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Friday Afternoon Confessional: Just Because You Are a Character…

I confess that I had an annual high school alumni baseball game the Sunday before last. This year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of my high school winning the State Championship and for the event, the coach of that team came out to watch the game. This man is in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. He has a philosophy for how baseball should be played, and a philosophy for how a team has to act to win.

When I went to high school this coach was gone but my coaches were disciples and preached his gospel of baseball. His gospel was having sound fundamentals, executing when you were called upon to do so and the idea that it is determination and character that wins baseball games, not talent. I confess that I wasn’t smart or brave enough to question all this in high school, but as an adult I find this gospel to be complete bullshit. Setting aside my thoughts on his baseball strategy, which I also disagree with, I think this type of blathering is not only incorrect but damaging.

I was a pitcher in high school, and I probably never once threw a baseball more than a mile per hour or two above 80 miles per hour. In other words, I was run of the mill and likely a large part of why I was allowed to pitch was the fact that I threw left-handed. Anyway, as a mediocre high school pitcher, I sometimes pitched well and sometimes didn’t. I sometimes put pitches where I intended and got outs. I sometimes left them right over the plate and had the opposing batter deposit them 400 feet away. I can say the difference sure as hell was not surges in my personal character or determination. The difference was sometimes I was more talented than the batter, sometimes I wasn’t and sometimes one of us got lucky.

But because these ideas don’t make for great motivational speeches, kids are led to believe they lost because they didn’t “want it enough”. Nobody says that after the losses, but it’s the only reasonable conclusion when all you hear all season long is that you can win if you try harder and want it badly enough. I confess I bring this unlikely topic in this space for a couple of reasons. I’m curious if this type of attitude turned those reading off of sports at an early age. I’m also curious as to how much this type of thinking has oozed into other aspects of life.

Now, to do a big 180, I read one article about the shooter in the Seattle cafe. It was centered on one patron at that cafe who distracted the shooter by throwing a stool at him. After the first stool hit the shooter, he turned his attention to the patron who threw it. The patron still threw another stool and hit the gunman again. Oddly, the story doesn’t say what happened to the man, just that his actions could’ve saved three people’s lives since that’s how many people ducked out while he was chucking stools.

I confess these kind of stories fascinate me. I think part of that is hoping that in a similar situation, I’d be that person. Like if I read enough of these stories, I’ll use them to step up when I get the chance. If I’m being honest, though, I know the odds are much better that I’d be one of the people just scrambling to get the hell out of there. I know we shouldn’t feel guilty for our natural inclination for self-preservation, but even my admission of my hypothetical actions makes me feel guilt. Really, though, I doubt even the people who perform these acts would do so every time. I suspect that in some situations we’re brave enough, in some we’re not, and in some we just get lucky.

Final note: The high school baseball coach looked and sounded a lot like Robert Duvall.


June 1, 2012 - Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional


  1. I just realized that after getting shutout on comments last week, my response this week was that maybe I’ll try a little harder. Considering the theme of my post, this made me laugh.

    Comment by mattintoledo | June 1, 2012

  2. I think that there is something to be said about getting people to try harder. And, I think there are examples from both ends of the spectrum of ability that show determination does make a difference. Manny Ramirez is a good example of a guy who could have been even better and probably would have won more championships if he would have tried harder. But, he’s so talented that even though he didn’t try much, he still was very good.

    Also, what else are you going to say to bunch of high schoolers who are almost surely mostly mediocre? The coach isn’t there to make them professional athletes. He’s there to teach them determination, teamwork ,and follow through. Right?

    Comment by Rob | June 1, 2012

  3. Okay, I think I overstated my distaste for the message or maybe didn’t make my point clearly enough. High school coaching should be all about working hard and pushing determination, teamwork and execution. It should not, however, oversell the value of these qualities to the point of hyperbole. I’d opine that a coach should be telling his kids his job is to get the best out of them and the team, not promising them that if they hustle and slide enough they’ll be able to win the State Championship. For example, a direct quote from last Sunday was, “I tell my kids. Talent doesn’t win baseball games. Character wins baseball games.” This deserved a big ole eye roll.

    Comment by mattintoledo | June 1, 2012

  4. Agreed.

    Comment by Rob | June 1, 2012

  5. I guess they can be excused because if only the talented would do something, there would be nobody to play against in high school. Now I never played any sports having been diagnosed with asthma in a time where doctors were convinced the best cure for it was, if possible, not to use your lungs at all but the problem with character and hard work stuff is that combined with talent it accounts for less than 50% of the outcome. The rest are variations of good and bad luck.

    I confess I use that idea to console myself that my own mediocre status is not down to either a lack of character of lack of talent. That makes it seem like a pretty charitable idea. If you succeed you have talent and character, if you don’t you may well have talent and character as well. Sounds pretty level headed but I guess nobody will write that line for Robert Duvall anytime soon.

    Comment by Guido Nius | June 2, 2012

  6. I confess that I have 1,133 Facebook friends.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | June 2, 2012

  7. That will make for a hell of a flash mob.

    Comment by Guido Nius | June 2, 2012

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