it’s going to be nothing but net. You could close your eyes and that putt would still go in.

And when your friends or teammates look at you, wondering what’s gotten into you, all you can do is shrug your shoulders.

What happened to Humber on Saturday has happened to nearly every person who has ever played a sport, but it happened to him on a much grander scale.

Does that really matter, though?

When you’re in the zone, no venue is going to stop you. Whether you’re on the golf course by yourself or playing in front of thousands at Augusta National, you’re going to make those ridiculous shots.

For me, I can remember being in the zone a few times in my life. As a kid, I once played a mixed doubles playoff match and didn’t make a single unforced error. Granted, it was only one set, but we won the match 8-0 and I didn’t miss a single shot. It was as confusing as it was pleasant — how could I struggle so much in some matches, but play such a clean match that afternoon?

I also played 13 holes of nearly-perfect golf last year, and while the round was cut short by darkness, I have no doubt that the final five holes were going to be as clean as the first 13, if I had a chance to finish. For the first time in my life, I was 2-under par (through five holes), and after 13 holes, I was on pace to shoot a 76. Some may scoff at the idea of a 76 being my “in the zone” round, but for someone who considers any score under 85 to be a solid round, shooting nine strokes lower than that qualifies for “in the zone.”

I’m curious to hear your stories of perfect days of competition. Have you ever been “in the zone?” What thoughts were going through your head when you realized you were going to have one of those incredible days?

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