The impending arrival of April signals the return of America’s pastime, the great sport of baseball. There’s nothing like the smell of freshly cut grass joined together with the aroma of roasted peanuts. The silence of winter is broken by the sound of a THWACK as wood bat meets cowhide ball, and the WHUMP of a fist pounding a freshly oiled glove until it’s ready to field a grounder.
I love baseball for many reasons, including its lessons about life, leadership, and fraternity. Here are a few:
Moments of Consequence
While baseball is a team sport, it is full of moments of individual consequence. Whereas in some team sports (e.g., soccer) it’s easy to be anonymous and hidden in lieu of the team, individuals often take center stage in baseball. There are moments when a player can try to hide (think little league right-fielders), but they can’t stay hidden forever. At some point, it will be their turn and they’ll stand at home plate with a bat in hand and the world watching. And chances are for that batter, it will end badly. A good batting average is .300. This means that a great batter will strike out two-thirds of the time!
And so, while a player will have many moments when he makes contact with the ball and gets on base or even drives in a run, that same player will have more moments when he will take a long slow walk back to the dugout in defeated silence. He let down his team. It’s gut-wrenching. Learning to handle that defeat and be resilient is one of the best character lessons baseball can teach.
In fraternity, there are also moments of consequence; moments when the fraternity is counting on an individual player. The intensity of the fraternity or sorority experience can create those gut-wrenching moments because you just don’t want to let your brothers or sisters down. It could be falling short on a project, failing to meet academic standards, or making an unethical and haunting choice.
Of course, there will be moments of glorious success when a member can trot the bases as applause thunders around him. But how about those times in which he fails? How does he show his character in those moments?
Moments of Glory, Moments of Sacrifice
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied and two outs. The star player comes to bat and the crowd is shouting for him to send the ball over the left field fence. He obliges and launches a huge home run that wins the game. The crowd goes wild as he soaks in the glory of a momentous occasion.
It’s the next night. Again, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score tied and a runner on first. There are no outs. Th star player comes to bat and the crowd is shouting for him to send the baseball over the left field fence again. As the first pitch comes, the star player crouches down and bunts to ball only a few feet in front of the plate. It’s an easy out for the catcher who throws the ball to first. Meanwhile, the runner who was on first was able to make it to second. He is now in scoring position, meaning that all it takes is a base hit to bring him home.
The star player did the furthest thing from hitting a home run, but the crowd still applauds loudly as he returns to the dugout. Why? He just sacrificed his success so that the team had a better chance to win.
The next batter gets a base hit, the runner scores, and the game is won.
A fraternity can be a wonderful vehicle for individual achievement and glory. In fact, there is no sweeter feeling than succeeding in the company of your brothers or sisters.
A fraternity can also be a wonderful vehicle for invidual sacrifice. We all take an oath to an organization that we are expected to care for. Fraternity helps us learn the power and satisfaction of contributing to a cause greater than our own self interests.
In short, there will be times to bunt and times to knock it out of the park.
Many Different Strengths Lead to Success
Babe Ruth, widely considered to be the best baseball player ever, had a body type closer to mine than Bo Jackson, and that’s not a compliment. Baseball players succeed for many different reasons, all based upon the strengths they bring to the team. Some, like Ricky Henderson, use lightning quick speed to be a terror on the bases. Some, like Cecil Fielder, are as big as a sumo wrestler and can hit a ball into the next county. Others, like Derek Jeter, use their reflexes to field any ball that comes their way. And even others, like Cal Ripken, Jr. have such good hand-eye coordination that they rarely strike out.
A good manager will use players with particular strengths at opportune times. If he needs a runner to steal a base, he bring in a speedy pinch runner. If a left-handed pitcher has a better chance of striking out the batter, he’ll call to the bullpen.
There is also a science to how managers make out their batting order so that strengths are maximized.
In the same way, good fraternities allow their members to use their strengths as much as possible. Those skilled at the art of conversation are on the front lines for recruitment. Those who have strong fiscal sense excel as Treasurers. Good writers can put together newsletters for the organization. There is no singular skill set for a good fraternity member.
The Moments Between the Action
One of the primary reasons I love baseball as I grow older is the pace of play. This is also why so many people hate baseball. I admit, it can move pretty slow. But, at some point in your life, you may agree with me that slow is something to cherish.
The slow moments are often the times when friendship is strengthened. When you watch a baseball game, pay attention to when the cameras turn to the pitchers in the bullpen. It’s rare when they aren’t smiling or laughing as they pass the time waiting for their turn. The same can be said for the dugouts. Camaraderie is very evident in baseball.
And there is a reason why baseball is still the best spectator sport for families and friends. There is little to do between innings than to turn to that person sitting beside you in the tight quarters of a ballpark and just talk with them. Fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and friends and neighbors taking the time for conversation. Oh, how we need that more than ever.
The undergraduate fraternity experience is much more fast-paced than most people want or expect. There is much to be gained by cherishing the moments “between innings” when there is nothing more to do than to sit next to a brother or sister and talk about life.
For life, like a baseball game, is meant to be savored.
So, those are a few reasons why I love baseball and even believe it should be considered the official sport of fraternity. But, I’m biased. It should be noted that baseball certainly has its share of problems as well. The whole steroids issue is a sticky one, and I wrote about it a couple of years ago.
Despite those challenges, I will continue to watch and observe the great lessons the game can teach us. Count me among those who get a little extra spring in their step as the air gets warmer, the skies get bluer, and baseball players across the land take the field.