PITTSBURGH - Imagine this: A successful concert pianist sits down to play.
But nothing works. He can't make sense out of the keys and can only produce disjointed noise.
There's no physical problem, just a shocking mental block that keeps him from making the music that's been his life.
He tries a variety of cures, but it gets no better. After two years of incredible frustration, he has to abandon his career and find something else to do with his life.
He can talk about music; he can even teach it. He just can't play it any more.
That's essentially what happened to Steve Blass in 1973, when the pinpoint control that made him one of baseball's best pitchers left him without warning.
For two seasons, Blass tried to get it back and never did. Shortly before his 33rd birthday, he retired from baseball, defeated by an enemy he couldn't even identify.
That incredible experience is recounted in "A Pirate For Life," the autobiography Blass has written with Erik Freeman. The book, published by Triumph, hits stores this week.
For those who know Blass just as the genial commentator on Pirates broadcasts who mines most situations for laughs, the book will pack a jolt or two.
Blass was coming off a 19-win season and All-Star game appearance when he suddenly lost the ability to pitch.
To borrow a Blass expression, he eventually got on the other side of the problems, but it didn't happen overnight. He went through two "regular" jobs before he got back into baseball as a broadcaster.
He learned to accept his fate, and even found the cure - 30 years too late to help his career, but in time to gain peace of mind.
Despite his pitching problems, it's not a sad book. There are some great stories, many of them told in dugout language. He recounts his start in professional baseball when pitching coach Don Osborn told him, "Steve, just throw your [stuff] over the plate and find out if it's good enough. And if it's not, you're still young enough to go out and get a real job."
There's also the time his son told a teacher he couldn't complete an assignment to describe his father's job because, "My dad doesn't work. He plays baseball."
Blass has produced a thoughtful and entertaining book, well worth the attention of any Pirates fan.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.