MY SHORT CAREER IN BASEBALL
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to try everything! I took karate, I was in cub scouts, I played basketball, I wanted to race BMX bikes, and one time, I even brought home a flier and asked my mom if I could sign up for baton lessons. I was thirsty for life and I wasn’t afraid to try anything. So when tee-ball sign-ups came, of course, I jumped at the chance.
I played baseball all the way from tee-ball to coach-pitch to fast-pitch, even though I was terrible! I hated to practice but I loved to play and be around my friends.
The last summer I played little league was the summer before I went to middle school. I always played out in leftfield, which for those of you who don’t know, is that place where nothing ever happens. It was a sunny day and the birds were chirping and I was daydreaming in the outfield when, “smack”, the kid up to bat slammed a pop-fly up into the sky, and unbeknownst to me, right toward leftfield. The ball was coming right for me and I noticed just a little bit too late as the ball bounced off my glove onto the grass. I flubbed the play. It was my big chance and I literally dropped the ball.
Fast-forward a month or so and it’s the first day of sixth grade. There I was. A new school. New classrooms every hour. The hottest day of the summer. I’m the chubby kid who decided to wear a red silk-shirt with no undershirt and a pair of I.O.U.-bib-overall-shorts-with-one-strap-unhooked-and-a-side-spiked-haircut standing in the cafeteria looking for a place to sit.
I saw a table with a few guys I recognized but I couldn’t remember where I knew them from. Not wanting to be the kid standing around by himself scanning the room for a familiar face for too long, I asked this table of kids if I could sit down. Everyone was chatting about their new classes and the other kids that they knew when one of the guys at the table looked over and starts talking to me. “Hey, I remember you”, he said. I was drawing a blank. I had no clue who he was. He spoke up again, “yeah, you’re the kid who dropped that ball when you played against my little league team this summer. That cost you the game.” I was stunned as the table erupted in laughter in my general direction.
Trying to think fast, I joined in the laughter and threw out some self-depreciating humor to cover up the sound of my breaking heart. I was fragile and scared. I just wanted to fit in.
On the bus that day on my way home, I thought to myself, “If only I hadn’t dropped that ball…”
It’s not that this one event is the root source of my insecurity and inability to understand what it means to be loved but it represents how we come to pick up so much of the baggage that we carry with us through life. I can still see how this experience and others like it have contributed to my desire for the approval of others and the creation of what Brennan Manning would call my “glittering image”. Other folks speak of this “glittering image” as “the false self”. It’s the “me” I’ve created to protect and isolate myself from the influences in the world that would make me feel unworthy and insecure.
Jeanne Stevens, in her book Soul School, talks about the idea of reprogramming our standard operating systems so that our “If only’s” start to become “Even though’s”. Even though I’m not smarter, I am loved. Even though I don’t have a lot of money, I am loved. Even though I have a limited education, I am loved. Even though I am single, I am loved. Even though I not skinny, I am loved. Even though I was born into a dysfunctional family, I am loved. Even though I dropped that ball, I am loved. You are loved.
A few months ago, I ran into the father of one of the kids I used to play little league with and I was instantly reminded of my short career in baseball. When I got home, I looked up my old teammate on Facebook and sent him a message telling him that I ran into his dad and had instant flashbacks to little league. My friend replied right away with a response that blew me away. He said, “I still remember that time you caught that pop fly.” I was so confused. Sure, I remembered missing my fair share of pop-flies but my memory was kinda fuzzy. so Then, it all came flooding back.
I was playing third base, with one out left in the inning, a kid hit a pop fly in the infield. I wasn’t really paying attention but the ball was coming right for me. At the last second I looked up and stuck my glove out in front of me just as the ball dropped into my glove. I was stunned. I had totally caught that ball by accident. Or maybe it was by grace. Maybe it was by the grace of God that I ran into my friend’s dad so I could re-connect with his son who could help me remember another story.
May we all come to learn another story. The story where we recognize our true identity as God’s beloved.