“Keep your eye on the ball.”
I could not begin to count the times Daddy said these words to his baseball lovin’ wanna-be baby boy, yours truly. Why did I always forget? Were they really that hard to remember?
When the world was big and life was small, the countless hours spent in that old field behind our house proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the apple of Daddy’s eye. I was the one holding that bat bought for big brother, albeit far too low. I was the one swinging at (and missing) every pitch Daddy threw. I was the one making contact and forgetting to drive that ball on through once I did hit it. Daddy saw me. Daddy knew me. Daddy loved me. Daddy corrected me.
“Choke up.” Daddy wasn’t talking about clearing my throat. That big ‘ol bat was just too heavy for my string bean, seven year old arms. He wanted me to move my hands up higher and let that Louisville Slugger bear and balance some of its own weight. Could I be so amnesic as to forget his good counsel today? When the plank protruding from my eye is breaking my back, there is no way I can swing straight on. I’m gonna miss the mark every single time lest I loosen my grip, take my hands off that sticky base (that tape just never seemed to stay right), re-position myself, and find the balance that will help bear my load.
“Keep your eye on the ball.” I learned, not so quickly, that I could not be thinking about swinging when the pitcher let go of that ball. Swinging the bat had to be second nature. Technique and timing had to be reflexive. Slugger stance had to be natural. I couldn’t daydream – my favorite Loriland pastime. I couldn’t zone out, unless, of course, I didn’t mind a baseball to the belly. My eyes had to be fixed upon the trajectory of the ball at all times. That ball had to be the sole and primary focus of my attention when I was up to bat. Nothing should have been able to break in on the business between my big green eyes and that ball Daddy first bought for my brother.
But it did. Oh, how many swing and miss struggling times it did! So distracted. So unprepared. So forgetful. Why couldn’t I just look at the darn ball? And why don’t I remember to look at my Savior when life has me in the 50-consecutive-fast-pitch batting cages? Focus. Without it, I get annihilated by hard balls that really hurt. I strike out when it really counts every single time.
“Follow through.” My boxing coach began to school me on following through with my punches the other day. That’s what brought me back to backyard bouts of baseball in the first place. I heard Daddy’s voice echo in coach’s constant correction. I guess following through has always been problematic for me. Even after all the practice on how to swing, how to stand, how to keep my eye on the ball, and how to hit it, I still failed to drive that rogue home. Even after all the training on how to stand, how to move, and how to hit, I’ve got yet another skill to try and master.
Follow through – without which none of the others much matter even if all are mastered. Making contact will be of non-importance if my opponent doesn’t feel impact. No runs get batted in and no points show up on the scoreboard when the ball barely makes it out of the batter’s box. Every skill learned builds to this. It is the climax of all that’s been poured into me. This is it. Follow through is the last step. Follow through is, dare I say, the most important step. Daddy knew nothing else he’d taught mattered if I failed to follow through. That’s why he never stopped saying it – over, and over, and over again.
With that I ask for your prayers. I often still forget to choke up. The load is far too heavy and I end up with the weight of the world on my back. I constantly take my eyes off of my Savior and strike out when it really counts. I ever fail to follow through and I waste what he’s poured so much effort into with me right at the very end.
I just want to make it home. I don’t care if I get dirty. Truth is, I actually prefer that. At least then everyone will know I played the game. Clean or dirty, the hours spent learning, trying, failing, and falling in love with my Father prove to me beyond the shadow of any devil-induced doubt that I really am the apple of his very eye. Lord, may your words ever echo in my ears and give me grace to cross the final plate.