Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rethinking A Fly Ball

My seven year old son, Jack, is nearing the end of his first season playing baseball for the "Washington Nationals."  He was blessed this year with a wonderful coach who both encouraged and challenged him to become a better player.  He found himself surrounded by teammates who eventually became good friends.  He proved himself to be a solid hitter, but one thing he really wanted to do was catch a fly ball.  This had eluded him throughout the season.  There was the game against the Cubs, when he almost caught one hit high in the air, but it tragically bounced right out of his glove.

This past week, Jack and I practiced catching fly balls over and over.  I would launch a ball high in the air and he would attempt to catch it...with mixed success.  Saturday afternoon finally arrived, his game against the Mets. Just prior to the game, I asked him how he was feeling about his catching.  To tell the truth, he began to get pretty down on himself, questioning his ability in the outfield.  Not sure what prompted this negativity, I questioned him, but he was in no mood to talk about it.

When we arrived at the park (a bit late) we learned that our team would be in the outfield first.  Jack was assigned to the position of short stop.  Literally, two or three batters into the other team's line up, a fly ball was hit high into the air and was coming down toward Jack. "This was his moment!", I thought to myself.  Jack quickly moved underneath the ball as it descended back toward earth.  He raised his glove.  The ball landed right...on the top of his head!  Stunned, he looked around for a moment and then went after the ball, now on the ground.  Being a concerned father, I immediately called out to see if he was ok.  If you are a parent, you'll know the sick feeling you get when you see your child get hurt.  The coach ran over to Jack to check on him as well.  He seemed to be fine.  When he came into the dugout, I checked...rechecked...and checked again.  I had visions of taking him to a concussion clinic, head injuries, etc.  He was fine, fully coherent, just frustrated.  He wanted to stay in the game.

I've got to admit, I glanced up into the sky and muttered to myself, "Way to dash a boy's dreams."  I really wanted Jack to catch that ball.  He worked so hard, and I thought it would be a perfect way to teach him a lesson about "the value of practice" or some other virtue.  Would he be afraid of going after a high ball now?  What kind of lesson would he learn from that?  If you try you'll get popped in the head???  Oh well.  In the whole scheme of things, what would this matter?  Sometimes life can be hard to explain.  There are much more important issues out there.  Right?

Well, in the final innings, Jack found himself manning third base.  I was hot and tired and longing to see this game wrapped up.  Suddenly, a batter hit a big fly ball high into the air!  It was coming down near third base!  Jack quickly moved into position.  I wondered if he would be a little hesitant to get under the ball due to the mishap that had happened earlier.  He wasn't.  The ball landed right...in his glove!  The crowd erupted!  He had caught his fly ball!  A few plays later, a teammate threw the ball to Jack who caught it and tagged out the runner at third, ending the game and ensuring a Nationals win. 

Wow.  This story captures a little bit of our own stories, doesn't it?  How many of us have been whacked on the head by a fly ball?  Stunned by a turn of events?  How many of us are fearful of putting ourselves in a situation where we have been hurt before?  If this quick glimpse into Jack's story tells us anything, it is that facing our fears and trying again is something that brings life.  Like John Wayne once said, 'Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."  Jack later confessed that his "legs were shaking" when he moved under the fly ball. 

We all are faced with a choice.  To try again after being hurt the first time.  This applies to sports, your career, love, and myriad other things in life.  Putting yourself out there one more time, putting your heart on the line, that can make all the difference in the world.

I think I was actually the one who learned something precious that day.  I'm not in control.  I can't keep the people I love from getting hurt.  It happens.  I'm not writing the story...and that's a good thing.  The story I would have written would have been much smaller, less compelling, less rich with meaning.  The story I would have written would have been less dangerous and much less interesting.  I'm reminded all the time that I need to take heart, for things are already in motion that we have yet to see.

Play ball!


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