Some years ago I played baseball in Japan. If you looked at our team, you wouldn’t think much of us. Our team was a collection of older office workers and a couple husbands who had put on a few pounds around the waist over the years and one tall gangly American. We looked like an easy win, but for three years our team was one of the best in the league and always had a chance to advance to the national tournament.

It didn’t take much to convince me to play. I had always loved baseball from the first time I had pulled on a glove when I was eight. The team’s captain and catcher was also a friend at the board of education and he was quite pleased to have the “American Fireballer” on his team even though he had never seen me throw a pitch.

Since I was a pitcher he didn’t expect much of me when it came time to bat. My first game he had me batting ninth and was probably the right spot in the order for me. I struck out in my first at bat. As I walked to the plate for my second at bat, he told me, “Now the key to having a good at bat is forgetting about the previous at bat.” The New Year has come and this statement reminds how baseball and the New Year are so similar.

Each at bat is unique. My buddy was basically saying that you don’t carry your feelings about the last at bat into the next one. Each at bat is a new opportunity. Even if you have struck out ten straight times, the next at bat you can turn it all around.

You never know what a pitcher is going to throw you. Just when you think it should be a fastball, he throws a ball that seems to spin in mid air and drop two feet at the last second. Life is just as unpredictable.

Always run out your hits. I have seen so many players hit a chopper to the shortstop and thinking it was going to be an easy out, they didn’t run to first. Then the ball took a bad hop or the shortstop juggled it and the batter would have been safe he had run from the crack of the bat. Good players always try their hardest, even when it doesn’t look like the effort is worth it.

Baseball is a game of endurance. There are a 162 games a year. Some players start really strong, hitting homeruns at a record pace. But when you check back halfway through the season, they only have a few more homeruns and aren’t even close to setting a record. It takes discipline and dedication to have a great season.

There are moments of beauty and moments of heartbreak in baseball. Just like a homerun can send the crowd into a frenzy, a stolen homerun or a bases loaded strikeout can break their hearts. Life has even more twists and turns in plot than the best baseball game.

Money doesn’t buy happiness. How many players chose money over the chance to win and then later in their careers did everything they could to get traded to a winning team? Likewise, my pursuit this year is not going to be money.

When the play is close you have to slide. The right approach (a headfirst dive) is sometimes the only way to get home safely.

One swing of the bat can make you a hero. I have seen the fans boo a player and as soon as the ball clears the fence they are jumping up and down chanting his name. But only the players who don’t let the booing get to them can hit that homerun.

Baseball is a game of inches. A few more inches and the ball clears the fence. A few more inches and the fielder gloves the ball and throws the runner out. A few more inches and the ball is a strike. A few more inches and the batter hits the ball instead of missing it. Life is a game of inches too, and every inch matters.

© Seth Crossman