Trust the Process
* Musical inspiration to listen to while reading - Moneyball Soundtrack - It's a Process
I depart my home in the quiet and serene historic district where lawns are green and trees are gigantic. I drive over the tracks, through downtown, and enter the “other” side of the community. My truck stops on the edge of a park and I exit the comfort of my vehicle to discover that the summertime heat is oppressive as the sun slams me with relentless rays of scorching heat. I begin sweating almost immediately. No one else is around. This open space at what feels like the end of the neighborhood is mostly vacant. There is one home nearby but no one is out today and the location appears devoid of life.
I cross over the crumbling blacktop of the street to arrive at what can hardly be considered a baseball field. This vast sea of weeds sparsely resembles a place where anyone would ever play. The fencing remains as the sole reminder this used to be a location where purposeful activity once occurred but it stands alone as the only marked sentry guarding a battlefield of weeded pasture. The overgrowth is winning the fight. The untended meadow consumes everything and there is no marked base path. Certainly, the city dutifully mowes part of the field whenever it grows too high but the outfield is thick, as if preparing to harvest a crop of hay. It’s not the fault of the city. The field just hasn’t been used in years.
Why would anyone want to come out here when they could be inside enjoying the comfort of air conditioning and endless entertainment on the screen? What am I doing here God? This is never going to work.
I stand and wait and sweat.
Then from down one of the adjacent city streets, an old blue town car slowly approaches and stops at the edge of the field. It’s Miss Bobby, the city councilwoman and school paraprofessional. She climbs out of her car with a huge smile on her face and a spring in her step that negates any sign of her age. Last time she brought with her a sports bag full of old leather gloves. This time she brings a big aluminum rolling device to mark the batters boxes around home plate and signify the baselines.
And slowly, eight young men arrive, walking up from various locations around the neighborhood or dropped off by slowly passing vehicles. They manifest without much fanfare as they grab some gloves and begin to toss baseballs to each other.
We work on catching grounders. We practice chasing down fly balls. We take turns hitting laced leather balls off hardened wooden bats.
The sun beats down. But there is life on this field.
At the end of practice, I ask them each for just one thing they have learned from playing baseball. After a brief moment of awkward silence, one of the boys speaks up.
“Trust the process,” says DJ, one of the bigger boys who has the strength of a giant and can hit the ball a mile but tends to keep his thoughts to himself. The young man has only said three words but they signify everything that is happening this summer.
Yes, the field is a mess. No, we are not great right now. Balls are consistently dropped when they should be caught. Easy strikes that should be hammered are swung at and missed by a lot. We don’t have a home plate. There is no manicured dirt base path. The outfield swallows baseballs as they become lost in patches of weeds. It’s incredibly hot out here. Playing baseball is hard.
Yet life is also hard. Somehow I get the feeling these young men understand the correlation between baseball and how things are in the real world. In baseball, the best hitters only successfully get on base two or three times out of ten. That’s a significant amount of failure to swallow, especially for a young man trying to prove himself worthy in front of his peers. Perhaps it would be easier to just stay home and watch a movie or play a video game that could almost be effortlessly won.
What makes baseball so absolutely beautiful is that it is difficult. The challenge is what makes it great. When teams like the New York Yankees possess the ability to allocate over a hundred and thirty million dollars to obtain the top players, it’s an enormous barrier for other teams to even compete, especially when they can only spend a quarter of that amount. Yet even in the most dire of situations, baseball teaches both players and fans alike that it is of utmost importance for us to never, ever give up.
The movie Moneyball highlighted the surprise success of the Oakland Athletics with a small budget compared to the vast empire of the Yankees as they showcased how hard work, commitment, and looking at things a different way can bring about the change so desperately needed. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox used that same strategy to come from three games down in the American League Championship Series to defeat the Yankees and go on to win the World Series for the first time since 1918. Recovering from that far down in a playoff series was a feat that had never been done before. Never. For both the Red Sox and the Oakland A’s, most people had already counted them out. But great things can happen through a story larger than life when those few who are involved decide that nothing is going to sway them from their goals.
These boys in Calvert have never been taught to play baseball before. The field has been dormant for a decade. Right now we are not good.
But we are here. We continue to come back. Now it is week three.
Trust the process.