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Following the final wrestling match – the bronze medal clinching match – of his career at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, Rulon Gardner left his wrestling shoes at the center of the mat as a ceremonial farewell to his sport. Gardner stated “To leave them on the mat meant I left everything on the mat as a wrestler.” In wrestling, it’s traditional to do this following your last match as it pays homage the wrestling gods.
Though this same tradition does not hold true in baseball, there is a lot to be learned from this. There are many clichés and pre game – and even in game – speeches that probably don’t resonate with players of all ages. But this one does. “Leave it all out there”. Every time you go on the field to play a game or practice, do it like it’s the last time you will do it! Because, not to sound gruesome or macabre, it may be! We tell this to our kids before every game, every tournament, and every scrimmage. We also stress that we play like we practice and we practice like we play. In other words, go out there with a purpose, whether it’s a game or practice, have fun, because that’s what it’s all about, but have fun while playing hard. We stress that if each and every one of them can look themselves in the mirror and believe that he did everything in his power to help the team win, then it was a success, no matter what the outcome.
Too often nowadays we read or hear stories about cheating and other scandals that remind us that baseball, as a game, isn’t all about having fun… at least for some people. The pressure to be the best and to succeed at all costs too often outweighs the game’s intent as being fun. From major leaguers and steroid use, to minor leaguers using other PEDs, to high school baseball players using shaved or illegal bats, to little leaguers with coaches lying about kids’ ages, or using illegal players, there is too much emphasis placed on winning at all costs. But that’s not how it is supposed to be, nor is it the case for most players and coaches. These are the ones that do everything right, play hard, try their best, make that extra effort, and win or lose, walk away with the satisfaction of knowing they did their very best.
There is great beauty and joy in watching a sport played to its fullest, and watching an athlete give his all on every play. I recently watched Carlos Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians come within one out – actually one strike – of a very rare no hitter. When Joey Butler singled over second baseman Jason Kipnis with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the ninth inning, Carrasco could merely laugh. Perhaps it was just a “you gotta be kiddin me” laugh, but he also knew the somewhat vertically challenged Kipnis gave it his all to make a leaping catch, and Carrasco clearly appreciated the effort. In his own words, “He really tried to get that ball,” said Carrasco. “I really appreciate that.” For his part, had Kipnis been a foot taller, he may have had a chance, but that is out of his control, and Carrasco knew that in that instance, his second baseman did everything he could to preserve the no hitter. He left it all out there. Unfortunately, he came up a tad short, but there was no lacking in effort.
It is also great to see this type of effort in youth baseball. Again, at practice, coaches emphasize and players perform pitching drills, hitting drills and fielding drills, to learn, polish or enhance their skills and fundamentals. But it’s the little things… the extra effort that leads to wins and championships. And we play like we practice. Do the right things starting in practice. Go hard after grounders. Line up for cuts. Pitch to a target or location. The organization I coach for, and the 14 and 15 year old boys that play for it, recently won the Father’s Day Classic, and we did so beating a team that was better than us, or at least ranked ahead of us, in the semi-final game. This was a team that beat us in pool play on Saturday, so facing them on Sunday could have resulted in a letdown, or lack of confidence. But our boys came out fired up, and not only did they make all the routine plays, but they made all the difficult ones, and mostly because of amazing effort. They made several diving plays, several running plays, took extra bases on pure hustle and determination, blocked difficult balls behind the plate to prevent baserunners from advancing, and did everything in their power humanly possible to stay close, stay in the game, and allow themselves to win in extra innings. It was the pure definition of leaving it all out there, and the looks on their faces after that win, and more so after winning the championship game against another very good team, was proof again that this group of boys left it all out there. In essence, they all unlaced their cleats and left them, 12 pairs, right smack in the middle of mound!
write by Augustus