Last Saturday morning, Wendy and I went out to the local ball diamond to watch my good friend Nathan playing Little League baseball. I grabbed my camera to capture my buddy in action. Anyone who follows my blog knows that Wendy and I love the game of baseball (and our hapless Chicago Cubs). In fact, as time goes by our love and appreciation of the game only seems to grow deeper. We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous, early summer morning watching Nathan play. It reminded me of all that is great about the game of baseball, and in particular I was reminded of three important life lessons that the game teaches me over and over again.
1. “Everyone strikes out. How you handle it is what makes you a man.”
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
-from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer
When my young friend Nathan was just a few years old, Wendy and I gave him a copy of “Casey at the Bat” for his birthday and this was the inscription I penned on the inside cover of Ernest Thayer’s timeless classic. What an amazing word picture of life. The very BEST hitters in the big leagues will fail to get a hit 7 of every 10 attempts. Time and time and time again we will try and fail in life. Those who learn from failure, who dare to walk back up to the plate, who keep swinging despite overwhelming failure will eventually knock one out of the park. You’ll never know the thrill of driving in the winning run if you let failure discourage you from ever trying again.
Wendy and I watched and laughed ourselves silly on Saturday as we watched the young boys of summer doing their best to play and learn the Great American Pastime. I can guarantee you that at the end of the game not one of the li’l sluggers knew the final score of the game. But, as the team ran the bases together at the end of the game the look of joy on their faces was priceless.
I have known many a man who has wasted time, energy and resources in a manic drive to prove to who knows who that he is a “success” through winning every game, closing every deal, burying every enemy, and acquiring every needless possession. Never have I met such a man who experiences a deep, abiding sense of peace, joy, and love. The further I get in this life journey, the more I’m convinced that what is important is not winning every game, but loving every moment.
In similar fashion, those who love the game of baseball understand realize that the game itself transcends wins and losses. Win or lose, an afternoon or evening at the ballpark is time well-spent. As Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks is famed for saying, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame….let’s play TWO!”
3. The Point is to Make it Safely Home.
As we play the game of life, we will all make our share of errors. We all hit our share of foul balls. We all strike out. But as Yogi Berra said, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Every baseball fan can share stories of dramatic come from behind wins and walk-off “home runs” in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the end, the goal of the game is to arrive safe at home. Even the Prodigal Son eventually found his way home. Every funeral I’ve ever attended has included a recitation of the 23rd psalm (i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd….”). The psalm ends with the words “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In other words, in the end the psalmist finds himself safely home. Baseball not only provides us a word picture for constant reminder, but even shapes home plate like a little house for added effect.
Our friend Nathan may, or may not, play baseball for long. Like millions of American kids (myself included) he may play a year or two of Little League only to hang up his bat and glove until his own children choose to run the bases. The love of baseball, however, lasts a lifetime, as does the life lessons baseball teaches each of us.