It is very difficult to describe what happened to our little baseball team this summer. It is even more difficult to describe how it has changed me and possibly all who participated in our week in Cooperstown, New York. It is above all one of those experiences that go into the “you had to be there” category. What I thought about on my way back from Cooperstown was how perfectly timed and profound each moment of championship Thursday was. It was a beautiful masterpiece of talent, strength, heart, luck, and what one parent described as “destiny”. I just wanted to share what this week has taught me about myself and my son. If we bask in the miracle that we took part in, life should be a little sweeter.
Bad decisions vs. One good decision:
As our team began their journey through the competition on Thursday, I noticed then and even more now in retrospect, that every member of the team had made some bad decisions: swinging at a bad pitch, missing a fly ball, botching a throw to first, pitching a silver platter across the plate, not sliding into home plate, getting picked off, you know the list. However, what wins games and overcomes bad decisions, is apparently one darn good decision. How many times did the same one who made a bad play turn around and make his mark on the game? It is unbelievable really. That is profound baseball when a child decides not to get down on himself and decides to step up for his team despite the pressure. I was impressed by the team’s composure under the lens of “one and done”. The power that drives this type of teamwork is impossible to describe, but we got to witness this spectacle of beauty. When we had to have a play or a hit, someone always stepped up and it was rarely the same player doing the “stepping up”. Every player had a pivotal role in this march to the finals. One great decision conquered all the bad ones.
Life is a team sport:
Another thing that echoed through the fields of Cooperstown was a tangible spirit of teamwork. Other teams must have been intimidated by our boys’ resolve. Being the visiting team had its advantages: It allowed us to inflict damage early and often. We had the pressure of making that important statement of “this is how we roll, hope you can keep up!” We put pressure on the other team throughout our entire line-up. We have fastball hitters, off-speed hitters, curve-ball hitters, and slow-pitch hitters. Each different stretch of our line-up paid off consistently. What amazes me is that everyone took his game to the next level, and the boys played like they were created to play. I enjoyed watching this level of baseball executed by our motley crew of children. They were absolutely, win or lose, having a blast out there under the microscope of serious baseball fans. They were amazing to watch, and we picked up a lot of fans along the way. The domino effect of one costly mistake could have cost us the tournament; but the one “dagger” never came because the boys always rose to the occasion and simply would not let that happen. They depended and trusted each other to make the play; they never doubted their ability as a team to execute when the game was on the line. Now that is teamwork!
Never take life too seriously:
It was funny in retrospect and strange at the time when I noticed the team’s lack of celebration after an important victory. They would slowly and humbly stagger out of the dugout for the team post-game meeting. Reclining on their gear, they looked like they just finished a practice! All we heard was “could I get a Gatorade” or “I’m hungry” or just looks of calm resolve. In fact, before the championship game, they were playing in the arcade! I wonder how many teams took this week too seriously. Our team did not. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because no one thought about it much. They just wanted to keep playing baseball. The bonds that were made and the friendships that were strengthened at the Lakehouse are priceless. This week was definitely about the climb. The memories that are burned into our minds are not necessarily the raising of the championship trophy and the team taking the “field of dreams”. The memories for the boys are meeting other teams from around the country, laughing at each other’s farts, catching frogs, tipping canoes, walking hallowed ground in Cooperstown, eating pizza, and generally being a kid. Taking baseball too seriously can mess with your “mo-jo” and our team never missed an opportunity to have fun. They kept their focus on having fun; the winning goes hand in hand with it!
Leave it on the field; it’s worth your best:
Each player on the team reached deep inside and pulled out another gear, another moment of brilliance, another dimension of endurance. I remember cheering with other parents, “leave it on the field, boys!” And they apparently did just that. I was astounded and inspired by the never before seen level of greatness in each player. I honestly have never seen this type of baseball from young teams. They were work horses out there. They did their job to the best of their ability. To leave it on the field is not only a physical calling, but also asks us to focus our mind on one moment and one goal: make the play. As the stakes got higher and higher, our guys’ level of play went even higher. They did not crack under pressure; they took themselves to a whole new level. To be honest, after the quarter-final game that we won; they looked beat the heck up. They looked like they had just finished a gang fight that they lost! But during the game, they realized that this moment was worth their very best; they now understand what it means to be champions: to have it all on the line and be able to perform. As our ace pitcher stood on the foundation of what his team had laid, he represented all that the team was about. He was a worthy leader, and one that every player on the team was glad to put on the biggest stage. Even as we yelled from the stands, “We believe!”, the team had passed from belief into something beyond understanding.
Expectation vs. Anticipation:
Expectation by nature has our own goals in mind. We expect this from this person, we expect this result by doing these things, and we have attached to expectation the imposition of our own will. Anticipation is grounded in real hope. We can’t hope for what we expect, but we can hope for what we anticipate. Expectations have limits; but anticipation can be beyond our imagination. I remember praying for the team: I thought it was trite and silly to ask God for victory. I thought long and hard about what the proper prayer would be. So I prayed that God would bless the team; that He would teach them something about themselves; that He would mold their little hearts through this experience. I realized then and there that we are all part of the team, I was praying for all of us: players, family, and coaches. As I walked back to the fields, I realized that this journey has already proved that expectations are weak in comparison to anticipation in hope. A peace settled upon me as I remembered all the moments that had brought us this far. Somewhere along the way, all of us gave up on expecting anything more from this team, and began to anticipate the next little miracle! We all kept saying to one another as parents, “this is a dream, and I don’t want to wake up!” For whatever reason, God decided to shine in the hearts of our little team from Knoxville. Maybe we needed it more than the others, maybe we deserved it, and maybe we earned it. We will never know why but we shouldn’t care about that; we should stand in humility and awe at the fact that we had the opportunity to witness a little piece of glory.
Life is full of sayings and catchy phrases, tid-bits of wisdom tossed around from generation to generation. We know the sayings are true, but miss the true power in them. But if we are lucky, we get to “experience” the power behind the wisdom. So the things we know to be true take on a real personality and touch us deeply. We finally get it in our hearts instead of only our minds. So what did I learn or rather, what did I finally understand through this experience? I learned that we should not be defined by our bad decisions; but rather on a couple of great ones. The same people who disappoint us today, can step up and astound us in the future. That life is a team sport to be enjoyed; we should lift each other up instead of being so hard on each other. Having fun and taking the time to enjoy life insures that we won’t lose our “mo-jo”; but if we take life too seriously, we lose. We should live our lives by “leaving it on the field”: life is worth our very best. And finally, we need to learn to anticipate in hope of blessing instead of expecting so much from those around us. If our heart is in the right place, we don’t have to wake up from the dream!
Congratulations to the RBI Rangers for winning Cooperstown!