Bottom of the ninth. Runner on first. One out.
You’ve got your best baserunner on first. The Kid has wheels. He’s got 41 steals this year, only thrown out four times. Virtually a lock to nab second. Your #3 batter is up, cleanup guy on deck. Both hitting over .330 this year.
You peer from the dugout. Across the diamond, two hundred feet away, the third base coach locks his eyes to yours. You take a breath. You tune out the crowd. You make the decision, and swipe your hand over the brim of your cap.
Coach nods, pivots left, and runs through the signals. The runner nods receipt and shuffles into position.
The pitcher kicks up his front leg—The Kid explodes towards second. It’s a fastball, though. Outside. The catcher snags it, pops skyward, and fires a bullet to second base. Perfect throw, perfect tag.
Three pitches later, the game is over. You lost. You’re just gonna leave the radio off on the drive home; you lost this one for the guys—that’s what the whole city thinks, anyway.
You didn’t though. You did the right thing. You did the best you could in the situation you were given.
Somewhere along the way—maybe it was those uber-manly No Fear t-shirts that blew up in the late eighties with intellectual gems like “Second Place is the First Loser” scrawled on the back—we developed a tendency to retroactively judge the merit of a person’s actions by the result that followed.
Married for fifty years? You must be a wise saint.
Fired from your job? You must not be very smart.
You survived cancer? You must be so strong.
You’re getting divorced? You must have made a mistake.
Really, though? Was it ever that simple, and were we really naïve enough to believe it actually was?
I like to think the older and wiser you get, the more you figure out that a given result is a lot less tied to your effort and merits than you presumed it was in your younger years. The mountain of the flaws and indiscretions of others, sprinkled heavily with the dust of bad luck, may prove insurmountable—even by the most dedicated and noble of efforts.
Sometimes, if not often, you won’t get the result you wanted. Remember to separate that, though, from the work and the decisions that led to that result. The honor is in the fight, not the victory. You won’t always win, but you can always fight, and that’s the metric you should measure yourself by.
You know who I admire the most? The hardy souls who did everything they could to reach their goal, and failed. There was no happy ending, no celebratory Facebook post bragging about success…just a quiet inner acknowledgment in that moment where they’ve never felt more alone, the moment they realized they did everything they could, and it just. didn’t. work.
Tonight, I’m cracking open a beer for those souls, for they are legion, and I am one of them. I may not be where I wanted to be, not now anyway, but damn it if I didn’t go balls out trying to get there. If you’re one of us, crack one for yourself. You have my respect, and my support. We didn’t get what we hoped for this time, but we will next time.
And if we don’t, it doesn’t matter.
We already won.