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Top of the First
What is it about Opening Day that stirs the souls of baseball fans? Is it the pageantry, Marine color guard, and rousing player introductions? Is it the peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jack? Dodger dogs and Brewer brats?
The Opening Day tradition was born in 1910 when umpire Billy Evans asked William Howard Taft, the president of the United States, if he would honor those in attendance by throwing the "first ball." Taft lobbed one to Washington pitcher Walter "Big Train" Johnson, who proceeded to toss a one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics.
Down through the years, every U.S. president except Jimmy Carter has thrown out the first pitch. Bill Clinton, not content to lazily toss a ball from the stands, promised that he would "burn it in there" when he took the mound at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
No other sport has an Opening Day tradition like baseball. The opening kickoff of the NFL season doesn't offer the same anticipation as the first pitch in baseball, and the man on the street couldn't tell you if the NBA season starts in October or November. (The answer is November.)
Baseball's Opening Day signals the start of a new season, a time when everyone starts with a clean slate, and every team can talk about their hopes and dreams.
I'll never forget the only time I was tabbed to be the Opening Day pitcher. The season was 1988, and the San Francisco Giants handed me the ball against the LosAngeles Dodgers in a packed Chavez Ravine. Starting for the Dodgers was Fernando Valenzuela, the premier left-handed pitcher in the National League. "Fernandomania" still reigned in those days.
We didn't touch him in the first inning. Then it was my turn to take the mound in the bottom of the first. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering fast and furiously, but I was ready for the Dodgers first batter, second baseman Steve Sax.
I leaned in and looked for a sign. My catcher, Bob Melvin, put down a single finger, then pointed toward the batter, signaling for an inside fastball. That was fine with me. Throughout my career, my bread-and-butter pitch was a cut fastball on the inside part of the plate. That pitch on the fists had broken the bats of many right-handed hitters. My left foot swept the rubber as I gathered my thoughts. I looked at Sax digging in for my first pitch of the season and thought to myself, Okay, Buddy, here comes my cut fastball on the inside of the dish.
Sax swung from the heels and hammered a line-drive home run into the left field bleachers, sending the Dodger fans into a frenzy. What a way to start the season! While Sax rounded the bases, I gathered my thoughts.
It's only one hit, only one run, I said to myself, as I threw my rosin bag to the ground. Let's settle down. We have nine more innings to play.
From that point on, I tossed a three-hit, complete game shutout—even doubling off Fernando—on the way to a 5-1 victory. What I learned that afternoon was that one pitch in the first inning doesn't make a game. There was still a lot of baseball to play.
What about you? Are you going through life haunted by something that happened to you years ago? Do you feel like there's no hope? Perhaps you wonder if your past mistakes disqualify you from serving on God's team.
Wonder no longer. Because of God's great love and mercy, it is never too late to get in the game. No matter what has happened in your past, God can wipe the slate clean and give you a new Opening Day—a future that is bright and enthusiasm that is high. Start off the season of your life today by seeking God's plan for you. You'll be glad you hung in there, just as I did in Los Angeles.
Bottom of the first
"AND LEADING OFF ..."
Major league ball clubs usually score more runs in the first inning than any other inning. As Yankee manager Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up."
Reason? I can tell you from a pitcher's standpoint that my nervous energy intensifies when the first batter is announced and I hear the decibel count rise. The leadoff hitter—usually a small, wiry second baseman or a rangy shortstop—spends the first fifteen seconds messing up the lines in the batter's box and digging a hole with his rear foot. He's eager to get going, but he's also eager to make you pitch to him. Most leadoff hitters come to the plate with a disciplined strike zone.
From the hitter's standpoint, the first inning is the "structured" inning. The manager starts with the top of the order, pitting a patient, solid-contact leadoff man with speed and bat control against a pitcher attempting to find his stride. The leadoff batter is followed by a number-two man, who can hit-and-run or work the count. This allows the leadoff man to get a big jump stealing second base. Many number-two hitters have a knack for fouling off pitches, which aggravates pitchers.
The number-three hitter is almost always reserved for the biggest bopper on the team who is not necessarily the best hitter for average. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. are your classic number-three hitters. Their ability to "go yard" or hit towering home runs has pitchers shivering in their cleats. Waiting in the on-deck circle is the number-four hitter—the clean-up man—who conceivably could be asked to clear the bases if he comes up with the bases loaded.
Teams blessed with power hitters have the upper hand, which is why the 1927 New York Yankees 3-4-5 lineup of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel was known as the heart of "Murderer's Row." Pitchers were understandably reluctant to pitch around Babe Ruth when they knew Lou Gehrig was swinging two bats in the on-deck circle.
I wonder what it would have been like to pitch against the Babe, a left-handed hitter. I was a lefty, so I would have had some statistical advantage against baseball's greatest player. Going against the best with the ball in my hand, a bat in his, would have been a superb match-up. That's what makes baseball a great game.
No matter where you are with God, this is a fantastic time to lead off with Him. He's "structured" a great life for you, giving you a wonderful opportunity to step up to the plate and take your hacks. He has put you in the perfect place in His lineup.
All too often we compare ourselves with others and see nothing but shortcomings. We wish we were wittier, more intelligent, better looking—or we dream of being all-star baseball players. But God has a place for you—a place perfectly suited for your abilities and personality.
When I lost my arm to cancer, I wondered if God still had a role for me, a place in His batting order. I needn't have worried. God had a spot reserved for me, which is ministering to cancer patients.
I know He has a place that is special and unique to you, a spot that has significance for eternity. It is only when we reflect upon this truth that we can truly be at peace with ourselves, secure in God's strategy.
His plan for your life begins today, so go grab a bat.
Copyright © 2001 Jimmy Houston. All rights reserved.
|Foreword by Randy Johnson||9|
|Introduction The First Pitch||10|
|1st Inning Top of the First: Opening Day Bottom of the|
|First: "And leading off||"||16|
|2nd Inning Top of the Second: The Sermon on the Mound|
|Bottom of the Second: Becoming a "Five Tool" Player||26|
|3rd Inning Top of the Third: What Shape Are You In? Bottom|
|of the Third: Rabbit Ears||36|
|4th Inning Top of the Fourth: Leading Off First Base Bottom|
|of the Fourth: Déjà Vu All Over Again||46|
|5th Inning Top of the Fifth: It's Still Cheating, Even If|
|You Don't Get Caught Bottom of the Fifth: Hitting Is Such a||56|
|6th Inning Top of the Sixth: Home Sweet Home Bottom of the|
|Sixth: Like Father, Like Son||66|
|7th Inning Top of the Seventh: The Relievers Bottom of the|
|Seventh: Playing on the God Squad||76|
|8th Inning Top of the Eighth: They Call Him "The Iron|
|Chipmunk" Bottom of the Eighth: Sandy Koufax, My Hero||86|
|9th Inning Top of the Ninth: Don't Forget to Touch Them All|
|Bottom of the Ninth: The Shot Heard 'Round the World||96|
|Extra Innings Little League Baseball If It Weren't for|
Posted February 19, 2004
This book is called Play Ball by Dave Dravecky. The book was written through his own motivation. The book was ok but I didn¿t like it much. I would recommend it to people who need help in there life. The reason being is that it was a religious book that had to do with keeping your life in order. So if you don¿t like religious books don¿t read it because it talks about God and church quite a bit. The author, Dave Dravecky, wrote this book dealing with the game of baseball. He went inning by inning telling something about baseball and how it is related to people in their lives. There are two reasons why he wrote the book with a baseball theme. He was a former MLB pitcher for many different teams. Also when growing up his dad often told him how the game of baseball was similar to life. He wrote this book also through his own life. His idea to write the book came about after he had learned he had cancer in his pitching arm and it had to be amputated. He then realized all the struggles in his life and the person he turned to, God. He told stories of baseball buddies and the bad things they have done, and said things like, ¿If you look to God you may find your answer.¿ So he was looking to make people better than they were. So that¿s why I gave the book an ¿ok¿ ratingWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2003
If you are a baseball fan and a Christian, this book is a must read. Dave Dravecky has done a wonderful job of marrying baseball lore with biblical wisdom. He leads us through nine-plus innings of stories from the ballpark, expanding on each as an analogy for the Christian walk. With quotes from the Bible and assorted baseball legends, bite-sized stories and lessons, colorful photos and the odd dash of humor, this book should be on the coffee table of every Christian baseball fan. Larry Hehn, Author of Get the Prize: Nine Keys for a Life of VictoryWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 17, 2002
Great book! I've read it many times since I got it, and every time I read it again I enjoy it and get something out of it. The pictures are great too. It is very well organized, and keeps your attention.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.