The outfielder’s throw was strong and on the money, and UCC’s all star third baseman was in perfect position to make the play, to end the inning, to preserve the tie score. The quest for the league championship would surely continue.
But something happened. Did the ball hit a wayward tuff of grass or bounce off of a demonic pebble? For some reason, it took an unexpected hop, handcuffed the infielder, and trickled just a few exasperating feet away. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough for the alert St. Mike’s player to score the winning run. End of game. End of playoffs. End of season. And for some boys, the end of organized sports.
What was remarkable about this oh-so-ordinary moment is that none of the players saw the unfortunate bounce as anything other than what it was: just a part of the game. A bad hop. As 70 year-old Bob Dylan might say, it was “a simple twist of fate.”
There is something in the nature of sports that helps us all understand that not everything in life works as planned. The universe is a tricky place and our ability to control it is modest at best. (I am reminded of the line: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”)
In the classroom, you may have the opportunity to redo the problem, rewrite the paper, redo the lab. All worthy and enriching exercises. But there are no mulligans in athletic competitions, and the arbitrary is always hovering on the edge, lurking there, giggling, just waiting for the chance to foil our best made plans.
In all schools, but especially in boys schools, we like to talk about developing students in mind, body, and spirit. Athletics plays a role in all 3 of these dimensions — and yet sometimes, we may feel a bit sheepish admitting this in public. It is as if our enthusiasm for athletics is an admission that we are all cases of arrested development.
Michael Novak offers solace in his book, “The Joy of Sports,” where he writes: “God is a sports fan. Certainly he is, if He likes to see humans straining to their utmost to be the best He made them, making moments of imperishable beauty. Sports have to be among his glories. I do not pretend to speak for Him but, looking everywhere for signs, I am often reminded of Him, not least by deeds of excellence and beauty. And so I think He must be, yes, an Artist Who sees and approves of what He’s made. So exquisitely, for the pleasure of the rest of us.”