Monday, June 04, 2012

Athlete's Prayer





You’ve seen it. An athlete kneels down on the field and prays, or makes the sign of the cross before he steps into the batters box. And you’ve heard people say, "Hmpf! Does this guy think God will be more willing to help HIM win the game?" It’s a fair question, but I have to believe it’s asked more often by people who either don’t pray or who don’t understand prayer. Maybe you’ve been the one asking it. If so, I’ll try to supply you with an answer, because I pray before every game I play.

I suppose the first thing to tell you is that I never pray to God to make my team the winner.

(If some of my former teammates are reading this, they might be saying, "Well, I wish you had, Sully, because we could have used the help." Ha-Ha, wise guy. Shut up.)

What I do pray for are these three things:

1 – To play to the best of my abilities.

2 – For a clear head to make the decisions which will be best for my team.

And, very important...

3 – That no one be injured.

Now, I’m no mind reader, so I don’t know what goes into the prayers of other athletes, but I suspect that most of them are praying for somewhat similar things. I think there are very few who pray something as selfish as "Hey, God, make me the winner!" If that’s what they do pray, I hope they have a backup plan, because I don’t think God really cares one way or the other who wins. In the long run, does a game matter? Does who wins or loses affect anything important? Is victory - or defeat - remembered, by those who didn’t play, years after the game? Rarely, if at all, and even more rarely does it result in anything that redounds to God’s glory. And glory to God is the thing that matters when praying, even in a context as relatively meaningless as my softball games.

So, that’s why I end every prayer by saying, "I ask these things in Jesus’ name, for your glory, Lord. Amen."

Are MY prayers always answered? Do I always perform to the utmost of my God-granted physical abilities? Do I always make the right decisions? Is no one ever hurt? I have to be honest and say no, not all of those prayers are answered in the affirmative every time. But I’ll tell you that the fault is generally mine, not God’s. I have to hold up my end of the bargain, and sometimes I don’t. If I swing at bad pitches, or refuse to take what the other team is giving me, I can’t expect God to turn my bad judgment into a home run. If I don’t take the time to think things through, I don’t expect God to do my thinking for me. And if I step in front of a fastball, I deserve a dent in my head. However, when I truly put my heart into it, and I don’t just recite those prayers in a rote way as though it were a superstitious ritual like kissing a rabbit’s foot or stroking a four-leaf clover, and when I hold up my end of the bargain and try to bring glory to God in some way, my prayers have a higher success rate. In other words, when I do what’s right, I get what’s good.

(Does this always happen for everybody who prays? No. Some very serious and fervent prayers have been said by people, with every bit of their heart and soul behind the prayer, and the answer given has not been that for which they hoped. I understand that, and I don’t mean to imply that they were somehow deficient in their prayer and that’s why the person for whom they were praying did not receive the blessing they had hoped. Sometimes God has a greater purpose and plan than our hopes take into account, and sometimes we just have to accept the fact that we don’t have the capacity to always see or understand what good is going to come about in future because of the present tragedy. That’s just the way it is. And, if you don’t accept that premise, then anything else I have to say about prayer probably won’t make sense to you. Sorry about that! You’d be a much happier person overall, though, if you allowed yourself to believe it.)

The other important thing to remember is that people play games because the competition is fun. They enjoy the test. Figuring out the puzzle is part of the joy. Even professionals start out playing their games because they have fun doing it and enjoy the competition; the money comes later. If you know for a fact that you're going to succeed every time, where’s the fun in that? That isn’t a test. If all it took was saying words in a certain order, and then letting another higher being take over the controls, would that produce joy? God knows why we play, so He isn’t going to influence the outcome in a way that voids all of the good components of the games. And I'm fairly sure I speak for the vast majority of athletes when I say that I’m glad God isn’t some cosmic third-grade soccer mom handing out miracles as though they were trophies for showing up and having tried your hardest. You have to earn it, even if you pray.

I always say another prayer AFTER each game. I say, "Thanks, God, for allowing me the opportunity to have such fun." Hey, if you were God, would you listen to somebody who wasn’t grateful for the opportunities? Neither would I. So I can’t expect my prayers before the game to be given a friendly ear without saying "Thanks!" after those prayers have been given consideration, right?

What brings this all to mind is what happened on the field last week. I’ll explain.

I was playing with my new team, Quencher Tavern. We’ve had a few rainouts in our league this year, so we’re doubling up on the make-up games. Whereas our league usually plays Monday through Thursday, on one diamond of the two available at M Street, this past Friday there were six games scheduled utilizing both diamonds. So, while we were playing the 7:30 game on one diamond, my very good friend, Big Jay Atton, was pitching in a game on the other diamond.



We were winning our game handily. I looked toward the other diamond and saw a crowd gathered around the pitching mound. Then someone told me Big Jay had been hit in the face with a line drive.

My first reaction was disbelief. I’ve never known a better fielding pitcher than Big Jay. He has reflexes that make cats jealous. When he’s not playing softball, he’s a goalie in both hockey and soccer. Getting a ball past him is not an easy thing, and I had seen him snare many shots back to the box that would have left a big scar on other guys. I couldn’t believe somebody had hit one so hard that he couldn’t get a glove in front of it.

My next reaction was concern, of course. He’s my buddy, and one of the nicest people to ever step onto a field. I’m pretty sure you could ask everybody in the league to express an opinion concerning Big Jay and be hard pressed to find somebody who truly dislikes the guy. He’s always doing favors for people, offering to fill in when they’re missing a player or giving good advice when someone asks for it. He just purely loves playing, is a great teammate, a fierce competitor, and a very funny son of a bitch, too. Great sense of humor; he keeps everybody loose when he’s around. So, I became more and more troubled as I looked over at the field and the crowd stayed gathered around the mound. He wasn’t getting up.

Since we had our game well in hand, I wanted to go see what was up. I asked one of my teammates to take the scorebook from me and I walked over to the other diamond. I was hoping I wouldn’t see Big Jay with a face full of blood, spitting out teeth. When I got there, I was glad to see he seemed to be resting comfortably and wasn’t screaming in pain or anything. Joey Magee, another good guy, was keeping him still, checking him for signs of concussion. He was assured none of his teeth had been lost. There was an ugly set of scratches on his chin. They were in a precise row, and I assumed they were made by the stitches on the ball. This meant the ball that hit him was a rising line drive since Big Jay stands about six-seven.

There was nothing I could do for him by standing around gawking at his chin, so I decided to go back to my game. Before I left, though, I decided to see if his sense of humor was intact. I said something along the lines of, "How many Sullys do you see?" I think he replied, "One too many..." Whatever he said, he said it with the best smile he could muster under the circumstances, so I went back to my game.

Another ten minutes or so passed, and then I saw an ambulance pull up on M Street. They brought out the gurney. As a precautionary measure, they wrapped Big Jay up like a mummy before loading him onto the gurney. They took him off the field and drove away. His uncle, Jack, came over and told me they were taking him to New England Medical Center, and he was going to follow the ambulance. I thanked him for letting me know. I told him to call me if anything serious went down.

The main point of this whole mess is to tell you that I said a prayer for Big Jay, as I assume some others did. This writing is my payback to God for listening to that prayer. I just got off the phone with Big Jay. They kept him overnight for observation, but aside from being sore, he says he feels OK. He’s still there at the hospital, though, so I’m headed up to visit him in an hour or so.

As for the games this week, here are the scores.

Sonny’s Pirates – 7 QUENCHER – 2

QUENCHER – 19 Cranberry Cafe – 7

QUENCHER – 14 Bulldogs – 2


The loss to Sonny’s was our first of the season. They’re a tough team and they beat us fair and square. We may meet again in the playoffs; we’ll see. Otherwise, we continued our winning ways, taking our record to 7 and 1 on the year. As I write this, we’re tied for second place (there are seventeen teams in the league this year.) It’s a great squad and I’ll give them more individual props as the season goes on. As you can tell, I had some other stuff on my mind right now.

The Bombers were rained out, which is just as well considering I wouldn’t have had Big Jay to pitch in one of the games.

Off to visit my buddy now.

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. I'm happy to report that Big Jay was discharged from the hospital about twenty minutes after I arrived. He appears to be as normal as he gets.



34 comments:

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

Great post, Jim, and I'm glad Big Jay is all right. Having followed your softball exploits for a few years now, I'm kind of an Atton fan.

And of course, Cam Zirpolo.

How 'bout those Kings???

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

I think every player says a prayer when they see another laid out on the field, even if it's those simple words, "Oh God... NO!"
Sometime later, we're apt to go back and revise it and elaborate.

Jackie said...

Seeing Tim bow on the field is an awesome sight to me. He doesn't do it for Tim; if people really knew him and not just the stories the media spins about him, they would know that. He is a genuine guy...the real deal.
Offering prayers like you do before a game and a prayer of thanksgiving after the game is a testimony of your love for our Father. One talks to the One they love, and they certainly don't hesitate to thank Him.
I held my breath as I read about Big Jay (he is a big guy!) Reading what you wrote about him being a hockey player and a soccer player and a fine ball player, I can only imagine the hard and fast ball that had to have been hit to get past his fielding skills and hit him in the face. I'm glad to know that he's been released from the hospital. That was very sweet of you to go and visit him there. You are simply one of the best, Jim. Continued success to both of your teams. Take care of you.
Smiles,
Jackie

Craig said...

You remind me of this old post of mine. Pretty scary. . .

Knowing that Big Jay is 6-7, and seeing how he's constructed. . . that is one hefty dude (and what are his shoes - about a size 35?). A ball that would lay out a guy that size had to have been crushed. . .

I did pray for my team to win, once; but I was 12, so I hope I can be forgiven for that. . .

There is no end to the philosophical (and not-so-philosophical) conundrums associated with the practice of prayer. Most obviously, if God is omniscient (which He is), then He obviously knows what we need, without our having to ask (and frankly, I have benefitted on multiple occasions from His meeting needs that I hadn't gotten around to praying for, yet) - so why do we need to pray? And why does He tell us we should? Some of it gets pretty deep (deeper than I typically have patience for, at any rate). But, you know, Christianity is, at bottom, a relational thing, and if it does nothing else, prayer feeds that. And you know, it's not like He's a jerk, or anything. . .

wonders why they call him big J #stoptakingballstotheface.com said...

thanks jim for coming to see me...i can't believe they took my roast beef sandwich at security those bastards

Craig said...

And, while I'm thinking about it, I am completely, utterly mystified by the manic-depressive responses people have to young Mr. Tebow. I honestly can't recall anyone else who provoked such intense-but-opposite responses from the public - he's either 'God's Chosen One' or some kind of hypocritical show-off who should be buried alive in some psychopath's basement, and slowly dismembered over the course of several months. Almost no-one can seem to just say that he's a fairly marginally-talented NFL quarterback who seems to have some pretty exceptional intangibles going for him, and gee, wouldn't I love for my daughter to marry a guy like him?

I get that he's a very up-front evangelical Christian, of the sort that just implacably annoys certain 'sophisticated' types, but yeef, can we just step back and try to take a calm, rational view?

Yeah, right. . .

Daryl Edelstein said...

all in all .. I skimmed, hey, its a post about sports ..

Suldog said...

Craig - I could have done another three or four pages peeling back various layers of the prayer experience, and delving into the many seeming contradictions of what I had already espoused, but I chose to limit the theology to what I considered most important. And I don't claim to know everything there is to know about God, because if I did know that much, then I'd have to be God. That's obviously not a possibility, so best for me to leave it simple :-)

Michelle H. said...

Glad to hear that Big Jay is okay.

I recently wrote an article for a client about the Knicks and religious tattoos/bling they wear. I can honestly say, as I wrote in the article, that those players aren't interested in asking a higher power for a winning game. All they are doing is honoring their religion, showing their love and faith in God, and giving thanks that they have a healthy mind, body, and spirit to play.

Barbara Shallue said...

What a beautiful and concise explanation of prayer, Sully. I'm so glad Big Jay is okay!

Joseph Baszkiewicz said...

I bet the ball was in more pain than Jay.

GoingLikeSixty.com said...

re: praying before playing... self righteous claptrap. Unless you do it privately or inconspicously. Kinda like PDA which is meant to draw attention to participants.

Uncle Skip, said...

Really ...they took his roast beef sandwich?
Seriously, I've been known to say a prayer or two, usually after the fact because I'm not one for remembering to plan ahead.
I don't have an issue with Tebow doing what he does, either... or other ballplayers making the sign of the cross either before or after a play. Are they supposed to wait until noboby's watching?
Yeah, okay, prayer's a private matter between them and God, but it's not like they have to wait until they're in God's presence, is it?

Suldog said...

For those who might be wondering, Joey Baszkiewicz is Jay's friend and one of his other catchers aside from me. And his comment made me laugh out loud.

Suldog said...

Going Like Sixty - You're entitled to your opinion, of course. I didn't expect everybody to say, "Gee, Sully, you're the bestest there ever was!" Still, I think "self-righteous claptrap" is a bit harsh. By the way, what is "PDA"?

Craig said...

Wait a minute - the ball got hurt? I thought you said he got hit on the chin. . .

PDA is usually a shorthand for 'Public Display of Affection'; ie, couples that like to make out on the bus, or whatever. . . Altho, I've gotten accused of PDA for holding hands with my wife. . .

And again, I am the least bit befuddled by the notion that prayer is something so intensely personal and private that it should only ever be done away from the innocent eyes of the public. . .

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Sheesh, I thought all this time PDA was personal digital assistant. No, I don't mean hand job, but like a Palm Pilot.

Buck said...

...or who don’t understand prayer.

I fall into that category, FWIW. That said, this is one of the best pieces/arguments/explanations on religion I've read or seen. Not lately, I mean ever. Not preachy, just simple and straightforward, to the point. I liked it a lot.

I'm also glad Big Jay is as good as he gets (heh).

Quirkyloon said...

Aw, I always knew you had a very good heart. I have to admit I've been one of those people who questions the act of prayer in the public sports arena. And yes, "that" question always popped into my mind: "God cares about who wins?"

But now I sit corrected.

I have nothing against prayer and religions and spirituality. I am an avid fan of it all, it works for me. And I pray a lot.

But I loved your explanation that there might be a bigger picture involved and that's why prayers aren't answered as WE want them to be.

Nicely done and I'm grateful your friend is not seriously injured.

Cricket said...

Aw, Craig... I'm a bit surprised. cf Matt 6:5-6?

And anyway, nice post Sul, and glad Big Jay is ok. A ball to the face is no joke.

Craig said...

OK, point taken, Cricket.

But that really addresses the attitude of the pray-er, doesn't it?

It would be a different thing if Jesus were saying, 'this is a Gotcha to use on anybody who prays too ostentationsly', wouldn't it? I mean, the Log and the Speck, and all that. . .

Anyway, I don't suppose we should hijack Sully's comment-space with this; feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss it further. . .

Suldog said...

Craig, Cricket - Hijack all you want. I don't mind. I might actually learn something.

lime said...

so glad to know your friend is ok and the injuries aren't serious. saying a prayer of thanks for that now.

messymimi said...

Glad Big Jay is going to be all right, and your explanation of prayer is just right.

SarcasticTestGuy said...

I'm glad that your bud is ok (or will be).

You strike a chord in my common thinking with this line:

"...because I don’t think God really cares one way or the other who wins..."

I tend to think that God's idea of a "win" is often different from our idea of a "win".

Play well!

Jeni said...

I know if I were a player on some major team(that would be a sight, wouldn't it)I'd be praying for sure -"Please, don't let me make an ass of myself!" At least for openers. I believe most everyone who would find themselves in a situation -athletic event, or any other type of competition for that matter -would have some type of prayer going on just to ask for help to get through whatever was going on! For those who criticize athletes -or anyone else -who says a prayer, crosses themselves, or any other indicative thing that they believe in prayer and actually DO IT, I truly think those people are the ones who need to look around and be thankful for all around -from family to possessions, to talents and you name it -and respect those who do pray! By the way, speaking of prayers, the little girl from here of whom I wrote a couple weeks back was discharged from the hospital this past Friday and is now back home with her parents after a 90 day stay at Children's in Philadelphia and gaining strength in her recovery every day! Is that marvelous or what? The town where she lives (about 4-5,000 residents there) had a welcome home parade for her when her parents and she got home -fire engines, people from the town and lots of nearby villages turned out, most dressed in purple (Emmy's favorite color), waving banners, purple balloons, anything you could imagine to celebrate her homecoming! Some will say those of us who had a prayer or two -or a couple hundred perhaps some days for this little girl just happened to luck out but for myself, I prefer to believe it was the power of more than a few thousand people across the globe all praying for the best possible outcome for her, for her family. And, even though Big Jay was not seriously injured (thankfully) I will remember him too in my prayers that the pain of this injury heals quickly! Great post, Jim.

Hilary said...

I've never given too much thought to why athletes pray before a game/match/event .. probably because I really don't watch sports ;) but I think you've cleared up at least a passing consideration as to what might be said in prayer at those times, and why. I'm very glad your friend is okay.

Anonymous said...

I prayed for a no hitter and Johan Santana answered my prayer! Guess who?

Suldog said...

Sarcastic Test Guy - Yes, I agree. As Grantland Rice said...

"For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes not that you won or lost,
But how you played the Game."

Suldog said...

Dear Anonymous FFG - When I heard about the Mets first ever no-hitter, I wondered if you were in the stands. Glad to hear you were!

Craig said...

As re, 'God doesn't care who wins or loses'. . .

I understand what's being said there, and fair enough. It's certainly not as though God is a Yankee fan, or anything like that (I mean, duh; if He's a fan of any team it sure wouldn't be the damn Yankees). . .

But God has his own purposes in the events of each of our lives, which transcend our limited, human, 'earth-bound' perspectives. And it's just possible that some given sporting event may serve His purpose in someone's life, in some way undiscernible to anyone else. . .

Sorry if that's just insufferably 'theological'. . .

Or, you know, maybe I've just watched 'Angels In the Outfield' too many times. . .

Maggie May said...

Yes...... I really agree with the type of prayer that you suggested. I don't think God can grant one team's wishes and prayers over another's...... because they are probably praying to win too.
Same with wars..... I prefer may good overcome evil etc.
Food for thought and a really good post.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Bill Yates said...

Great post Jim!

i beati said...

good stuff- great games by the way basketbball