Five lessons from the five-game NLDS between the Reds and Giants:
1. Be ready when the manager calls your number. In Game 1, Reds ace Johnny Cueto threw a total of eight pitches before leaving the game with an injury. No one could have predicted that, but it became reality. The bull pen, which assumed they would be used from the sixth inning on, now had to answer an early call. Sam LeCure, Mat Latos, and others stepped into that crucial moment and performed masterfully, guiding the Reds to an improbably victory. Life often throws us curve balls when we least expect them. God may call you to experience or minister to a situation for which you feel you are completely unprepared. Though we might assume that LeCure and Latos were not prepared to enter that game, it’s evident that they were. So it is with life. Daily walking with God, just like daily work at the game of baseball, prepares us for situations we could not predict.
2. Overconfidence is a great enemy. I”ll admit that when the Reds went up 2-0 in a five game series, I assumed it was over. Seriously, they were going home after winning the first two on the road. It was a done deal. Worse, though, than a fan thinking this way, was that I believe the team felt this way. They had not lost three in a row at home all year. Their comments reveal that they believed they would win, despite losing games 3 and 4. Believing you will succeed is one thing. Believing it is inevitable is another. The Bible makes it clear that pride is what precedes failure in many cases. It is crucial in our lives that we remain humble and dependent on the Lord, not ourselves, for victory each day. When things are going well, refuse to be lulled to sleep and start coasting. Remain focused on being shaped and sharpened by God, even in seasons of success.
3. Even great players make errors. In the 10th inning of Game 3, a soft, but not completely routine, ground ball was hit to Reds third baseman Scott Rolen. By most measurements (statistical and otherwise), Rolen is one of the greatest defensive third basemen in living memory. Yet, he booted this one, and it cost the Reds the game. No matter how proficient you are in life, you will make mistakes. You are not perfect. You are human. You will make mistakes at work, at home, at school, and on the field. Deeper than that, you will make mistakes because you are a sinner by nature. Just as Rolen needs grace from Reds fans because of a fielding error, you and I are in a much more desperate need for God’s grace because of our sin. And the great news is that He gives it. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NASB). He didn’t wait for you to become perfect because He knows you can’t be. Jesus, the perfect One, died for the imperfect and sinful. Grace defined.
4. Sometimes you just get outplayed. Game 4 belonged to the Giants from start to finish. The Reds took it on the chin. In those cases, it’s best to suck it up, give credit to the other team, and move on. Spending time trying to analyze all that went wrong may be appropriate to a degree, but when you get outplayed, there’s nothing on the video that’s going to tell you otherwise. In life, there will always be someone who can “outplay” you. Someone better at your line of work than you. Someone who is a better player. You can spend your time blaming God, getting jealous, obsessing about it, cutting down the other person, or you can praise God for the gifts He has bestowed on each of you and then go after the next task God places before you.
5. In leadership, prepare to be criticized. Those who know me from a baseball standpoint know that I am less than a fan of Reds Manager Dusty Baker’s handling of lineup construction, use of “small ball,” and bull pen management. Ironically, I find Dusty to be a very likable person and I recognize his great strength of relating to his players (He’s outstanding at that). Yet, he is in a leadership role and the decisions he makes are very public, so he is a target for criticism. He handles it well and remains committed to his ideas of how lineups and bull pens should be used (despite enormous pressure to change). If you are a person God calls to leadership, whether that be in a family, a business, an organization, or a team, prepare to be criticized. Much of the criticism will come from those who don’t know as much as you do about what you’re doing. Deal with it at the feet of Jesus in prayer and emerge determined to follow Him in spite of it.