It’s mid-summer. Baseball season. Softball season. Fun for all ages. From the 6 year-old tee ballers all the way up to the pros, diamonds everywhere are filled with the sights and sounds of summer.
The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. The hotdog vendors yelling, “Hot dog. Getcher hot dog here!” The pitcher going into his windup. A baserunner stealing second and sliding under the tag. Outfielders tossing third-out catches into the stands. Beach balls bouncing into center field.
I played softball for more than twenty years. I started going to Detroit Tigers’ games when I was four. On any Sunday afternoon in our neighborhood, baseball games could be heard on the radios of fathers outside working on the lawn, in the garage, on their cars.
What’s the best thing about baseball? No, it’s not the hotdogs although, just between you and me, that was my vote…
It’s the fact that they call balls and strikes.
Imagine if they didn’t.
If all they called were balls, the top of the first inning would never end. Hitters would have no reason to swing. Pitchers would walk every batter that came to the plate. Games would be called when the team pitching in the top half of the first ran out of pitchers after a few hours of just throwing all balls and walking in thirty or forty runs.
What if all they called were strikes? Pitchers would throw the ball everywhere but the strike zone. No matter if it bounced to the plate or landed in the dugout, it would be called a strike. No one would ever reach base. Every pitcher would throw a no-hitter every time they pitched.
We gotta call balls and strikes.
Too many times in life we stop calling balls and strikes. A person, a relationship, a job, a condition….we decide they’re either all bad or all good and that’s what gets us into trouble.
We end up not being honest about what is real and what is true. We choose what we want to believe and make things unrealistically black and white. All balls. All strikes.
Doesn’t work. Leaves us angry, betrayed, disillusioned, hurt…
Take politics, for instance. We have an angry, divisive country. Oh my. There’s so much anger!
I used to get so angry about politics and then I decided to call balls and strikes.
Now I have come to believe that politicians on both sides of the aisle just want to beat the other side. It has nothing to do with what Americans want or need. It’s just about making the other side look bad so you can either get re-elected or take back the seat in the next election.
I decided that, after any election, roughly half of everyone is going to be happy and the other half is going to be angry. Whichever side you happen to fall on, you can expect to either shoot the arrows or dodge them for four or eight years and then you’ll switch positions. You can watch all the political TV you want but you have to realize that, depending on which party a channel leans towards, the reporting is going to be biased one way or another. You realize that you’ll never know the truth about a decision, a law, a politician, a party because you’ll never have all the information that the people making the decisions have.
Voila! No more time wasted getting angry.
We have to call balls and strikes.
In most every failed relationship, there is a hero and a villain, depending on whom you are friends with. Balls and strikes go out the window when he is a no-good, lousy, cheating, physically abusing, drinking, sloppy so and so with an over-bearing mother and a beer gut and a remote control surgically attached to his hand.
We choose not to ask the real questions. We crown one and damn the other and that’s the end of that story.
When, if we were calling balls and strikes, we’d ask ourselves… We’d ask her… “What is your place in this?” “What was it about you that made you pick someone like him?” “Why did you CHOOSE to stay after he hit you, cheated on you, molested your child?” “What were the red flags you ignored?” “What is it about you that made you allow this for X amount of years?” “How did it serve you to allow you to ignore, deny and tolerate all of this?”
If we don’t ask those questions…If we don’t figure out our responsibility in most of the things that go wrong in our lives….If we don’t call balls and strikes and be willing to look at our actions, relationships and situations honestly, then we are doomed to repeat them.
That woman, the hero (shero), will move on to another one, three, five more relationships that are no different than the first one. She’ll fill a lifetime up with the same relationship that comes in a different face.
We have to be honest about what our situations mean. What they imply. What they are saying about us.
Balls and strikes.
Too many times we take a bad break, a bad turn, a bad run of luck and we simply accept our lives as failed, miserable, damaged, disappointing, over. When you’ve had five of the same relationships with the same man who simply has a different face and name each time, it’s no longer the man’s fault. Five years after a brain injury, when you find yourself still sitting on the couch yelling at God every day, it’s no longer the injury that’s keeping you there.
Magglio Ordonez is an outfielder for my Detroit Tigers. He’s a career .300 hitter. He’s an All Star.
Well, this season he got hurt and got off to a bad start and, almost two months into the season, he was hitting a paltry, dismal .186.
When you’re hitting .186, you’re looking at a mountain to get back to “normal.” You walk up to the plate every day and see those horrendous numbers attached to your name. There’s no denying it. There’s no hiding it. Fans are cat-calling. You can hear the booing when you continue to bounce weak grounders to second base four times a night.
What do you do? There are no quick fixes. You can accept it. You can tell yourself all kinds of things. You can retire and cling to the memory of how you used to hit homers and doubles and ring up RBIs every night.
Magglio has simply gone up to the plate every night and battled. He’s taken extra batting practice and watched extra film. He’s sought advice. He’s worked hard. He’s gotten up every morning and shown up every night.
He’s up to .245 now and climbing.
The value of calling balls and strikes reaches far beyond the white chalk lines of a baseball field. Being honest and seeing both sides of our situations helps us to minimize the anger and frustration. It allows us to become more compassionate by seeking the other side. Seeking the truth.
Imagine how many blood pressure spikes we could bring down and how many episodes of road rage we could eliminate if we just took a second to call balls and strikes. To be honest and accept that, even though its wrong, people every day drive distracted by a dozen things. To think, for a second, wow, maybe that old man has just lost his wife of fifty years and is driving back from picking out her casket. He’s driving slowly because he has tears in his eyes…
Or that parent screaming his fool head off in the bleachers at his kid because the kid hasn’t gotten a hit yet. How amazing it would be if, instead, he simply cheered the fact that he is blessed with a kid healthy enough to be out there in the warm sunshine, running around, learning teamwork, learning the value of sports, keeping his body healthy.
I have a brain injury and I have all the ammunition I need to make excuses for anything I fail at or choose not to do. I am certifiable. Ha.
But I’ve decided to call balls and strikes in my life. I’ve decided to hold myself accountable for my actions. I get headaches a lot but, hell, I don’t have a brain tumor. I can put an ice pack on my head. I can take pain killers. I can go to sleep and still there’s the hope and anticipation that tomorrow will be better. That I’ll make it better.
I have lousy balance but I’m not going to complain when there is a man who got his legs shot off in Iraq or a woman who has MS or the kid lying in a bed paralyzed from the neck down.
I just read the story of the mother in Africa who, because of the famine, walked with her five kids FOR A MONTH to get to an aid station.
Hard to complain about my electricity going out for five hours the other day…
I will not see my life as all black and white when there are handfuls of rainbows around every corner I dare turn. Down every road I start down upon.
No game is fun if we don’t choose to call both balls and strikes. Especially the game of life.