Baseball was everything to me.
As I headed to the field for the first time as a high school baseball player, I realized I had prepared for the moment my entire life. Even before I was old enough to play, I was on the field watching my brother play and helping my dad coach. I got my first baseball scar before I ever put on a uniform (note: do not stand behind the batter when he’s swinging).
For hours I would bounce balls against garage doors, brick fences, anything that would return a grounder. Little League taught us the rules of baseball and how to take a level swing. We learned that we shouldn’t be afraid of the ball and to run hard all the way through the base, even if you were sure you would be called out.
Now, after all the years of preparation, I was ready.
Ready to sit the bench.
Are you kidding me? “But coach, I’m a good player,” I wanted to say. I didn’t work MY WHOLE LIFE to sit the bench! Frustrated and embarrassed, I wanted to quit. But my father’s Prime Directive kicked in: Thou may play any sport thy heart desireth, but thou shalt never quit. Ever.
So I sat. The whole season.
I shared the pine with Louis and Carlos, two fellows who took the news more graciously than me, and who taught me a few new lessons along the way. Support the team. Don’t complain. Work hard and good things will happen. The greater good is more important than the good of the individual.
They also taught me some things that can only be learned from the bench. Like how to shell sunflower seeds inside your mouth. How to cuss in Spanish. How to break in a new glove and make a rally hat. How to avoid splinters (hint: don’t slide sideways).
The year came and went, and by the next season we were back on the field. But the lessons of baseball – and the bench – stayed with me my whole life, and resurfaced in the Navy.
Don’t quit. Ever. Even if it looks like you won’t make it.
Support the team.
Work hard and good things will happen.
The greater good is more important than the individual.
So now, when life throws me a curve ball, I find a good bench to sit on, grab a bag of sunflower seeds, and think about the lessons of baseball.
And sometimes I cuss in Spanish.