Adrenaline surging, I pause before stepping into the batter’s box. Our team is behind by three runs and down to our final two outs. Todd, our runner on first base, gives me a fist sign to slug it out. Glancing back, our best slugger, Steve, is taking practice swings in the on-deck circle.
I scan the field to check the outfielders; they’re playing deep--expecting me to try and smack one out. I smile inside as I find the gap between first and second. I want the homerun, but a sure base hit will give Steve a chance … and he’s the tying run. A long fly ball that doesn’t clear the fence is just an out.
I watch the first pitch, a called strike, just to gauge the speed of the pitch. I’m ready for the second pitch when it comes. I swing early to push it to the right side. The first baseman dives for it, but he can’t get it. Todd rounds second and coasts into third. The fans are screaming enthusiastically as Steve swaggers confidently to the plate--a homerun will tie it up!
The pitcher turns around to scan his defenders, taking a deep breath before stepping back onto the mound. He winds and throws and Steve hammers the pitch into right field. Todd trots home and I readily move around second to third. Looking over my shoulder, I see Steve turning it on--he’s going to try to stretch it to a double. The outfielder throws hard to second, but Steve slides in under the tag.
Now Marcus is coming to the plate. He’s pumped! Marcus is a power hitter; he’ll be swinging hard. I just hope he hits the ball and doesn’t strike out. I look to the on-deck circle and see Jim standing there--the worst hitter we have. My heart clutches, and I’m thinking “Come on Marcus, hit it out!”
Marcus swings at the first pitch. He’s under it; all that adrenaline increased the speed of his swing. It’s going deep to the outfield but it won’t get out of here. I’m poised at third—as soon as the ball is caught, I can sprint home and Steve will come into third. Maybe Jim will somehow get a hit.
I score. Turning back to the field, I’m astounded to see Steve not stopping at third but coming full speed for home. Time slows down as the throw comes in. Steve launches himself head first. If he’s safe, we’re all tied … and if he’s out, the game is over.
My mind races--I’ve known Steve a long time, he’s fiery, stubborn, and headstrong. “If they call him out, he’s going to come up with fists flailing everywhere.”
In slow motion, the umpire throws up one arm indicating “Out”; surging hope implodes like a popped balloon. I quickly move forward to restrain Steve, but some “twilight zone” Steve gets up saying to the catcher, “Nice tag--way to hold onto the ball.”
I stare as he heads toward the dugout. I’m just close enough to hear him say to Jim, “Sorry, Bud, I should have held at third; you would have hit me in.” Jim didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t at all sure if he was disappointed or relieved.
I yell after Steve, “Hey, man! I was sure you would come up arguing that call. I’ve played with you for years. No one hates to lose more than you do. And you didn’t say a word. This just isn’t like you.”
Steve looks at me for a long moment, showing a tinge of sadness that had nothing at all to do with the game, “No, Smitty, the old Steve would have done that, but not anymore--not since Jesus became the center of my life. I don’t do that anymore. I really am a changed man. I mean, I still like to win and I go all out on every play, but winning isn’t the important thing, you know.
“We’re a Christian team in a city league. We pray together as a team before and after every game. We don’t pray to win, but that somehow people can see, by the way we play, that Jesus makes a difference. It doesn’t work to preach at people, you have to show them a difference.”
I wondered at that all the way home. I wondered if anyone could see Jesus making a difference in my life. I wondered … and I prayed.
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