I had a Little League coach who said that how we treat everyone on the field is a mirror of how we treat everyone “out there” (and he’d point across the street). He meant that baseball has a lot to teach us about how to become good citizens. I didn’t really appreciate what he was saying. It sounded a little corny at the time, but I didn’t want to laugh. However, there is a great deal of truth in that statement. If taken as an illustration of how best to treat others, baseball is a wonderful opportunity to practice respect, along with a host of other life skills. If used as a description of how we actually treat people, then the statement is still true. Being rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, acting like the center of the universe, strutting around with chips on our shoulders – and more – while on the baseball field may be a good indication of distasteful behavior off the field. Once again, baseball teaches us lessons to make life better every day.
I’ve seen pitchers and umpires discuss a strike zone, after a few warm-up tosses, as a way to demonstrate respect for one another. The umpire can see that the pitcher and his catcher are in sync and pretty consistent. The pitcher can see that the umpire’s zone is a little wide today, but consistent. So they respect each other.
Respect for teammates is essential. Teams that practice Little League skills of affirmation and support have more fun, and maybe even win more games, than teams that are always criticizing one another. Around the field, respect for others is critical. The opposition may try to distract the home team batters with cat calls, only to find themselves the subject of taunts by fans while at bat or in the field. A pitcher may throw too close to the batter’s head. A base runner may try to take out the defender by sliding into him, hoping to cut him cleats or hurt his leg. The disrespect mounts until something happens, the benches clear, a brawl breaks out, and the umpires eject people. Fan reaction turns ugly. The serenity of baseball is lost and a toxic bloom of anger hangs over the field.
Respect does not mean that we have to tolerate bad behavior. It does not mean that we justify other people’s words or actions as okay, when they really aren’t, because they come from a different background or culture. It does mean, however, that not everything has to be exactly on our terms. Not all calls are going to go our way. Live with it. Focus on the next pitch. Have a short-term memory. It’s not the end of the world if something is not just the way we want it.
At a vocational training school in my former town, students wore ties and addressed each other as “Mister so-and-so.” Expectations were shared at the beginning of the term. There was zero tolerance for being late to class, incomplete assignments, or showing disrespect to anyone. There was an attitude of trust and a culture of encouragement. It was an upbeat, productive place to be. Not only did they graduate top-quality professionals; they turned out great citizens. It’s no wonder they had a 100% placement record! It was a pleasure to engage with them.
It’s not so unusual, then, that they way we treat others comes around to be the way others treat us.