I'm 5 days removed from one of THE worst sporting moments of my life, but I am now ready to talk about it.
Baseball is my happy place. I'd play it all day and every day, if my life (also spelled with a "W") would allow such a luxury. But once a year, I do get the privilege to play ALL day. It's like Christmas...only better. 'Twas the night before "Tournament Day" and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...except Timmy!'
I've been playing ball every summer for as long as I can remember (let's say 26 years, just for the interest of science). I started late (no t-ball for me) but once I got going I never stopped. I've played a lot of baseball, but Saturday's experience was a first.
I've had my nose bloodied, my ankles turned and my fingers jammed. I've taken balls in the face, the chest and...other places. I've dove for balls in the outfield and slid headfirst into every base possible. But no game has left me hurting as much as I was on Saturday.
I like to win! They say (whoever they are) that "winning isn't everything". That is true, but I'll tell you this...losing isn't nothing. Losing hurts. I take losing hard. I always have. The only difference between then and now is how I handle losing. I used to throw things, like helmets and bats...and bikes. I've matured. I don't throw bikes anymore. But I still don't like to lose.
I used to struggle with this because I'm a Christian. Some people think my faith and a competitive spirit cannot co-exist. It is true that my faith does not condone demeaning trash talk, intent to harm, bursts of rage or a "win at ALL cost" mentality. However, I feel that my faith DOES compel me to do all that I do, including baseball and more specifically, competing in baseball, to the best of my ability.
"Church" leagues are notorious for the "let's just have fun" mentality. But, I don't want to just have fun. I want to win, because winning is fun. If I'm at a picnic, and everyone is just hacking around, then I am more than willing to just "have fun" (most of the time). If I'm in a "league", with uniforms, schedules and "Tournament Day", then let's compete! Let's play to win.
I play hard. I've always been a head first "slider". If a game passes and I haven't slid head first into a base, then I go home sad (regardless of the score). I slide...on gravel. Think about it. Gravel. I have perpetual wounds on my right knee and hip that open up every baseball season and don't close until September. Now, I figure that if I'm willing to slide on gravel, I must really want to win, because if I was running down a gravel road I'd never even consider doing a belly flop. That would be ludicrous. It's gravel!
So, that brings us to Saturday. Round robin tournament. 9am-5pm. Six baseball games, then the finals, if we make it. But we'd make it. We're a good team. A great team actually. In 2003, I joined a team that was clearly re-building. I think half the team was new. Seven seasons later that rag tag group has been to the finals six times and won two championships. In fact, our 2005 championship was the first time I'd ever won a baseball trophy (that didn't say "participant"). It was amazing. I cried. Yep. Like a baby.
Where was I? Oh ya. Saturday. We were defending champions. We had won the 2008 final in spectacular fashion. This really is the story of extremes, because last year I experienced the most exhilarating sporting experience of my life. We had a comeback of epic proportions. Down by six runs in the bottom of the 7th inning (last inning), we tied the game and won it in extra innings. It was unreal...epic really. I cried. Yep. Like a baby.
But that was 2008. Now, it was Saturday, 2009. It was hot, really hot! The day is a grind...a beautiful grind. Our record in the round robin was a perfect 6-0. We had even given the "new" team their first loss of the entire year. They're young and fast...and young. You know you're getting older when you start calling 20-year olds, "kid". Anyways, we faced those kids in the finals and it was, from all accounts, a great game to watch. Multiple lead changes, big plays, controversial calls etc. It came down to the bottom of the 7th, we were down by three runs. We'd been there before, but two outs later we were still down by three. The next five batters managed to manufacture two runs and load the bases. Who was coming up? No...not me (I had tripled earlier, almost killing myself sliding into third). No, it was the one player that was "money" for us all day. Line drive hitter. A guy that I was thrilled to see at the plate in this situation. One more line drive meant we were back to back champions!
You should never count your chickens before they hatch, but I counted them...over and over. I was convinced we'd already won. My heart leaped! I've never seen a pop-up move in slow motion in real life before. My heart sank. We had lost. And it hurt. Real bad. THE worst sporting moment of my life. I hate to lose. We've lost other championships before, but this one was different. I went from sky high to below low in a matter of seconds. This one was painful.
Winning isn't everything, but losing isn't nothing. I know it's "just a game", but to pretend that it didn't hurt, would not only be a lie but it would be an even bigger loss than the game itself. I think, to brush off the pain of failure is to ignore one of the greatest tools for growth that will come across our paths. Winning and losing are apart of life, not just baseball, and to learn how to deal with failure, and the emotions that accompany it, is the key to success.
The magnitude of one's emotional response in victory or defeat reveals a lot about the magnitude of the investment of body, mind and spirit. I'm proud of my reactions to both the wins and losses of the last few years. It shows that I played to win and competed 100%. Playing a team game in a competitive environment, I don't think my team mates, opponents or my God, would ask for anything less. That loss hurt and I'm glad it did, because in that situation...losing should have hurt.
This post has been very therapeutic. Thanks for listening. I feel better now. I learned a lot about myself. Next year I'll learn a lot too...but with a trophy in my arms!
Have a good one,