A friend asked me the other day whether his son should play soccer or baseball this Spring.
I thought it was a trick question.
It's not that I hate soccer. Actually, that's not true -- I do hate soccer. But the response I gave him had nothing to do with my feelings toward that sport. It had to do with the growth of his young child.
Baseball, when taught properly, can teach us all we need to know in life.
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The reality, however, is that baseball can teach us much more than how to hit a round ball with a round bat, how to properly get under a pop-up, and how to keep our glove down on a grounder.
- Depend on Others
Baseball teaches us how to count on others. Perhaps no other sport places such a premium on that lesson. It has been called the most individual of team sports, because the main thrust of the action is one-on-one: pitcher versus hitter. But once the ball is thrown, all control rests in the hands of teammates to complete the task.
And for the teammates of the hitter, they have to helplessly look on with zero control of what happens when he is at the plate. They put all their faith and trust in him doing his job. Anyone who has ever worked for a living knows the importance of learning that lesson.
Baseball also teaches us how to sacrifice for the greater good. Hit the ball to the right to move a runner over, bunt when called upon, take an out on a sac fly to score a run. If you haven't learned the importance of sacrifice in life, God bless your friends and family, because they need you to know that.
- Don't Believe Everything You See
Curveballs. Enough said.
If you are older than 10, you probably already know this lesson, but no sport teaches it better than baseball. No matter what your brain tells you, what you see is not always what you get. Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Sometimes, it fools you with changeups. And if you are going through a particularly rough patch, you know that it will fire a 92-mile-per-hour slider at you, seemingly right in your wheelhouse. But when you get ready to swing, it snaps off about 8-inches, nipping the corner, and you're walking back to the dugout.
- Never Give Up
Baseball is the only major sport without a time limit. You are never out of a game. You can't get so far behind that the clock makes it mathematically impossible for you to come back. Just like life. You shouldn't give up on life, no matter how old you are, just like you shouldn't give up in baseball. Until you make that last out, you aren't done. I've seen some incredible comebacks in life, and I've seen some incredible comebacks in baseball. Participated in a few in both, too. All you have to do, either in life or in baseball, is get into their bullpen. Once you get into their bullpen, anything can happen.
- Finish Strong
Watch the great pitchers past and present, and you will notice the same main trait; they are all stronger at the end of the game than they were at the beginning. It's why Justin Verlander is still throwing 98 in the 9th inning. What a perfect metaphor for life! I've preached to my kids in everything they do (until they are probably sick of hearing it), "Finish strong!" There are going to be times in your life when you have to reach back and find every ounce of strength you've got to close out whatever it is you're doing. FYI, there are no relief pitchers in life. You are going to have to finish what you start, and you better be ready to finish strong.
- Don't Try to Strike Everyone Out
I had a pitcher once that you could tell wanted to strike out every batter he faced. A noble goal, no matter how short-sighted. He threw about 94, and he did strike out more than most people. He also walked more than his share. And when a ball was finally put in play, his defense was back on their heels, because they weren't involved in the game. It caused mistakes. It caused complacency.
I told him one time to quit trying to strike everyone out, and he thought I was crazy. He didn't grasp what I was saying. Sometimes, you need a ground ball. Sometimes, you need an infield fly rule. Sometimes, you need other people engaged and invested in what you are doing in order to succeed. Sometimes, you need your teammates.
I could go on and on. Almost any life lesson can be found in baseball if you look hard enough.
So my answer to my friend was, if all you want your kid to learn is how to grow his hair into a mullet and fake an injury to get his way, let him play soccer. But if you want to teach him about life, get him a bat, a ball, and a glove (and a good coach), and throw him onto a field.
There is a reason the game takes place on a diamond. There is no other jewel quite like it.