Ah, the joys of spring: longer daylight, budding flowers, farm babies, and, of course, opening day of our national pastime, baseball. What a thrill to go to the game and “root, root, root for the home team.”
I’ve found a day at the ballpark can also be very educational. In the game of life, baseball teaches us a lot of lessons. Here are a few classics:
Know what business you’re in. Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew once recalled playing in the yard with his father and brother. While the three were roughhousing, Mrs. Killebrew rushed toward them exclaiming, “You’re tearing up the grass!”
“We’re not raising grass,” Mr. Killebrew replied. “We’re raising boys!”
Don’t assume it’s as easy as 1-2-3. A brand-new Little League baseball coach called a friend for advice. The friend, who had coached everything from soccer to track with his kids, told him, “I always started by numbering the bases.”
The new coach was surprised. “What do you mean?”
The friend explained that the first year he coached Little League, he laid out the bases and had the kids line up. “To warm up, let’s have everybody jog around the bases,” he said. And the first four kids took off toward third.
“Ever since,” he said, “I’ve numbered the bases and explained that you have to run them in order. You’d be amazed at the number of kids who go from first to third by cutting across the pitcher’s mound.”
Never assume people know what’s obvious to you. Explain what they need to know.
Reputation is precious – character is priceless. The great Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams was nearing the end of his career when he had a bad season due to a pinched nerve in his neck. He said he could hardly turn his head to look at the pitcher. For the first time in his career, Williams batted under .300. At the time he was the highest salaried player in sports, making $125,000. The next year the Red Sox offered him a new contract for the same salary.
When he received the contract, Williams sent it back with a note saying that he would not sign it until they gave him the full pay cut allowed. Williams said: “I was always treated fairly by the Red Sox … Now they were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve. And I only wanted what I deserved.”
Williams cut his own salary by 25 percent, raised his batting average by 62 points and closed out a brilliant career by hitting a home run in his final at bat.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mickey Mantle, the great New York Yankee outfielder, once said: “During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,900 times. You figure a ball player will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played the equivalent of seven years without ever hitting the ball.”
Since Mantle is regarded as one of the greatest hitters of all time, his statistics provide some perspective about the failures and mistakes that life hands us from time to time.
Don’t be too quick to offer unsolicited advice. Sometimes it’s better to wait for people to ask for help or to be judicious in doling out wisdom.
One afternoon when American League baseball umpire Bill Guthrie was working behind the plate, the catcher of the visiting team repeatedly protested his calls. Guthrie endured this for three innings. But in the fourth inning when the catcher started to complain again, Guthrie stopped him.
“Son,” he said gently, “you've been a big help to me calling balls and strikes, and I appreciate it. But I think I've got the hang of it now. So I'm going to ask you to go to the clubhouse and show them how to take a shower.”
Always remain optimistic. Not long ago I stopped by a local playground to watch a Little League baseball game. I asked one of the youngsters what the score was.
“We're behind 16 to nothing,” he answered.
“I must say, you don't seem discouraged,” I said. “Why is that?”
“Discouraged?” said the boy, “why should we be discouraged? We haven't even been up to bat yet.”
Mackay’s Moral: If you want to swing for the fences, you have to learn the rules of the game.