This week, despite my best attempts and growing frustration, no writing topic succeeded in wedging its way into my mind past baseball. While most of the time a writer wants to set aside such distractions to get to the writing at hand, sometimes it’s beneficial to stop fighting against the current and paddle with it instead. So I started thinking about what writers could learn from baseball.
Before I get to that, however, I’ll satisfy your curiosity about why baseball has taken an obsessive grip on my attention this week. It’s not because I’m a rabid fan who lives and breathes baseball every waking minute. I can’t quote batting averages or other statistics, but I do enjoy watching a game, especially from a seat in the ball park. If you follow baseball at all, though, you probably know that the 2013 Phillies season has not been one to excite their fans, so the success of my favorite team cannot account for my focus on baseball. No, the reason for my preoccupation comes from the achievement of something on my Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List — for the second time.
I assume everyone’s heard of (and probably has) a Bucket List, that list of things a person would like to do in his/her lifetime. I have one of those, of course, but I also have a list of wonderful things that some people have done that I do not ever expect to do, my Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List. For instance, I think planting a my feet on the top of Mt. Everest or winning a medal in the Olympic Games would be mind-blowing things to experience. However, since I have never been nor ever will be physically capable of either, they belong not on my Bucket List but on my Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List. While I hope to complete most of the items on my Bucket List, experiencing anything on my Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List would rate as an impossible dream.
But once in a while, impossible dreams can come true!
A few items on my Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List are related to baseball. For instance, I think it would be an amazing experience to throw the first pitch in a game. Since my throwing ability is less than a five-year-old’s, it would also be terrifying and embarrassing if I were ever asked to do so. I can, however, sing, and I’ve always imagined that singing the national anthem before a game must be an incomparable honor as well as an awe-inspiring experience. I never dreamed, though, that I would stand on the field in the stadium with my feet on that incredible grass and actually do so … until last summer, when a friend in the church choir invited me to join members of the Willingboro Rotary Club in singing the anthem at a Phillies game. Obviously, I seized the opportunity with both hands, and it proved just as moving and thrilling as I’d imagined.
This year I’ve been invited to sing the national anthem with the group again when the Phillies meet the Colorado Rockies in Philadelphia on Thursday evening, so you can understand why I’m so absorbed by baseball this week. (The anthem is usually only televised during play-off or championship games, so you won’t likely see us on television Thursday, but you never know.)
So, what lessons can a writer learn from baseball?
1. Practice, practice, practice!
You don’t get to the major leagues simply because you have talent. A lot of players with great potential never make it out of the minor leagues. Getting a position on a major league team requires hard work, discipline, and practice. Lots of practice.
The same is true of writers. To become an ace writer, you must study the craft and practice, practice, practice!
2. Every player needs a coach.
Baseball players have periods when they are hot … and periods when they are not. All players have intermittent slumps, when practicing on their own is not enough, when they have lost the edge and can’t figure out what they are doing wrong. For this reason, professional players continually seek and accept instruction from experts – other players, mentors, and coaches.
Writers should do the same. No player or writer can be perfectly objective about his/her own efforts, so comments and advice from other people — knowledgeable people who can look at their efforts from a different perspective — are invaluable.
3. Don’t argue with the ump.
At times, in the heat of the moment, a player or manager makes a derogatory comment or argues with the umpire. This mistake results in the player or manager being thrown out of the game.
Writers occasionally make the mistake of bad-mouthing or arguing with an editor or agent. These writers then suffers the equivalent of being ejected from the game – any future work of theirs will not be considered by that agent or editor (or perhaps by others in the same agency or company). No matter how much writers disagree with an agent or editor, they should avoid rudeness and antagonism. This is the time to “grin and bear it.”
4. No one hits it out of the park every time.
Players who have high home run records on the team do not hit home runs every time they come to bat. In fact, they frequently strike out and, in some games, may not get a single hit. Occasionally a player gets a walk – a free ride to first base. A professional player learns to live with the strikes and take advantage of the opportunities when he gets a walk or a hit or a chance to steal a base.
A writer also needs to learn to live with the disappointments and take advantage of the opportunities … and when the time comes, be ready to run.
5. You win some, you lose some.
Baseball is a game of wins and losses. Just as the best players strike out as often as they get hits, the best teams lose many games. While they accept losses as part of the game, baseball coaches and managers continually assess the team’s and players’ aptitudes and shortcomings and make every effort to capitalize on their strengths and work around or improve their areas of weakness.
The keys to success in baseball and in writing are to hang in there, to evaluate and reevaluate your efforts, to learn from your mistakes, and to keep striving to improve.
6. A team needs fans.
Teams tend to win more often in their home fields. Familiarity with the field is one factor, but the “added man” is another. Philadelphia fans become very involved with their sports teams. Fans are quick and loud with praise and encouragement (and at times, with the opposite), and this encouragement can spur the players to extra effort.
Encouragement is equally helpful to writers. Writers need their own core groups of friends and fans to lift their spirits when their own confidence, energy, and enthusiasm are flagging.
7. Every victory deserves celebration.
After experiencing a number of years of winning records and play-off games – including a World Series win in 2008 – watching the Phillies struggle with mistakes, lack of hitting, injuries, and the firing of their beloved manager as they nosedive further and further in the standings is discouraging to fans and players alike. That makes celebrating each win — and the little victories of hits and runs scored and great plays made in the field — all the more important. As I watched the team joyously celebrate this past Sunday’s win, one of too few in recent weeks, I appreciated the heartening evidence that the Phillies are still in the game. They have no chance at making the playoffs, but they have not given up. And so, maybe next year …
And therein lies a lesson for writers too. Don’t let rejection get you down. Celebrate every little achievement, every tiny victory. You may be down, but you are not out!
Do you have a Wouldn’t-It-Be-Cool List? Can you think of any other lessons a writer can learn from baseball?