I recently attended my first New Market Rebels baseball game. Alas, they lost by one run. I hope they don’t blame me and will let me into the stadium next game.
Anyway, seeing those guys out there on the diamond brought back a lot of memories. Baseball taught we a lot of important things. For example, when you first begin playing baseball, you tend to think that you are playing against another team. But the more I played, especially when I was a pitcher, the more I realized that my real opponent wasn’t the other team – it was me!
Being a pitcher is an inner struggle. You walk a batter and get angry with yourself or with the umpire who clearly needs an appointment with an eye doctor. Or, you throw a wild pitch and a runner advances or even scores. It can be almost anything that happens, and you let that one thing, that one pitch ruin everything. You end up benched. Your opponent doesn’t defeat you. You defeat you.
I had this problem as a young pitcher. If some pitch or play didn’t go my way, I couldn’t forget it. That caused me to be distracted and of very little help to my team. You can’t play good baseball obsessed by the last pitch.
One day the coach brought a paintbrush and some white paint to practice. He told me, “On your left shoe paint the letter ‘N.’ On the other paint a ‘P.’” My first thought was that maybe coaching me had finally sent him over the edge. But I did what he said.
Before I could ask, he explained, “The ‘N’ stands for ‘Next.’ The ‘P’ stands for ‘Pitch. After every pitch, I want you to look at your shoes and say to yourself, out loud if you have to, ‘Next Pitch.’ That’s all that matters. That’s all you can do anything about. Focus on the next pitch!”
It sounded kind-of silly but, after a while, it worked. It really helped me. And whenever the coach would see me slipping back into old habits, I’d hear from the dugout, “Next Pitch!”
As I have moved away from the baseball field out into the world, I have learned that there are often times when you have to say to yourself, “Next pitch! Get over it! The game’s still going on! Get on with your life! The team needs you!”
Remember the 1993 NCAA Basketball Championship game on April 5? Michigan vs UNC. Michigan had the “Fab Five,” an outstanding team. They were favored to win. One of their best players was Chris Webber. With 11 seconds left in the game, UNC has made a comeback and is up 73 to 71. Webber gets the ball and UNC’s defense is swarming. In confusion, Webber calls a timeout. But they didn’t have another timeout. That resulted in UNC not only getting two free throws but the ball back. UNC won 77-71. That single play was aired time and time again on TV and still is. But Webber went that year into the NBA draft as a top pick. He became the NBA Rookie of the Year. He went to five straight All Star games and led his team to winning seasons. He would not let himself be defined by that one pitch, that one play. He must have kept saying, “Next Pitch! Next Play!”
We don’t live, at least most of us, on a basketball court or baseball diamond. But we do have to go out every day in one way or another and make lots of pitches. We’ll get some calls made against us. We’ll make errors. We’ll mess up. Not a thing we can do to go back and change them. Best to, as Taylor Swift sings, “Shake it off!” and focus on the next pitch.
See you at the next Rebels game, if they let me in…