Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons from Baseball #3

The Shades Valley Sun was the local newspaper for the southern suburbs of Birmingham, and it threw its support behind the new Little League program. From the beginning it published the box scores for every Little League game. My mother faithfully collected these newspaper clippings and included them in a massive scrapbook that she gave me years later.

From the beginning, the Pels struggled. We had a couple of natural athletes, but most of us were just learning the game. We quickly sank to last place in the four-team league. As the season progressed, however, so did we. At the first of the season, my batting average was around .270. By the end of the season, I was batting around .320 and had moved from eighth in the batting order to third and had the third highest batting average on the team. We reached the point where we were competitive even against the top team.

At the end of the season, the coaches chose an all-star team that would represent our Little League in the post-season tournaments that eventually led to the Little League World Series. One afternoon my coach pulled me aside and told me that I had not made the all-star team. Three of the four coaches had voted for me, but one coach had not—the coach of the team with which we had battled at the end of the season for the cellar position. My coach explained that a crucial error I had made in one of the closing games had led the coach to withhold his vote for me. It was indeed a crucial error. We were playing this coach’s team, and the final rankings were in play. The other team had loaded the bases, and the next batter hit a hard ground ball directly at me at first base. The ball took a short hop and went right through my legs and rolled all the way to the right field fence. If not for my error, it would have been an in the park grand slam. Four unearned runs were scored, and my team lost the game. I’m sure that was not the only error I made all season, but it certainly is the one I remember.

In baseball I learned that no error, mistake, or sin is without its consequences; but the occasional or once-in-a-lifetime major foul-up can really hurt you and others. Sometimes all the good you have accomplished can be wiped out by one error. Sometimes those who count on you can be let down by your mistakes or failures. Some doors of opportunity can be closed; some chances to make a greater contribution can be lost; some recognitions and honors can be missed because of a single moment of inattention, indiscretion, lapse of judgment, or just plain bad luck.

The player who won the honor of playing first base on the all-star team was one of my best friends. He played for the number one team, had been a consistently outstanding player, and had led his team to success. He certainly deserved his place on the team. In the two games of post-season play, however, he went hitless; and the all-star team did not have a back-up first baseman. Would I have made a difference if I had been available to play? We’ll never know.

Not being on an all-star team because of a crucial error doesn’t compare to those who lose a job, a marriage, or a child’s respect because of some major blunder, indiscretion, or sin. Sometimes we do genuinely stupid things without weighing the potential consequences of our actions. Teenagers are vulnerable at this point, especially in our society when so many “freedoms” offer so many opportunities to make major mistakes.

I think God will be a wise and gracious Judge whose judgments will be comprehensive rather than particular, whose weighing of the evidence will be fair, whose forgiveness and redemption will be complete. Some have said that God’s justification will be “just as if I” had never sinned; and that may be true of the consequences of sin. But sin closes doors of opportunity; it leaves scars behind; it erects hurdles around the potential for a full and abundant life. We all need grace desperately, and we will never be able to achieve the sinlessness of our ultimate goal of Christlikeness. The Book of Hebrews, however, reminds us that we have a pioneer of faith who ran the course before us. The closer we can follow in Jesus’ track and the longer we can remain on his course, the easier will be the race. Let us become part of a team of mutual encouragers who pray for, counsel with, correct, and guide each other in the race and who look to our fellow pilgrims to hold us accountable as we seek to avoid the errors that so easily beset us.

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