Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Play Ball

Play Ball
By Brenda Black

Major League Baseball Division Series play is underway! For the faithful fans of America's iconic sport, here's one....two.....three....striking stories to commemorate the finish of our nation's summer addiction.

FAST BALL: The Minnesota Twins had acquired a new pitching coach, Johnny Sain, back in 1966. During spring training he silently watched pitcher Jim Katt perform. Then called him in for a personal chat.

"Jim," said Sain, "I've been watching you pitch. Tell me, what are your four best pitches?"

Kaat responded, "My best pitch is my fastball. Then comes my curve. My slider and changeup are third and fourth."

"What pitch do you spend the most time practicing?" asked Sain.

"My slider and changeup," said Kaat. "If I can improve on those two pitches, I know I'll have a good season."

Sain looked at Kaat, pondered his comments, and then responded, "I see it a little differently, Jim, and want you to take a different approach. Work on your fastball. I know it's your favorite pitch, so go out there in practice, warm-ups, and during games, and concentrate on your fastball. Throw your fastball 80 to 90 percent of the time all year, and you'll win a lot of games."

Kaat left Sain's office stunned. He had expected expert tips for improving his changeup or slider. At least Sain could have provided some advice for smoothing out his second-best pitch, the curve ball! Telling him to do more of what he already did best didn't make much sense.

But he listened. That season Jim Kaat threw fastball after fastball. Kaat said he thought his arm was going to fall off! But, he heeded the advice of his coach-- and thanks to his fastball, Jim Kaat won 26 games that year, and was named pitcher of the year in the American League. ("Speaker's Source-book 2" (Prentice-Hall), pp. 7-8)

FOUL: From a perfected pitcher to a sloppy hitter, the next story documents the messiest foul ball in baseball history. When a pitch was fouled over the Boston grandstand in 1903, no one thought much of it----at first. But the ball bounced onto a neighboring factory and lodged itself in the shutoff mechanism of a steam whistle. When workers at other factories heard the non-stop noise, they assumed there was a fire somewhere and they fled their factories. In a factory that made baked beans, an evacuating worker forgot to shut down the giant vat in which the beans were cooking. Minutes later, the vat exploded, blowing the roof off the factory and showering fans in the ballpark with tons of Boston Baked Beans!

FAN FAIR: Fans may have needed spoons and napkins in 1903 when it rained baked beans, but humble pie was served along with some kleenex during one of Babe Ruth's final professional games. In his career, Babe hit 714 home runs, but toward the end, the aging Babe racked up errors in field play that turned fans into foes. During one of his last games as a pro, he fumbled the ball several times. In one inning alone, his errors were the main reason the opposing team scored five runs. As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout, a crescendo of derisive yelling and booing reached his ears. It was a humiliating moment for that great athlete who had been the number one idol of baseball fans for so many years.

At his lowest moment, a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he knelt before his hero and threw his arms around his legs. Ruth took the boy's hand and lifted him up. He hugged him, then set him on his feet, patting him gently on the head.
Suddenly there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. The Babe and the boy melted the hearts of the crowd. ("The Preacher's Illustration Service," Jan/Feb 1997)

Just like the game of steals and hits, curves and fastballs, life off the field can be unexpected, comical and compassionate. Bring your best, laugh when the baked beans blow up, and offer grace to those who need it most. That's how you play ball like a pro and win in life.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom...the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peace-makers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:13, 17-18)

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