I just returned from my second trip to the Dominican Republic. This was a baseball coaching and mission trip sponsored by Score International. As a baseball junkie, it was great to be back in that beautiful country filled with people who share my love of the Game.
I could fill many pages with stories about the young Dominican players who endured my botched Spanish baseball phrases and my wild hand gestures as I demonstrated the simple hitting keys that I hoped would somehow be memorable. It felt like I had endless energy to work with the eager hitters who seemed to come out of the woodwork when our bus arrived at their shabby fields. Their big smiles and sincere gratitude was all the fuel I needed to maintain my focus and enthusiasm until I finished helping the last hitter.
I could also write about the afternoon service projects that had nothing to do with baseball. Beyond the numerous baseball fields in this country are crowded cities and poor sugar cane villages. Poverty is everywhere and the hardship of the Dominican people is obvious and in some cases, tragic. It was evident during every stop that there is more need in each community than adequate resources.
Instead of writing about the morning baseball clinics and the afternoon service projects, I would like to describe an experience that had a big impact on me during my visit. Every morning before the baseball clinics and every evening after our mission activities, our group gathered for some fellowship time and a series of messages delivered by Walt Wiley. Walt is the former Walk Thru the Bible seminar instructor and former chaplain of the Atlanta Braves.
The topic for Walt’s talks was how to live our lives like good stewards. He focused on three areas of stewardship which were, “Who You Are”, “What You Have”, and “What You Do”. As Walt was speaking, I began to think about how I could apply the concept of being a good steward to baseball and softball players.
Let’s start with the definition of Stewardship: “The careful and responsible management of something entrusted in one’s care”. Walt asserted that none of us actually “own” who we are, or what we have, or how we act. He stressed that we are called to manage and fully develop the gifts entrusted to us with genuine appreciation. I know this concept may be tough to grasp, so I will try simplify what I believe it means to be a good steward.
Who You Are
Each of us is blessed with a unique personality. We sometimes act like people we are not, but it is very difficult to escape our true identities. All teams are comprised of players with diverse personalities and every player contributes to the chemistry (good or bad) of the team. The delicate balance of these individual personalities is critical to the collective identity of the team. During a long baseball or softball season, each player will have an opportunity to impact this identity. The questions we need to ask ourselves are, “How can I be a good steward with my individual personality? How can I use my personality to make positive contributions to the team? How can I continue to develop my personality to reach my potential on and off the field?
It is easy to sit back and let others lead, encourage, motivate, entertain, and console. However, good stewards know that their personalities are a gift to be shared with others in positive and constructive ways. Good stewards also know that who they are can affect the behavior and success of others. It only takes one player to act in a manner that is detrimental to the team at practice, in the dugout, or on the field, to cause the whole team to fail. We all have our bad days, but if we consider our uniqueness a gift we are entrusted with and are expected to develop every day, we will be on the path to good stewardship.
What You Have
I am always impressed and amazed by baseball and softball players who don’t possess the same natural talents as their teammates, but turn out to be best players on the field. These players are good stewards with the abilities they were blessed with.
The best base runners are not always the fastest. The best fielders are not always the smoothest. The best hitters are not always the strongest. The best base running, fielding, and hitting stewards are those who work tirelessly to achieve the highest level of success possible, given what has been entrusted to them.
Great base runners work hard to learn how to hustle to first without looking at the ball to save precious tenths of a second. They learn how to read a pitcher to get the best jump possible. They practice the proper footwork to round the bases without any wasted movement, and they work hard to improve the instincts necessary to take extra bases.
Great fielders practice, practice, practice, and then practice more. Many Dominican Major League baseball players are known for their outstanding defensive skills. For them, it started in the tiny villages or the crowded streets where they grew up. On this trip, I frequently saw coaches throwing ground ball after ground ball to young players. They never seemed to be satisfied, even though they fielded each ball gracefully and effortlessly.
Here is a video of two young players who were still hungry to take some ground balls in the parking lot, immediately after spending hours on the practice field. Notice how much emphasis they put on footwork, the angle of their bodies as they approach the ball, the way they gather the ball into their gloves, the seamless transfer of the ball from the glove to the throwing hand, and finally their cat-like transition to the throwing position. These two young players are trying to be good stewards of the raw materials they were blessed and entrusted with.
Did you notice how one of the boys took the ball out of his glove from around his back before getting to the throwing position? I also saw him transfer the ball between his legs before throwing. I don’t think he was showing off. I have a hunch his coach instructed him to do this to learn how to gain even more consistent control of the ball as it is transferred out of his glove.
Finally, great hitters are relentless in their pursuit of perfection. Hitting a baseball or a softball consistently for power and a high average is one of the most difficult athletic feats. The hitting keys I teach to my hitters are relatively easy to learn. The hard part is the process of refining each hitting key and then combining them seamlessly.
It is very difficult to be a great hitter without being a good steward. After learning my hitting keys, the burden falls to players to put in the long hours of practice to reach their potential as a hitter. I always promise to do my part to help as they work toward achieving their hitting goals, but it is up to them to maximize the abilities they have been entrusted with. This means many hours tee work, front toss sessions, and live batting practice to systematically improve the swing. It also means understanding hitting situations and analyzing the mechanics and strategies of opposing pitchers.
The best hitters in the world are always working to improve their mechanics. They understand that greatness is only achieved through hard work and the acknowledgment that natural ability is wasted without a stewardship mindset. When hitters make the most of the gifts they have been blessed with, the results are always satisfying and often surprising.
What You Do
It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have, if we fail to make a difference in the lives of others. Each afternoon during the trip, small groups of faithful people would venture out to the small villages to provide food, medical care, and love to the Dominicans who were in the greatest need. We were hopeful these grateful people would understand on some level that we were not feeling pity for them. Instead, we just wanted them to know that our goal was to be good stewards with the Spirit of who we are and what we have been blessed with, as we served them in our small ways.
The same holds true for baseball and softball players. What they do on and off the field will ultimately define the level of their stewardship. Are they boastful when they succeed, or do they achieve and win with humility? Are they worried about their individual statistics or do they make sacrifices for the success of the team? Finally, are they self-centered or do they encourage and support their teammates?
I believe it is what we do that ultimately defines us. What we do is driven by who we are and what we have. Whether we are playing or coaching the game we love or serving in a village in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the world, we are all called and challenged to be good stewards with what has been entrusted to us.
Thanks to Walt Wiley for reminding me to continually assess who I am, what I have, and what I do. Knowing I will fall short each day, I will still carefully and responsibly strive to be the best steward of my personality, my talents and resources, and my call to serve others as a coach and as a citizen of the world.