Where baseball and life collide

Shared lessons of life and baseball. 

One of the baseball topics most written about is how the game relates to life. The similarities are easy to see. The lessons applied from one to the other can be almost limitless. After all, as individuals, we all see comparisons made through the prisms of our own experiences. 

There is a certain romantic idealism that surrounds the game of baseball. There's a sense of fairness attached to the idea that each side gets an equal amount of outs. What constitutes success is often subjective, viewed differently by each observer. There's an aura of myth and legend married to the objectivity of stats and facts.

Baseball on its face is a relatively simple game. But like day to day life, there's an undercurrent of variability that affects every event that takes place. Patterns emerge and strategies are hatched but outcomes are sometimes maddeningly unpredictable. 

A tiny pebble on the infield can dictate the result of a play, and that play could be the difference in the final score. How many times has a small, seemingly insignificant event in your life changed the course you were on?

While this subject can and has filled up many books, I want to talk about some ways the relationship between baseball and life really stands out to me. 


Opportunities come more often than we realize. We can have a tendency to think otherwise because we are only looking for the big ones that might present themselves. But in reality they can be large or small, frequent or random. You've heard of "seizing the opportunity". But to do that, we need to identify it first. 

In baseball, every pitch is an opportunity. Every at bat. Every ball hit to you. Every throw. Every game. Every season. Every practice. 

Some chances are bigger than others. Coming to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning is one that most players have dreamed of. It's the chance to be the hero. Making it to the championship game with a chance to walk away on top is another. Getting an invite or tryout for a team you've wanted to join for a long time won't happen every day.

Other opportunities are smaller in nature, like getting a routine groundball hit to you or being in the batter's box with a pitch coming your way. These are so routine that we don't even think of them on the same level. But that groundball is a chance for an out and the pitch you see could end up over the fence. Don't overlook the importance of small opportunities.

In life, we get opportunities just as often. Sometimes we don't recognize them because we are only looking for the game changers. But the routine chances can be just as fulfilling. Every interaction with someone is an opportunity.  Each spending decision. Every trip to the park with your kids. Every conversation with a stranger. Or every choice of how to spend free time. 

The biggest take away I've gotten from baseball regarding opportunity is that the little ones matter, maybe more than the big ones, because we see so many small ones every day. Taken together, how we appoach these chances can turn the course of our lives. Take advantage of the simple opportunities that present themselves.

If you are lucky, you might get up to the plate with the game on the line a few times in your career. But those 500 other plate appearances matter just as much. Often it's the accumulated chances that shape us for the larger ones. Taking care of business in those at bats will better prepare you for when the game is on the line. It could be the reason your number gets called in that spot. 

Taking care of the random chances that comes our way is often what leads to the bigger ones being offered to us. 

People in your dugout

You can't always choose the people you will be around. On a team, you might luck out and be surrounded by great people and personalities. Or you might be in a group of disconnected individuals.

That's going to often be the case in life as well. You usually don't get to pick coworkers and classmates. Family, customers, neighbors and other people you interact with regularly might be great or they might be difficult. 

Other times you have more of a choice of who you are around. Maybe your warmup partner before a game, your practice group or your group of friends.

When given a choice, surround yourself with people that want to be their best selves and want you to be at your best too. They are going to pick you up when you are down. They are going to celebrate when you are on top. They are who help you get through a slump and help you recover from errors. They will comfort you and motivate you. 

Some days you might carry the team. Other times, they will carry you. 

Yes, there will be tough people to deal with, whether it's teammates, opponents, coworkers or customers.  But don't lower yourself to match them.  Keep a level head. Don't let the heat of emotion drag you in the gutter. Don't take the bait. 

What you get to choose in all situations is who you are. Just like you should be accountable to your play on the field, you are responsible for your own character.  

Talent and work ethic

People start from different places. Some have a natural aptitude for sports, others don't. We've all known someone that could crush the ball with little effort in little league and someone that struggled to even make contact. Some people just start with an advantage. It's an inevitable part of baseball and life in general. 

We don't get to choose our starting line. You may start from wealth or poverty.  You might have a natural athletic ability while someone else is clumsy. Some are great with numbers while others may be more gifted with words. Some people have great role models while others may struggle to break out of a bad situation. While we are all running the same race, some have more huddles in their lane. 

The world isn't always fair. But you still have to run the race. Coupled with where you start is the work ethic and drive you develop along the way. Talent will give you a head start, but without honing it, you may see yourself at the back of the pack later on. For those starting from scratch, a good foundation of working hard, working smart and seeking out to the right teachers can get you on the right track. Working hard doesn't guarantee success but it can be an equalizer when done well. 

When I was a kid, math came easy to me. When I learned a concept in class, it stuck. I had high scores on every test. But I rarely did my homework. I thought it was a waste of time. For years I had no problem in when it came to mumbers. I regularly passed with little work. 

Then came pre-calculus and I started to struggle. The real problem was that over the years I'd never developed a good study habit for math. I'd thought it was a waste of time since I was skating by on my natural aptitude. But once I faced a real challenge, I wasn't prepared for it. I hadn't developed the tools to overcome my struggles. And I paid for it. That was the first time I failed a math class. 

Baseball is often the same way. Some people first pick up a ball or a bat and with little effort, it seems like they've played their whole life. Others can just struggle through the game, but through grit and effort become better. The two things that always frustrate me to see in baseball are: 

1. Seeing  those that have talent but don't work to improve upon it. Their work ethic is poor or non existent. On an individual basis it's their choice. But when you are part of a team, it's selfish to just be "good enough" when you can be better. 

2. Seeing those that work there tail off to get better but don't improve because they either don't have the right guidance or are too stubborn to implement good coaching. Practice is great, but practicing doing things the wrong way reinforces bad habits.

Work ethic is more than just how hard you work. It includes an openness to changing in favor of better methods. That applies to sports or your day to day routine. 

Talent will only get you so far if you don't create a way to nurture it. A good work ethic can help breakthrough a lack of natural ability.  It creates a template for growth no matter what position you start from.  

Success and failure

Baseball is often called a game of failure. It's been quoted and paraphrased so many times that the person that first uttered the phase is probably lost to time. That idea comes from the fact that a Hall of Fame caliber hitter gets out 7 out of 10 times over the course of their career. 

But does a pitcher fail to throw a strike that often? Or an outfielder fail to catch an easy flyball more than three times in ten? No. Neither of them would even make their high school team. So why is it called a game of failure?

Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports, especially at an elite level of play. But in reality success and failure are relative to an event, situation or individual. A hitter that has a .300 batting average is a successful hitter relative to the skill. 

As a hitter, swinging at a ball in the strike zone and missing could be considered a success for choosing to swing at a ball in the zone or a failure for missing it. Yes, most would consider that failure, but for a batter with poor plate discipline, swinging was a successful decision. 

A hitter that hits a deep fly ball that allows a runner to tag and score could be considered a failure to get a hit, but is usually considered successful because it put a run on the board. 

Only one team can win the championship. Does that mean the 2nd place team's whole season was a failure? How about the team that improved their win total by 30 games other the previous season? Or the pitcher that throws a complete game but loses 1-0?

I could go on forever. The point is that both success and failure shouldn't be looked at as black and white, as a singular event in a vacuum. More often than not, it's a much more complex equation with elements of both. 

Both success and failure should be acknowledged. If you fail to get a groundball that you should have had, it's an error. Own it. Then you can learn from it. Don't let that error turn into another defeat by making an excuse for it. You get better if you recognize shortcomings and use that knowledge to grow. 

Celebrate when your team wins. You should be happy when something goes your way. You and your teammates worked hard for it. Now think about all the "failures" the team had in that game. Every strike against your batters, every flyout, every error made, and every walk issued. But at the end of the game, the team was successful in victory.

To me, this is the greatest lesson that can be applied from baseball to your daily life. Without question, everyone has successes and failures every day and over the course of their lives. Whether you define yourself by those failures can be the determining factor in your success..

You might grow up wanting to be a professional baseball player, then wake up at 40 years old with a steady landscaping business, a growing bat business and a baseball blog. Is that failure or success?

You might have been married but are now split. Later you find that you get along better when apart and were able to have a stronger friendship. Is that failure of success?

You might not be able to put steak on the table every night, but you and your kids never go hungry. Is that failure or success?

Yes, there is much more to it than that. There are some incidents where there is a defined line. But most of life is lived in the gray area. What often makes the difference is the mindset you have. 

Swing away

Baseball is a great game on its own. It's the pursuit of a team goal through the efforts of individuals. While there are those that will disagree, I think it's the best sport ever developed. 

There are many lessons that the game can give you. And plenty of life experiences you can apply to your game. 

Take advantage of your opportunities. Be glad that you get to share the moments with your people. See your hard work pay off. And find recognize your successes. 

Whether it's at the plate or at home. 


Play ball



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