Monday, July 14, 2008

Going To Bat

We’ve all heard it, “It is time to go to bat.” The metaphor of the statement is clear enough. It means it is time to get off the bench, walk out of the dugout, and step into the batter’s box. It means it is time to take a proactive stance where one has heretofore taken a passive stance. Consider the entire scenario. At that point, the man in the batter’s box is the only threat to the opposing team. Nine players, scattered throughout the field, exist for no other reason than for neutralizing that threat. And whether the batter is destined to score, attain a position of safety, or strike out, when it comes his turn, he must “go to bat.”

Sometimes life seems like this. We train and wait on the bench for our time. We long for the Coach to turn to us and tell us to warm up, that our time at bat draws nigh. Some of us were taken unawares by our initial time at bat, and struck out without a real shot at even tipping the ball. Now, we feel we are better prepared. Life’s decisions have honed our skills, wisdom, and intelligence, to the point where we are convinced that if we ever get the opportunity to step into that box again, we’ll knock the leather clean off that ball.

So we wait. We work dead end jobs, take under-graduate classes, and learn, learn, learn, so that when our time comes, we want to ensure that the ball is sent clear over the fence. Striking out is not a good experience and we desire to avoid it at all costs.

The terrible part of this wait is the Coach, just standing there, leaning on His knee. He never makes eye contact with us, seemingly on purpose. We know the forlorn look on our face might pull His heartstrings and He will give us another chance. But instead He keeps sending the same players to the box, completely bypassing us. You know these players well. They were the ones who didn’t strike out their first time at bat. Most of them were able to get on base, and some were able to hit a homer their first time. They are the Coach’s favorites.

These people, the brass, the salt of the earth, the bourgeoisie, they infuriate us. They behave as if they were not aware of their prestigious position in society. They patronize us with tones of affirmation, like a mentor speaking with his protégé, pretending like we are destined to be their equal, when in reality they know they are closer to nobility than we could ever hope to be. They have security, while the light of our hopes grow dimmer and fainter with every game we have sat through.

And then there are the others… the lucky ones. The ones who, with absolutely no training and no experience, the ones who slept through Spring-training, and showed up late for all the team practices, was fortunate enough with one wild, flailing swing, to make contact with the ball and get on base. These are worse than the brass, for at least the brass have trained and worked hard to earn their prestigious place. The Coach seems to favor these players arbitrarily, as if discipline doesn’t matter. Does the coach not see that their success was due to a spurious effort mixed with crazy good Karma? Once the wild flailing hit was made and they achieved “safety”, believing they have potential, the Coach then allows them to be sent to the good training houses, and assigns them personal trainers. Their fortune is made. Perhaps they were inadequate before, but the next time they step up to bat, it will be with status attained, and it will be with all the proper training. Training that we; of course, are not afforded due to our initial failure. Blessed with good luck that ushers them into prominence; they now bear the same polished repertoire as the brass.

And worst of all, there are those without any real skill or knowledge of the game, but have attained their status through political means. The Coach knew their father, so the son inherits a place of honor on the team, though their strikeouts is perpetually mounting to greater and greater heights. Ask him to name the accomplishments of Canseco, Jeter, Hernandez, or Chipper Jones, and you’ll only get a blank stare. And yet, the Coach keeps sending him to the box, an act defiant of all logic, yet there it is, right before our eyes.

So, you have the ones who have been given the resources to become successful, and have availed themselves of the priviledge. And then you have those who have become successful through a stint of good fortune, without any credentials to account for their accomplishments. And then those who; with talent hardly comparable to ours, are only deemed worthy through political associations.

And there we sit, still on the bench, right next to these guys. In a sense, you’re on the inside, but still on the outside. We can hear them discussing their methods of swinging the bat, how far apart our feet should be, or how far to choke up on the bat. And sometimes we bravely contribute our opinions, though we can be fairly sure we are not taken seriously. We are feigning dignity. Regardless of what we say, it will never be our signatures people will want on their baseballs. It will never be our names listed in the Hall of Fame. Indeed, we cannot see the day when online bidders scramble on E-bay trying to acquire our rookie card.

Oh, to have one more shot. After every game, we implore the Coach for another chance. We tell Him we have been training, the best we know how, with the resources available to us. He answers you only with profound silence and a completely neutral stare.

We often wonder, “If He isn’t going to use me, why does He keep me on the team?” Then there comes the crushing realization, “Perhaps He wants me to quit and walk away on my own, so it won’t be His responsibility. He no longer desires to be encumbered by an impotent player like myself, but is indeed too noble to kick me off the team. Perhaps leaving the team on my accord is the noble thing.”

But we find we cannot. Baseball has become our entire life. It is all we think about. We have studied it intensely, and we are somewhat renowned for our knowledge of the game. Only, we have never actually been permitted to play the game.

Sitting in the dugout, our thoughts are suddenly distracted by a crack of the bat. Another home run; pounded, of course, by one of the mega-stars. The ball flies over the fence. The scoreboard marquee displays a cute little “He Crushed It!!!” cartoon. The player trots around the bases, and with a look of satisfaction, takes a seat in the dugout right beside us…

Right beside us…

Odd, this is something we’ve never noticed. For all their work, and our idleness, we are sitting on the same bench. We’ve never felt the thud of the wooden bat as it collides with the ball, but we still wear the glove. We have no clue what elation it is to sprint down the stretch of baseline between third and home, but we still wear the cleats. We have never seen something we do trigger the stadium fireworks, but we still wear the team logo. We are still on the same team.

So, in the end, what is the difference between them and us? As long as the Coach lets us remain on the team, what is the attribute that distinguishes them, the team's aristocracy, from us, the dregs, the lower class, the proletariat?

The answer, like the metaphor, is simple enough… The applause.

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