To this day, baseball is my favorite sport. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to play organized baseball when I was young – even though I wasn’t very good at all. For 4-7 year-old kids, Tee Ball is the best way to get acclimated to swinging a bat, running the base paths (in the right order), using a glove, and throwing the ball to your teammates. I don’t think I had a problem with Tee Ball; I mean, it’s not that hard to make contact with a ball that is sitting on top of a tee. However, once I aged out of Tee Ball, it was time for the Little League Minor Leagues.
And here is where I struggled.
For one simple reason: While batting, I was afraid of the ball.
This was a huge problem. I would stand in the batter’s box, with every intention to swing as hard as I could and knock the cover off of the ball, but as soon as the pitch came in my direction, I would back away from home plate.
Every single time.
I think everyone knew that I was scared, but tried to be encouraging. Maybe the rest of the kids on my team thought I was a chicken and a wus; I’m not sure. I just remember being petrified. I was wearing a helmet, but I didn’t want to risk getting beaned by the ball. And so I kept backing out of the batter’s box whenever the pitcher threw the ball.
I think everyone knew that I was scared, but tried to be encouraging. Maybe the rest of the kids on my team thought I was a chicken and a wus; I’m not sure. I just remember being petrified.
I knew I was never going to get a hit, and that my dreams of making it to the major leagues and playing for the St. Louis Cardinals were over, but at least I would be alive. After trying a handful of times, a teammate took my place, and I took his place out in the field, and this just became the norm.
But one day at practice, I think my coach snapped. He didn’t freak out or anything, but I remember him saying that we were going to try something different. He told me to get into the batter’s box and into my batting stance. And then – I kid you not – he laid down on his belly behind me, grabbed my ankles as firmly as he possibly could, and told the pitcher to pitch the ball.
I was like – WHAT IS HAPPENING? I tried to move, but he was too strong and my feet were going nowhere. I remember all of the parents on the bleachers staring at me. I remember all of my teammates just frozen, wondering how this was going to go. And I remember just standing there, holding the bat in position so that I would be ready to swing, but already wincing and scared out of my mind because I knew I was about to get hit by a wild pitch.
And it was going to hurt bad.
Well, it never happened. I never got hit by the ball. The pitcher kept throwing it over the plate to the catcher, and I just stood there. Not swinging. I remember looking down at my ankles and seeing my coach’s face just barely above the dirt as he kept holding on tight and kept reassuring me that I was safe, that nothing was going to happen, that staying in the batter’s box isn’t as scary as I thought.
You know what? He was right.
And after about 10-15 pitches, he told me to try to swing and make contact.
I said okay.
And I swung a few times and – of course – missed.
Until I didn’t miss. Until I smacked it hard into the infield, and he let go of my ankles, and I ran to first.
I’ll always remember what my coach did for me that day, because it led to a breakthrough. I wasn’t scared of the ball anymore because he laid down in the dirt for me, took away my option to back out, and encouraged me with his words and presence. And I’ve been thinking about this experience because life keeps reminding me that we all need someone like this to do the things we find really hard, to face the things that fill us with fear.
I’ll always remember what my coach did for me that day, because it led to a breakthrough. I wasn’t scared of the ball anymore because he laid down in the dirt for me, took away my option to back out, and encouraged me with his words and presence.
Over the last few years as I’ve started to let down my walls in our marriage, Rachel has does this for me. Every so often, I get really frustrated and just want to pull out of doing what I know I need to do. She recognizes that I’ve just lost some perspective because of my emotions, but that I would have major regrets if I didn’t do it or otherwise backed out. I’m a man of commitment and responsibility and honor, but I am still human and sometimes just want to say, “screw it.” And so, in a manner of speaking, she lays down in the dirt with me, holds me to the standards that I always need to have, keeps me from backing out, and encourages me with her words and presence. She keeps me from making an immature decision, or from letting fear or apathy win, or allowing an unhealthy mindset from taking root. And it has made a huge difference.
We all need someone like this in our life. Do you have a person like that? I truly believe that we all have goals that will forever stay just out of reach unless we have that one person who can do what my coach did to get us over the hump. The reality is: sometimes we need others. I encourage you to be vulnerable by letting others into your life, sharing with them your struggle (even if it’s embarrassing), and asking them for help. And keep asking until someone comes through. Hey, you can even reach out to me, and you know I will do all I can.
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