Play Ball!

Play Ball!

I stood behind the chain-link fence, fiercely wishing that Sue would strike out. With her golden hair and pert smile, all the boys were eager to sit with her at lunch. Did she have to be so good at sports, too?

It wasn’t that I was bitter because Sue had been the first girl picked for the game. What was hard was that I had been the last.

I had drawn circles in the red dirt with the toe of my sneaker and had tried to look unconcerned as each of my classmates joined a team. Finally there was no one left but me. I was thin, small. I was a fast runner, but in ball games I never had a chance to prove it.

Now I bit my bottom lip and waited nervously. Just once couldn’t Sue make a mistake? It’s not that I disliked Sue. She was nice, often funny. But I was thinking about myself. I didn’t want to make the last out. I didn’t want to be the reason my team lost. I didn’t want to always be chosen last.

Sue leaned back and smacked the ball. It shot into left field, giving her just enough time to round second base and slide into third. Safe. My teammates jumped up and down, screaming.

I picked up the lightest aluminum bat and groaned.

I walked shakily up to the plate, my heart already starting to hammer against my chest.

“Sari’s up,” the pitcher called out. I knew what he meant–easy out. I watched uncomfortably as the outfielders ran closer and closer. They stood around the pitcher, their gloves outstretched, smiles wide.

“You can do it,” Brandon, our captain, said, running up to me. He rearranged my grip on the bat and told me to bend my knees. “Keep your eyes on the ball. Don’t swing if it’s wild. You can do it.” He walked away, less confident than he sounded.

Just once I’d like to hit the ball over everyone’s head, I thought.

I imagined a slow pitch sliding over home plate. I would lean back and swing with all the power of Mark McGwire. The pitcher’s eyes would widen as the bat and ball connected with a crack! Mouths would hang open in disbelief as the ball sailed over the outfielders’ heads. I would drop my bat and run. My feet would pound on the dirt, landing triumphantly on each base. I would arrive home to the loud cheering and high fives of my teammates. They would lift me onto their shoulders and carry me into the schoolroom. I would be a hero for the day. I would be . . .

“Strike one!” our teacher called out as the ball whizzed past me. I grimaced. My fingers tightened on the bat. My palms felt sweaty. My heart beat faster.

Sue clapped her hands encouragingly and inched toward home. “Come on, Sari. You can do it.”

I waited for the second pitch. I swung wildly, realizing too late that it was high.

“Strike two!”

“Easy does it,” Brandon shouted. “Keep your eyes on the ball. Stay cool.”

I waited for the third pitch like a cat ready to pounce. As soon as the ball neared the plate I leaped up and chopped at it. The ball dribbled over to the pitcher. He picked it up and tagged me before I was halfway to first base.

Out three. Game over. We had lost by one run.

The other team ran toward the bleachers, cheering and giving each other high fives. Brandon picked up his glove and headed toward the school. Sue groaned.

I slowly walked behind everyone else. I entered the classroom with my head down. What a failure!

“Take out your reading book and turn to page 125,” the teacher said when we were all settled into our desks.

I opened the book and couldn’t help feeling a bit better. The story was a good one. It was about a man who had been lost at sea for three days until he’d finally been rescued. I’d read it a couple of months before. I loved stories and normally jumped ahead.

Now I flipped through the pages, losing myself in the familiar story line. All thought of ball games faded away.

“Sari,” the teacher said when I finished, leaning over my shoulder, “I brought you a book I thought you might like.” She slid it across my desk. “You’re my best reader. Keep up the good work.”

I tried to hide my smile as she floated away.

We’d studied spiritual gifts in Sabbath school that week.

I hadn’t thought much about it at the time. Gifts such as teaching, encouraging, and leadership (Romans 12:6-8) seemed very adult. Now the topic was a lot clearer.

True, being good at sports or reading isn’t exactly spiritual. But I understood what Paul was talking about. Not everyone is good at the same things. And that’s actually a good thing. It might not feel like it when I’m waiting to hit the ball. But that experience gives me a great chance to learn about a true spiritual gift–being kind and understanding to those who are not good at something.

Written by Sari Fordham
Illustrated by Bruce Day

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Play Ball!

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