What I Learned from Baseball

Zimmerman at Bat

Well, it’s the end of another baseball season and once again my team, the Nationals, are not going on to the playoffs after an up and down season. They did have a strong finish after floundering for much of the season. I suppose I should be accustomed to this turn of events, having been a Senators fan while they were here. Now I’m a Nationals supporter, always having been a home teamer regardless of how good the home team was. It’s a time of year with a great deal of ambivalence. On one hand, watching Messrs. Zimmerman, Strasburg, LaRoche, Harper, Gonzalez, Rendon, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, et. al. ply their trade was often enjoyable; on the other, I’m glad they won’t lose any more games this year. Thanks for the high points, fellas, and for the reminder of what baseball can teach us. I’m not suggesting these are valid for anyone else: I am struck by how many life lessons baseball can teach us if we pay attention. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from the game:

Never give up. I was surprised this summer to see a major league player give up on a fly ball that scored a winning run. Sure, it looked like the runner would score and he did, but as our coaches used to tell us, anything can happen. The runner could fall down. Lightning could strike the ball. Make the play. Run it out. Never stop trying. If we did not run out a play to first base, we ran laps around the field after the game. A good life lesson as well.

Team work is important. Not even Willie Mays could play all by himself. It takes all nine positions working together to make it work. That’s why seeing a game in person is so important. Easily half the game is watching the players move around to back each other up. The catcher runs down the first base line on a throw to first, just in case. The cut-off man goes out to take the throw from the outfield. They’re all working together as a team to do what they cannot do as individuals.

Play your position. Do your job, and don’t interfere with anyone else doing theirs. This might seem contrary to team work but it’s actually an important part of it. In a double play, if everyone does his job, the work gets done.

Keep your eye on the ball. It’s no accident that this has entered the language as a means of saying “Focus. Think about what you’re doing.” It applies equally to hitting and fielding. If a fielder takes his eyes off the ball, you can bet something bad is going to happen. True also in life. Focus. Think about what you’re doing.

Work to improve. The teams I played on were so low down in the talent scale we could have looked for oil while we were there. And yet we had practice each week and tried to become better players. It didn’t make much difference, but it’s an important principle in life whether it is applied to baseball or writing or singing or running.

Practice, practice, practice. This is a corollary to the lesson above. Even professional classical musicians practice every day and they’re great at what they do.

The Tom Hanks Rule: There’s no crying in baseball. The one successful season a team I was on came when we were twelve years old in the minor league of Little League ball. Other younger teams cried when something went wrong or they lost. We didn’t. I think that’s why we were successful. But we cried the year before, just like the other teams. Makes it harder to play well.

Arguing with an umpire is like smashing into a rock. Nothing changes except you hurt yourself. There are some situations in life where you just have to walk away. Knowing when to do so is another important life skill.

Listen to your coaches. No matter how much you know about something, unless you are the unacknowledged Master of the Universe, there’s someone who knows more about a subject than you do. Look for those people who can help you. Listen to them.

Sometimes strange things happen. The balls hits a base or an umpire. A fan interferes. Sometimes unfortunate things happen. Shrug them off and go on. Sometimes fortunate events occur. Rejoice in them and go on.

Baseball will break your heart. Over and over again. Count on it. And there is much in life to break your heart. However…

There’s always hope. No matter how bad things look, never give up hope whether it’s in a game, a season or a situation. Hold on to that hope.

And, perhaps the most important thing I have learned from baseball…there’s always next year. Go, Nats!


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