Visualize the Prize: Keep your head in the game

I love going to Major League ballparks. I sat just rows behind the catcher at Turner Field in the venue’s inaugural season watching the Astros play the Braves. 

Later, when I was in Anaheim for a conference, I spent way too much for a last-minute ticket to catch the Rangers play the Angels. Sitting in an open-air park with thousands of fans is incomparable. Hearing the pop of a fastball pitch reaching the catcher’s mitt, seeing the batter swing desperately, and watching him return to the dugout on a three-strike count, and then, seeing the same player at his next at-bat making contact and watching the ball go over the deep wall, it’s great. Baseball in the big league parks is the best.

Baseball parks are also famous for capturing history. Some of the most noted moments in all of sport history have taken place during Major League ballgames. One such moment took place in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, held on October 1, 1932, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. New York Yankee star batter Babe Ruth had already hit one home run this game, but the heated series with the Cubs put Ruth in a foul mood. The story goes that when he returned to the plate with fellow Yankee Earle Combs on base, he looked toward the Cubs’ dugout and glared. The Cubs pitcher sent two consecutive fastballs for two strikes. It was at this time that history was made. Ruth stepped out of the batter’s box, looked toward the Cubs players goading him, and lifting his left index finger, he pointed to the far center field to where one sport’s writer later wrote, “no ball had been hit before.” 

The Cubs pitcher released a third fastball and Ruth later recounted: “If I had let it go, it would have been called a strike. But this was it. I swung from the ground with everything I had and as I hit the ball every muscle in my system, every sense I had, told me that I had never hit a better one, that as long as I lived nothing would ever feel as good as this. I didn’t have to look. But I did. That ball just went on and on and on and hit far up in the center-field bleachers in exactly the spot I had pointed to.” 

The headline in a late edition of the New York World-Telegram that day read, “RUTH CALLS SHOT AS HE PUTS HOME RUN NO. 2 IN SIDE POCKET.” Ruth said, “That home run – the most famous one I ever hit – did us some good. It was worth two runs, and we won that ball game, 7 to 5.”

This feat was not Ruth’s only “called” home run. His noted tenacity and focus swinging the bat was said to have been delivered after promising sick child Johnny Sylvester that he would “hit a home run” for him. The “called shot” or a sick boy’s home run may be as much folklore as it is history, but there is no denying that Ruth was an intense ball player who was one of the greatest of all time recording 714 career home runs, 2, 213 runs batted in, and a slugging percentage of .6897.

Being focused is important. An athlete learns that playing the game well requires having one’s “head in the game.” Being mentally in the game can be the difference in having a great performance or not. Noted sports psychologist Shane Murphy says, “Studies show that the parts of the brain that are used when thinking about a task are the same ones used when actually doing it.” Ruth was not only taunting the Cubs players pointing toward center field, but he was visualizing his success. In pointing to the far bleachers, his mind saw the ball going over the fence. He then used his skill and training to make what his mind saw become a reality.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Other than Jesus, Paul was arguably the most focused person recorded in the Bible. He was a disciplined and a learned person. But it was how he set his attention on what he wanted that distinguished him. Becoming sidetracked was not an option; he visualized “the prize.” Like Paul, keep your “head in the game” as you pursue “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

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Edminson is the Editor of Baptist Children's Homes (BCH) of North Carolina Charity & Children publication & also serves as BCH Special Assistant in General Administration. This column is intended to invoke thought, to inspire and to offer encouragement to families and athletes across Davidson County.