Diamonds and Dirt and Heading for Home

(I originally wrote this article in 2013, and thought was worth repeating. Hope you enjoy.)

I love baseball.

ballpark-fireworksI mean, I’ve always enjoyed the game, but in the last few years, I’ve really come to appreciate it on many different levels.  And I’ve come to understand what many others have tried to say before: that there is wisdom we can learn from baseball that translates directly into a well-lived life.

For one thing, I love the more-realistic expectations of baseball, especially compared to other sports.  The best hitter who ever lived (Ted Williams), in the best season he ever had (1941), had a batting average of .406.  That means that six times out of ten when he came up to bat, he FAILED to hit the ball.  Can you imagine a successful wide receiver who dropped six passes out of every ten thrown to him?  Not likely.

The truth is, many of us fail more often than we succeed.  Success in life is measured, though, not by how many times we fail, but by how many times we get back up and keep trying.

Another thing about baseball – you have to focus on the situation at hand.  You can only play one game at a time.  Learn to stay in the moment, and don’t worry too much about the past or the future.  When you make an error, shake it off, and be ready for the next ball hit to you.

Jesus said we should keep our priorities straight – seeking God’s Kingdom above all else – and not to worry too much about tomorrow.  He taught us to pray and ask for our daily bread.  Daily.

Along those same lines, if you have a really bad game – or for that matter, a really good one – always remember, there’s another game tomorrow.  So be ready for it.

I love the teamwork that a well-disciplined ball club shows.  I mean, certainly I understand that teamwork is a part of football, basketball, etc.  They are, after all, called TEAM sports.  And of course I realize that no running back is going to do very well without a good line blocking for him.  But – to me, there is unmatched beauty and elegance in watching an infield execute a beautiful 6-4-3 double play (the ball goes from shortstop to second base to first).  These guys have practiced so long and so effectively together, they make it look easy and effortless.  And I assure you, it is not.

Even something seemingly simple like a fielder hitting the cutoff man, who fires to the catcher, to cut down a runner coming home – such things take mind-numbing hours of work and skill to accomplish.

You have to trust your teammates.  A pitcher has to trust the fielders behind him, to provide good defense.  Fielders have to trust that pitchers will make quality pitches.  So in life.  Surround yourself with Godly companions, and support each other.

Some other principles from baseball that apply to life:

  • Realize that sometimes, the ball just takes a bad hop on you.
  • There’s a time for preparation, and a time for performance.
  • Even the best players will sometimes have an off day.  And even the most average player will sometimes have the game of his life.  (Quick: Name the first Texas Ranger player to hit for the cycle.)
  • Every team is going to win 54 games; every team is going to lose 54 games.  It’s what you do with the other 54 games that counts.
  • Blown calls and bad trades are part of baseball.  You have to learn to deal with it.
  • Sometimes you have to take one for the team.
  • Play with passion.  Don’t be afraid to dive for the ball.  It’s okay to get dirt on your uniform.
  • There’s a time to bunt, and a time to swing for the fences.  Each is valuable in its appropriate place.
  • Make the most of the opportunities that you have.  Don’t waste good chances; you don’t know how many you’ll get.
  • The bigger the situation, the more you need to relax.  Too much tension is never good.
  • You can’t steal first.
  • You win some; you lose some; some get rained out.
  • Above all else – the main thing is always to get safely home.

(Oh, and by the way – it was Oddibe McDowell, Ranger center fielder, playing at old Arlington Stadium on July 23, 1985, against the Indians.)

And the Tide Rolled

Okay, first of all, a disclaimer: I am not a sports writer.  I don’t have anything against sports writers, it’s just not my thing.  But I’m sitting at home recovering from a serious case of the crud, still running a fever, but feeling better enough to be bored.  So, here are some rambling, cough-medicine-influenced thoughts…

I’ve been thinking Monday night’s BCS Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama.  Okay, well, honestly, it wasn’t much of a game – it was a 42-14 butt-kicking delivered by Alabama.  But it makes me wonder – was Notre Dame really that overrated, or is Alabama really that good?

Maybe it was just a perfect storm that sank ND.  Can you say that the Tide surprised the Irish, got them off balance, and never let them have a chance to play their kind of football?  Well, yeah, that’s for sure what happened, but maybe if you replayed the game several times, maybe the outcome would be different.

I DON’T think you can just dismiss Notre Dame as overrated.  That’s a cop-out.  No, ND beat some very good teams this year, including solid wins over Michigan State, Stanford and OU, among others.  That said, I do think the national sports media WANTS Notre Dame football in the championship mix.  They NEED Notre Dame in the championship mix.  So maybe the media was willing to allow ND’s heritage and traditions – and their huge fan base – to count for more than it should.

But if Notre Dame wasn’t overrated, then is Alabama really that good?  Well, for most teams, playing Alabama is the high point of their season, so they always play at their best.  And yet, Alabama, for the most part, just keeps winning.  From the 2008 season until now, Alabama has lost just six games.  Six.  Two of those were to LSU, and of course this year’s only loss – WHOOP! – to Texas A&M.

(By the way, congratulations to the Aggies on a fine season.  The final rankings have them as fifth in the nation – been a while since an A&M team finished that well.  So, Whoop! and Gig ‘Em!)

Meanwhile, Nick Saban is definitely looking like he needs to get fitted for a black and white houndstooth fedora.   Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings – guys, make a little room.  Saban has shown he belongs.  Reload with new personnel, retool with new assistants, whatever.  The guy just wins, and he seems to do it with some integrity.

With three championships in four years, Alabama is definitely a very good program.  Are they ready to be considered among college football’s dynasties?

In the late 1930s and early 40s, it was Minnesota.  Notre Dame was it in the late 40s.  Of course, Oklahoma absolutely dominated with 47 consecutive wins throughout the mid-1950s.  In the early 60s, Bear Bryant was putting together the first Alabama dynasty.  Then in the late 60s and early 70s, it was USC.  From 71-75, it was Oklahoma again, and in the late 70s, it was Alabama again.  Then, throughout the 80s and early 90s, Miami won four championships, and missed winning four others by one game.  For the rest of the 90s, it was Nebraska and Florida State.  Then, USC again under Pete Carroll, and then you’re into the current SEC domination.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight.  Has this Alabama squad earned the distinction as a “dynasty?”  I suppose that’s for history to decide.  But it’s fun to watch.

I’m gonna go take some more cough medicine.

Welcome to My New Blog!

Howdy and Welcome.  I hope this will become a place of interesting observations and stimulating discussion.  And since I like to sip on something while I do my thinking, I’m calling this “Sip with Dusty.”

Sometimes these comments will be devotional, sometimes not.  Sometimes they will be brief, other times, perhaps, not so brief.  You are always welcome in this conversation.  We may not always agree, but perhaps we can find some common ground and learn from each other.

Like many of you, I enjoyed watching the recent Olympics.  It’s a bit of shameless theatrics that NBC almost always closed its nightly broadcast with a medal ceremony of some American athlete – swimmer, gymnast, or whoever – standing on the platform, hearing his or her name called, then receiving the gold medal, finally capped off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  It makes for great TV, and it IS an American network and an American audience, so why not.

How thrilling it must be to stand on that platform and hear your national anthem.  How satisfying it must be to reflect back on a LIFETIME of training, hard work, early morning practices, pulled muscles, and receive that gold medal.  Finally to silence all those who said you couldn’t do it.  Finally to know that all the discipline, self-denial and hard work was worth it.  Finally to hear your name called.

Of course, we understand that the modern Olympics are based on the ancient Olympics, and similar contests from antiquity, and the idea of a victorious athlete being called up to the platform to receive the prize is nothing new.  And I believe this is precisely the image that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:13-14.

  • “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” – just like an athlete who doesn’t dwell on the years of training and self-discipline, or even worry about those running beside him or her, but instead, focuses on the finish line ahead.
  • “I press on toward the goal” – not athletic glory, or a wreath, or even a gold medal, but the goal of knowing Jesus, intimately & personally (see 3:10).
  • “For the upward calling of God.” Here I think the NIV got it wrong.  They interpret it as “for which God has called me heavenward.”  That’s not a bad sentiment, but the text literally says, “for the calling-up of God.”  I think it’s an image of an athlete hearing his name called and stepping up on the platform to receive the prize.

May God grant us grace never to stop short of the finish line.