I love this game!

I was speaking with my best friend last night.  We met 30 years ago.  We found out that we were placed on the same youth baseball team, and that we lived just down the street from one another.  Very common beginning for two young ballplayers.  What made us unique is that I saved his life on the first day of practice.  No really. I literally saved his life.  We lived just off base in the housing area on the perimeter of what was the Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.  In order for us to get to practice we would walk from our homes to one of the perimeter gates onto the base.  We would walk to the gate, show our military ID cards to gain access onto the base.  Just inside the gate there was a bus stop where we would wait, board the appropriate bus, then head off to practice.  On this day, we took the bus that would make a stop at the Regional Medical Center (the base hospital).  Our practice field was across the street from the hospital.  After we reached our destination Mike and I got off the bus and proceeded to walk around the front of the bus so we could cross the street to our practice.  Mike was in a slight hurry and as he began to walk briskly to cross the street I placed my arm across his chest to stop him.  A car was rushing by and he would have walked right into the path of the oncoming vehicle.  Splat! No practice for Mike.  Lucky I was there.  Mike will tell you himself that it was lucky that I was there.  30 years, careers, family and children later, we still laugh about it.  We made it to practice that day.  We discovered that we had this passion for the great game of baseball, and with the utmost modesty, we found that we were good at it.  Mike was a member of a Little League team from Mary Esther, Florida that found its way to just shy of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  I was a southern California kid who played baseball year round and had my share of Little League All-Star, and Pony League World Series experience.  Baseball, and the love for the game was a bond that would allow us to develop our friendship and allow us many life experiences through this great game.  Along the way we were able to reveal the characteristics that would lead each of us into different paths, but also all but insure our success in the paths we chose. 

What is it about baseball that taught us about our strengths and exposed our weaknesses?  Of all major sports I think baseball is the most similar to the realities of life.  It has always been my contention that one of the best qualities of baseball is that it is unfair, and more specifically, often does not immediately reward correct actions, or great effort.  For example, a hitter can go 0-4 but hit the ball squarely all four turns.  Good swings at good pitches, solid contact…no reward.  A pitcher can execute a great pitch, the correct pitch for the situation, and have a batter check swing into an infield hit.  No immediate rewards are common in this game.  However, what baseball does reward always is persistence.  The game rewards continued effort.  The batter that continues to take good swings at good pitches, the pitcher that continually executes the right pitch in the right location, will always be rewarded in the long run.  Baseball rewards those that don’t give up.  It puts those players with the willingness to “grind” and persist through rough games, bad at-bats, bad luck, at the forefront of the game.  What a valuable lesson.  Wouldn’t such a trait, persistence, allow anyone to accomplish anything?  Patience is rewarded in baseball.  Have we gotten so far away from understanding that?  It seems that these days we want everything NOW, we want instant gratification.  And we are disappointed when we don’t get what we want right away.  How do we know we really want, or really want to strive for anything if we are not put in a situation to strive and “grind” for it?  You make a bad pitch on one batter and keep on working at it, make a good pitch to another batter and we are rewarded with a ground ball double play.  Should a pitcher just throw his hands up in exasperation and ask out of a game after making a bad pitch, or after a fielding error?  Or should we let the game test us and allow us to learn, or discover, the level of resolve that is inside us?  Should we be held accountable for our mistakes, bad pitches (bad life decisions) and have an opportunity to work through it? I believe that makes a person stronger.  Or should we look to the dugout, or bullpen, and beg for someone to rescue us from the mess we have created for ourselves?  Would it not be more beneficial for us in the long run to learn how to solve our own dilemmas?  Baseball teaches us how.  I love this game because of that.  I love this game for what it has taught me about myself.  It has taught me more than I could ever give back to it.  It has brought me great friends, wonderful experiences, it has created in me an understanding of the importance of persistence.  It has made me a “Grinder.” I can go through life’s challenges knowing that if I keep on swinging, I can achieve whatever I want.  Heck, I already saved my best friend’s life…

For my athletes that are in a slump, or maybe are not playing as much as they want, or deserve, stay the course.  Continue to work and improve yourself.  The game’s best is ahead of you.  For my athletes that are in the middle of a great streak, or a great season, enjoy it!  You deserve it!  Be “Grinders!”  Get After It!

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