Baseball is a game governed by failure. We all know that. A guy who hits .333 (most players don’t) gets out twice as often as he gets a hit to get on base.
But baseball is also a game that insists on patience. If you don’t have the patience to keep your head in the game after some small failing—after striking out swinging at a pitch in the dirt, after booting a ground ball or losing a pop fly in the spotlight of the sun—then maybe you need to play a game such as basketball where second chances happen sooner than later.
Baseball in not a game for hot heads, which explains why so often when a batter fails to get on base he can be seen trotting nonchalantly back to the dugout because baseball players learn, after seasons defined by such daily failings, that it’s best to let things go.
In this way, failing at baseball is not unlike the failings that make our sometimes messy lives our sometimes messy lives.
Of course there are exceptions to staying calm, to stiff-upper-lipping through bumps and slumps—players who throw their helmets, smash dugout telephones with their bats, drop m-f-bombs at the home plate umpire, kick at the dirt—but the bulk of individual failings in baseball are swallowed, the game wants us to believe, with a quiet kind of dignity.
I admire that about the game of baseball and about the players who play the game. Sit down, stay calm, focus on what you can make happen next and not on what has happened in the past that cannot be changed.
Maybe the baseball player’s prayer is, like the man who drinks too much, a plea for simple serenity and acceptance.
There’s a life lesson there, too, I suppose. We all make mistakes. We all, in the spirit of being human and being born fallible, fail or fall short of the mark: at work, in school, in parenthood, in friendship, in marriage.
I am failing right now. These words aren’t the words I want them to be. I try to say what is in my head waiting to be written down but the sentence somehow does not say it right.
I am barely batting my weight here. I keep pulling my head. I can’t keep my eye on the ball.
Writing, like baseball, is a balancing game of patience and failure and determination.
Just because I feel like I’m falling short, that I’m failing to say what I wish these words would say, even though I might feel as though I can’t go on, that it’d be best to abandon the writing of this piece—no matter what: I must go on.
I must learn to forgive. I must learn to accept my shortcomings, on the page, on the playing field. I must learn to give thanks to who and what I am and what I can and cannot do.
And so I move on. I step back out of the batter’s box. I tap the dirt out of my cleats. Take a breath. Then I get back into the box. Dig in with my back foot. Bring the bat back up over my shoulder and hold it poised in the air ready and waiting to square up flat against the pitch.
See ball. Hit ball. Keep it simple, I like to say when I coach the kids I coach.
When I write, I am reaching always back to words already written. I reach back now to take hold of the words of Samuel Beckett who staked this declaration into the hard dirt of our living ground: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
To do and be better, next time up. To walk away but to come walking back when your name is called, especially when your last name is the name stitched on the back of some young kid’s t-shirt, because in that kid’s eyes you can do nothing wrong, you can only do everything right.
You got to swing the bat to hit the ball. You got to get back up after falling. And wipe away the dust.