People Don’t Boo Nobodies

By

This may be a Rabbit Room first, but this post is about sports.  Yes, sports.  In particular, baseball.  The playoffs begin this week for this game many people find to be one of the dullest professional sports around.  I, however, find baseball to be loaded with significance and parallels to a meaningful life. (That may have been an overstatement right there, but not by much.)

I grew up oblivious to baseball, except that I knew the Pittsburgh Pirates had the best caps in the league.  It wasn’t until 1997, when my wife and I moved to St. Louis that I discovered baseball.  It was the year the Cardinals signed Mark McGwire.  Whatever you think of that home run race now, know this my friend- at the time, it was an intoxicating race toward history.  I was in the ballpark in 1998 for around 15 of McGwire’s 70 home runs that season, and I can tell you there was nothing like being there for that.  I saw grown men weep when he broke the single season home run record– men who weren’t even drunk.

Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of baseball.  The last couple of years we lived in St. Louis I had a friend who played in the outfield for the Cards, and he would leave tickets for me any time I wanted to go– 25 rows behind the home team dugout.  As I went and watched those games unfold, certain observations about baseball struck me that led me to believe this sport is a grand analogy of the human existence.  As the playoffs begin, here are some of those observations.

Baseball teaches us life is good.  It heightens the goodness of everything around you.  Hotdogs taste better.  You drop $5.75 on a souvenier cup of Coke, and you have no reservations that the cup was totally worth it, and the soda was a bonus.  The grass looks the way grass is supposed to look, brilliant, green, tidy and soft.  The staduim, if it was built right (meaning it has 360 degree seating) wraps you in it’s embrace.  It will host you.  The smells, sights and sounds come together like a symphony for the senses.

Like life, when you walk into a ballpark as the game is about to begin, you enter a world where everyone plays a part in the proceedings.  The people in the stands rise to sing the Star Spangled Banner.  Then they sit.  The announcer introduces the players and coaches, and once we’ve gotten acquainted with each other, nine players from one team go to their repective positions, and one from the other team goes to his place at home plate.  The pitcher pitches, the hitter swings.  Sometimes he hits the ball, most of the time he misses.  There is no clock.  The game takes the time it takes.

As in life, no one, statistically, has ever been good at baseball.  This year Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols were running neck and neck for the best batting average of the year.  Chipper won.  His average?  He batted .364, which means for every 100 time he went up to bat, he only got a hit 36 times.  Nearly two thirds of the time, the best hitter in the league failed to hit the ball.

As with life, you have to decide what you’re going to think about personal failure.  Hall of Famer Lou Brock said, “You can’t be afraid to make errors.  You can’t be afraid to be naked before the crowd, because no one can ever master the game of baseball or conquer it.  You can only challenge it.”  And that’s the deal.  Baseball is a game where you fail most of the time, but you keep challenging.  Greatness is not found in avoiding failure.  It comes by failing less than those around you, and less than you used to yourself.  The catch, however, is that the better you become, the less forgiving people are when you do fail.  But this too is a paradox, since, as Reggie Jackson said, “People don’t boo nobodies.”  Being booed is a recognition of ability.  To whom much is given…

Like life, the game is at the same time exceedingly simple and deceptively complex.  You only do four things in this game– hit, throw, run and catch.  That’s it.  Pretty simple.  But its the combinations of these four things that create the problem.  You have to catch what someone else hits or throws.  You have to run faster than the opposition’s combination of a throw and a catch.  You have to hit what is thrown, and most of the time it’s coming at you fast– and sometimes at your head!

Like life, for most of the time you’re at the game, nothing much exciting going on.  But then for about every 2 1/2 hours of not much happening, you get about 5 good minutes of exhilirating excitement.  And to the baseball fan, we knew this coming in, and that five good minutes makes the other 2 1/2 hours well worth it.

Finally, like life, the regular season is a long haul of going to work everyday.  The regular season consists of 162 games over the course of six months.  During that time, players get a total of about four days per month off.  That’s a lot of time to shine and to fail.  When you’ve played eight straight games in four different cities and tomorrow is another game in another city, who among us wouldn’t wish we were someplace else doing something else?  It is a grind.  On any given day, any given player can emerge the hero just as any given player can single-handedly cost his team the game.  Hitters can get red-hot, pitchers can melt-down.  And you just never really know what you’re gonna get until the umpire yells, “Play ball.”

I believe life is good.  But the goodness isn’t found in home runs alone.  It’s found over the span of a long season, one that is filled with more failure than success, more routine than exhiliration, more anonymity than recognition.  Sometimes we hit it out of the park, sometimes we strike out looking.  Sometimes we make that impossible diving catch, other times we miss the routine grounder hit right to us.  And as it goes for us, so it goes for everyone else.

Still, if we’d look around, we’d see it is beautiful.

Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


26 Comments

  1. Don Smith

    I enjoyed your baseball post very much. One “life lesson” that baseball impresses me with is this: every new game (new at bat for that matter)is a clean slate. I’m a Red’s fan so I know what “wait til next year” means. But like life, baseball’s mercies are new every inning. It sort of reminds me that we may have blown the shot at the World Series of life, but we still have the opportunity that this new day brings. God the Father is the God of the second chance and baseball, in a sense is too.

  2. Ron Davis

    Don’t listen to Bryan. The Red Sox suck. (and, no, I’m not bitter because the Yankees didn’t make the postseason)

    That’s a great post. You should go to spring training sometime. Dad and I go every year. We started in 1993. We’ve missed a few years in there, but since I got done with college and settled into our neighborhood, we haven’t missed a spring training trip.

  3. Brece

    Simply brilliant, Russ. I’m going to link to it from my Facebook, if that’s alright. I am an avid sports fan, Baseball being probably my favorite. A lot of my friends and family don’t really get why I have such a passion for the game and what significance it has in parallel to life. If there were no parallels, I would probably hate it, You’ve highlighted several things that us sports fans have struggled to express to the folks who think we’re crazy and should be institutionalized for cheering on hands and knees in front of the television, for shedding tears over a “mere game” I have so many interactions with God through sports (sounds weird doesn’t it?) But it is one way God uses to touch me and to teach me about the life He created for me.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Russ,

    Yet another thing we connect on!

    I’ll take your “1977 Pittsburgh Pirates, ‘We are Fam-mil-lee’ Yellow Pillbox Fitted Hat” and raise you a 1986 Houston Astros Jersey (which I still possess):
    http://www.amazon.com/Houston-Astros-Authentic-Clock-Jersey/dp/B001HRP8FC/ref=sr_1_41?ie=UTF8&s=apparel&qid=1223567819&sr=1-41

    This is the second sports post, though the first was an imaginary football game that fielded some of the Inklings. I love baseball and this is probably my favorite time of year. Cherie and I were newlyweds when the Braves did their “Worst-To-First” act here in 1991. That is my favorite baseball memory. However, I also was present for some of Pete Rose’s hit streak and in the stadium for Sid Bream’s winning run in the ’92 NLCS – there are Pirate fans who still yell at Sid “You were out!”

    Hitting average has been a marvel to me too. Name me another job where 60% failure rate (i.e. a 400 average) would net you a huge pay increase? CEOs – maybe but not much else comes to mind. Joe Torre had one of the best lines related to batting futility when he set a season record for hitting into double plays. He thanked his teammates hitting in front of him for getting on base so much to allow him to set the mark. Bet the Yankees wish Joe was still in town, eh?

    I like that “Field Of Dreams” and “The Natural” both boil down to a father and son playing catch. Baseball, while it can be slow, is a communal experience. I’ve been to major, minor and other league ballparks all over the U.S. and once to Sky Dome in Toronto and whether I’m there with friends, family or just taking in a game while on a business trip – folks are usually quite welcoming and enjoy chatting or jawing (as we’ve seen here with Ron and Bryan) but nevertheless engaging. It’s something young and old can connect on and get behind. By the way, the Red Sox better watch out, those Rays have the same set up as the Braves did in ’91. It should be a fun series to watch. The Dodgers/Phillies series should be fun too!

    Baseball, as opposed to other sports, is, at least to this date, connected to 9/11. The Yankees started doing “God Bless America” during the 7th Inning Stretch upon resuming play after the tragic events of that day. I believe that tradition is still in place.

    Baseball has a knack for displays of reverence as well as irreverence such as the many brawls and ejections. In fact, ejections are tracked along with hits, ERA and the countless other statistics followed in this game. Baseball’s bible has a book of numbers that people love to read as opposed to the book of Numbers which we come to with strong coffee.

    This penchant for stats is forever enshrined in “City Slickers” when three main guys name the starter for a team in a particular year while also underscoring the father/son bond—would that be a double play or a back-to-back home run? All the while Billy Crystal, a life long Yankees fan (who now has an official at bat as a Yankee), is wearing a Mets cap. That had to hurt him more than riding the horses :-).

    One final trivial note: I was present for the birth of the “Tomahawk Chop” – which initially had no music or chant to go with it just that arm motion fans either love or hate. “The Chop” was for Deion Sanders an FSU alum who was at the time playing for the Braves. Fans started it for him while he was at bat. As that “Worst-To-First” season unfolded the chop became yet another in a long line of rally “charms” (like wearing a cap inside out). The chant was added, along with crude foam Tomahawks to make for a fun time at the ballpark not duplicated here since that time.

    Thanks for the post I’m ready for the first pitch tonight!

  5. Josh B.

    Nice post. I loved baseball on the radio as a kid, stopped paying attention for a few years in high-school and college, when I thought I was…ahem… “too cool” to follow the goings-on of a bunch of overpaid athletes. Then I woke up a few years ago, realized I wasn’t cool at all, realized I still love the game (especially on the radio), the nostalgia, the drama, and, yes, even the slow pace. (And sure, they get paid millions to play a game, but actors in movies also get paid millions to say a few lines in a script, and I haven’t stopped watching them yet). One of the things I love most about baseball is that no matter how badly the game may go today for your team, in a 162-game season, there’s usually another chance for them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go at it again. Definitely a game where patience is rewarded, too, both in the approach at the plate and from a fan’s point of view. Sure, there are some slower spots, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. And when it’s dramatic, it’s dramatic. See the last week of the Milwaukee Brewers season. And speaking of the Brewers, I only take issue with one thing in your post. “The playoffs begin this week for this game…” Wrong. They started last week. Sure, my Brewers only got a wild-card spot, but it WAS still playoff baseball, for a few glorious days. : ) (Also, for music fans who happen to be into baseball, check out Chuck Brodsky’s The Baseball Ballads album…from the few songs I’ve heard, this one is on my short list of cds to buy. Good stuff.)

  6. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Josh, yeah. When I wrote this piece, the first round was about to start, and it went into the Proprietor’s queue (which is not a very effecient word, letter-wise) until today. I forgot to be “time-ambiguous.” On the other hand, a good case could be made that the post season doesn’t officially begin until the Cubs are swept out of it.

  7. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Russ wrote:

    On the other hand, a good case could be made that the post season doesn’t officially begin until the Cubs are swept out of it.

    Good line, Russ.

  8. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Thank you Curt. It felt a bit snarky for my own liking, but I couldn’t resist. Which reminds me, George Will has a couple of wonderful books on baseball, including one called “Bunts” which is a collection of columns he has written over the years on the sport. He is a loyal Cubs fan, and has included some columns in that book sure so be very meaningful to both Cubs and Cardinals fans (same columns, but for different reasons.)

    By the way, if you click the “Bunts” link and use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, you can read one of those columns about being a Cubs fan. (Or just click here.) He wrote it in March of 1974, I think. Still, it is a priceless piece on being a conservative and a cubs fan. Super funny– especially his description of the difference between liberals and conservatives.

  9. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    I have Ken Burns Baseball series in my Netflix queue. Have any of you seen it? If it’s on par with his other work, I know it will be awesome.

  10. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I’d love to get that some day. I’ve seen bits and pieces, but not the whole, what is it, ten hours.

    Seriously, check out that George Will link in my comment above if you want to laugh out loud.

  11. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    You will love Ken Burns Baseball series. It has some great moments much like The Civil War series.

    Russ,

    I wondered how long before George Will and Ken Burns would appear in this post. Thanks for sparking this lovefest.

    “Wait ’till next year!” — so associated with the Cubs that there is a documentary with that title (2006). Poor Cubbies. I really thought this was their “next year!”

  12. Aaron Roughton

    Man I hate baseball. But for some twisted reason, I have thoroughly enjoyed being at a ballpark watching games for all of the reasons listed above. I’ve been to Wrigley Field, Riverfront Stadium, Candlestick Park, and Ted Turner Stadium (or whatever the Brave’s stadium used to be). And as an FSU alum, I find the “chop” a little offensive, since most Braves fans think they invented it. But I ran into Josh Charles (Knox Overstreet) there the same summer that Dead Poets Society came out. He was just happy to have been recognized. How can I have opinions and fond memories about a game I hate? Maybe I’m slipping.

    “Name me another job where 60% failure rate (i.e. a 400 average) would net you a huge pay increase?”

    1. Meteorologist
    2. Fishing Guide
    3. Psychic to the Stars

  13. Tony Heringer

    Aaron,

    Trust your feelings. Join with us. C’mon you really love baseball :- )

    Thanks for the list! You can add left handed pitchers with a losing record to the list — if they go through arbitration 🙂

    For those of you scoring at home: The Braves played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (where Braves fans first honored FSU’s own “Neon Deion”) prior to the Olympics. They now play in Turner Field sometimes called ‘The Ted’

  14. Aaron Roughton

    Ahhh…Fulton County Stadium. I remember now. That’s what it was when I was there. Thanks for the info Tony. But I won’t join the dark side. My kids will still grow up thinking soccer is the only civilized sport…

  15. Leigh McLeroy

    I am either a dream, or a nightmare: a woman who loves baseball enough to go to the park by herself on a spring or summer or (if I’m lucky) fall afternoon, and bring a pencil to keep score. Three years ago I took my 72 year old dad to a world series game, and it’s a memory I’ll never forget. My first paying job was keeping score for little league – $5 a game a snow cone when you turned your book in. Baseball IS a beautiful game, full of life lessons. Lance Berkman says “It’s a game that teaches you how to fail.” I love that there’s no clock, too. (And I was in stands for the longest game in Houston Astros history!) Around here, we’re saying “coulda shoulda woulda,” no thanks to you, Bud Selig. (Some home games, those were.) But I’m watching the Phillies and the Dodgers tonight, and happy to be. In our last game of the season, and catcher Brad Ausmus’ last game as an Astro, he hit the first pitch he saw in the game for a HR…and he was averaging about 225. Anything can happen, and when it does…pure poetry.

  16. ~JB

    Hey Russ,

    My friend sent me this post because he knows how much of a baseball nut I am. Great post and it’s so cool (regardless of what you say about McGwire now) that you got witness a piece of that history.

    I wanted to share a post with you from my blog that shared some of the same sentiments you expressed.

    http://www.braveslaunchpad.com/2008/08/the-circle-of-life/

    Wonderful post. So refreshing and entertaining. Thanks for branching into the “boring” national pastime for us.

    ~JB

  17. Chris P

    Isn’t it bad enough the Cubs once again went far enough to get my hopes up and then ripped my heart and stomped on it, but every where i turn someone points that out.
    Well, I guess I should expect that after these many years.

  18. Tony Heringer

    Leigh McLeroy you rock! I grew up in Orange, TX as an Astros fan. I was crushed when they lost that playoff game to the Mets back in the 80s. I just knew that was their “next year!” While their futility is no match for the Cubs it is tough sledding none the less.

    I loved the SNL debate spoof last night — both canadiates going “The Cubs will never win the pennant much less the Series.” Having Bill “William” Murray read the question was perfect.

  19. Bill Burns

    Man, somehow I just knew you hadda be posting yer Cardinals…er Baseball post you mentioned a few weeks ago at the Monday Night Football game.

    You left out another lesson, mentioned here by several commenters, though. Baseball teaches us to wait, both by it’s very pacing, and the whole “wait till next year” thing, and to watch.

    There are a LOT of distractions going on at a baseball game, and even though it’s one of the slowest-paced sports, when stuff happens, you better be watching, or your gonna miss something amazing. It’s also a great reminder of the last shall be first, to lead you must follow, the whole “Great Reverse” (HT: Pegtop), as the _defense_ has the ball in this game. Great post, as I expected…despite the cross-state bias. ;0)

    Go Cubbies! Wait till next….CENTURY!

  20. Tony Heringer

    Bill,

    Speaking of distractions, it seems that sports in general has decided that they must entertain and advertise to us every minute we are there — based on ticket prices I’d say they have a point. But, sometimes this hunger to both distract and advertise produces some very humorous results.

    I took in a Greensboro (NC) Grasshoppers (single A ball) game a couple years back. Side-note: Grasshoppers? Not very intimidating, eh? Even Southern Illinois calls itself the FIGHTING Salukis. Anyway, every half inning they had some contest or scoreboard race, etc., etc. etc. These are all things that have become somewhat commonplace in pro sports.

    But, in this particular game, they had something related to Waffle House (or maybe it was another chain) and the opposing batters during a particular inning of the game. It was called the Waffle House “waffler” inning. On radio they do this sort of thing for double plays or home runs, but at a game? I’ve never seen something like this happen.

    So, for example, an opposing player comes up to bat. While he is batting a recorded voice on the P.A. is chanting slowly “Waaaaaaaffle, Waaaaaaafle.” Each time the word is said, they flash a picture of “Mr. Waffle” up on the scoreboard. This character, associated with the chain, is a round waffle with arms and legs and a happy face. If the batter strikes out, he’s the “waffler” and the image of “Mr. Waffle” stays on while he takes a seat and the next better steps into the batters box to hit.

    At the game I attended some poor guy on the opposing team strikes out during this half inning. Can you imagine the grief he gets when he goes to the bench? Sitting in the first row I’m dying laughing — which started when they introduced the whole concept. Thank goodness I was by the home team dugout or the guy may have come into the stands.

    Anyway, while this was funny, it made me think this could really get out of hand. All in all, baseball is still quite communal and slow paced, but there does seem to be a whole lot more to distract you these days than when I was taking in games at the Astrodome in Houston.

    More trivia: I attended a game during the Astrodome’s farewell tour while in Texas visiting relatives. They were playing St. Louis and I think McGuire was still with the team at that time – 1999?

  21. Tony Heringer

    The Rays and the Sox are giving us the best series yet. Should be a tense couple of games in Tampa this week-end. It could go either way and as a Braves fan I’m just enjoying the baseball and the former Braves association trivia – Kotsay, Drew, Willie Iybar (sp?), Chuck Lamar, etc. I’m sure its driving fans of both teams nuts.

  22. Bill Burns

    So much for my Sox (I switch back to the AL, and of course, being from KC, hate the Yankees, and the Black….er, White Stockings), so it’s Cubbies, then it switches back to the Red Sox. They’ve had their turn, though.

    Yep, Tony, those gimmicks instituted to entice folks t’come back to the games after the last coupla strikes are here to stay, I s’pose. It’s been what, a dozen years or so, now? They must be working.

  23. Mark L.

    This was very enjoyable reading. I like how you noted that the game moves at it’s own pace and there are a few moments of great excitement but most of the time things are pretty routine.

    If we are the players, I think we are the home team and the fans are the great cloud of witnesses – supporters rooting us on toward victory.

  24. Brad

    I disagree with the section on no one ever being good at baseball. That seems like such an hitter-centric remark. There have in fact been several men who were perfect for a night. People who complain about low scoring games don’t understand that a great pitching performance is the only time you ever have the chance to see someone chase perfection in baseball. Pitchers of the world unite! A .333 batting average means that you, yes you collectively, were successful 2/3 of the time.

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