Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Joshua's Season

As I stated in an earlier post, Joshua had been playing on a travel baseball team for the last two years. However, the coach had decided to discontinue the team for the coming year. So we had to make a decision on where he would play. We chose to have all of our boys play recreational ball at Lyndon.

Joshua was randomly assigned to the Bluejays in the 12/13 year old league. To say that the team got off to a rough start would be putting it mildly. They couldn't seem to win a game nor even come close to winning, for that matter. Their team seemed to lack energy and excitement. While the team may have been struggling to perform, I was definitely impressed with the kid's behavior. The coach in the very first practice let them know that he did not entertain any language from the players on his team and if he heard any that they would not play. I was very thankful for his coach's stance on that as I saw and heard otherwise on other teams. From the start, there were no bad attitudes or issues of that sort from any of the players and I truly believe it was because the coach set that standard from the beginning.

Joshua's playing was adequate; there still seemed to be some kind of disconnect going on when he stepped up to the plate. He just didn't perform. Don't misunderstand what I am trying to say. Not everyone is going to be a great baseball player, and that is fine. We have always asked our kids to just do the very best they can, whatever that may be. Give your all; don't hold back. It was just this feeling that he wasn't quite giving 100%; like he was holding back something. The strange thing about all of this was that Joshua is one of the hardest working, disciplined kids I've been around. He is extremely competitive and usually does give his all. I continued praying that God would turn Joshua's hitting around, that He would build Joshua's confidence and that they would at least win a game.

So the season continued and slowly the Blue Jays improved, yet they still couldn't seem to win a game. One practice, about mid season, the coach had them all bring their favorite fruit to practice. Their hitting practice consisted of hitting fruit. The team had more fun that night then they had probably had at all their games combined. I don't know if the coach expected this, but the payoff from that night of practice was strangely fruitful. The next night at their game, the Blue Jays turned it on at the plate. They were on fire and played like we'd never seen them play. They had an energy and excitement we had yet to see them have. They played well and won! While I can't say they suddenly became this amazing team that couldn't be beat, they definitely turned a corner that night. They finally began playing together as a team, displaying zeal and confidence that hadn't been there before.

Little by little, Joshua improved. Little by little his confidence seemed to be coming back. He began to get on the base more than not. And if he could get on the base, you could almost guarantee a run. Yet, there still seemed to be something holding him back...

The last game of the regular season, the Blue Jays faced the Cardinals who were #1 in the league. At the beginning of the season, our coach had told our team that they would beat the Cards before the season was over. That goal had and still seemed to be unattainable.

Yet something completely amazing happened that night. Our team was completely on their game that night. The score went back and forth throughout the game. In the last inning, we were down by four runs. But the Bluejays came back and tied it! We were now going into extra innings!

It seemed from this point forward for every play we made the Cards couldn't. For every pop fly we caught, the Cards couldn't. For every hit we got, the Cards, couldn't. In short, we outplayed them and won!

While Joshua had had an error or two early in the game, he was on fire for the rest of it. He had some incredible hits, great base running and great defense.

After the win, the coach gathered them around and what I heard I will never forget. He said: 'I told all of you that we would beat the Cards before the season was over, didn't I? At the beginning of the year, I knew we were lacking in talent, that some of you were playing baseball for the very first time and that it was going to be a slow go. But I've always said that baseball is more about the heart than about talent. And that's what I saw tonight. I saw a lot of heart. I would rather have someone with a lot of heart playing for me any day than someone with talent and no heart. Also, Grogan and me--we had a little talk early on in the game, didn't we Grogan? He had a few errors and he was mad and down on himself. I told him 'are you going to throw away the rest of the game because of a few errors? Baseball is a game of second chances. It's a forgiving game. You got to look forward and focus on what is in front of you, not on what you did or didn't do. And Grogan did just that and look at the kind of game he had. Never forget that boys. It is the game of second chances.'

Okay, that is about the best talk I ever heard. I think he deserves a baseball academy award for that one. It suddenly hit me that he had just summed up what we had seen Joshua do for the past two years. Joshua is about as perfectionistic as they come and can get down on himself for the smallest mistake. This 'talk' was exactly what Joshua needed and exactly when he needed it. It was a break through. I realized in that moment that God had been hearing my prayers all season and was answering them in His way in His timing. He had everything under control. I knew in my spirit that something changed that night. It was the monumental breakthrough that we had been praying for him.

The tournament started the very next week. Being that we had one of the worst records in the league, we were scheduled to play the #1 team. Yes, you guessed it. We were set to face off against the Cardinals. The odds were totally stacked against them. To be able to pull an upset two times in a row would take an act of God.

Well, acted He did. Once again the Blue Jays won and it wasn't even as close this time! They outplayed them in every way, resulting in the Blue Jays picking off the #1seeded team in the tournament! Joshua continued to play well and it was an exciting night, indeed.

Two nights later, the Blue Jays won again, allowing them to advance to the semi finals of the tournament. At this point in the tournament, there were four teams left and it became double elimination. The Blue Jays were definitely the underdogs but we were ecstatic to have made it this far! Who knew at the beginning of the season we would be seeing this struggling team in the finals of the tournament? God knew, that's who!

Well, I wish I could write that the Blue Jays continued with their miraculous run, and won it all--wouldn't that make for a good ending? Unfortunately, they just couldn't pull it off in the next two games. They lost both and finished fourth in the tournament. We ended on an upbeat, though. In my opinion, to watch a team or athlete improve dramatically from the beginning of a season to an end is one of the most rewarding things to witness.

On a personal note, Joshua was selected to the all-star team, which couldn't have been a better way for him to end his baseball season. It was probably his best played game of the year. He was especially psyched to lead off at bat and play short stop. It made me smile to see him smiling and enjoying himself and playing his heart out. As I watched this game I kept remembering what his coach had said: 'I'd rather have heart over talent anyday...'

I realized this season had been about a lot more than baseball. It had been about recapturing Joshua's heart. It had been about getting out there and enjoying the game and doing the best he could and then being satisfied with that. It had been about learning to be okay with yourself when you make an error. He had learned that you don't look back, agonizing over what could have been, that you've got to keep looking forward, knowing that there is always a second chance around the bend.

Philippians 3:12-14: 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

One day after the season was over, Joshua said to me out of the blue: "I know why I was in such a hitting slump for so long."


It was like we finally had all the missing pieces to the puzzle. While I am not sure why it took two years for Joshua to talk about this fear he was having, I believe it was all in God's timing. He knew that Joshua needed this particular coach and this particular league for this particular season in his life to teach him these particular lessons. The lessons that Joshua learned regarding conquering fears, playing with his heart, and looking forward and not back are life lessons that can be applied to any situation.

God knows what we need when we need it. I am thankful that He listens to a mother's prayers and he answers them in His timing and His way. I am thankful that He cares about a twelve year old's baseball season enough to help conquer his fears and recapture the excitement and heart of the game. I am thankful for sports in our children's lives and all the things about life our children can learn from them. I am thankful for the coaches and how they have influenced each of our kids thus far. Our God is a personal God who cares about even the seemingly small matters in life. Oh, how I am thankful to serve such a God!

1 comment:

Brian said...

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