Team sports is great for character formation. I’ve seen it with my own eyes this weekend.
I’ve coached my son’s baseball teams since he was 3 years old. It’s one of the most rewarding and life-giving things that I’m involved in and I wouldn’t give anything for the time Joshua and I have been able to share on the diamond over the years. I plan on coaching him as long as I can.
Saturday, our little team faced off against the Cardinals, one of the better teams in our league. In addition to being well coached, the Cardinals have probably the best all around player in our league, a tall boy who literally stands head and shoulders above some of his teammates. This kid is a great hitter and one of the hardest throwing pitchers we’ve faced this year. Understandably, some of our guys were pretty intimidated at the prospect of digging in at the batter’s box to face him.
All year long, I’ve preached the importance of standing your ground at the plate: It’s your plate, don’t back down. No fear. That kind of thing. But against the Cardinals ace, I could tell my pep talk wasn’t holding water. Heading into the field in the 2nd inning, I heard Joshua trying to fire up his teammates to make a defensive stand after the Cards ace struck out the side. “Come on, guys! We can beat these guys! Be strong and courageous and never afraid! Let’s go!” Even though we never mounted much of a comeback — the Cardinals won 10-2 — I was especially struck by the learning opportunity that was presented to our boys through game adversity. And you’d better believe I noticed Joshua’s innate method for dealing with such challenges: relying upon God and His promises.
Prior to the births of each of our children, Sunny and I chose a passage of Scripture to be “their” verse; it was a verse that represented all of our hopes and prayers and dreams for that child. As it would happen, the verse we chose for Joshua comes from the book of Bible that bears his name, Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Our condensed version of this passage (“Be strong and courageous and never afraid,”) has become as much a part of our family prayer language as “in Jesus name, Amen.” We pray it — and more specifically, Joshua prays it — all the time. And team sports has proven to be the perfect crucible for the application of such a prayer.
Today, we played another game, this time against the Reds. Joshua is our primary firstbaseman and he generally catches everything thrown his way. At one point in the game, the Reds were up and we were looking a little flat. This is tournament action and we’ve already lost one game, so our next loss will bring our season to a conclusion. On a close play, a Reds batter barely beat out an infield single with Joshua catching the throw at first just a split second after the runner’s foot hit the bag. The umpire made the right call; the kid was safe. But after safely reaching first, the same baserunner instinctively made a turn toward second base, at which point Joshua seemingly applied the tag: a heads up play that would’ve ended the inning and the Reds rally. But the Reds runner, realizing his error in judgment, leaped back to the bag at the same time as Joshua’s attempted tag, forcing the umpires to make a judgment call. Is the runner safe? Or is did the Royals 1B make the tag?
I left the dugout and made my way toward home plate, fully prepared to pick the umpire’s brain: Did you get a good look? From my view, it looked like 1B made the tag. If that’s the call, that’s the end of the inning. We really needed a break; a couple more runs and the Reds could really pull away. I made it to home plate ready to make my case and about that time, Joshua runs halfway down the baseline and announces for all to hear, “The runner is safe at first. I didn’t tag him.” The ump looked at me; I simply stood there speechless. For good measure, Joshua reiterated (in an even louder voice), “I didn’t tag him.” The ump said, “Well, I guess that settles it,” and I had to walk back to the dugout while the inning continued.
Thankfully, we got out of the inning unscathed (the Reds didn’t score) and we ended up winning the game. I know the glow of this victory will soon fade, replaced by another game and another series of events and our baseball season will become one more memory in Joshua’s childhood bank. For the record, Joshua had a career-best day at the plate: 4 for 4 with 4 doubles, 3 runs, and 4 RBI. I’m proud of that, as any father would be.
But even after the stats lose their meaning, I’ll remember today as a career-best day for an entirely different reason. Today we learned about integrity.
That’s my boy.