Seventh-Inning Stretch

Halftime. Go to any game: football, basketball, hockey, and there will be equal parts before and after a break in the action. You’ll see cheerleaders, mascots, and people trying to win a new car by throwing a basketball into the net from half-court or shooting a puck into the crease from center ice. Baseball is different.

Although there is some debate about the actual origin of the seventh-inning stretch, there does seem to be a consensus that it began in the late 1800’s. Odd, don’t you think: such a break occurs in the middle of the 7 th inning, before the home team comes to bat. Why not the middle of the 4th inning – halfway through a nine-inning game? Like several things about baseball (such as a pitch count that includes an unequal amount of four balls and three strikes), the seventh-inning stretch is one of those elements of the game that “just is.” Some writers contend that it came into being when teams started warming up a relief pitcher for the final two innings. The practical application today is that many vendors stop serving alcohol after the last out of the seventh inning. The short break therefore allows fans to get another cool one before the end of the game. People even sing a silly song about snacks, their team winning, and never going home. It’s actually the chorus of a song written by a guy who had never even been to a baseball game.

During the “stretch,” strategy continues. Pitchers are readied for action. Fielders are replaced. Batting orders amended. Even during rest, something is happening; it’s just different activity. Think of sleep. As we sleep, soft tissue is repaired, stiff joints loosen up, and toxins are gathered up and readied for disposal. Even our brains are put into a state where we can begin to unlock ideas or solve thorny issues (listen to your dreams!). Our bodies’ natural rhythms are reset; everything from brain function to digestion is put back on track. We’ve all heard this before – as well as how to “wind down” before going to bed. What about regular periods of refreshment?

Much research has been done to show the importance of short, regular breaks during the workday. These breaks improve morale as well as productivity. Many Americans don’t take all of their skimpy vacations, let alone the four or five weeks common across Europe, much to their detriment. Those vacations, however, are opportunities to unhook from the daily grind. As if stopping the car engine that has been racing for hours, that person has a chance to relax her heart, steady her breathing, regulate digestion, focus on new thoughts, and avoid burning out overall.

The practices of yoga, journaling, meditation, reading sacred literature, and even being still before diving into the evening meal are all ways of regularly refreshing oneself. Viewed separately, these activities may seem inconsequential (like a short 7 th -inning stretch). Over a period of a lifetime, however, they become part of the rhythm of one’s life. Oceans ebb and flow. Trees and plants grow, sprout, and rest. Seasons change. These “stretches” can restore and improve our lives.

The beauty of baseball is that even though stretching, taking a short pause before the end of the game, is hardly symmetrical (and therefore not “perfect”), doing so game after game, year after year, creates consistency. It’s a regular, predictable moment of refreshment. Practiced over the long-haul season of one’s life, it creates a sense of renewal. Refreshing yourself with daily moments of renewal (like meditation, quiet reading, yoga, walking) will keep you from burning up, losing your edge, or destroying your important relationships. Here, too, you have to show up, dig in, and suck less. You don’t have to be perfect in your yoga poses or expert at putting your thoughts into a journal. It’s up to you to control your attitude and effort. Decide to enter into rhythm of refreshment. You’ll never want to go back to a place of constant, driving effort where the end result is burnout and destruction. Let baseball help you.

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