More Than a Game

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People say that baseball is “more than just a game.” Do I believe that? Probably. But here we’re talking about one specific game. One game that wasn’t even a game.

My dad and I experienced an  incredible stroke of good luck on Saturday, running into an owner of the Rays that my dad happened to know from way back. He then invited  my dad and I to play on one of the Rays’ practice fields prior to the Rays-Pirates game Sunday.

My dad and I arrive at Charlotte Sports Park with absolutely no idea what to expect. What do you mean we’re going to play baseball on one of the Rays’ practice fields? My dad I walk towards the field we pass by the stadium on our left and then we see players taking swings in the batting cages to our right. We come to a gate where a security guard is standing. My dad tells him that the owner invited us to play on the field with him. The guard believes us and lets us through.

We walk through a fence onto the practice field, where the owner and his family were taking batting practice. We stand by the first base line, mystified. We watch as the owner takes his hacks and we’re simply unable to comprehend what was going on. Here’s what we found out later: at 11:05, the Rays finished taking batting practice on the practice field where we were then standing. At 11:20, we stepped on to the very same field. We saw some players walking to the nearby batting cages. At one point, a couple of players were walking along the warning track. But just then, as we stood down the first base line, all we could see was the ball being delivered and the bat connecting.

We soon realized that we hadn’t brought gloves. Then it sets in that I hadn’t played baseball in months. The only thought going through my head is that I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

I was able to borrow a glove and went out to shortstop. The owner hits a groundball to me and it takes a bad hop and goes into the outfield. I started getting nervous. I’m thinking to myself how bad I am at baseball. I’m ruminating over the fact that I’m making a fool of myself out on the field of the game that dominates my life. The sweat starts dropping. I get back into my infielder’s crouch, hands on knees waiting for the ball to come my way. A few pitches later, a chopper is hit to me. I charge, glove the ball, and throw to first. The ball sails over the first baseman’s head and back to the screen. The tension mounts even for me. But then I realized what happened- I had more arm strength than I was used to. I finally smiled. The next hit was a soft tapper than I barehanded and fired a little bit more accurately but still wide of first. The owner shouts to “turn two” and I flip smoothly to the owner’s daughter, who was covering second. When I cover second on the next play, I scoop a one-hopper. I start to feel good about myself. I start going all out for balls. I start diving. My throws are getting better and I get congratulated a couple of times for my glovework. I start running and showing reflexes like I never knew I could. Then I get invited to take some swings.

I put a helmet on, grab a bat, and step into the batter’s box. I bend my knees and put my bat on my shoulder. The batting practice pitcher delivers from behind the screen. I step, lift my bat up, and swing. The result: a weak groundball to the right side of the infield. The next swing, I hit a soft liner. A couple swings later, I finally hit one to the outfield, a little bloop. I dig in a little bit more and relax. No, I didn’t start hitting home runs. My hits stayed almost exclusively on the infield. But I left the batter’s box with a renewed sense of confidence.

I’m no baseball player. I was another kid who wanted to grow up to play in the major leagues. I soon realized I was a lost cause. I shifted my focus to broadcasting, then writing. I found my niche. I found a way to utilize my talents to associate with the game of baseball. For some reason, part of me kept dreaming, no matter how illogical it may seem. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a dream.

Absolutes. We place labels in our lives on ourselves, on other people. We say we’re good at some things, we say we can’t do others at all. We try to stay in our comfort zone. We want to shield ourselves from our weaknesses and show the people around us our talents exclusively. We limit ourselves. No matter how well-rounded we say we are, we’re reluctant to try new things. Sometimes we get opportunities in life. We have to take advantage of those opportunities, those gifts. Maybe you’ll discover a talent you never knew you had. Or more often but just as important, maybe you will realize something about yourself and rethink life even to the slightest degree. Appreciate what you have. And seize everything you can get.

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