By Dan Scott
I’ve spent my entire life loving the game of baseball.
I’ve played it. Coached it. Been a fan from youth to adulthood. And for the last 10 years, I’ve broadcasted it at the Division I college level.
Passion for the game is something I inherited from my grandfather. He died when I was 11, which is far too soon for a boy to lose a grandparent. But it was more than enough time for him to instill in me the wondrous beauty of the sport.
More than any other game, baseball’s greatest lesson is handling failure. It’s been written a thousand times before, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Baseball is a game where the best of the best fail seven of every 10 times at-bat. Some of them make the Hall of Fame.
Or, as Jim Bouton once famously wrote, “It’s a round ball and a round bat, and you have to hit it square.”
Perseverance, adversity, stress, teamwork, trust…all lessons learned from both the diamond itself and the confines of the locker room or team bus.
Isn’t it amazing that those same lessons are part of the sanctification process God uses to make us more Christ-like after we give our lives over to Jesus? And just like baseball, no matter how good you are or how long you’ve been in the game, you’re still going to fail more than you succeed.
When I finally surrendered to Jesus almost 22 months ago (to hear my testimony, follow this link) I kept waiting for my “Paul on the road to Damascus” moment. The moment I would arrive.
But the truth is we never arrive. Not until the day we actually stand before The Lord and He utters the words “Well done…”
That fact is driven home each week at prayer breakfasts I attend with other men from our church. Men who, many of them, have been walking with Jesus for 20, 30, maybe 40 years or more. And these intimate times of Bible study and sharing reveal that even they struggle with the same issues, and constantly find themselves humbled before God seeking guidance.
Let’s go back to the baseball field, where just this week I’ve witnessed something that draws a near-perfect parallel to the issue at hand.
Our centerfielder, a senior, is a full-time starter for the first time in 2014. His twin brother has been the starting shortstop pretty much since the day they walked onto campus. But for this particular kid it’s been a struggle.
To his credit, the outfielder never wavered in his work ethic. For three years he trained, hit, fielded…whatever it took, in practice or after, to improve both his game and his chances of increased playing time.
This fall it all began to fall into place. His swing shortened up and he started hitting line drives everywhere. His play in the outfield was superb. And as January’s preseason practice commenced, he only strengthened his hold on a starting spot.
When Opening Day came, he was in the lineup. Hitting leadoff, in fact, and playing right field.
As the first portion of the season has worn on, the kid has been among the most consistent players on a Furman team having difficulty finding its footing in the pre-conference schedule. A batting average at or near .300 all year, he has been among the team leaders in RBIs and has turned in more than a handful of highlight-reel catches in the outfield.
And last weekend, when he singled sharply to right-center to drive in the winning run in the 10th inning of a victory over Hofstra, it seemed to signal he was here to stay.
But baseball is a humbling game. Earlier this week Furman appeared certain to win a pitcher’s duel with North Carolina Central. Leading 2-0 heading to the ninth inning, Central managed to get runners to second and third with two outs. The man at the plate hit a fly ball that, even with a bit of ground to cover, looked to be an easy play for the outfielder. And it was. He got to it in plenty of time.
Only he dropped the ball.
Both runs scored to tie the game. In the bottom of the inning, with a chance to drive in his brother from third base with the winning run and redeem himself, he grounded weakly to a drawn-in shortstop who started a rundown that erased his brother from the base paths. Furman lost in 10 innings, 3-2.
I watched with great interest – and empathy – as the young man stood on the outskirts of the team huddle, then never taking his eyes off his shoelaces as he walked slowly, painfully toward the locker room.
Just when it appeared he had arrived, the cruel side of the game revealed itself. A stark reminder that you can never take anything – even a routine fly ball – for granted.
Isn’t that a microcosm of the Christian life? Satan will use any and every trick at his disposal, including allowing us to get extremely comfortable and then, without warning, viciously yanking the rug out from under us.
But Jesus is there to help pick us up. Dust us off. Lead us back to the Father for both forgiveness and instruction, and then walks beside us as we head back out into our daily lives. Knowing the process will repeat itself again and again.
One final note about the kid from Furman. He is a Christian. Unabashed in his faith.
After the game I felt led to send him a message of support. God gave you this burden because He knew you could handle it, I told him. And maybe, somewhere down the line, he will be the one consoling a teammate or player he’s coaching whose mistake cost his team the big game.
I left him just as I leave you, with Paul’s words in Romans 5:3, written from a jail cell urging other believers to persevere:
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; And experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”