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KOEDYKER: 5 magic words for baseball, life: 'As hard as you can'

• Mar 14, 2018 at 4:00 PM

This is the time of year that I get itchy for baseball. They tempt us with a few games on television, but you know that it’s still a few weeks away before the season begins.

I love baseball. It is by far my favorite sport. When our kids were young, I made sure they got signed up for tee ball and Little League. I coached them at those levels and then played on the church softball team until my knees gave out.

I’ve been after my son and daughter-in-law to get our grandsons signed up. They missed the signing deadline last year and, the year before that, baseball was not on their radar.

So, this year, I mentioned it to them in January and the boys actually got signed up! So, I get a text from my daughter-in-law: “It’s draft day for the youth baseball league on Saturday. Do you think you could come over and give the boys some tips and go over some of the basics with them?”

Before I knew it, I had answered, “Yes!” Then I thought of the fact that I’m a grandpa now and I don’t run around like I used to. Indeed, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But since I was the one who was bugging them about signing the boys up for baseball, I thought I’d better do what I can to help prepare them.

But where do you start? Nathan and Matthew had played catch in our yard and hit the ball around a little bit in previous summers, but their exposure to baseball was indeed limited. And, naturally, they were a bit nervous about draft day.

So, I went over to their house the other day after school and did some throwing, catching and hitting. But before that, I went on YouTube to see if I could find some good baseball instructional videos that they could watch and get some basics. I was surprised to see how many there were! I emailed a few for them to watch before I came over to coach them.

One of the videos I viewed had, what was for me, a very interesting perspective on teaching kids how to play baseball. The creator of the video has a theory that is just five words: “As hard as you can.” That’s it — just five words which are the key to learning how to play ball. Swing as hard as you can and throw the ball as hard as you can.

This man, whose name is Lantz Wheeler, believes that at a young age it is more important to teach ability and the intended goal than it is to teach skills. His thinking is, forget about teaching the fine points of the game and just teach effort and intent. Instruction on the skill of the game for a youngster can be confusing and even frustrating.

As the child matures, Wheeler says, the body will figure out the skills. This way, the youngster has the goal from the start to hit the ball as hard as he can and throwing the ball as hard as he can. In other words, play hard and give it your best effort. This is good advice for the coach, too, because you praise the effort, not the result (which could be a big swing and a miss!). And rather than have the youngster feel bad that he “blew it,” you praise the effort and you emphasize just having fun.

I like that approach very much. So, as I played with my grandsons, I kept saying, “Just hit that ball as hard as you can!” And, surprisingly, they did! They hit some really long balls — one of them off the side of their house!

Their throwing surprised me, too. They really threw hard!

As we played catch, Matthew told me that he wanted to be a pitcher. So I told him, “Throw it to me — hard, as hard as you can.” And he did! Great effort on his part. I loved it!

Now, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about this approach to baseball and I must say, I see some parallels to life in general, and the Christian life in particular. The Bible says a lot about putting forth a strong effort, doing your absolute best, and using the talents and abilities that God has given you.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 puts it this way: “Whatever the activity in which you engage, do it with all your ability.” The New Testament equivalent of that is found in II Timothy 2:15, which states, “Do your best to present yourself to God as an approved worker who has nothing to be ashamed of.” But the verse which tops them all is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” All your strength!

Sometimes I am afraid that we often have a kind of lackadaisical approach to life. Not so with what God expects of us. He wants our best effort. He wants us to love him and serve others with all our strength.

So, whether it is playing baseball, loving God, loving your family, studying, working at your job, or “whatever the activity in which you engage,” do it with all your ability. Give it your best shot, and do it “as hard as you can.”

— The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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