Monday, October 8, 2012

Sacrifice Flies

What does baseball have to do with a person's spiritual formation?

Apparently a lot, if you are Don Kelly. who is Don Kelly?

My guess is that "Don Kelly" is not a household name.  Never has been, isn't now, and never will be.

Although some who read this know exactly who I am talking about, the majority probably do not.  Years from now it is doubtful if that fact will have changed.

Don Kelly is a professional baseball player for the Detroit Tigers.  He has been with the team since 2009.  He also played briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007.

Don is what is known in baseball as a "utility player" - basically, you can plug him in at just about any position on the field, at any time, and he will be able to at least adequately field his position.  In other words, Don Kelly isn't really great at anything as it pertains to baseball (if he was, he'd be a full time player), but he is decent at just about everything.

Don Kelly will never do the really big things for the Tigers that say, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera does, or last year's Most Valuable Player and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander does (although last year, Mr. Kelly did make a successful appearance as a pitcher, getting an out from the only batter he faced).  But he will do the little things for the Tigers that they need, wherever and whenever he is called upon.

Earlier this season Don had to be "designated for assignment" (meaning he was essentially cut from the team and any other major league could claim him for themselves if they wanted him) when the Tigers made some trades and roster moves that their General Manager felt necessary in order to help the team make the playoffs (which they did). 

Fortunately for the Tigers, no one claimed Mr. Kelly and so he was assigned to the Tigers minor league team in Toledo, and called back up to Tigers in September when the rosters expand and teams can have more than 25 players at one time.  When the playoffs started, Don was included on the playoff roster because of his versatility and ability to do all the little things, anywhere on the field, at least adequately.  He is the definition of the "last guy on the roster" or "25th man."

Yesterday afternoon in a playoff game, Don Kelly stepped up to the plate, having been earlier put in the game as pinch runner, in the bottom of the 9th inning, with one out and the bases loaded, and the game tied 4-4.  Miguel Cabrera was already on base, getting a hit earlier in the inning.  Omar Infante, a big acquisition the Tigers traded for a couple of months ago, was also already on base.  And Prince Fielder, the Tigers' big off season acquisition and second best hitter, was intentionally walked to load the bases.  The Athletics, whom the Tigers are playing, wanted no part of Fielder.  They would take their chances with last-guy-on-the-roster-Don-Kelly. 

What happened next?

Don Kelly failed.

He made an out.

In baseball, success for an individual is pretty simple.  You either get on base via a hit, a walk (or even being hit by the pitch!), or you make an out.  The former is success, the latter is failure.  It's not very complicated, really.

Don Kelly hit a fly ball to right center field, and he was out.  He did not get on base.  He failed.

Except, he didn't fail.

Because Don Kelly did exactly what he needed to do, given the situation.

Because there was only one out, all the team needed was a fly ball to the outfield that was deep enough for the runner at third base to "tag up" when the ball was caught (which would only be the second out), and run home to score the winning run before the Athletics could throw the ball to home plate for a third out.  In baseball, this is known as a "sacrifice fly."  And that is exactly what Don Kelly did, knocking in the game winning run... making an out...

The Kingdom of God is like.......

We don't know yet if this win will propel the Tigers to a World Series victory, although it does give them a 2 games to none lead in their best of 5 Division Series.  But for Don Kelly and the Tigers, today, that is not what is important.  What is important is that Don's sacrifice of individual success has given his team the opportunity to further succeed.

Often, determining success and failure is more complicated than what they appear on the surface.

When Don was interviewed after the on field "walk off" celebration, the first thing he said was this:

"First of all I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me the opportunity."

There are those who tire of sports figures thanking God for their achievements (as if to say, God picks or "roots for" the winners and "roots against" the losers), the same way other celebrity figures do for many things that may have nothing to do with what God desires, or the way politicians and governments go to war in the name of God, or even the way some so-called-Christian-pastors thank God for how rich he is making them, because that is what God wants for everyone, right?  

I can't really blame people for tiring of such things.  I know I do.

But here's the thing:  Don Kelly is no celebrity.  He's last-guy-on-the-roster-Don.  He's I-got-cut-two-months-ago-and-am-lucky-to-just-be-here-Don.

And one more thing that I think is really important for application here:  Don thanked Jesus, not for success (or in this case, success-by-failure), but for the opportunity.What opportunities is Jesus giving you?  Not to become 'rich' or 'successful' or a 'winner' - but to become more like Him and to give witness to the world of how Jesus has transformed your heart and life?  Or maybe, for the first time, to give your heart and life to Jesus so that He can transform you? 

Have you thought about this?  Have you thought about the fact that in order to take full advantage of the opportunities Jesus gives you, it is going to require sacrifice?  Sacrifice is not always a word with which we are very well acquainted.  But it is a necessary and critically important word in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus sacrifices Himself for us, and then asks us to become like Him.  Sacrifice isn't optional, friends - it's a requirement for following Jesus.

What do you think?  Comments are open.


1 comment:

  1. I have actually been thinking a lot about 'opportunities' lately. Can't let them pass by!