“My wish is to stare down a big league pitcher just as he is going into his windup, and give him a little wink, make him think you know something he doesn’t know. I wish for a chance to look at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes to look at it, to feel the tingle in your arms as you connect with the ball, to run the bases, to stretch a double into a triple, and to flop face first into third and wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish.” — Archie “Moonlight” Graham, Field of Dreams
Burt Lancaster’s character, Moonlight Graham, is talking about moments. Moments he misses. Things missed by any of us who loved the game.
Baseball season is once again upon us. And thank goodness. This is why I love spring. Baseball. I’ve heard a lot of people through the years complain about the game of baseball. It’s boring. It’s slow. There’s no clock. No timer. I can’t keep my interest or focus long enough. Forgive me, but last one is not the game’s fault. The beauty is that there’s no timer. No clock. The game isn’t forced. It isn’t rushed. It unfolds before you. Those that do not understand the game many times are basing their opinion upon what they observe on television. This is understandable as a ballgame on tv does not show you 90% of what goes on between each pitch. You are missing the chess match. You are missing the moments.
The catcher is the true quarterback and field general. He does not get the glory that a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady receives. There are no accolades. Only sore knees, back and fingers from taking foul tips off the end of a bat. The catcher touches his mask. Or his chest protector. The infield shifts to whatever position this signal means. The catcher has decided the pitch he will direct the pitcher to throw and now sets his defense. He sets the defense by observing the foot placement and hands placement of the hitter. The signal is relayed to the pitcher. You see glimpses of this on tv. But what you don’t see is the signal being picked up by the 2nd baseman, who then holds his glove to his mouth to relay the signal to the shortstop, who relays the signal to the outfield by a preordained movement. You miss all of this. You miss the chess match. You miss the moments.
If the pitcher misses his mark, the plan will fail. It still needs to be executed. This occurs between every…single…pitch. It is missed by 75% of the fans in the park. It is missed by 100% of the fans watching tv.
If little league bores you, than you are missing even more. While it’s true it’s not as sophisticated a game to involve all the signals alluded to earlier, it’s something completely different that’s missed. You miss moments of grace. You miss them, as you do in life, during your day, because you rush. You don’t slow down. You scurry from one task to the next, racing the clock. But just as in baseball, life has no game clock. It unfolds. You must. Slow. Down.
I will close with one such moment from July of last summer. The team of 12-year olds that I coach was playing one of the final games of the summer. It was the bottom of the final inning and we had a lead of more than five runs. In our league the most runs you can score in an inning is five and then the inning is over. This prevents good teams from running completely roughshod over the less-talented teams. So the other team would get some batting under their belts and I was able to use players in positions they might not otherwise play.
One such player was Nick. While not blessed with the most athletic talent, Nick was the team cheerleader. Always smiling, encouraging, and eager. Nick was also always asking me to let him pitch. And I had earlier in the year: an inning here, an inning there. He did pretty well. My son Nolan had just thrown three innings against our opponent and given up no hits and struck out all nine boys he faced. So with game in hand I brought Nick in to pitch. His face lit up. He pulled his hat down. Breathed in and out three times. He was ready. This was his moment.
It wasn’t. Nick threw twelve straight balls to load the bases. I called time and went out to talk to him. He wasn’t down. He was determined. We regrouped, we refocused, and he went back to work.
Nick threw eight more balls, with a foul ball coming in the mix as the only strike he threw. His head was hanging now and I went out to rescue him. I waved for Simon to come in from leftfield to pitch and switch positions with Nick. He tried to encourage Simon, but slumped out to left field.
While standing in front of our first base-side dugout watching Simon warm up, my assistant coach Brian walked up next to me and asked me to look into left field. I’d been so focused on the pitcher and catcher combination I was missing the moment. My son had walked over from his position in centerfield to talk to Nick. Nick was looking down at the ground while Nolan was saying whatever he was saying to him. He didn’t say much, punched Nick’s left shoulder with his ball glove and jogged back over to centerfield. Nick smiled, looked over at Nolan, and once more began to cheer and to chatter.
What no one but Brian and I knew is that I had been coaching Nolan all summer in the art of being a leader. He’s quiet. He’s unassuming. And he’s blessed with more talent than I possessed at the game of baseball. But he hadn’t realized yet his potential for being a leader. In that moment he started his journey. I think my assistant coach’s grin was larger than my own. I was busy wiping dust out of my eyes.
For the remainder of the inning I was no longer a coach. I was a fan.
Because I saw the moment.
©2009 Jeff Walker. All Rights Reserved.