Every now and then, life forces you to step into unchartered territories. Most of the time it happens when you are stuck in seasons of your life you really do not want to be in. Usually, they happen when you begin to grasp these seasons are about to change. I know the snow has melted, spring is in full swing, summer is coming, yet the mud is deep and the weather still gets a little murky. During these times I retreat to lessons my father imparted to me.
I grew up playing baseball and he taught me how to throw and hit a ball. We would play catch for hours at a time. To this day, it is some of my favorite memories. However, I remember, when I was 8 years old, the first season in which I was allowed to face other kids pitching and I was granted the misfortune of doing nothing except become a magnet for the baseball hitting me. It was uncanny. This season all I did was walk, strikeout or get hit by the baseball. The ball even managed to find me when I was waiting on deck or coaching first base! I was terrified of the ball, yet, I loved the game. There was nothing I wanted to do more then go play baseball with my dad or on my team, but every time I stepped into the batters box I knew I was going to strike out or get beaned by the ball. My future was set in stone.
What was I to do? What was my dad to do? Did he like seeing his son get hit by the ball or striking out? Not in the least.
All he could do was encourage me and remind me of who I was. See, he knew me well enough to know what he saw in the times it was just him and I. He knew what was in me when he pitched to me and I had no fear of the baseball. He knew I had the skills necessary to do more then strikeout; unfortunately for me, all I knew was the fear of my fellow 8 year olds hitting me with the ball.
I was terrified because I lived in a reality where I did not understand who I truly was. When I stepped between the lines of the baseball diamond, I stepped into a world where variables reigned supreme. I placed my life into the hands of the unknown and even as an 8 year old I had a choice – do I embrace the unknown, knowing there is a great chance I may stumble, fail, strikeout or wind up being hit by the ball – again and again – or do I hold out hope for a different outcome, an outcome of success even when the odds seem low?
Even though I was just an 8 year old, I knew what was going to happen, the at bat was not going to end well. I knew it in my bones – literally, for I had the bruises to prove it. Yet, behind the chain-link of the back stop, I would see my father there cheering me on, encouraging me to be all in and embrace what very well may be another hit by pitch. Funny thing is, looking back on it now, I know how the cheering was actually his desire for me to embrace the unknown and holding onto the truth that nothing is set in stone.
Change can come at any moment. Just hold out a little longer. My son, you know what it is like to fail and to get hit by the baseball, but can you imagine how it will feel to get a hit, to succeed? Now, 17 years later I know this is what my father’s cheering was. I finally understand why I had to be plunked by a baseball so many times.
Fast forward to the end of that season, my last at bat. By the cheering that came from the parents behind me (not just mine); you would have thought I cured cancer. When, in reality, all I did was hit the ball to the first basemen. To any other child on this team, this was old news, but for me – this was the first time I had hit a fair ball all season. It was the first time I got to dream of success.
At least 45 at bats.
Where for the first 45 at bats all I did was walk, strikeout or get hit by the ball.
For twenty games I lived in a reality of learning how to fall.
I learned to love the game of baseball not because of the successes I had, but because of the beauty of the unknown and the maturity of failure.
On that fateful final at bat of the season, I hit a ground ball to first base. My father, cheered the loudest of anyone this day. I stood in disbelief. I held my aluminum, 20 ounce bat with a red rubberized grip in my hand, because I finally had embraced the unknown. I had never had done this before.
Finally, I remember, it’s just like what I’d done in practice. I got to run to first base. Sure, the first basemen beat me by several steps; technically it was still failure, but for the first time I was able to put my toes into the murky waters of the unknown. When I turned around and walked back towards my dugout I saw looks of pure joy on everyone’s faces.
For the first time that season, I knew what it was like to be a baseball player.
As I walk in a season where I get to see spring give way to summer, I know the pain of my winter and spring will have had a purpose – just like those days as an 8 year old. They will help me celebrate summer that much greater. When it comes this time, I hope I don’t waste time standing in disbelief.