Baseball and Bucking Up

Last night saw one of the best baseball games ever played in the World Series. The Cardinals did something extraordinary in a Game 6 that fans will remember for a hundred years.

We are odd creatures, wanting our lives to be easier, but seeking constantly situations in which there is no easy, no gimmes, and no end of aggravation and toil. We want less pain, but we break ourselves to pieces on the rocks every time we sail into a challenge. In the end, we discover that an authentic life is a difficult one and that joy is found in the pain of perseverance.

From a 10-1/2 game deficit, when most of us had written them off for the year, the Cards slugged their way to the Series. It was not pretty, even last night. There were errors that made me cringe and plays that made me cry. Twice the Rangers were within one strike, one pitch, one 60-foot, six-inch path traveled through the chilled air of Busch Stadium of winning it all. Twice the Cards answered, setting up a walk-off home run by David Freese.

What strikes me about the game was not the beauty of the play. It was ugly in the early going. The whole time, I marveled at how a team could screw up so badly, yet put it behind them and go on to do whatever was necessary to win. It took me years to learn to let my mistakes go, and I still struggle occasionally with dragging my imperfections around like luggage. To watch baseball players do that in the inferno of World Series competition made me feel an uplifting yet humbling kinship with those who struggled so hard to overcome their own imperfections.

That, really, is the spirit of humanity. We are most alive when most in danger of dying, figuratively if not literally. We are most joyful when we look around and see our brothers and sisters engaged in the same pitched battle as us. When we realize that anyone can fail at fielding a grounder or gaining a customer, but that our failure does not define us, we wake up to life as it was meant to be–a forge, not a featherbed.

How many last night tuned in dully to witness the entertainment after a life-defying day at work? How many felt vicariously the brief glow of achievement and then doused it with another beer and another tinge of quiet dread at what tomorrow would bring?

The seductive pull of security drowns out the sacred call of the adventure coming from deep within. We argue over who gets what from everyone else and distribute a narcotic instead of lending a helping hand. We confound the individual at every turn, drowning him in the lifeless ocean of the collective. We make up names for society as if it were an organism unto itself and we were cells within. We do not work for a team effort by being better individuals, but by losing ourselves in an abstraction. Afraid to take on the lonesome responsibility of going to the plate alone to help our brethren, we slink to the corner of the dugout and hope someone else gets a hit. Eventually, we stop cheering and come to loathe the ones who stand out. We think up ways to cast a shadow over their day in the sun.

No matter who wins tonight, every player on both sides will know that they did their part to contribute, not by losing themselves in the team, but by making themselves worthy of partnership with their kin in the Great Game. When it ends and we know who has won the day, what will you know of your day? Will you have taken your best swings or laid low and hope no one noticed? Will you have picked up someone who just muffed a play or gloated silently at their misfortune? Will you put your inevitable mistakes behind you or drag the weight of failure around until you no longer notice how much it slows you down?

No amount of help helps the one who won’t try. Make your life heroic first and you will learn the difference between stepping up and stepping on. Learn to take the chances that make you a world-class player and you will cease looking to “society” to help you or anyone else. You will stop blathering about how cruel the world is and rid yourself of your secret hatred of the successful. You will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with life and everyone who participates joyfully in it. When the game ends, win or lose, you will have played it with all your heart and done more for the rest of humanity than a thousand handouts could do. Godspeed.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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