Below is an essay originally written for the Oregon Association of Student Councils newsletter, published online June 28, 2017. This is a lightly edited version.
I remember it vividly: it was the Tualatin City Little League Championship game. The hot stadium lights were shining brightly on the baseball field at Jurgens Park; the bleachers were packed — with fans, reporters, and scouts from the big leagues.
In retrospect, the light may have been coming from the sun. And there might have just been a couple dozen parents and grandparents watching. But in the mind of a 12 year old, there’s not much of a difference. Let me take you there:
After five and a half innings, the game is tied. It’s the bottom of the sixth and final inning, the score is zero to zero, and I’m the first batter up. I’m scared. More than scared. I can barely work up the courage to walk out of the dugout. I’m not the worst baseball player, but I’m far from the best. I don’t have a much confidence (an uncommon affliction for a middle schooler), and this is one of the biggest moments of my life. The pressure is weighing on me.
I step into the batter’s box, bend my knees, and I clench the bat until my knuckles turn white. I pretend like I’m really focusing on the pitcher and getting ready to hit the ball — but in my heart I know there’s no way I’m swinging. I’m just not the guy who wins the big game.
The pitcher winds up, and the first pitch is a ball. Good news! It’s literally impossible for me to strike out in three pitches now. Then, the pitcher winds up for a second time, and this time he throws the ball hard and it’s coming right at me; my “fight or flight” instincts kick in and I dive backwards into the dirt, narrowly avoiding what seemed like it might have maybe been a life-threatening injury. This led to a moment I’m not proud of: next thing I knew, I’m literally covered in dirt, and tears are streaming down my face. I’m crying — hard — and the ball didn’t even hit me. I was literally so overwhelmed that I lost it and couldn’t regain my composure.
On the bright side…that was ball two, and I’m still alive. At this point, the third base coach walks over and gives me some truly inspirational advice: “Do not swing.”
And the third base coach is my dad.
Don't swing? Your wish is my command. Two pitches later, I’m on first base. Holy cow I made it on base. Everything that happened in the ensuing moments happened very quickly — two outs and two stolen bases later, I’m on third base with the game on the line. I’m the winning run, if I can score.
After a couple of pitches, the pitcher winds up and throws a loose ball — it’s in the dirt and it gets past the catcher. Immediately, the Earth stops spinning. It feels like everything is moving in slow motion. I take two quick steps toward home plate and I stop.
Here’s the thing: this is a moment. The gravity of it all hits my still-developing twelve-year-old brain. I have a choice to make: play it safe, like I did when I was at bat, like I did all season — or take a risk. Give it a shot. Seize the moment.
I go for it. I put my head down and run as fast as I ever had toward home plate. I slide, and I look up at the umpire.
He swings his arms out to the side and screams, “Safe!”
I am 25-years-old today, and I still can’t help but smile when I think about that game. It was an important lesson on self-confidence, risk-taking, and seizing the moment. There’s nothing worse than self-inflicted limitations; nobody is “the type of person who wins the big game” — until they do. Seizing the moment is really just about summoning the confidence to take a risk and doing it. Because if you don’t, you might still be standing on third base when the game ends.