FEBRUARY 2013 - SOFTBALL AND THE LIGHT
Eighteen years ago, I had the privilege of playing softball with the college team at Florida Christian College. I worked in the administration there. I guess you might say I was the geezer factor on the team. Though I was never what would be considered a good athlete, I was a pretty good softball player. I knew how to play the game and played hard and smiled a lot. I tried to share that same joy of the game and knowledge of the game with the guys.
The local parks and recreation department called us one fall and asked if we wanted to play in a different league to fill out the list of teams. We weren’t as good as many teams and it seemed a little iffy whether it was a good idea. That league would not be a church league like we were used to playing. We all loved playing so we agreed. We would be the sacrificial lamb for the other teams. If we could have some fun and influence for God while playing that would make it worth it.
We were beaten a lot, but we won some games too. At the end of each game, it was tradition that the two teams would file by each other and smack hands or whatever and tell each other “nice game.” Then each team would go to their dugout and that was it. We always prayed before each game that God would be with us, keep us safe, and help us to play our best. We also asked him to keep our attitudes positive and give us a chance to be an example for him.
I suggested to the guys that when we were done filing by each other at the end of each game that we swing around to the beginning and ask the other team to pray with us. We really didn’t know how they would react, but we did it. After each game, we asked the other players to pray with us. Every team did, except one. They gave us that, “Are you kidding, look?”
That team finished in first place and we finished in fourth place. The second place team was made up of workers for a major airline. We got along with them great and our two teams liked each other. But nobody liked the first place team.
The season ending tournament would be a one-night single elimination event with the first and fourth place teams playing and the second and third place teams playing. The two winners would play for the championship.
What I am going to tell you happened in the tournament doesn’t really matter outside of that league on that night, but for all who were there, it mattered a lot, especially to us at Florida Christian College. You see, being a small school, we very rarely won anything in interscholastic sports, or any other sports.
We drew the team no one liked in the first game. They were cocky, arrogant, and basically thought they had the game won before we played it. In the second inning, I was coaching first base and saw one of those rare plays unfold in front of me. We had a man on second when a medium range fly ball was hit to left center field.
The guy on second had been a scholarship basketball player at Clemson and was tall, quick, and fast. I could see it coming. He had done the same thing once before. It all lined up in front of me, the runner, the catch, the throw. The runner tagged on the catch and took off. He rounded third and kept going. He scored standing up.
The other team stood in disbelief. The catcher came roaring out from behind the plate and started screaming to throw the ball to second. He just kept yelling at the top of his lungs. His teammates knew the runner had not left early, but finally they threw the ball to the second baseman on the base at second. The umpire called the runner safe.
The catcher lost it. It was disgusting. He totally lost it. He was cursing the umpires, ranting and raving that the runner was out. The language was really bad. We watched as he went on and on, thinking it was just one play in the second inning. The catcher was tossed from the game. In the dugout he had not slowed down. Yelling profanely and throwing things. He was told to leave the field and was banned from the park for a year.
The other team was embarrassed by the display. They were definitely not ready to play after that. We beat them and moved to the championship game. As usual the team we beat didn’t pray with us. We would play the second place team, the team we liked. They liked us too.
We kept up with them through the first four innings. And finally took a small lead in the top of the fifth of seven innings. When we came off the field to bat in the top of the sixth, I gathered everyone around me outside the first base dugout. I told them we had the game in our grasp if we continued to work together and to press hard to the end. I told them if they got me three runs in the top of the sixth we were going to win that game. I sensed it. We scored three. So we entered the bottom of the sixth and the other team got two runs.
It was now the top of the seventh, the last inning. I gathered everyone again. I told them we needed to get just three more outs and we would be the champions. No one thought we could do it, but we were almost there. Just three more outs. I told them again that if they got me three more runs we would win the game. They were pumped! We scored three runs.
In the bottom of the seventh, the other team hadn’t scored and had a couple of runners on base and there were two outs. I kept thinking, “One more out. One more out and this will be a testimony for all to see of how to win and do it in the name of God.” When the next hitter hit a pop up to shortstop, I kept saying, “Catch it, catch it, catch it!” We all watched it go up in the lights and come down. When the shortstop squeezed the ball in his glove, we had won!
I will never forget it. Everyone raced to the pitcher’s mound and jumped in a pile yelling and rolling around in the dirt and congratulating each other. It might have been a little overkill for a softball league, but our guys might never get a chance like that again. Besides we weren’t supposed to win.
No the old geezer didn’t jump in the pile; I wanted to come away in one piece. But I stood by the pile smiling because of what they had accomplished.
Now here is a really important part of the night. After the initial pileup, we still needed to do the file by with the other team. They were genuinely glad for us. It was real. When we peeled back around and asked them to pray with us, they were waiting for us to ask. They wanted to share the moment with us that way. It was great! After I prayed, one of the men on the other team asked if he could pray. Are you kidding me? Did he just ask that? When he prayed, he thanked God for the chance to play with such good young men and asked God to bless them as they prepared for service.
They gave us a trophy and T-shirts, but they don’t capture the victory we had. We brought some light to the darkness that night.