Eyes on the Prize

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It was the bottom half and last of the seven inning game with the score tied at 14. In steps the number four clean-up hitter with the bases empty and one out. Standing at 6’4” and weighing near 250 pounds, he was tops in the league in homeruns this year, with one already in this game. We had miraculously just scored eight runs in the top half of the inning to tie the game.

This was game two in the best of five series for the Seagoville Federal Prison softball championship. We had won all three regular season games against this opponent. But they had taken game 1, 10-9, in dramatic fashion. With another loss of this game, our backs would surely be up against the wall with a do or die game three.

I was playing a deep left field where the power hitter loved to pull the ball, a few steps away from the warning track. He was not known to hit little bloopers over the shortstop or third baseman’s head, so playing him deep was a safe bet.

Pitch one was a ball. Then came pitch two…..a perfect lob pitch in the heart of the plate to the behemoth of a batter. He swung mightily. At first crack, I thought to myself, game over, a walk off homerun. Then I saw the ball being launched high in the air, and knew it was not going to be a homerun, not even close. I needed to start running, and not just running, but sprinting, as I was playing him extremely deep and the ball was going to land in no man’s land right between my shortstop and me. So I took off after the ball. My first thought was that there is no way I’m going to get there. But the ball was hit so high and I kept getting closer and closer to the ball with each stride. My shortstop was sprinting right at me, and I at him. If someone doesn’t call it, I thought to myself, there could be a nasty collision. With me having the right of way, I decided to call him off, not yet knowing if I could even get to the ball.

The ball kept hanging up and all of a sudden I realized I’m going to get there. I took one last glance at my shortstop to see if he had heard me calling him off and to see if he was coming to a stop. With that one glance, I made a key error, and took my eyes off the ball. I needed to trust my shortstop that he would get out of the way. But I didn’t. And with that split hesitation the ball came barreling down on me too fast, hit the top of my glove and bounced to the ground. Error E-7. I was humiliated and embarrassed. I don’t remember the last time I missed a fly ball, especially in a championship game. There was no excuse. I had failed myself and my team.

As the story goes, the batter reached second base on the error. The next batter reached and was forced out at second by the following batter. Two outs. Then another walk to load the bases, following by a game winning single. Game over. We lost 15-14 and down two games to zero.

Unfortunately, we lost a nail biter game three as well, to earn second place honors for the season.

How many of you have ever had an experience like mine or had a child experience that? How many of you have ever seen professional athletes commit errors due to taking their eyes off the ball? If you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan like me, you’ve witness a lot of errors this year, including the missed pop flies. But it happens. No one is perfect. Committing an error does add excitement and drama to the game, especially in the later innings.  Keeping your eyes on the ball is very important to a batter and a fielder, especially a ball that small and with speeds exceeding near 100 miles per hour, depending on the league.

Keeping your eyes on Jesus is also important, actually much more important than a baseball game. He is the author and perfect of our faith. To live effectively we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from Him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surrounding us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight. When we face hardship and discouragement it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. But we’re not alone. There is help. Many have already made it through life, enduring far more difficult circumstances than we have experienced. Suffering is the training ground for Christian maturity. It strongly develops out patience. By keeping our eyes forward on Jesus, it makes our final victory sweet!

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