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Batting Not So Average

by Tim O'Hearn

It is spring again, when the tulips bloom, the rains come, and a young man’s thoughts lightly turn to baseball. It is also when this old man’s thoughts turn to destroying his already fragile knees by playing softball. Some people say that baseball is like life; others of us say that baseball is life.

It has also been said that baseball is the only sport in which you are considered great if you are only successful one-third of the time. The hardest thing in sports is to hit a round ball going faster than a car on a Texas highway with a round bat, and hit is squarely enough to miss nine strategically placed men. The holy grail of seasonal batting averages, the ratio of hits to times at bat, is to bat .400, to get four hits for every ten official at-bats. In professional baseball nobody has ever come close to even getting a hit half the time over a season. Most professional hitters are successful only between one-fourth and one-third of the time.

If baseball is life there must be a lesson for all of us in that. Is it really possible to be great in failure? If so, how do we react when we fail?

Everybody fails. Show me a person who is old enough to understand right from wrong and I will show you someone who has failed; failed to resist temptation. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8) I have sinned; you have sinned; he/she has sinned; we have sinned; y’all have sinned; they have sinned. No matter how you conjugate the verb, the fact remains that everybody sins.

Further, everybody has their own batting average when it comes to sin. When temptation knocks, some people fling the door wide open. Others wait for the second or third knock, and some people are able to resist for quite a while. We are, however, children of our father Adam. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12) Later in his discussion of sin and forgiveness, Paul admits that there are problems that bring his average down. “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Rom 7:19-20) They say that Ted Williams (the last man to reach that .400 seasonal average) could see the ball as if it was in slow motion. Yet there was something in him, like in Paul, that kept him from nearing perfection. He could see the ball better than anyone else, but he still couldn’t hit it. Paul could even recognize temptation and yet fail to hit it away. He achieved greatness, but not perfection in himself.

So, how are we to react when we fail? If I can’t bat 1.000 do I just stop swinging at all? Did Babe Ruth stop trying to hit when he knew that he could not get a home run every time? Not at all! Pitchers (at least since Ruth) have the reputation of being the worst hitters. After all, when you come to bat only once every five days (or not at all in “the league that cheats”—the American League) you can’t be expected to hit as well as the guy who comes to bat three or four times a day. Yet pitchers take batting practice. Even if they can’t hit .300 they don’t want to hit .000 either. When Steve Trout was pitching for the Chicago Cubs he sometimes took up to 200 swings in batting practice—a high number even for some regular hitters. If he didn’t know the scriptures he at least knew Paul’s mind. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:14) Just because we can’t be perfect, we don’t give up. We do the best we can.

There is one significant difference between baseball and life. While it is impossible to have a perfect batting average in baseball, and impossible to be perfect in life, we can still be on the record books as batting 1.000. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7) Because Jesus was perfect, we are credited with being perfect. Now, why can’t my batting average be like that?