Basketball was not my first sport.
I started out playing street sports — touch football on concrete, kickball, relay races — the kind of stuff you do when you’re not allowed to leave the block by yourself.
My first team sport was football. I was pretty fast and taller than the average kid my age, both of which made me stand out in the weeks of practice that didn’t involve us even touching an actual football. After several practices, though, the coaches informed us that it was time we started showing up to practice in full pads so we could do the things that made (American) football, football — stuff like hitting, tackling, and seeing if we could move just as fast with pads on as we did without.
A full body of football equipment is not cheap. On top of the fact that I was frail and skinny and wasn’t keen on voluntarily getting hit by people as hard as possible, the equipment would have been a financial hardship on my family, so I switched to the other sport I thought I’d be good at: Baseball.
Baseball was simple enough and it fit my physical abilities, too: I was fast and good at catching the ball. My dad was the neighborhood team coach. I started out playing Rookie League ball, which used a pitching machine instead of live pitchers.
The machine would pitch the ball in a straight line the exact same way every time, and (after 5 years) I got really good at hitting off of the machine. By my final year in the league I was hitting home runs and catching every fly ball in centerfield.
What I wasn’t privy to was the differentiating reality of baseball: Catching a hit baseball and running bases are commodities: every competent player can do those things reasonably well. What separates a good baseball player from a great one is one of two things:
- You are a very good pitcher.
2. You can hit the ball when facing one of these very good pitchers.
(It should be noted: I would sometimes drop fly balls that had been hit directly to me, and I could not field a ground ball — even one that rolled into the OUTFIELD — to save my life.)
I was neither of these. Actually, I was terrible at both.
During my first year playing live-pitch baseball, I started to mentally explore other options for my athletic ambitions. I was terrified of standing in the batter’s box with that ball coming at me so fast. I couldn’t even muster the heart to actually swing at the pitches — this helped, though, since 14-year-old youth baseball pitchers aren’t very accurate. I probably led the league in walks and subsequent stolen bases.
I walked away from baseball because it was obvious I had neither the natural inclination to play it nor the desire to grind my way to being OK at it (which was my ceiling as a baseball player). I have walked away from other things in a similar manner for the same reasons. With baseball, I took the 50-foot walk over to the playground basketball courts. I’m still out there.
There is no shame in walking away from something when it’s clear that you’re not cut out for it. The thing that you are meant to be doing — your calling — will not be a struggle for you. Your calling will be fun even when it’s frustrating. Your mind will be sprouting ideas even when you’re failing. You would do it for hours alone even if there is no obvious immediate (or in-the-distance) payoff for the time and effort. You will never have to force it.
When you’re young and impressionable, the pull is to do what everyone else is doing so you’ll have connection to, and acceptance from, the group. And we all go through that. There comes a time, however, when you will need to start asserting yourself and answer that calling. When you waste time — the only non-renewable resource known to man — you waste life.