Seven Lessons Baseball Teaches Us About Life

As a die-hard baseball fan in Boston, MA, America’s pastime is a way of life. It represents a legacy that has spanned over a century, capturing the hearts of millions. It is a pillar that has shaped my childhood, bringing me back to summer nights at Fenway Park, standing hand in hand with my grandfather as I gazed up at the Green Monster. It unifies people from all walks of life, bringing family, friends, and complete strangers together to share and cherish the bond that holds our city together. To me, baseball is the culmination of all that is good.

As we move further into March and the earth awakens from its painstaking, five-month slumber, so begins the upcoming season and all the hope and excitement with which it is associated. It is a feeling that transcends the sport of baseball and is, like life, an opportunity to turn the page on yesterday and carve out a stake in history, to buckle up for the ups and downs, the walk off wins, and the obstacles that must be overcome to raise up the World Series trophy in October. Each season is a tale of failures, successes, and perseverance, depicting on the grandest stage the qualities that exemplify excellence and what it takes to get to the top. From baseball and the characteristics with which it is comprised, there is a lot we can learn.

Below are seven truths baseball reveals about life:

1.  Not Every Swing Can Be A Home Run: Nothing is more exciting than a hard hit baseball. The thrill of a player running for extra bases and barely beating out a throw to third is electrifying. It’s the kind of thing both sports fans and athletes fantasize about. However, while these plays constitute the majority of ESPN highlight reels and are brought up in conversation at the local bar, they are often times just the icing on the cake. In actuality, it is the proper execution of the little things that define good baseball; drawing walks, sacrificing/moving runners along, being smart on the base paths. Flawlessly implementing these fundamentals is what sets up the big play. If all you are thinking about is reaching the left field fence every time you go up to the metaphorical plate, you are missing some of the big picture elements that are critical to success.

2. Elite Players Learn To Embrace The Naysayers:  Every player who picks up a bat or ball is subject to the analysis and insight of “baseball experts.” An analyst’s (or scout’s) responsibility is to project player value, using reasonable logic to sum up one’s abilities. They’ll explain why your swing is too violent to make a substantial impact at the highest level, how your speed and base running instincts are average at best, and how your small stature places your home run ceiling in the single digits. As the saying goes, you can prove the critics right, or you can prove them wrong. The outcome rests with you (see Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove Winner, Silver Slugger, MVP, and World Series Champion Dustin Pedroia for more on this topic).

3.  The Season Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint:  Every year, come April, ineffective play from a particular team or player causes panic amongst their associated fan base. Being from Boston, I am living witness to the supposed end of David Ortiz’s dominance every year since 2009.   A four and eight record becomes the end of the world. A .220 batting average equals the “end of an era.” While I find this to be slightly amusing, I also find it to be interesting. How do we so easily lose sight of the big picture? One of the unique things about the sport of baseball is its season being 162 games. This means there will be peaks and valleys, periods of injury and recovery, times of uncertainty and times when things are running on all cylinders. Like in any of life’s undertakings, it is being able to calmly, patiently, and strategically have one’s eyes fixated on the finish line that will bring about the goal being sought. All of our small successes and failures along the way should be taken for what they truly are: necessary components of a larger journey.

4.  There Is No Victory Without Failure:  The most obvious parallel between life and baseball is failure. We are talking about a sport where those who succeed only 30% of the time are often enshrined in baseball lure forever. This truth illuminates the significance of mental toughness and it’s relativity to long-term success. The best players are not discouraged by the inevitability of failure. Rather, they perceive it to be an integral part of the game. It is something to examine, learn from, and quickly leave behind, as they transform all thought and energy to their next at bat. They remain focused on their mechanics and keep a cool head during their slumps, knowing full well that talent and persistence will get them back into the swing of things. The greats realize that if they allow failure to gain control, there will be no home run.

5.  Life Is Not Always Fair:  It’s no secret that baseball is still making its way out of the shadow that performance-enhancing drugs have cast upon it. While in large part, players, fans, and sportswriters alike are unsure of exactly what to make of the epidemic, one thing is certain: the playing field has not always been even handed. Players have cheated to get ahead, and for the most part have seen minimal repercussions because of it. This is reflective of the unfair reality we live in. In a similar manner, the Pittsburg Pirates will never be able to spend 300 million on a free agent. The financial aspect of the game is tremendously unbalanced, with the six or seven teams in the top tier of the payroll hierarchy possessing far superior buying flexibility than those toward the bottom. The tough truth, however, is that you only have power over yourself and your individual performance. You have zero control over what player A is taking or what team B is spending. Winners focus solely on playing their hand to the best of their ability. Consistently comparing yourself to others will be of no benefit to you or your goals.

6.  The Back Of The Baseball Card Never Tells The Full Story:  Turn over any player’s baseball card and you will be able to view a statistical snapshot of their performance for a given season. For hitters, you can gauge offensive prowess by looking at stats like home runs, RBI, runs scored, etc. By the same token, you can view pitching effectiveness by looking at earned run average, wins, strikeouts, and so on. While these stats may be an interesting conversation piece for baseball fans, they fail to truly define the athlete under examination. The list of omitted variables is a mile long, with obvious exclusions being ballpark size, location in the batting order, injury history, the ability of one’s teammates, and even the character and leadership of the player. When thought of in this light, the numbers seem so obscure that the very act of referring to them seems questionable. What is it exactly that they are conveying? Are they common ground for player-to-player comparison? The same concept applies off the field. There is a danger in relying on pre-determined metrics to pass judgment from person to person. Often, there exists more than what is on the surface.

7.  The Best Players Make Adjustments:  Here is a little story: Player A heads to the plate (we’ll call him Xander). The count is one ball and two strikes. From the mound comes a 94 mile per hour, two-seam fastball that tails off at the last minute. Unprepared for the late break, Xander swings and misses. Both baffled and impressed, he heads back to the dugout. However, seeing what the pitcher had to offer allows Xander to alter his approach and better prepare himself for round two. During his second at bat Xander is patient at the plate, laying off the first three pitches and challenging the flamethrower on the mound to throw strikes. In the end, he gets the better of the pitcher, draws a walk, and reaches base. This highlights an important truth: one’s ability to adapt is imperative to his or her long-term success (or so says some crazy guy by the name of Charles Darwin). Like anything in life, when you run into obstacles, the key is to regroup and attack from a different angle.

By Eddie Pinero @yourworldwithin