|The moment when you run and don't look back|
(By the way, Ichiro=childhood hero)
Getting to heaven is like getting to second base.
For the guys out there whose mind is in the gutter and reads that wrong, go to confession. Just kidding, but hear me out and let me explain.
This morning at Men’s Group, we got into a great discussion on whether heaven exists or not. Then one of the guy’s had this great analogy that in baseball, if a base runner wants to steal second, he has to take a couple steps away from first, to get a good lead off. In faith, first base represents what is safe, what is comfortable, something we know. Get caught with our pants down, we dive back to it. But as we learn more and more about our faith, and begin to trust a little bit more and trust a little bit more, we take one step out from what’s safe, and then maybe another step out, then another. Then there’s a point where you can only get out so far before we have to make that decision to sprint to second. What holds a guy back is the fear of getting out. He doesn’t want to step too far away from first, from what’s safe. The other fear is fear of getting called out once we try and sprint towards second. To fail and get tagged out when we get there.
Back in my baseball days, I used to have both these fears. Not getting too far away from first in fear of getting caught, and then not wanting to run in fear of getting thrown out at second. I remember the coaching I received about stealing. My coach told me my first few steps are the most important. In baseball, we call it getting a good “jump”. It was bout kicking off my left leg to cross over my right to gain momentum. Coaches used to tell me, “You steal second with these first few steps, not your last” emphasizing the importance of a good start. Timing it all right as the pitcher is in his rotation. Probably the most important lesson I got about stealing was that once I’m running, I can’t look back or worry about getting thrown out. Coaches would tell me to put my head down in my initial sprint. Look up briefly once halfway there to see if there’s a throw and slide well. Safe!
I became really, really good at stealing bases. I was that fast Filipino that pitchers hated. I often hit leadoff and usually got on base (mostly from walks---I had such a small strike zone it was hard for pitchers to squeeze one through.) Once on base, my third basemen coach almost always gave me the sign to steal---cap, left ear lobe, swipe on chest. Two stride steps out, bent knees, pitcher starts his rotation, I take a big jump, run fast with head down, look over, slide, safe!
Once I got good at stealing second, stealing third was often in the game plan. My most memorable moment of stealing was in Little League and I was a base runner on third base. It was a 1-1 game for several innings spilling into extras. It seemed like neither team could get hits or runs produced the whole game. With two outs, bottom of the inning, coach took me aside while the other team called a time out.
“Matt, I want you to steal home. We’re going to be in this game forever. We can win it right here. Pitcher’s throwing wild. Get a good lead-off, and next wild pitch I want you running. Sprint as fast as you can and slide in there. Think you can do that?”
“OK, I believe in you.”
Holy crap. We’re in the playoffs and this is how we’re going to win this game? I tried to get a good lead off, not trying to look suspicious. Pitcher looks at me, then throws home. It hits the dirt passing the catcher. I was frozen, scared to steal. Stealing second is one thing where you’re beating a throw from home across the diamond, but trying to out run a catcher who’s already there waiting for you? This is a baseball lion’s den. I look back at my coach with concern. He bug-eyes me, raising his eyebrows, looking at home plate, back at me as if to say, “Did you not remember our talk? We’re counting on you.”
Pitcher gets the ball back. He throws in two more strikes, count one and two. He spits some of his Big League chewing gum in his mouth. Whew, OK, this is it, Matt. I walk out from third base to get a good lead. All or nothing. He looks at me, then looks at the catcher. My heart is pumping, “Don’t think about getting out, don’t think about getting out, don’t think about getting out” is running through my head. He begins to lift his leg for his wind up, throws, and it lands wide left. My coach yells, “Go!” My left leg crosses over my body and I put my head down sprinting my little Filipino legs as fast as I can. Fear is in me. A fury of screaming words mixed with each other in those few seconds. “You’re running to your doom!” “You can do this!”
I see the catcher recover the ball from the backstop, rushing towards the plate right at me. He’s nearly there but I’m already in my diving stance, ready to slide. He throws his glove arm at my foot to tag it, but my heel grazes home plate just in time. Dirt goes everywhere. The umpire takes his mask out, steps out, and motions his arms outward. “Safe!” he yells.
My team dugout explodes. Parents in crowded bleachers behind home plate are cheering. My teammates grab me, hug me, hit my helmet. They pick me up. “We won! We won! We won!” they scream. One of them screams, “Did that just happen?!?”
It was a moment of bliss. A moment of glory. A moment of heaven.
In our faith, sometimes we have to stop thinking, stop worrying about being called out. Michael Jordan didn’t make all the shots he ever took, Tiger Woods never birdied every hole, and Peyton Manning doesn’t complete all his throws. Going back to church or praying can feel the same way. It may not always be a great experience, and probably won’t be the first time. Picking up a rosary or getting in the car for confession may be the last thing we want to do when ESPN is on.
We have to step away from what’s comfortable, one step at a time, until we just have to leap, sprint with our head down and not look back. Because don’t we all want to reach safely in our eternal home one day. We won’t get there unless we take that first step.