When I was 11, Dad took me to the nearby baseball field to practice pitching, fielding ground balls, and catching pop-ups. While we were there, a couple of other kids walked up wielding gloves and bats, wanting to play with us. Dad invited them to take batting practice off of me.
There was no need for a catcher; they hit everything I threw.
Many hits had to be retrieved from the other side of the fence—a devastating shot to my fragile ego. After fifteen minutes of forever, I was frustrated at my failure to get any pitch past the boys. I stormed off the field and threw my glove against the fence.
Dad started walking my way.
One of my favorite treasures is a DVD set of the 1985 World Series. Over the past 14 months, I have slowly savored each sacred game. However, I have watched games two and six far more than any other game.
Charlie Leibrandt started both of those games and, in my mind, pitched brilliantly.
In fact, the first seven innings of game six are nothing short of masterful, near perfection, poetry in motion. A quick review:
Inning 1: Ground out, fly out, strike out.
Inning 2: Pop out, fly out, ground out.
Inning 3: Strike out, pop out, ground out.
Inning 4: Pop out, ground out, ground out.
Inning 5: Pop out, fly out, ground out.
Leibrandt was perfect through five innings. The Cards got their first hit in the sixth inning.
Inning 6: Single, single, pop out, double play.
Inning 7: Ground out, ground out, strike out.
There simply aren’t any words that describe Leibrandt’s performance with the season and the title on the line.
With two outs, the Cardinals scored their only run off Leibrandt in the eighth inning.
Inning 8: Fly out, single, walk, strike out, single & RBI…
Leibrandt’s line for the night: 7.2 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts. Left the game in a losing situation.*
*Shout out to Danny Cox, who also pitched a terrific game six. His line: 7 IP, 7 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts.
In the two games combined, Leibrandt:
Pitched 16.1 innings.
Gave up only 10 hits.
Had 10 strikeouts.
Compiled a record of 0 – 1.
In Leibrandt’s sixteen-plus innings of work, the Cards scored only five runs. The boys in blue, however, only scored two.
Leibrandt’s luck reminds me of my life. There’s only so much one person can do. The most of life is beyond my control.
My hair fell out when I was six years old. I was teased for years.
On one occasion, shortly after turning 16, I was running an errand for my parents when a cop pulled me over, ordered me out of the vehicle, and shouted at me, “What’s wrong with this world is skinheads like you!” I fought back the tears.
Life is not fair. And that’s one reason why I love baseball.
It’s not fair that the Yankees have a payroll that is a gajillion dollars more than the Royals (give or take a few dollars).
It’s not fair that umpires miss calls and that pitchers make perfect pitches only to have a broken-bat-opposite-field-single score the winning run.
It’s not fair that baseball is a business first and a game second.
What I love about baseball is this: there is always tomorrow. We cannot let today’s struggles and injustices prevent us from having the courage to pick up the ball, walk to the mound, and try again.
Failure doesn’t come with a loss. Failure comes from not trying. Courage is having the strength to hold on to hope, even after failure.
In game two, only one out away from tying the series at one game each, Leibrandt surrendered a bases loaded double to Terry Pendleton, scoring three runs, and leading to a 4 – 2 Cardinal victory. Leibrandt could have been depressed. However, before game six, Leibrandt was interviewed and said this:
Al Michaels: “Do you feel at all, maybe, jinxed by the way things have been going?”
Leibrandt: “Well, uh, I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to pitch some pretty good ballgames. If I can do that again, I think my chances should be a little bit better.”
Leibrandt did not dwell on past “failures” or on what was out of his control. He had the courage to try again, to choose hope, to keep playing. Leibrandt pitched through the 1993 season, compiling a record of 140 – 119 and an ERA of 3.76. Those are great numbers in my book.
Dad walked over to the bench where I was holding my pity party and handed me a baseball.
Dad: “We can go home if you want.”
Me: No response.
Dad: “You know those boys are a couple of years older than you.”
Me: Glaring at the ground, rolling my eyes.
Dad: “It’s a lot more fun when everybody plays.”
Me: Big sigh.
Dad: Even Nolan Ryan and Charlie Leibrandt have bad days.*
*Dad really said this. I don’t know why he chose those two pitchers, but it really connected with me.
Me: Okay. Walked back out to the mound. Continued to get bombed by the older boys.
Baseball is not fair. Life is not fair.
But absolutely nothing is going to change if you sit on the bench and pout.
Take the ball, walk to the mound, and give it everything you’ve got.
And when the game is over, win or lose, dare to have the courage to hold on to hope.