By Bill Webb
One of the most pleasant surprises for Missouri baseball fans happened last week when the St. Louis Cardinals seemingly defied all odds and won the World Series, the whole kit-and-kaboodle.
My dad would have enjoyed this one, were he still alive. He's the one who taught me to be a Cardinal fan while growing up in southern Illinois.
My favorite personal baseball story is one I'm not sure I remember. But my dad could tell it well. I was a pre-kindergarten kid whom my father and great-uncle bundled up for what was either an early-spring or late-September game. Dad said it was cold. Stan Musial, whose baseball exploits I appreciate much more now than I did then, smacked a long home run.
Dad and Uncle George were pointing at the trajectory of the ball, trying to make sure I didn't miss out on this memory. But miss it I did. Instead I tugged on my father's arm and pointed at what was developing across the aisle. A beer vendor was watching the home run, too, and he continued to pour his libation. Unfortunately, the bottle emptied into the lap of the fan, not into his cup. To a little kid, that's entertainment!
But I digress.
I kept waiting for the reigning Most Valuable Player in the National League, Cardinal Albert Pujols (no religious title intended!) to blast a few home runs and register a few more runs batted in. But the series came and went, and Albert finished with all of three hits.
But, oh, did his understudies step up! Baby-faced catcher Yadi Molina belted an unlikely home run to get his team to the series and then kept slapping timely hits. Third-baseman Scott Rolen, with an aching shoulder, hit safely in all five Series games and the previous five in the National League Division Series. And diminutive shortstop David Eckstein was rewarded for outstanding defensive play and hitting with the Most Valuable Player award.
Life lesson No. 1: Teamwork is key
Life is a team sport. Not even the most talented or the most committed or the most driven person can do it all. And no one person is always hitting on all cylinders.
The tendency in life sometimes is to stand back in awe while the lead person excels. Some leaders foster that kind of response among the team. But that's a long-term recipe for disaster.
In the church setting, it is the effective congregations who work hardest to involve many members in accomplishing the mission and ministry of that particular group. In such settings, leaders may go down, but the work of Christ continues. When the leader is only able to bat .200, the team picks up the slack.
Did you notice the response of the managers during press conferences following each game? Until the final game was over, the winning coach was reluctant to crow. After all, it isn't over until it's over. Inevitably, he mentioned the respect his team had for the opponents' abilities, even as he praised his own team's determination. Likewise, the losing coach hesitated to make rash claims like "Wait 'till tomorrow; we'll kill 'em!" After praising the victors, he affirmed his own team with words like "They'll be prepared" or "I have confidence in our guys."
Life lesson No. 2: Value and respect people
We see some pretty raw things sometimes in sports, just as we do in life in general. Right now, a lack of civility is the earmark of a lot of political campaign ads. A Little League coach recently was sentenced to jail for paying a young player to injure a player who wasn't very good so he would not have to stick him into the game. Disrespecting people seems to be the norm in many settings.
Christians may not agree with the political opinions of others or the beliefs of this religion or that one, but to translate that disagreement on positions or beliefs to disrespect toward another person somehow falls short of the example of Christ. Very few disrespected people are anxious to hear the viewpoint of habitual disrespecters.
I learned a new acronym during this series — PFP, which stands for "pitcher's fielding practice." How could this one have eluded me all my life?
The Cardinals' opponent, the Detroit Tigers, apparently needed more PFP than they had worked on during their break between sweeping the American League Division Series and the World Series. Once in each of the five games, Detroit pitchers either fielded balls back to the mound and threw them errantly or botched pick off moves with the same inaccuracy.
Announcers suggested the Tigers would undoubtedly start spring training with a singular focus: PFP.
Actually, the lesson to be derived is broader than just pitchers' being ready to field their position. It has to do with preparation.
Life lesson No. 3: Prepare well.
Most of life is more serious than a baseball game or even a championship series. It seems we start preparing shortly after birth and never stop. That's the nature not only of succeeding in life but making a difference in life. Good preparation is about representing yourself well in any endeavor.
In the Christian life, preparation is no less important to the Christian than it was for Christ. Lack of preparation stunts not only the effectiveness of service but often the ability to even render assistance. Maybe we need a class in church called CFP – Christian's fielding practice. It could be very popular.