Physics: It’s Not Always Rocket Science

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1. The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two, grouped in traditional fields such as acoustics, optics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, as well as in modern extensions including nuclear physics, cryogenics, solid-state physics, particle physics and plasma physics.

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In high school one of my favorite teachers was my physics teacher Mr. Dennison. I don’t recall all that much from the class other than a few films in time-lapse photography of a bullet piercing an apple, and clouds billowing across autumn skies. Something about velocity and gravity. Nothing about rocket science.

The reasons we like teachers vary, but in this case it may have been the special attention he gave me at a time when I was feeling something of an isolated misfit. Also it may have been that he was a baseball coach and I’d spent years dreaming that one day I would grow up to play professional baseball. Mr. Dennison, my junior varsity baseball coach at B.R.H.S.-West in New Jersey, had at one time been a minor league pitcher for seven years. At the end of that seventh year he was brought up to the majors as part of the Boston Red Sox bullpen the last week of a non-significant season, even getting the opportunity to pitch part of an inning.

Evidently his dream had to be abandoned, because after this brief brush with the majors he let it go. Looking back on my own life I see any number of dreams embraced and abandoned, and understand now what I did not understand then. Perhaps this experience of pain and disappointment made him a better coach and better teacher. He was certainly both, and an influence on my life.

As a student, it is easy to feel oneself to be a lost particle, insignificant as dust. To be singled out is a big thing. Especially by your J.V. coach.

My last period class was a study hall and Mr. Dennison would routinely take Joe Sweeney and I out of class to give us batting practice. Mr. D threw more junk at us than a carnival barker. His curves were impressive and the knuckle ball a phenomenon. The net result: both sophomore and junior years I had the second-best batting average on the team and lowest strikeout percentage. No surprise that Joe Sweeney had the best batting average, a healthy .500 or better junior year, and Skip Hoy similarly our sophomore year.

Over time it became apparent we weren’t going to be superstars though. Late in the season I was brought up to varsity, played respectably at shortstop and earned a varsity letter. The following year, however, the varsity coach said he was going to be re-building for the future and it didn’t take rocket science to see my future was not going to be in baseball.

I played shortstop, and took a measure of pride in how few errors I made. Though I made only six errors in the whole season Junior year, four came in a single game and it got me rattled. A bad hop, a bad throw, a misjudged pop fly. After the fourth I went to Coach Dennison and asked to be taken out of the game. He looked me in the eye and said he was the coach, not I. I accepted this. The following inning, when my turn came to take my swings at the plate, I heard him say, “Pauli, get ready to bat for Newman.” I felt the rug pulled out from under me. Taking my swings, tagging liners out of the infield, that’s what I lived for. But the lesson sank in. I smiled, understood and accepted the verdict.

I learned many valuable lessons from Mr. Dennison, a few in the classroom and some important ones out on the baseball diamond. His investment of time made an impact, and imparted a measure of positive energy into my soul at a time when I really needed it, an interaction that helped contribute to my own efforts years later as a coach, teacher and role model. Thank you, Mr. Dennison.

Ed Newman is a writer, artist, harmonica player and blogger at Ennyman’s Territory where a variation of this article originally appeared.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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