A few years ago I was coaching baseball in Ohio. I was standing in the mouth of the first base dugout watching play when the other team sent up a little kid that had been on the bench all year. He played for a very cut-throat, competitive team and rarely got in the game. His coach was a big “win-at-all-costs guy” everybody called Chopper. Chopper was not from the “play everybody” school of baseball coaching.
The little guy was way down in the count when our pitcher decided to put him away with a change-up. It was very common for the off-speed pitch to work to strike out guys who were behind in the count and they had taken a strike or swung at a fast ball and were a little late. The earlier pitch had been a fast ball.
Chopper growled; “Raplhy, you have to swing earlier. You’re way behind.”
“Did you hear me, get the bat off your shoulder,” Chopper barked.
I signaled our pitcher to throw a change up. Part of me wanted the game over on a strike out. Part of me didn’t want to win at the expense of this little guy. Slowing the ball down was just what Ralphy needed. He closed his eyes and took a full shoulder-to-shoulder cut at the ball and mercifully, miraculously made contact.
The ball trickled down the third base line too fast for the catcher to get to it, too slow for the third baseman to field it. Our pitcher reacted late, and for the first time in his life Ralphy reached first base. My heart rejoiced for him. He immediately began to exalt in his success. He was jubilant. He was hollering to his mother in the stands, jumping up and down and openly confessing that this was his first time on base all summer. “I can’t believe it,” he kept saying. “I can’t believe I finally got on base.”
What happened next was a nightmare. I knew what would happen before it did and it all unfolded frame by frame, like slow motion. Our pitcher was irritated that the boy got on base and he would have to pitch to the top of the order. Their lead off batter had gone four for four on the day.
Little Ralphy hopped off first taking a big lead toward second still chattering about his good fortune. Our first baseman started to talk to him. Ralphy was in a good mood ready to make friendly conversation. Our pitcher stepped back from the rubber looking steadily over toward first, making no attempt to conceal his intent. Ralphy never saw it coming. Our first baseman casually walked between Raphy and the bag. Our pitcher pegged the ball over and picked him off. Raphy was clueless until he heard the ball slap into the glove. He never even took a step toward first. He just dropped his head and walked back to the dugout.
The boy was on our hated rival team and we deserved the win but I wanted to cry. He spent his whole summer waiting for his moment in the lights and got picked off on the first throw over.
Sometimes it is an unforgiving, cruel world we live in. Never let down your guard. Never get lazy. Never stop thinking. Never stop praying. Never stop seeking God. Your adversary is always trying to dream up new ways to pick you off before you get into scoring position. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8)