Kevin Costner has made three baseball movies. Field of Dreams is good. Of course, James Earl Jones plays the Wise Old Man in the film. It’s hard for not to be good. I haven’t seen Bull Durham in ages. At least a couple of decades, and I wasn’t paying great attention at the time. His third one has stuck with me, though—better than “If you build it, he will come…” (Spoiler alert: it’s about playing catch with Ghost Dad.)
The third one is a bit less mystical. For the Love of the Game came out in 1999, and one night Ann and I rented it on VHS. We’ll talk about VHS later, Internet generation. Costner plays Billy Chapel, a 40-year-old pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. There’s a great story there, and I just spent 25 minutes skipping through a YouTube upload of it, but I won’t link it because it’s probably a copyright violation. I don’t remember how family-friendly the film is—but it’s not a kid movie. (Want a kid baseball movie? The Rookie, with Dennis Quaid. Watch the deleted scenes on the DVD. Or Blu-ray.)
Costner’s character, Chapel, has a habit for dealing with the crowd noise. Since he’s the visiting pitcher in Yankee Stadium, the viewer sees it several times and the filmmakers worked well to demonstrate the idea. You start with the noise, and the stadium goers are all in-focus. You can see them, hear them, and discern them. Then you hear Costner’s voiceover of the thought “Clear the mechanism.” At that point, the stadium is blurry, the crowd goes silent, and all you can hear is…nothing. Maybe the catcher. But that’s it. It’s his way of focusing, his mental trick. After a 19-year career, he’s used it and it works. You see it enough times to realize it’s probably something for every inning.
But somewhere around the seventh inning, the scene runs differently. I couldn’t find it in the YouTube to remember exactly where it is, but Chapel’s facing a batter, the crowd noise is growing, and you hear his voiceover, “Clear the mechanism…”
And it doesn’t work.
Being human, he does what ever human does: he tries it again. Automatically.
It does not work.
At this point, the viewer fears for Chapel’s impending perfect game. (If the viewer hates baseball movies, the viewer has moved on and didn’t get this far.) Can he control himself?
Chapel then mutters to himself, “Ok, then throw the ball over the plate, just like always.” (Note: quote isn’t precise because I couldn’t find it to transcribe perfectly.)
So, that’s what he does. Even with the noise that is leaking through his filter. Even with the pain in his arm. Even with the age and the worries and all the other stuff (like the flashbacks to his relationship with Kelly Preston) in his head, he reminds himself: just throw the ball. It’s what you do. Throw it.
Now, “spoiler alert” for a twenty-year-old movie that you weren’t renting this weekend anyway: Chapel goes on to throw a perfect game. He sucks it up, throws it over the plate with the noise, and makes it work.
Why tell you this? Why drag you through 500 words of Kevin Costner backstory for a blogpost?
To make this observation: sometimes, there’s not the inspiration that you want to have. Sometimes, there are noises and chaoses and focus issues and they all keep you from locking in to what you need to do. It happens. At least it happens to me.
I don’t always have great ideas to write, teach, and preach. (I may *never* have great ideas, but that’s another post.) And there are times I just don’t feel like it. I made a joke yesterday morning before church about how I got up and thought about going fishing…then I picked up the bass guitar and made a bass joke :)
But those days hit. Some preachers are perfect and never have those days. I’m not one.
Some days, I have to step up to the mound and throw the ball over the plate, just like I always do. And then trust that the results will work themselves out. Not because my effort doesn’t matter. Not because I can be derelict in preparation—keep in mind that our pitcher did his usual workout, preparation, and warm-up routine to prepare.
But because sometimes, the responsibility to do it must override the feelings of the moment. In a baseball game, there has to be a pitcher—and sometimes, a worn-down, imperfect pitcher is what you’ve got.
In life, we have those things that are on us. I have things that are on me—now, throw in the expected pious-sounding caveats about “with God’s help”—and that have to be done. Step up, and do yours. Throw the ball over the plate, just like every other time.
And then, that’s often when we actually see the work of God come through. Moses’ staff doesn’t change until he throws it. Lazarus isn’t raised until they move the stone. God can work without human help, but so often, He chooses not to do when His people are lazy, or when His people are strong enough to take credit for it.
Go out there, give it that one more shove, and do it again—if it is what you are commanded by God to be doing, do it one more time. And see the thing through to the end.
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