I was an emotional player. Really emotional. My competitive drive ran high and I did not tolerate failure and imperfection in myself. As a result, I spent a good deal of time breaking things and beating myself up whenever I struck out or made an error. Baseball, unlike some other sports, gives a person time to think between at-bats, fielding chances, and opportunities to be involved in a play. It’s the in-between time that provides us with a potentially life-changing lesson.
As I look back on my career as a player and coach, here’s a lesson I never learned very well, and one with which I still struggle: We play to learn to start over.
I wish I had a dollar for every time one of my coaches told me “don’t take it with you to the field” after I made an out at the plate. Essentially, they were telling me to start over and forget what just happened. Yet, my anger boiled internally, and the first baseman often paid the price as I let loose my rage with my next throw to him between innings. I was never good at starting over, at moving on from a mistake, at turning the page, at letting it go. And, I think that’s why, to some degree, I struggled to become better than what I was.
You see, if players and coaches don’t start over, move on, turn the page, and let it go, they are stuck in and trapped by whatever happened most recently. Whether it was good or bad, the immediate past cripples them.
Baseball is a game of failure. And, ironically, it is a game of next chances. At some point, you’ll bat again. At some point, the ball will again be hit your way. At some point, you’ll be back on the mound.
In reality, it isn’t always the guy with the most talent who becomes great at this game. It’s often the guy with talent who simply is better at starting over than anyone else. It’s the guy who truly does forget that strikeout when he takes the field. It’s the guy who forgets the error the next time he steps to the plate. It’s the team who forgets their previous crushing defeat and takes the field with hope again.
Life is no different. How many people do you know who need to start over right now, but can’t or won’t? They’re too busy rehashing the mistakes and misfortunes of the past to realize that today is a new day and tomorrow can’t be regained no matter how hard they try.
Like I said earlier, I’ve struggled with this my whole life, both on and off the field. It kept me from being a better ballplayer and it’s kept me from moving forward with Jesus.
Here’s my commitment to you: I’m moving forward, starting over, and I’m praying you’ll do the same.
You see, it’s not really the game of baseball that teaches us this, but the grace and love of God. Over and over in the Scripture, he tells us that we can start over by his grace through faith in Jesus. Over and over, he reminds us that his love never changes and that his mercy is fresh each new day. Over and over, he calls us to recognize that we no longer have to be bound by the past, even our deepest failures and darkest secrets. Because of Jesus, we can start over. It’s time we learn that lesson.