June 23, 1999

Oh, no, we made the playoffs!
___"I'm the bearer of bad news," the caller said. "We've made the tournament."
___Just when I thought it was safe to relax and enjoy the rest of the summer, our baseball season has been extended.
___It's not that I haven't had fun with the
boys in their first baseball league experience. The thrill of watching these first-graders make their first hits off the machine (after several strike-outs) is exciting. And when Luke stuck his gloveup and the ball sailed right into it for an out, I was bursting with pride.
___But I am ready for a break from the constant washing of uniforms (after much stain remover treatment), the pre-game frenzy of cap searching and glove hunting, and the seemingly endless innings.
___I am excited for the boys and their team. They have come a long way. Like any team, we have some players who are more talented than others, some who are really into the game and take it (perhaps too) seriously, and still others who are there for the ride and don't take anything seriously. My favorite player is Evan.
___Evan, who is the smallest kid on the team, went through countless games without a hit. Every time he came up to bat, the parents in the "stands"--five level bleachers--would cheer him on and encourage him. But he just couldn't seem to swing the bat fast enough.
___Then, about four games before the end of the season, something clicked. We were all encouraging him as usual when bam!, he actually hit the ball right between first and second. His mother jumped up and started shouting, and we all were wildly cheering. The other team probably thought we had gone crazy, but we were all so excited that Evan had made a hit.
___And then, miracle of miracles, he hit it again the next time he was up at bat! And he continued his streak through the end of the season.
___No one was more surprised that our team made the playoffs than our team. It's not that we didn't want to win; it's just that we didn't put on emphasis on winning. The goal of all the coaches and parents of our Yankees was
simply to help the kids have a good time and learn to play baseball.
___If you've ever stepped foot on a kids' baseball field, you know that's not always the prevailing attitude. So it's nice to know you can teach good sportsmanship and still finish well too.
___As a junior coach, scorekeeper, batboy and dugout bouncer, I had a front-row seat for all the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat. And for the desire to get vengeance.
___There was only one team I really wanted us to beat this season, and it was because they took themselves sooooo seriously. The coach had just enough kids to make an elite team, played his kids in the same position every inning and griped about every call the umpire made. We came within one point of beating them. If we had, I suspect the parents would have been happier than the kids, although for the wrong reason.
___Having worked with our team every week since spring (did we tell you about the time we had five games in six days?), I have been amazed to watch the boys' steady progress. In fact, it's a shame the season is ending just as we're learning how to consistently hit and catch the ball. Well, OK, we hit the ball more consistently than we catch it.
___Anyway, all this has reminded me that baseball is a great metaphor for the spiritual life. It takes discipline and lots of practice to learn to consistently do the right thing. And it helps to have someone who really loves you cheering you on from the stands.
___God loves us that much--and more. As we stand swinging at the plate of life or attempt to round the bases, it helps to know that God is cheering us onward from the heavenly grandstand.
___And it doesn't hurt to know we have a pinch-hitter named Jesus on the team.

___He Said/She Said is a new regular feature of the Baptist Standard's on-line edition. Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Standard. Alison Wingfield is a freelance writer. The Wingfields moved to Texas in January from Louisville, Ky., where Mark had been editor of the Western Recorder, in which this column appeared weekly.


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