Last night I watched the San Francisco Giants win their second World Series championship in three seasons. Unbelievable. While they were clinching in Detroit, more than 10,000 fans gathered at San Francisco’s Civic Center plaza to watch and celebrate. The entire Bay Area’s come alive these past few years because of baseball.
I first fell in love with the San Francisco Giants because in 1989, Will Clark hit .650 in the NLCS against the Cubs. He hit two homers in game one of that series and at the time, I thought that was the most superhuman thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t get the soccer ball out of the infield during kickball games at recess and here’s Will Clark hitting two homers at Wrigley Field. One was a grand slam, by the way. I was hooked.
But here’s what I’ve come to really love about baseball over the years. It’s not about one game or one player. It’s not even about one playoff series. What I love about baseball is that every detail matters infinitely more than any detail that’s come before precisely because there’s so much that’s come before. Sergio Romo struck out Miguel Cabrera last night in the final at-bat of the World Series. The slider he threw to strike Cabrera out, that single pitch, was absolutely the most important pitch in all the world at that moment. But it was only as important as it was because Giants pitchers threw more than 20,000 pitches over 162 games in the regular season just to get to the playoffs and another 2,000 pitches over 15 games in the playoffs in order to get to Romo’s final pitch.
Baseball is a game of few successes built slowly over time upon heaps of failures. It requires patience and perseverance. And the only guarantee is that perfection is impossible. No one bats 1.000 and no team wins all 162. In the modern era, Rogers Horsby holds the record for highest batting average [.424] and the Seattle Mariners hold the record for most wins in a season . This means that the absolute greatest hitter in a single season still failed almost 58% of the time and that the winningest team still lost 46 times. In baseball, success is the exception and failure is the rule. This is what makes the game great. Successes are savored, enjoyed and celebrated because they’re rare and take a long while to achieve.
If baseball offers us any great life lesson, it’s this: It is the often mundane and monotonous journey, full of failures and imperfections, leading us to the rarified air of success, that makes the success itself meaningful and significant.
Our tendency in life is to see others’ highlights and compare our failures to their successes. The other week, our church had the chance to host Bob Goff. As he spoke and shared his story, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What am I doing with my life?” This is a common response when we experience others’ highlights. But what’s true about Bob and what’s true about the San Francisco Giants is what’s true about me. The highlights only matter because there have been so many low-lights that have come before. The world-changing successes have been built upon story after story of failure and imperfection. It’s only when we embrace this reality that we might begin enjoying the entire journey and seeing our stories with the proper perspective. They say that Babe Ruth was fond of saying, “Every strike gets me closer to the next home run.” He was right. Maybe the difference between those who change the world and those who don’t is as simple as making the decision to push onward when failures and imperfections nudge at us to quit.
I love how James encourages us in his New Testament letter:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [James 1:2-4]
So when you fail, push onward. Keep going. Persevere. Remember that your failures and imperfections are the steps you’ll climb to your greatest successes.