Baseball at the amateur levels has had an interesting week. On June 18, a fight broke out between parents at a youth baseball game in Lakewood. A 13-year-old umpire made a call that upset one of the coaches and then the fight ensued. The kids on the field were 7 years old. Then, on the night of June 21, Luke Smith of Louisville was throwing a gem against Vanderbilt when, after striking out the last hitter in the top of the eighth, launched into a stare-down, profanity-laced tirade as Smith allowed his emotions get the best of him. Smith said he was “celebrating” the strikeout and brushed off the incident.
In a broken world, these things are going to happen. I don’t want to write something condemning the people involved in either incident, but I do want to call us up to something better. As followers of Jesus and His teachings, we have an opportunity in these moments to bring the culture up to a new levels and condemning these people isn’t the starting point. Condemnation moves people to shame. Quick forgiveness is the answer. Let’s move past the incidents, forgive them as far away as the East is from the West, and make the culture better.
We live in a world that seems to believe that anything that happens between the lines is okay. It’s a battle that is meant to be won and the ends justify the means as long as you win. We have to raise our emotions to a fever pitch in order to achieve the highest levels of competition and anything that happens there is acceptable. Somehow the field of play is like Las Vegas. “Anything that happens on the field, stays on the field.” These are the lies that we believe.
Back in 2014, I had the opportunity to interact with Walker Buehler who was an integral part of the Vanderbilt team that won the College World Series (Buehler is now pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers and fanned 16 Rockies just this week). When I asked him what the coaches were telling the team to prepare throughout their run in the CWS, he said the message was simple. “The first team to relax wins.” Relax. Trust your training. Achieve a deeper level of focus. That’s the message of a champion. Is it any wonder that Vanderbilt came back to beat Smith in the top of the ninth and move into the CWS finals this weekend?
This mindset switch boils down to our perspective of competition and of God. It’s so vital that we change our the preposition in competition. We’re not competing “against” the other team, we’re competing “with” the other team. We’re trying to draw out the best in one another so we can enjoy a great game together. We’re not working against the other team. When we do, we look like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings holding desperately to “my precious” win.
This is where our view of God matters. Is God a God of abundance or a God of scarcity? If we believe that the resources are scarce, we compete differently. We hold tightly to the ring, to the win. We compete out of fear. We compete out of anger. But when we believe that God is a God of abundance, that there is enough love to go around for everyone, we compete differently. We can applaud the opponent when they make a good play. We can blow off a bad call, and we can even correct an erroneous call that was made in our favor. If we’re dealing in abundance, we know that our time will come. It might be today, it might be tomorrow, but it will come some day.
So here’s the call to action. Earlier this month, our Valor Baseball program went to the Dominican Republic. Before each game we played down there, we lined up at home plate and gave our opponents high fives in a line. It put that day’s competition in proper perspective. We were both trying to win (believe me, the Dominicans want to beat any team of Americans they play), but the tone was one of excellence. It was competing with, and not against. It was rooted in love and it raised the play of everyone involved. Let’s make the pregame high fives a staple of the baseball culture moving forward. Youth teams and coaches - start today during your tournaments. Club and high school teams - follow the example. Let’s see how far this thing can go to change not only the baseball culture, but maybe our communities as well.