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LEADING OFF 1
The one player I hated to see step into the batter's box was Tim Raines, a speedy shortstop who played much of his career with the Montreal Expos. Tim did not swing a home-run bat, but he was a line-drive hitter who could hit for average, beat out ground balls for base hits, and regularly turn singles into doubles when the outfielder didn't hustle to cut off the ball.
Tim was one of the best base-stealers of my era. If you walked him or held him to a single, he was a threat to steal second and third because of his blazing speed and uncanny timing. Everyone knew that his coaches gave him the green light when he roamed the base paths. Tim was such a base-stealing threat that my coaches continually harped on me to keep him close. 'Give the catcher a chance to throw him out,' they said.
Tim worked hard to get into the head of the pitcher once he took his lead. I know he tried to get into mine. My number-one priority was to get the hitter out, but when I took my stretch and watched Tim inch his way to a bigger and bigger lead, I was supremely aware that he was a huge threat to go at any time.
Tim knew that I knew that he knew he could steal second base just about any time he wanted to. He also knew that he had flustered hundreds of pitchers over the years to the point of distraction. Distracted pitchers 'lose' the next batter by giving up a base on balls or delivering a fat pitch that results in a 'gapper' all the way to the wall. Believe me, you give Tim Raines a running start, and he could score standing up on an extra-base hit.
That's why I concentrated very hard when Tim took his lead off first base. I focused on the job at hand: keep Tim close, stay ahead in the count, and make good pitches. Don't make a mistake. Keep your focus.
I've tried to keep that single-minded focus in my Christian life. Focusing on God's Word has become so important to me that I work hard not to be distracted. I do that through prayer, fellowship, and regularly reading God's Word. I'm not perfect in these areas, not by a long shot. But these are all things we can do on a consistent basis, which will help us not be distracted by the everyday happenings of life.
What do you do to remain focused in your Christian life? Are you reading your Bible each day? Attending church consistently every Sunday? Participating in a weekly Bible study, especially a men's group? Don't forget: Satan knows that you know that he knows he can distract you with the 'busyness' of life. If the Great Deceiver can distract your spiritual attention away from God's Word and fellowship with other believers, he can run wild on your base paths.
Nope, you never want Satan even to reach first base. Punch him out with your best pitch---a single-minded desire to follow Jesus Christ.
Belonging to the Chatter Class
When the San Diego Padres called me up in 1982, I felt as if I was the greenest rookie ever to put on a big league uniform. For the first couple of weeks, I tiptoed around the clubhouse as if I didn't belong there. I kept my head down and my mouth shut.
Once the game started, however, I wanted to help out the team anyway I could, so I cheered from the bench. I guess I could still hear my old Little League coach bellowing, 'Let's hear some chatter, guys.'
So I chattered. I yelled at the opposing pitcher ('You're losing it, Two-Nine!') and jumped up whenever one of our guys made a great play or stroked a big hit. I was first in line to shake the hand and slap the back of our home-run hitters. In those days, the high-five, bashing forearms, or rapping knuckles hadn't been invented yet.
I guess my cheerleading bothered a few of my 'cooler' teammates. One time, shortstop Garry Templeton---one of the flashier players in the game---eyed me after one of my leather-lunged outbursts.
'Dave, calm down,' he ordered. 'You're in the big leagues now.'
I felt every teammate's eyes boring down on me.
'Sure, Tempy,' I mumbled. 'Anything you say.'
Later that night, however, I began to have second thoughts. Wasn't I playing a kid's game? Wasn't it funner to play baseball that way? What's wrong with having a good time at the old ballpark?
I decided that I would have a 'kid's game' attitude for as long as I was in the big leagues. Of course, I tempered my enthusiasm whenever Tempy was in the neighborhood, but by golly, I would keep up the chatter.
And I sure had fun doing it.
They Said It
'I bleed Dodger blue and when I die, I'm going to the big Dodger in the sky.' ---Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers manager
'Wait until Tommy meets the Lord and finds out that he's wearing pinstripes.' ---Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame pitcher
A SAD SHOW 2
Baseball fans think that when major league ballplayers leave the game---or are handed their pink slips---that we traipse off to our winter retirement homes in Arizona, kick off the shoes, and watch ESPN SportsCenter around the clock.
Believe me, even listening to Chris Berman say 'back-backback- back' can get old. For most people, loafing around is okay for a few months, but most of us are eager to do something, whether it's opening a pizza parlor or starting up a Web site that sells gum chewed by Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa.
Once the cheering stops and you have to reenter the 'real world,' it can be difficult to adapt, even if you have millions in the bank to comfort the blow. Some struggle more than others. Some of my former teammates didn't handle the post-baseball years very well. Alan Wiggins, a second baseman-turned-junkie, died of AIDS after being infected by a needle. Pitcher La Marr Hoyt was arrested at the Mexican border with a trunk full of drugs. John 'The Count' Montefusco was arraigned before a judge for beating up his wife.
Then there's the sad tale of Eric Show1 (rhymes with pow), who was a pretty good pitcher in his day, winning more games in a Padre uniform than anyone in franchise history. When I was called up to The Show for the first time in 1982, one of the first persons to greet me was Eric Show. As far as I was concerned, Eric was a borderline genius, who not only knew the Bible inside and out but could expound on philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Freud, and Kierkegaard. He was an accomplished jazz musician who self-produced several albums. He liked to think big thoughts and study God's Word intensely. I was a new Christian at the time---and a lightweight when it came to heavy thinking---but this charismatic pitcher took me under his wing even though I had nothing to offer him.
When we were on the road with time to kill, Eric invited me and a fellow pitcher, Mark Thurmond, to study the Bible with him. Those were some intense sessions. Articulate and self-assured, he could preach without notes at our Sunday Baseball Chapels or share his testimony on cue before church and community groups. Eric was such a natural born leader that I never minded when he challenged me to live a deeper life for God. As I said, he was one studly Christian.
Yet for all his biblical knowledge and leadership acumen, Eric was a hurting individual. No one, not even I or my teammates, knew he was struggling with drugs. Eric couldn't let his guard down, lest anyone think he wasn't the person that everyone thought him to be.
No one knows when Eric started abusing heroin and cocaine, but he had a couple of bizarre episodes after he left the Padres. The Oakland A's cut him after he couldn't explain why he showed up to training camp with nasty cuts on both hands. At the age of thirtyfour,
Eric was out of baseball.
It was a huge shock to hear the tragic news on a March day in 1994: Eric Show was found dead in his bed, the victim of a massive heart attack after taking a 'speedball'---a toxic mixture of heroin and cocaine. He was only thirty-seven years old.