Through a story in which his son brought his glove to a major league baseball game, John O’Leary shows us the value of anticipation v. luck.
One in a thousand.
That’s your mathematical chance of catching a ball if you attend a Major League Baseball game.
Those aren’t great odds. If you really want to take home a baseball, let me give you some advice: Bring a few extra bucks and buy one from the souvenir shop.
Perhaps that’s why I felt a little cynical when I saw my son Patrick carting his baseball glove as we loaded up the car. Every summer I take an overnight trip with each of my children. My kids review my speaking schedule, pick the location they want to visit, research the city, and make plans for what we’ll do when we get there. I act as if the trip is for them, but really, it’s a gift for me.
During the summer of 2017, Patrick chose Kansas City. It was an easy call: One of his favorite cousins lived there, there was a Legoland downtown, and the St. Louis Cardinals were scheduled to play the Royals the evening of our arrival.
When I saw him exit the house with his baseball glove, I knew what he was thinking. “Bud,” I said with a smile, “let’s leave the glove at home. The best-case scenario is you’ll get hot with it on during the game, and the worst case is you’ll leave it behind in the stands.”
What kids can teach us about “luck” and anticipation what it means for your approach to life.
Not persuaded by my logic, Patrick shook his head and said confidently: “Dad, I’m gonna need it.”
Well, in the eighth inning that evening, his words proved prophetic.
A ball careened off the field, bounced high over the stands, and spun directly toward us. As I ducked to avoid impact, I heard the crisp sound of ball smacking leather.
I looked over at my son. The ball had plopped perfectly into his waiting glove, and Patrick’s face was lit up with the sheer joy of a dream coming true.
Man, I thought, what a lucky kid. I’ve been to hundreds of games over my lifetime and have never returned home with a baseball.
I gave him a hug and celebrated with him. What a lucky kid. One in a thousand. Hope he savors this moment . . . because it will never happen again. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances. . . . Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
I didn’t realize how shallow I was.
The lesson of anticipation was further made the following summer with the same glove at a different baseball stadium.
The following summer, as we prepared for our annual trip, our destination was Pittsburgh, hundreds of miles away. As soon as Patrick got in the car, I saw it.
Already on his left hand, even though we had eight hours of windshield time in front of us. His glove.
I bit my tongue and allowed him to have his fun. He wore that glove for the eight-hour drive, and each time I saw it, I smiled at his unbridled optimism. Little did he know our seats were high up in the right-field stands and about as far from home plate as you can get!
We arrived just as the game was starting. We watched several innings from our seats in the outfield before taking a lap around the stunning ballpark. We got some snacks, took some pictures, and returned to our seats a few innings later.
What a pop fly can teach us about life and luck.
Just as we sat down, the Pirates’ third baseman crushed a ball toward us. The ball soared just over our heads, bounced off several sets of hands, and was corralled by a bear of a man seated three rows behind us and about ten seats over.
Wow, that was pretty close, I thought, my heart racing as fireworks exploded in the sky and the Pirates fans celebrated.
As things settled down, we took our seats. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the man who had just caught the ball standing at the end of our row. He was looking at us and pointing at Patrick, who stood out from the locals in his bright red Cardinals baseball cap.
“Hey, kid!” he yelled. “If you can catch this, it’s yours. I want you to have something to remember this game by besides your team losing!”
He then underhanded the ball toward us. Patrick reached high and brought the ball down in his mitt.
I looked over at Patrick, his face aglow. And now, in his glove, against overwhelming odds, another freaking baseball.
He was now, unequivocally, the luckiest kid I’d ever met.
Shallow people believe in luck and in circumstances. Strong people believe in cause and effect.
We always assume it is luck; in actuality it is something quite different.
Today I am convinced it wasn’t luck that brought those balls Patrick’s way.
Sure, a bit of good fortune enters into the equation.
But you’ll never catch a ball if you aren’t in the stadium.
You won’t see the ball if you aren’t actively watching the game. And you can’t grab it easily unless you bring your glove.
Then why don’t adults bring their gloves to the game?
Well, in addition to the fact that a big, bulky glove may not go with our outfit, we know the odds. We don’t want to look like fools, hoping for a miracle. Seriously, when was the last time you saw adults walking into a stadium with their baseball gloves on? It doesn’t hap- pen. And if it did, what would you think about them? Be honest!
And yet, have you seen the transformation that takes place when adults see a ball coming their way? For a moment they turn back into little kids. They widen their eyes, jump to their feet, spill their drinks, drop their hot dogs, raise their hands high, all for the extraordinary chance . . . the life-changing opportunity . . . to catch a used baseball!
The anticipation rouses them from the complacency shrouding their day, and awakens the child within. They turn from cynics into believers in the span of a few seconds.
I’m not saying that we should walk around expecting to win the lottery every day. (In fact, I encourage you not to play the lottery!) But there is something powerful about moving through life, through work, through relationships, through each day, not readying ourselves for disappointment, but expecting adventure.
The optimistic mindset of a child can be life-changing.
There is something life-changing that happens when we return to that audacious, unguarded, optimistic mindset of a child.
The stadiums of life today are mostly packed with bystanders, arms crossed, gloves long ago stored away. Rather than expecting adventure, we aim for realism. We try to protect ourselves from experiencing false hope.
Instead of focusing on the bumps and bruises we’ve endured and the scars and wounds that we think have wised us up, let’s return to what we once believed; that life was a great adventure waiting to unfold. Because in fact, it is…