It’s the bottom of the ninth and I’m playing first base. It’s a tie score, there’s two outs, and all we need to do is get this last out to stay in the game. The batter walks up to the plate. Oh great, a power hitter. We’re screwed. “Lefty!” Everyone yells. We all adjust our positions accordingly and wait. The ball moves in slow motion as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, I watch it as it travels to the bat. I hear it before I see it, the crack of the bat on the ball. He’s made contact. Relief floods through me as I realize it’s a foul ball, headed for right field. No runs will be scored. Wait, no, not right field, it’s going to drop by the first base dugout near me. Dare I? If I try to catch, I could drop it and make it fair and then it will be my fault if we lose. But suddenly as if on autopilot, I find myself jumping out into the foul zone, over the white line. The ball is low, it’s a line drive—without thinking I throw my glove out to the side, and feel a stinging in my hand. I don’t feel the ball anymore, I’m not sure where it went. Did I drop it? My team is cheering, the pitcher is walking off the mound. What just happened? I look down at my glove and am astonished when I realize the ball is still there in the glove. I caught it after all. I caught it. Wait, what? I caught it! Third out! And the game continues for a tenth inning! I’ve just saved the game!
We’re in the dugout now and I realize I’m second in line to bat. As I wait for my turn in the batters’ circle, I feel a sense of anticipation mixed with relief at having made the catch. I think about how I could have just played it safe and let the ball drop into foul territory and am happy the risk paid off. I realize that’s a little like life, though, in that if you never take the risk you’ll never know the rewards. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
When I get up to the plate, the adrenaline is still pumping through my veins. I’m amped and I’m ready to hit it out of the park. “Steeeeeerrrriiiikkkkeee ooone!” I hear the umpire yell. I reposition myself, waiting for the ball. Here it comes, get it, smack it out of the park. Swing! And “Stteerrrriikkkkkeeee twooo!” Ok, one more chance here, you can do it. “Stteeerrriikkkee three! You’re out!” As I do the walk of shame back to the dugout, I think, well, yeah, that’s life too. As the famous Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms always says, “You’re only as good as your last performance.” Glory is fleeting and short-lived. Bask in it while you can. You never know how long you’ll be on top. And when you’re on top, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Feeling like I’ve gained the wisdom of a thousand sages, I take the field again. “Come on, shake it off. Get ready to make the play,” I think. The pitch is made, the ball is hit. It goes to the shortstop, and he throws it right to me. I miss the catch and the runner advances to second.
“Come on, shake it off. Shake it off.” Next is a grounder to the pitcher. Nice. Easy out at first, should be cake. The pitcher throws it right to me, under-hands it, no less, and I bauble it, then drop it. I’m not sure where the runner is but I run after the ball, grab it, run back to touch first base, and make the play. Sloppy, but successful. Whew.
By now, all I can think about is this baseball to life metaphor. I think about how sometimes you’re up, then you’re down. But sometimes when you’re down, you’re not totally out. And when you’re up there’s nowhere to go but down, but when you’re down there’s nowhere to go but up (or further down). When you mess up, there’s nothing you can do but shake it off and move on. The faster you can shake it off and recover from your mistakes, the faster you can climb back up the ranks.
And, sometimes life is a little messy and you drop the ball, but sometimes sheer determination and stick-to-it-iveness can win out in the end even after you’ve dropped the ball. And sometimes that little bit of success you’ve achieved can keep you going until you really can get back on top.
The baseball to life metaphors keep coming, and I try to clear my head and focus on the game. Another batter up. Another lefty. I’m waiting for the ball to come my way and it does, headed right down the first base foul line again. But this time it’s way over my head and way over to the right. There’s no way I can make it in time to catch it. My teammates watch in anticipation as I, heady from my last successful catch, run behind me and try to catch it. I get close to it, but not close enough to catch. It drops in front of me, a foul ball.
Later, my teammates exclaim, “That was so close!” and, “We really thought you had that!” I’m kind of surprised as I think the ball was nowhere near me, and I realize they too are heady from my previous successful catch. And then another epiphany strikes me. Sometimes when you achieve what seems improbable, people actually expect you to achieve the impossible. Success in any form can sometimes look easy and people will continue to expect it of you, even when it’s really not within your power to achieve it. But all you can do is it give it your best effort and continue to improve. In the end, that’s all any of us can do. And while it can be tempting to judge people for expecting so much of you, it kind of makes you feel proud too that people actually believe in you that much.
The funny thing is, I don’t actually remember if we won or lost that day. All I can remember is the sounds of the bat on the ball, the cheers as we ran home, the exciting plays we made, and the camaraderie of the team. And of course, I remember the lessons that continue to stick with me game by game. Lessons about teamwork and sometimes relying on others to get the job done, about keeping your eye on the ball and never giving up, about staying focused on the task at hand, and about being a good sport whether you win or lose.
And most importantly, about just remembering to enjoy the game. Because if life is like baseball, then I want to keep playing.