“A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.
~Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (From the movie, Bull Durham)
“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”
~ Babe Ruth
“Keep your glove on the ground!” [Warning! Sports metaphor.]
When I’m coaching baseball, these are probably the words that most often come out of my mouth. I say it as a reminder for the kids to literally keep their glove on the ground, but I also use it more generally to mean be ready for anything. I say it often enough that the kids, who are generally wise beyond their years (after all, they have a great coach!), know what I mean.
When catching a ground ball, it’s significantly easier to adjust up to a bounce than it is to adjust down if the ball doesn’t bounce. Also, if your glove is on the ground and the ball bounces up, it can be stopped by other parts of your body. If the ball gets under your glove, it’s just gone. That’s the literal meaning.
But it also means get yourself set up, prepare for the unexpected, and don’t let opportunities pass you by because you’re not ready for them or don’t recognize them.
One of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that there are so many parallels to life. This analogy above speaks volumes about attitude, open-mindedness, and the ability to roll with the punches. And that’s just catching grounders!
But the infield analogy doesn’t stop there.
To be a good infielder you also have to be able to anticipate where the ball is going to go, get a good jump on it, and execute your play flawlessly. No life translation required.
Batting also provides a whole host of life lessons. When you go up to bat you are alone. What you decide to do depends on a variety of factors including the score, how many people are on base, and how many outs there are. It also depends on the pitcher. Does the pitcher rely on speed or subtlety?
You also have to decide what you’re going to do. Take the pitch, hit, bunt? The number of variables that are involved in every pitch is mind-blowing. Being a good hitter also requires serenity, focus and the ability to decisively and quickly commit to a course of action.
In our day-to-day lives we go to bat every day. We are faced with a moving target of circumstances and situations. We have to constantly make snap decisions: in our job, in our interactions with people, or even just deciding what to have for dinner. The sheer volume of decisions we have to make each day and the incoming tide of information we have to process to make those decisions is enormous. It’s amazing that we are able to reach base safely on a regular basis. But – it’s important to remember that getting out is just part of the game, and that we’ll get another chance in the next inning.
Outfielding is the more spiritual side of the game. Outfielders spend a lot of time standing on the field, waiting for the play. These silent sentinels might have to wait for extended periods between plays. They must enter a meditative state – totally focused on what might happen while being ready for anything. Then when they are called to action they must traverse large distances and engage with practiced skill.
For many, it may seem as if you have to endure long periods of boredom before we reach those exciting times. But if you look closely, each moment carries the promise of a big play.
Finally, Pitching hold a special place in my heart because that was my position. My experience pitching taught me as much about life as anything else I’ve experienced before or since. Pitching requires a Zen-like state of calm and perspective, a high level of awareness, and complete focus.
I tell my prospective pitchers that pitching is 99 percent mental. You have to keep your emotions in check and dismiss anything that might distract you from what you are doing.
When I talk to a pitcher who is having some trouble, the first thing I say is close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then I talk about what he is struggling with, but always the first step is to get back a sense of calm and purpose. If a pitcher doesn’t have that, he won’t be able to continue.
All of us need to recapture a sense of calm and purpose at various times in our life.
In life, as in baseball, you need to be a student of the game, you need to be a well-rounded player, you need to work hard on the fundamentals, but most importantly you need to have fun (something else I tell my kids with irritating frequency).