Put Me In Coach!

I apologize.

I normally do this blog on Sunday Afternoons.  But I didn’t.

I was watching baseball!

I have a limited number of passions, I must admit.  Most things in this world I can take or leave. Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many things that I enjoy about my life, but there are only a few things that I look forward to annually.  One of my favorite things is …. Baseball!

Specifically, the Milwaukee Brewers! Opening day is signal to me that winter is finally gone (but not necessarily snow, Ice, wind chills, etc).  Wisconsin’s seasons differ slightly than the rest of the country. Here, our four seasons consist of Early Winter, Winter, Late Winter, and Road Construction.  Baseball season signals the start of late winter for us.

The Braves left Milwaukee the year I was born and the Pilots opened up shop in 1969 and became the Brewers a year later.  I admit that I did not pay them much attention growing up. I remember going to only a handful of games at County Stadium as a child.  My Dad would watch the games on TV, but I didn’t seem to possess the kind of attention span to sit still for three or more hours.

In the summer of 1979, when I was 14 years old, I had a job as a caddy for Milwaukee Country Club.  All of my brothers had worked there over the years and it was an easy way to make money. Carrying a bag for 18 holes was worth $10, not including the tip.  If you went out both morning and afternoon, doing a “double”, meaning carrying two bags per round, you could make over $50 bucks a day!

I tried to do that as often as I could, not only for the money but also to help me build up my strength.  About a year before, my doctor told me I could minimize the effects of my Cerebral Palsy by acquiring muscle mass. In essence, the more muscles I had, the better coordination.

One summer day in 1979, I was assigned to a foursome who were going to shoot 18.  There were enough caddies in the clubhouse, so I was assigned one bag. I walked out of the caddy house and up to the first tee to meet my golfer and get started.  As I got closer, my heart began racing!

Standing on the first tee were Charlie Moore and Gorman Thomas, the catcher and center fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers! I was directed to Gorman’s bag.  The bag was huge, almost as big as me at the time! The group started to tee off and as I handed him his driver. He looked at me and then back down at his bag.

“You think you can handle that?”  he said with a grin.

I assured him I could, even though I knew I would be hurting within 6 holes.

“If you make it, I make it worth your while!”

Thomas hit a line drive out about 250 yards, straight as an arrow!  I swung the bag on my left shoulder, the side that has less feeling, and trudged after his ball.  It was a wonderful day! Now, Thomas could drive, but I have to admit that his short game was horrendous.  At the end of the round, I limped into the 18th hole. Both shoulders burned and my hamstrings were on fire!  I set his bag down and gave him my card to sign.

He signed and returned the card, along with a twenty dollar bill.  He thanked me for a good job and said he’d see me at County Stadium.  I became a true blue brew crew fan that day.

I found there were several reasons to like baseball.  It was a slow enough game that I could follow. It progressed like me, a brief flurry of activity followed by long stretches of sitting down.  The game, while a team sport, boiled down to a one on one contest between pitcher and batter.

Each game begins the same, with an expectation of victory.  Each pitch thrown weaves its way into a narrative that makes up the final outcome, as it builds to its inevitable conclusion.  Each side has a mission, to use strategy to achieve the desired outcome.

The best thing about baseball is that every game is a fresh start.  It doesn’t matter what the player did the day before, last season, or even last bat.  Past experience doesn’t always predict future performance. League MVP’s strikeout and new rotation pitchers can get a Home Run their first time at bat.

The best thing about baseball is how they judge success.  Christian Yellich, the reigning MVP for the National League,  has a career average of .297. This means that he has had 3,069 chances to get a hit at the plate, but only put the ball in play 913 times!  He has about a 30% success rate every time he puts a bat in his hand, and he’s considered one of the best!

What would that look like in our lives, if we were praised for only doing 30% of what was expected of us?  Should I get a standing ovation if I remembered to feed the cat twice a week? How about dishes every other day?  Should I give the student an “A” if he shows up three times in a ten day period? Of course, that sounds ridiculous and rightly so.  Baseball players are held to a much lower standard of productivity because its the nature of the game. The tasks they do are extremely complex and only a privileged few individuals can perform them.  While Christian Yellich can hit a fastball roughly every third time at bat, I am 100% confident that I might be able to hit the ball no times for every 1000 at-bats. Yellich can perform at a 30% success rate only after years of practice and experience.

One lesson I try to impart to my students is the value in failure.  I remind them of the famous quote by Thomas Edison,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I encourage my students to make mistakes.  Make BIG GLORIOUS MISTAKES! MIND-BOGGLING STUPENDOUS BLUNDERS!!!  I remind them that every pencil sold in the USA has an eraser at the end.  Why? Because everyone needs an eraser!

A baseball game is the perfect expression of God’s grace!  Perfection is not expected, not even hoped! We know the players are good, but we also know that situations beyond their control their ability to play correctly.  A ball can take a bad hop and jump out of a mitt at the last second. A foul ball can turn fair by the wind. The glaring sun can turn a routine flyball into an unexpected double! The weather can halt or stop the action delaying the players from completing.

Life is hard (and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something)!  It throws us curve balls and ground outs. We start off with expectations that get twisted, crushed and eliminated.

But God is only concerned about the outcome, the final score.  Just like the sports report on the nightly news later, God just looks back at the highlights, those key moments in the game when the efforts of the players have been rewarded.  The highlight reel doesn’t focus on the outs, errors and embarrassing plays. It simply shows how the game has been won!

Our highlight reel will be simply this:  

Jesus came down to Earth,

He lived a perfect life that we can never live,

He died a death that we deserve.  

He rose again.

We confessed that he is our Savior and have been baptized.  

The game is won!

So, I like baseball!  And in the words of John Fogerty, “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play!

Prayer:  Dear Manager (God) thank you for not keeping track of my “stats” (sins) during this season (life on earth).  Help me to improve every day and work with the team (church) to win our division (further your kingdom). Although I strikeout (become selfish and sin), let my efforts be rewarded with an MVP or a Golden Glove award (gain a crown when I enter your kingdom).  In Your Name, we Pray!

Play Ball! (Amen)

What is your best memory of a baseball game? Please leave a comment below.

If these words impacted you in any way, please feel free to share them with your social media contacts!

2 thoughts on “Put Me In Coach!

  1. My most memorable game was when we treated my mother, an ardent Brewers fan, to her first ever major league baseball game at County Stadium. While sitting in the stands behind 1st plate I was struck in the ankle by a foul ball. it hurt like crazy and continued to hurt for six months. My mother, however, thoroughly enjoyed the game!


    1. Because of your injury or in spite of it?


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