Championship game. 2 outs. Bottom of the 9th.
My church-league softball team was about to put the finishing touches on an undefeated season.
This year’s squad was blessed with an abundance of youth and exuberance, and we ran through the men’s slow-pitch softball league without a loss.
We were undefeated, unblemished, and about to bring home the coveted championship trophy.
Also, in the days preceding this game, I may have announced to my modest social media following that, out of all the churches in the land, my church was the best at slow-pitch softball.
My bold claims were about to be validated.
I mean, if you’re not reliving the glory days of your youth by spending your 30’s playing slow-pitch softball, are you even an athlete?
This was for all the glory.
And I had left-center field on lockdown.
During my 15-year softball career, I had built a reputation as a solid outfielder. I took pride in my fielding ability. I’ve always been a decent lead-off hitter, but defense wins championships. And my glove is what I’m known for.
To me, there’s nothing quite like making a diving catch in the gap. Or climbing the fence to rob a home run and seeing the batter stare back at you in disbelief.
And on this mid-October night, up by 3 runs with 2 outs in the last inning of the championship game, I was standing in the outfield literally praying for the ball to be hit to me.
In a situation like this, with the game on the line, I want the ball. I want the pressure. Put it on me. I’ll make the play every single time.
I halted my prayer and looked up in anticipation just as our pitcher floated the ball across the plate.
I knew the batter would be swinging for the fence. Predictably, he took a massive cut. And my prayers were answered.
As soon as the ball left the bat, I knew it was mine.
And it was an absolute moonshot. A rainmaker. A high, towering fly ball.
In the crisp autumn air, my watery eyes struggled a bit to find the ball at first.
The tiny white spec seemed to disappear in an infinite black sky as it soared into orbit.
Finally, there it was!
I found the ball just as it descended from its apex on its way back down to earth. And I was in the perfect position.
This play was routine. I make this catch in my sleep. In my mind, I began celebrating a championship and a perfect season.
I got this, fellas. Go grab the trophy and I’ll meet ya in the dugout.
On its descent, the ball began tailing a bit to my left in the autumn breeze.
No big deal. I drifted accordingly.
Just before the ball got to me, I planted my left foot and slipped ever so slightly in the dew-soaked grass.
The minor slip threw me off just a touch, and I did something I never, ever do.
As I raised my glove to make the catch, I placed my right hand just beyond the outstretched webbing of the glove, just in case my glove hand decided to suddenly play dead and stop working.
Better use two hands to secure this one! Given the significance of the moment and all. And in that moment, time slowed to a crawl.
What happened next is something I’ll never forget.
The ball just missed the webbing of my glove, hit my right hand, and fell to the ground.
Did that really just happen?
The excitement, the questionable footing, the breeze, using two hands…and I think I took my eye off of the ball for a split second just before it got to me, it all became a perfect storm for the biggest blunder of my slow-pitch softball career.
I stood there looking down at the ball on the ground in disbelief.
I hadn’t made an error all season long, now with two outs in the championship game this happens?!?
I picked the ball up and launched it back to the infield in anger and embarrassment.
That’s when I noticed the steady stream of blood running down the length of my hand.
The ball had landed directly between the middle and ring fingers on my right hand and split the skin connecting my fingers, exposing ligaments and all.
That ball descended from the upper echelons of the atmosphere, so it was moving at a good clip by the time it got to me. And it had done some damage.
My fellow outfielders made their way over to me. They were concerned, but I told them I was fine and good to go.
Let’s just get this last out and win the game.
But as I spread my fingers apart to show them my injury, the unease (and nausea) I saw on their faces told me all I needed to know.
This was a little more serious than just an abrasion.
Reluctantly, I began the walk of shame back to the dugout and headed to the restroom to wash my wound. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked?
As I washed the blood away, it was apparent that this gaping wound would need stitches, and my ring finger was significantly swollen.
I bandaged my hand up as best as I could and exited the restroom.
I emerged just in time to see my team secure the final out. We won the championship! Which was obviously the most important thing.
The injury could wait. It was time to go celebrate with my teammates and immortalize this monumental feat with photos. (And yes, we masked up).
The adrenaline and endorphins quickly faded, and the pain became excruciating.
I absolutely loathe hospitals, and I tried every way in the world to avoid visiting one this night.
But after a FaceTime call with the wife, and soliciting the medical opinion of nearly every person in attendance, it was clear I needed medical attention. I left the field and headed to the Emergency Room.
By now it was almost 11:00 pm. I knew I’d be in for a long night. The healthcare in my neck of the woods is not what you’d call efficient.
When I got to the ER and checked-in, my predictions were confirmed.
The lady at registration told me to get comfortable, I’d likely be there for a while. There were only two doctors working that night and, apparently, my need for sutures was not high on the triage list.
At this point, I’m tired and mad. I didn’t want to sit in the ER all night long.
I kept replaying the night’s events over and over in my mind.
Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I put my hand up there like that? I can’t believe I did that. How embarrassing was that?!? Dropping the final out in the championship game! I’m an idiot. I should be home in bed.
After a couple of hours slumped in a corner area buried in my phone and sulking in self-pity, I looked up to survey the room and attempted to decipher how much longer I’d be there.
I noticed an older couple across the room from me. The wife in a wheelchair. Her head laying wearily on her husband’s shoulder while he consoled her and stroked her hair.
To my left, a gentleman with an oxygen tank, audibly struggling to breath.
On the other end of the room, a mother had maneuvered a few chairs around to form a makeshift bed for her daughter. She held the sobbing child’s head in her lap.
The more I looked around the room, the more empathetic and ashamed I became.
Feelings of guilt shot through me.
My waiting room companions had legitimate health concerns. And here I was, healthy as a horse, feeling sorry for myself because I have a cut on my hand.
I realized how fortunate I was. I only had a laceration. I was extremely lucky.
Emotions of anger and self-pity suddenly turned to gratitude. My internal state changed immediately as I sat there and patiently waited my turn.
These days, it seems any little inconvenience feels like the end of the world. But if you take just a moment and think about all the things you have to be thankful for, the situation, and your life, will change in an instant.
That’s the power of gratitude.
Scars come with healing.
I arrived home around 3:00 am.
After all was said and done, I was fine. I ended up with four stitches and a bruised ego, but no broken bones or serious health concerns.
What I thought was a big deal was actually just a minor inconvenience. And a great story that I hope will find the person who needs it.
My injury quickly healed, but the scar it left will always serve as a reminder of one of the greatest lessons of my life: Use your glove!
Seriously though, it’s a reminder to me of the things that really matter in life.
It reminds me of how fleeting life is, and how the things we so easily take for granted can be gone in a split second.
This scar reminds me to be grateful every day.
See, each day is a new opportunity. An opportunity to live, to grow, to do the things you love and spend time with the people you love.
Regardless of what happened yesterday, last week, last year, you can choose today to let go of your past.
Today, you can choose to focus on all the things you have to be grateful for. You can choose to make the most of the time you have left. You can choose to take advantage of your opportunity.
We’ve all got scars. Some more deep than others.
You can let them hinder you and hold you back, or you can let them facilitate your growth.
You can see your scars as regret, or you can seem them as reminders.
The choice is yours.