It is the last inning. The score is 9-10, the team is down by one. After a deficit of 7 runs, the team rallied until they reached this far. It wasn’t an easy rally, though. They incurred a couple of outs along the way. With two outs and a man on third, the outcome of the game now rests on the shoulders of the player at bat. Either he makes a hit and scores the winning point… or he gets struck out.
You wouldn’t want to be in this player’s position.
Or would you?
Growing up, I used to hear the poem Casey at the Bat being recited over and over by my sister. I can still remember the first few lines:
“The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day…”
I never imagined that this poem would have such great relevance in my life today.
My son has been playing baseball for several years now. Each game, each tournament he joins provides a learning opportunity; not just for the players, but for us parents as well.
In baseball, there is nothing worse than being struck out. The batter can’t help but feel defeated. In the battle of wills between the pitcher and the batter, striking out the batter totally means the pitcher won the round. But then again, maybe there is something worse than just being struck out… and that is striking out knowing full well that yours will be the last out of the last inning.
When face to face with a pitcher twice your size and whose ball seems to zoom in at you before you can even blink your eyes, of course the batter’s immediate reaction is intimidation. (Note: You are NOT supposed to blink your eyes when the ball is heading your way, otherwise you will totally miss it!) This happens in youth tournaments. The players are not always of the same size. Most often than not, the smaller boys get scared of big pitchers.
Getting scared is expected. But do the coaches allow the players to cower in fear? No, of course not. The coaches remind them to go back to the basics. Stand at the home plate, square up and hit the ball. Just like in practice. What if they miss and get a strike? Then try again.
What if the batter gets struck out? Should he feel embarrassed and defeated, and maybe think of retiring from the sport altogether?
The game of baseball is so much like life itself. In real life, we come face to face with people bigger than us. And I am not just talking about being physically big. It can be about power or social status or even educational attainment. We are not all of the same size yet we are on the same playing field.
The intimidating ‘giant’ pitcher in our lives doesn’t always have to be a person. It can be a circumstance, or a seemingly insurmountable challenge that we are up against. When we come face to face with something – or someone—bigger than us, do we hide in fear? Do we run away… or do we square up and face whatever’s coming our way, giving the best swing that we can?
Sometimes we give our hardest swing, but we still miss. Sometimes, we strike out. But then just like in baseball, a strike out is not the end of the world. It is an opportunity to reassess yourself, re-evaluate your skills, your strategy. What are you doing wrong? What should you strengthen? What do you do to keep yourself from striking out again? A strike out gives you the determination and the drive to do better the next time around.
Last inning, your team has two outs, is down by one and there’s a runner on third… You are the next batter. You either swing, hit and be the winning run, or swing, miss and be the third out.
Would you want to be in this position?
Someone once told me that real athletes WOULD want to be in that position. Why? Because that’s the moment real athletes are waiting for. The moment to shine at the height of pressure. The moment to show the world what you’ve got. It is one player’s defining moment… whether he makes a home run or he strikes out, it is how he handles himself that will be evident to all. There, at the home plate, squared up, not succumbing to pressure, it’s either the batter’s or the pitcher’s game. Nevertheless, it is the opportunity for the batter to have that winning run. If he is going down, he might as well go down swinging.
History tells us that Babe Ruth had 714 home runs vs. 1330 strike outs*. Nobody really remembers those games where he struck out. But those homers, those winning runs, are still being replayed in documentaries about him. If he let the fear of striking out get to him, he wouldn’t be as great as how we now all see him. We all know that Babe Ruth had carved his name in baseball history.
It’s about those pressure-filled moments and how we handle them. It’s about grabbing hold of that moment to shine. It’s about taking the chance to swing away. It is not often that we come face to face with defining moments. So when they do come, be bold. Be brave. Don’t buckle down. Choose to define the moment yourself. Give it all you’ve got.
“And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright
The band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”
Remember, even Casey has struck out. But Mighty Casey went down swinging.
*Babe Ruth stats via Baseball-Almanac.com and Wikipedia
**Excerpts from the poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer, written in 1888