After calling on the name of the Lord and overcoming intimidation and self-doubt, David of the Bible took on the giant Goliath and slew him. On Labor Day weekend in 1988, my church softball team and I performed a similar feat.
Our church fielded two teams in our city’s softball league that summer. The guys on the A-team were bigger, more athletic players. Most of them stood near or over six feet tall. A few had played baseball in high school.
I played on the church’s B-team, the one with the poorer players. We lost most of our games that season, some of them by the 15-run rule. I rarely hit well enough to get on base and most often stood in right field, twiddling my thumbs. That’s not easy while wearing a mitt. I did yell a lot though, cheering for and encouraging the other players. I often went home unable to talk.
We had a great coach. He studied how professional teams played and gave us training besides the fundamentals. He encouraged us to charge the ball instead of waiting for it to come to us. He demonstrated facing the outfield when on base so we could start running once we saw fly balls hit the ground or the outfielder’s mitt. He taught us to swing down on pitches to hit grounders instead of fly balls – and easy outs. All season he kept us running practice sprints so we could beat throws to first base.
That Labor Day weekend, both teams played in a double elimination tournament against related churches from other cities; lose twice and we would be out. My team did surprisingly well. Friday, during a cool afternoon and evening with green trees rustling beyond the fence, we won our first two games. The next morning, we won as the temperature began to climb.
Saturday afternoon, the sun shone hot on the dusty playing field. Coach made sure we drank plenty of water to fight dehydration. And we got our first loss.
Late Saturday evening the temperature cooled after night fell and the playing lights flooded the fields for the last games of the day. The A-Team was playing on the next field and we could hear our church’s bagpiper wailing for them. Ian Kier Todd had learned to play the pipes and other traditions from relatives in Scotland. He brought his pipes out for the tradition of intimidating the enemy.
At the start of our game, we had one loss; we had to either win or sit out the finals on Sunday.
The guys on the opposing team were BIG! To us, they seemed bigger than our A-team.
They also knew how to hit. They popped flies into the dark and back to the fence. We outfielders kept backing up. Then they dropped two-bag hits in front of us. They scored run after run while we plodded along getting a run here, a run there.
Finally, we came up to bat for the last inning, down by nine points. We faced an impossible situation. The coach called time-out and took us aside to talk.
“We can beat these guys! We can’t let their size intimidate us! What we need to do is pray.”
So, we prayed. Then we played.
We hit. We ran. We got on base.
We rounded third base. We made runs. We drew a crowd.
The other game ended and people came over to watch the excitement. The A-team cheered for us and Ian wailed with his bagpipes.
I came up to bat. We were down by one point with the tying run on first so Coach called me aside. He said, “I want you to hit right.”
I nodded, hit to right field, and got on base while the runner on first ran to third. I turned to face the outfield and watched the next guy sacrifice a fly to the fence. This put me on second and tied the score with two outs. The third-base coach yelled, “We need you home!”
Earlier, Coach tore a muscle in his leg. He came to bat, got a base hit, and – I heard later – limped to first base. I just ran.
The third-base coach wheeled his arm around and around to wave me on. I crossed over home plate and plowed into the fence. The base coach yelled, “Touch home plate!” I put my foot on it and he caught me in a hug.
The players from both A- and B-teams bounced around and pounded my back. Coach limped up with a smile and shook my hand.