How Good Are You at the Small Ball?

(This is the fifth in a series on wisdom from baseball. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

Because it didn’t happen often, you would think I would remember every time it did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. However, I do recall one time, in high school, pretty clearly. I knew I made good contact on the ball, but as usual I put my head down and just started running. It wasn’t until I was almost on second base that I realized the ball actually carried the fence for a home run. I was so surprised, I’m not sure I even slowed my pace by the time I crossed home plate.

Baseball today is a much different game than when I played. The players are bigger and stronger, the gear is better, and there are some dynamic home runs. Yet despite all that, I believe it is still the small ball — walks, singles, bunts, sacs — that wins games. When it comes to winning at life, there’s application as well. Here’s what I mean


Do the Little Things

During my time playing the game, one phrase was constant — do the little things. That meant being good with the fundamentals of the game, such as making good decisions with the ball, being ready for the play, or minimizing errors. In life there are fundamentals too. Here are a couple worth mentioning.

  • Discipline—To become good at something, whether a skill or attitude, it takes discipline. The skill or quality produced by discipline doesn’t usually happen through a home run. It is the consistent single or double which creates runs and ultimately produces wins. In your career, it may be consistent excellence in your performance. In physical health it is diet and exercise. Whatever the circumstance, discipline is a key contributor to the results you’re looking for.
  • Manufacture Runs—Small ball wins games because it creates and leverages opportunities. Take the lottery for example. There are certainly some big home runs for the winners, but just because there is a winner doesn’t mean it is a good investment strategy. To manufacture runs means to create your own opportunities rather than wait for the big one. It means that you’re looking at life proactively, rather than reactively. And it means you are able to see the potential in the singles and doubles, rather than focusing solely on the home run.
  • Play a Team Game—Home runs are a solo effort, whereas small ball is a team game. It requires you to know your role, which sometimes means sacrificing your at bat for the good of the team. Your team might be the organization you work for, your church, your family even. Regardless, the attitude of small ball is ‘what can I do to make the team better?’ It means that you’re willing to put others ahead of self, and to help when needed. It is recognizing that by contributing to the success of others, you also contribute to your own success.


It’s How You Play the Game

We all recognize the phrase “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts.” We may be tempted to quickly dismiss this as a Little League consolation statement. But what if it is true? What if what really counts is how you played the game? Statistics track wins and losses, but stats never tell the whole story. A loss can be a success—an improvement from the last game. And a win can be a failure—not playing to your full potential.

In his book Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes, “The world is always trying to seduce us with the extraordinary. The culture fills our hearts and minds with spectacular dreams about hitting home runs, but life is about getting up every day and hitting a single.”

Home runs certainly create memorable moments and grab attention. But in the end, playing small ball — doing the little things in the right way — presents the best chance for being successful over the long term. So, how’s your small ball game?

Advertisements

But I Don’t Want To

One reality to living alone-if you don’t do the chores, ain’t nobody else going to either. As a task-oriented guy, not usually a big deal.

But then there’s these two things: mopping and dusting. What is it with these two? Does anyone else dislike them as much as I do? I won’t tell you my lack of getting them done in order to protect my reputation of being neat and tidy.

I’ve noticed something else. There are also some spiritual disciplines that I have the same problem with. Just like house chores, some spiritual disciplines are just more enjoyable, easier, or natural. Yet, when I make myself do the less enjoyable ones, just like when I dust or mop, I’m glad I did. Like the reflection of mopped tile, my soul feels cleaner and more reflective of God.

So how do we tackle these “but I don’t want to” chores and disciplines? It doesn’t seem to work to wait until the mood strikes or to just suck it up and grudgingly put them on the to do list, on which they seem to easily get bumped down. I’m not sure what would work for you, but I can tell you what happened today to cause me to dust. I decided I wanted to see clean, to see a reflection more than anything else. It comes down to choice, to wanting better, to having the end in mind, to not settling for easy. My want has to change.

The example I can draw from in a different area of my life is running. Right now, I’m back to running 20+ miles a week-haven’t been there in almost 4 years. I’m doing that to build a foundation that will prepare me to train for the longest race in my life next year. I want to run this race. I don’t always want to get up in the dark and run. I don’t always want to endure the summer humidity. But when I remember the end in mind, I get up and hit the road. And I’m glad I did when I finish.

What’s your end game? What do you need to decide you want in order to do what you don’t want to do? Nail it down. You’ll be glad you did.

31 Proverbs Highlights: #16-Character Pleases God

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him…Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city.  Proverbs 16:7,32 HCSB

God is more concerned about your character than your position. These two verses reveal a few things about character that pleases God:

  • God is pleased with those who pursue peace rather than picking fights or insisting on their position.
  • God is pleased with those who aren’t ruined by the pursuit of power but rather patiently surrender to his power.
  • God is pleased with those who discipline themselves even when capable of achieving rank or position.

It’s Always Election Day

Fear is a powerful emotion. And for some bizarre reason, we are drawn to it. We are intrigued by it. And if we are not paying attention, we can be controlled by it.

Think about which political figure you are drawn to or disgusted by. That drawing or disgust is most likely rooted in fear(s) of what the future holds for you, our country, and the world. And they know it; thus we have the fearmongering onslaught from every media avenue possible.

But this isn’t new. It’s just the largest example currently put in our face. Reality is, we face fear every day whether it’s an election year or not. Reality is, it’s always an election year. In fact, every day is Election Day.

We elect every day what fears to believe, where to place our fears, and whom we will allow to influence us with fear. This is exemplified by something as simple as your cell phone. When you get any kind of notification-text, email, social media, or call-what is your response time? Does it even cross your mind that you have a choice as to how quickly to respond? If you don’t respond when that person wants, or if you don’t reply to the latest post, or if you let that call go to voicemail, it is highly possible that fear has somehow found its way to your heart and mind. You’ve elected to live in fear.

Paul wrote in the New Testament that God doesn’t give us this type of fear. Instead, he gives us power, love, and a sound mind. But, again, every day is Election Day. God’s fear replacements are offered and accompanied by his presence, but we have to elect to give up our other offerings of fear and choose to live in his image.

Is this easy? It’s like anything else that requires growth; it takes practice. There’s a reason it’s called exercise or discipline. If you’ve been choosing fear every election day, then it’s going to take discipline to change your choice every day. It starts one Election Day at a time. It’s always Election Day.

3 Character Traits My Mother Modeled 

My mother was widowed at the age of 43. She lost her husband to a cancer battle that lasted less than a year. In roughly 18 months, she went from being a pastor’s wife with four children living in Northeast Alabama to being a single mother whose oldest daughter was going off to college, who still had three children at home between the ages of 11 and 16, and relocating to Southeast Georgia to start a new job. I don’t remember ever hearing my mother complain or show bitterness toward God. In fact, she modeled many character traits that illustrated faith and reflected resilience.

Dedication

  • She doggedly determined to finish the job that she and her husband started in developing their children into followers of God.

Commitment

  • I don’t recall her ever missing work. What I do recall is her bringing home work in order to get things done, to be a committed and reliable employee.

Discipline

  • Regularly I heard my mother praying or observed her reading her Bible through her slightly opened bedroom door. She not only led us in family devotions, she was disciplined to prioritize her own spiritual disciplines.

I call my mother blessed. I thank her for modeling faithfulness and giving her children a rich spiritual heritage for which her husband would praise her (Proverbs 31:28).

Practice, Practice, Practice

Tonight I was reminded of the importance of repeating fundamentals in any discipline to maintain the opportunity to be great, or at least to improve.

Most great accomplishments are the result of doing little things faithfully over a long time.

  • For a pianist, the little things include scales and arpeggios.
  • For a runner, the little things include hydrating and stretching.
  • For a journalist, the little things include listening and questioning.

You have disciplines, whether you see them as that or not. You may have the discipline of being a student, or being a mother, or being an employee, or being a dancer. When we stop to think about all areas of our lives, we maintain many disciplines. Sounds tiring. Hard to maintain.

So what keeps us honed, sharp, improving, growing? Not ignoring the fundamentals. Practice, practice, practice.

You want to be a faithful employee? Show up on time. Meet the deadline. Say thank you.

You want to be a faithful husband? Take your wife out on a date. Ask her what needs to be done around the house. Give her a kiss right now.

You want to be a faithful follower of Christ? Talk with God about other things besides your plate of food. Read His letter to you as often as you can. Talk with others about your faith in God.

We all desire to be great or at least moving in a forward direction. Remember the fundamentals of your discipline. Practice, practice, practice.