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In Praise of Sucking: An Ode to Softball

By July 1, 2016 4 Comments
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For the first time in a long time I’m playing rec league softball. It’s a minor miracle, really. Two years ago I blew out my patellar tendon dunking a basketball, and now I’m running the bases. I don’t run hard, but I’m running none the less. The great thing about our team is that we suck. We’re terrible. Think about it… professors, a coffee shop owner, a couple of Canadians… I mean, really, Canadians? They don’t play softball, do they? We’re great at getting two outs, but then we usually give up the ten run inning limit. I think it’s ten, but who’s keeping track. When you suck at something you really aren’t that concerned with how you look. Take my buddy, for example. Shortstop?  Outfield? It doesn’t matter—it’s an adventure. He even broke his finger fielding a ball. Of course I made fun of him for complaining about it, but hey, I didn’t know it was broken.

And then there’s this other guy—loves the game, tells stories about the glory days of the one home run he hit in Babe Ruth. He likes to yell at us when we’re up at the plate, letting us know there’s a big hole in left. A big lefty, he usually pulls it—to right. He’ll hit it hard, but it’s usually a single.  There’s really only one good player on the team, by that I mean there’s one player other teams might actually want to play for them. He can run, hit, throw, everything you want in a ball player. His wife and kids usually come to the game. I’m convinced it’s because our suckiness makes him look good.

Me? I either pitch or play first. I can’t run very well, although I have scored from second a few times. I have deceptive speed. By that I mean my compression sock makes people think I run faster than I do. It psyches people out. One time I hit it to the shortstop, he bobbled it twice, didn’t bother throwing it because my sock made him think I had supersonic speed. (The Lebron James effect). He could have rolled the ball to first and got me out. I’m a decent pitcher but that just means I put it where they hit it. My job is to throw the pitch and then watch as my team either lets it fall in front of them, or makes an error. Sometimes I’ll yell at a player, but they’re not afraid to yell back. The other team doesn’t always know what to do with us. They’re used to teams yelling encouragement; they don’t know what to do with a team that yells at each other.

What’s my point? As much as we suck, I wouldn’t want to play for any other team. We have fun, we enjoy being around each other, we’re not trying to one up each other.  Which has me thinking about what it means to live as the Christian community. What if we all embraced our suckiness? It seems like a good community should make a lot of room for sucking because it is in sucking that we find laughter and joy—we let down our guard, we try things we’re not good at, we let ourselves play in the truest sense of the word. Sometimes making space for sucking can even lead to triumphant success.

Early in our marriage, before children, my wife and I played on a co-ed softball team. I was ok, my wife, Tamara, was terrible. She didn’t play softball in high school, but game after game she gave it her all. There was this one game, though…let me set the scene: two outs, bottom of the last inning. Our team is up by one with runners on second and third. I’m playing left, our best athlete is playing center, and Tamara is playing rover in between so we can help her out. Up to the plate steps this monstrous, arrogant, former minor league baseball player. This guy was so insufferable that his own teammates were sick of him. The pitcher lets it go and the guy hits a screamer—a line drive straight to left center field. The center fielder and I froze—helplessly watching as the ball headed straight for Tamara. Taking two steps forward, she stuck up her glove, turned her head and closed her eyes… thump. The place erupted in jubilant laughter as Tamara fell to the ground, crying. Everyone, including players from the other team, gathered around, congratulating her and giving her high fives. It was the greatest achievement of her illustrious softball career.

Every once in a while after watching an athlete make a miraculous play to win a game, Tamara will bemoan the fact that she’s not very good at sports, and she’ll start to say that she will never experience what it’s like to win a game. Then I remind her: summer, 1998, two outs, up by one, runners on second and third…

 

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

4 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Delighting so hard my eyes are wet.

  • Dan Vermeer says:

    Timmy Lupis moments are the best moments!

  • Amory Jewett says:

    Oh my, being rather unathletic myself, I can identify with your story. lol Thank you, Jason, for illustrating the beauty of love and acceptance that can occur while living in Christian community.

  • janvank says:

    Sitting here chuckling through your entire story. I’ve played softball all my life and have had a couple of those “summer, 1998, two outs, up by one, runners on second and third…” moments that uplift me every time I think of them. Thanks for the pure delight in and of this post.

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