Put Me in Coach
The moment I discovered baseball, I was smitten, head over heels in love. There are so many parts of this game that just amaze me. For instance, a major league pitcher can throw a baseball up to 95 miles per hour — some can chuck it even faster. At this speed it takes about four-tenths of a second for the ball to travel the 60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher's mound to home plate. The batter, with a round bat, waits for the precise moment to swing at a round ball. A hitter has to adjust his swing as the ball is heading towards the batter’s box. A few thousandths of a second error in timing or bat position can result in a foul ball, fly ball or a grounder. This game is played at the limits of our genetic reflexes (and way beyond mine!).
The love for this game came to a turning point for me in my junior year of high school. That year was one of backsliding for me, heavily into partying; I was running hard away from the Lord. Then baseball season came and I decided to try to make the varsity team. I cleaned up my act and dove into training and workouts and when tryouts came, I was ready. From the first day I out hustled just about everyone, the coach even had me run extra wind sprints against his “stars” to push them harder. After practice these stars would come to me to “encourage” me to quit, saying that I was just a show off and I would never make the team anyway. The next day I would just run faster and work harder just to prove them wrong.
On the last day before the first cut the coach called me into his office. Nervously I entered his office expecting to hear the worse, but to my surprise he started to praise the effort I was making on the field. He told that he was proud of my hustle; it was the kind he wanted his team to have and he thanked me for showing the example to all the ballplayers. Man, I left his office strutting, I was so sure I had hustled myself on to that varsity squad. The next morning I went to check out the cut list hanging on the window outside the coach’s office. There on the first line was my name; I had not made the varsity squad. Devastated, mad and confused all at once, I went to empty my locker. Oh, I had made the JV team, but that was not good enough for me. Although my friends tried to convince me not to, I just quit. I never made the adjustment at the plate. The game had thrown me a curveball, I swung and missed. Instead of digging in at the plate and see what God had planned for me, I took myself out of the game. It was a decision that affected me spiritually, I still had some at bats left, and instead I opted for the parking lot. I went back to my partying ways, I did play summer league ball but it wasn’t the same.
The disappointment I felt moved me to quit, but only because I allowed it to do so. Baseball at the time was the Father’s “appointment” for me. It had helped me to clean up my act and focus on more positive values. He was like a third base coach flashing me the signs but instead of taking the pitch, I swung away, struck out and went my own way. That was the summer I almost my playing career permanently, nearly killing my self with alcohol. When I returned to my senses and repented, God put me back into the started lineup. I’m digging in against some tough pitchers and paying close attention to the third base coach. Like the game of baseball, the game of life will humble you. How I pick myself up from being dusted (falling down from a pitch high and tight) or from striking out, reflects on my “at bat”. I think the following story explains this point well.
One of the most memorable at bats for me as a young ballplayer didn’t result in a base hit. It was late in the game and we were being dominated by the opposing pitcher. I came up with the bases loaded and quickly fell behind in the count 0 and 2. Having already struck out my previous three times at bat, I dug in to prevent my fourth. I managed to foul off several balls, almost hitting one out (a home run) down the right field line, and worked the count to full, 3 and 2. Then on a nasty pitch in the dirt, I swung and missed. Walking back to the bench I received many “gimmie fives” (high fives weren’t invented yet). I did strike out but battled and made the pitcher work extra hard during my at bat. Our next batter hit a clean single up the middle off a now arm weary hurler and we won the game. My coach called it a “quality at bat” and a key to our victory. Real success comes in the number of quality of “at bats” we get in, how we respond to the strikeouts and setbacks in life. Will we give up or go wait in the on deck circle, rubbing pine tar on our bat just dying to take our hacks.
Paul called struggles “momentary light afflictions” (Hmmm, He never sat through a Met Loss did he?).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” - 2 Corinthians 4:17.
The average lifespan of a major league baseball is 1- 7 pitches, that’s it. They are loss to game by foul balls, scuff marks, homeruns or a souvenir handed to a fan. When Paul says his afflictions are light, he does not mean a walk in the park. He means that compared to what is coming they are as nothing. Like the lifespan of a baseball, our disappointments, our strikeouts, however painful, are soon “out of play” in our lives. The gain is far greater, more eternal, according to Paul.
“Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:9.
Just like the adjustments a batter makes at the plate, we need to adjust our vision and perspective. Hardship and trials will not have the last say in my life as long as my eyes remain on the Father.