I grew up playing baseball. With three brothers, the four of us would often go out in the front yard and play games, using a whiffle ball, rubber ball, jean ball that brother Mike made from an old pair of jeans, walnuts…whatever we could find. Regular baseballs traveled too far in our little yard. Homeruns meant climbing the fence and dodging cow patties to find the ball in the tall weeds.
All of us played summer baseball at Mang Field in Branson from tee-ball to Little League. I remember my dad telling us the morning before a game if we didn’t pull weeds in the garden he wouldn’t take us, so down into the garden we went, grumbling but also excited. Trips to Dairy Queen past the railroad tracks after a game added to the excitement.
My three brothers all played high school baseball at Branson, and eventually college ball. My freshman year I tried out for the team where older brother Mike was a senior pitcher. Mike’s senior class excelled with talent with classmates he had played with since a young boy: Jerry Cobb, Steve Hartley, Danny Brasher, Doug Meadows, Mark Hall and others. I felt small standing next to them during our tryouts.
Coach Steve McDaniels made the difficult decision of keeping three freshman on the team the spring of 1979. My name, along with Mike Eirls and Roger Meadows, was on the final roster list. I knew in my gut I was the last one to make the team. Eirls and Meadows were both really good players. I was a bit of a runt.
My fears were realized on the first day of practice after the cuts. At that time, freshman went to school with 7th and 8th grade students at the Junior High up the hill from downtown Branson. We walked all the way to Mang Field that first day right after school. As we walked into the locker room with the concrete floor, Coach McDaniels and the other players were sitting and chatting. I was the last one to walk in. Coach McDaniels looked at me, smiled and announced in front of everyone, “Well look it here. It’s ol’ Glad to Be Here!” Everyone laughed.
I did not.
I decided at that point I was going to prove to Coach McDaniels and the other players that I was more than just a Glad to Be Here player. I worked hard at practice, did air swings at home, ran sprints in my front yard where we played all those whiffle and jean ball games, and threw a rubber ball against our concrete porch over and over again to practice my fielding.
During the season, I played second base for our JV team. I played well, especially running the bases. I was not a fast runner, but quick and aggressive, and knew how to slide hard into the base like my hero Lou Brock. Finally, I got my chance to prove myself in a varsity game when Coach McDaniels called me to pinch run.
I trotted out to first base with my heart racing. Here was my chance!
After the first pitch Coach McDaniels from the 3rd base side signed me to steal second base. We faced the Crane Pirates with a tall, lanky pitcher. I knew to steal on him I needed a decent lead, so I edged off the bag. As the pitcher went into his stretch, I increased my lead. Little did I know my lead was huge. Suddenly the pitcher whirled around and threw the ball to the first basement. In a panic I tried to get back to the bag, but realized with horror I was way too far away. The first basemen tagged me out. I can still hear the ump yell “You’re out!” I slapped the ground in frustration and embarrassment, magnified by the laughter in the stands and my dugout. It turns out my lead was not far from halfway to second base!
That embarrassment could have destroyed me. I could have quit the team in disgust. However, it became fuel for me to continue fighting, continue working on my game, and to learn what my maximum lead should be from first base. During the rest of the season I continued to improve. Enough that during my sophomore season I started varsity at second base.
The lesson I learned from Coach Steve McDaniels’ nickname of me being Glad to Be Here was first, BE glad for each day, each success, each new endeavor. However, also lean into mistakes, failures and difficulties. Lessons can be learned if you lean into it.
The Bible says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” I’ve learned past high school baseball that God does indeed shape and form us through both the good and the bad. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good in sickness, death and suffering, but as I’ve gotten older I’m seeing more clearly that God in His wisdom and love is weaving and shaping a beautiful picture through us all.
So today, and every day, I begin thanking God for the gift of another day, and tell Him…
“I’m glad to be here!”