Monday, June 04, 2012
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.