Tony Oliva is a Minnesota Twins baseball legend. Well-loved, respected, and admired by fans all over “Twins Territory,” he always showed up to play. He told me once that every day when he arrived at the ballpark, he would take a minute to remind himself of who might be at the game that day: a young kid from a distant farm (perhaps a dairy farm) for whom getting to the Twin Cities to go to a baseball game might be a very rare opportunity; perhaps friends would be celebrating a special date in their lives; today might be the day when the guy finally gets up his nerve to ask his girlfriend to marry him (note: I’ve seen such a moment on the giant field screen); and any other people and situations one could imagine. The point is, fans were counting on him to be the superstar he was (my words, not his…he is too modest to say that). Also, his teammates were counting on him to be fully present – to hit, run, field, and so on to the best of his ability because they would do the same.
To “show up” late in the season, well behind the first place team, with no chance at the playoffs or the World Series, with a month or more to go (bumping up against the start of school and football at all levels), can be a Herculean effort. Even today. There are a few teams left for whom every game is critical. Securing a spot on the post season championship stage heightens everyone’s senses. Players are psyched to be at the park. Keeping their focus on today’s game is more often their challenge. Generally speaking, however, they have energy to play ball.
It’s different for teams not going past the regular season. Perhaps a pitcher here or there is in striking distance of having the lowest ERA for the season, even though he’s not on a contending team. A batter may be leading the League in doubles, OBP, or walks, for example, but won’t be on display in the post season. So why play? Why “show up?” Why swing for the fences? If a player has the integrity of Tony Oliva, it’s because of that kid, the friends, the couple, and hundreds of other fans. And it’s because of his fellow players.
Where do you need to “show up?” Maybe it’s a marriage where the “honeymoon is over.” Reality has set in. This whole marriage thing is harder than you thought. Has life become a challenge – meeting expenses with a job that has turned dull, raises are no longer the norm, and you have kids outgrowing their clothes? Maybe you’re far down the path to a degree and a potential career that you are now asking yourself if this is really what you’re called to do – or even want to do. You realize that you’re not going to get that VP slot; in fact, you may have climbed as far as you can – and now ask yourself if you stay or go (but go where?).
Showing up when life is dull or challenging or “not very fun,” is where true character is on display. The easy way out is to give up. Give up on those around you who count on you. Give up on the people who are touched by your life (e.g. customers, fellow employees). Give up on yourself – and fill your days with whining. You can wimp out or act out (with all kinds of inappropriate behavior, chemicals, assorted distractions). The long-haul struggle, especially with no obvious reward in sight, is tough. Yet life, like baseball, is mostly about failure; progress, not perfection. “Showing up” every day is what builds teams – and, for that matter, families and friendships. For the long haul.