Overcoming the Odds: A Lesson in Baseball and American History

Nationals Park

Baseball is more than the cheering crowd, or the shouts of “Cracker Jacks!” It’s more than sharing Dippin’ Dots with your mom, or a Father’s Day beer foaming in the cup. It’s greater than the smile of a seven-year-old catching his first foul ball. Baseball even transcends the community the players represent. This sport is a reminder of America’s past — her heroes, her legends, and her failures and accomplishments. Baseball, unlike any other sport, with a single crack of the bat, sums up America’s greatest triumphs.

Every time the bat hits the ball and that beautiful sound resonates throughout the stadium piercing the noise of the crowd, it represents all of the grit, drive, and determination of the American Spirit. Statistically speaking, the batter is supposed to fail. You’re a great hitter if you can hit the ball 30% of the time. Hitting a baseball at the professional level is commonly considered the single most difficult task in sports. And, nowhere else in sports are the odds so stacked against the player. In baseball’s history, there are only 277 players who have ever achieved the milestone of 2,000 career hits and, of those, only 2 — Pete Rose and Ty Cobb — have hit over 4,000. Pete Rose had a batting average of .303 and Ty Cobb had a whopping .367. This means that Rose took the plate at least 5,545 times and Cobb at least 5,729. (these don’t count walks). Despite failing seven out of ten times, these players never gave up. The spirit of the batter, much like the American spirit, is the reason baseball is “America’s favorite pastime.”

Looking through American history it’s easy to find a litany of triumphs exemplifying Americans overcoming great obstacles to achieve the seemingly unachievable. When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence they knew the odds of survival. They were slim to none. Had we lost the Revolutionary War, they would have surely been put to death. There was no trained military or even a strong enough economy to support the war effort. The only asset the American Continental Army had was their desire to overcome the crown. They were never supposed to succeed; failure seemed inevitable. The British Army continually defeated the colonists in the early parts of the war and with the winter of 1777 rolling in, things were looking bleak. The weather was going to prevent further campaigning, so General Washington decided to take a 7th inning stretch at Valley Forge. 2,500 people died that winter due to disease, malnutrition, and exposure; yet, through it all, they put on their rally caps, fought the odds, and eventually pulled through at the end. You can look at the pioneers who knew the path out west was treacherous; or the Civil Rights Leaders who, fully aware of the danger and their odds, kept marching anyway; or President John Kennedy, in quite the Babe Ruth fashion, calling his shot, and challenging our nation to put us on the moon.

When the umpire calls “Play ball!”, it’s more than just the beginning of a game, it is a reminder of our legacy as Americans. The next time you watch your team take the plate, you’ll notice a brief moment where the batter shares a look with the pitcher; a look that says “I know the odds and I don’t care.” Patiently the batter waits for the pitch and, in a brief moment, he swings and CRACK! That crack, as patriotic a sound as “God Bless America,” sings with the glory of every great American accomplishment. That ball, like a bald eagle, soars through the air with the drive that expanded us west, the grit of the Civil Rights Movement, the determination that planted our flag on the moon, and beckons us to remember the spirit of our Founding Fathers.

Originally published on brianleehess.com
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