In Life, Next Season is This Season

openingday2Baseball is my favorite sport, and today is Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Today, every team is in first place. Today, every team’s record is the same. Today, everyone is undefeated. Today, everyone has a clean slate.

A player who had an atrocious season last year can step to the plate today and be this year’s Most Valuable Player. A pitcher who couldn’t seem to find the strike zone last year can climb the pitcher’s mound this season and throw a no-hitter. Baseball is the ultimate sport of redemption.

Life doesn’t give do-overs, but it does give us second chances. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said. It’s what we do with those second chances (and third chances, and fourth chances and thirty-seventh chances) which makes the difference between success and failure. And in life, just like in baseball, the only way to do it right this time, is simply to do it right this time. Every at-bat is a new chance to do it right. “Just do the next right thing” is one of my favorite quips that I’ve taken away from my time in Sex Addicts Anonymous. It’s so simple, yet so brilliant. A few months ago, during a dinner with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, I used that statement several times, and they (he, specifically) appreciated the simplistic impact of this one statement. In baseball, “do the next right thing” can be as simple as not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone; and that can be the difference between a home run and a strikeout. In life, “do the next right thing” is even simpler; the difference between saying “Yes” or “No” to a choice that can either be left behind and forgotten or indulged with tragic consequences.

Every new choice is a new at-bat. To continue the metaphor, I spent too many years in a slump. I was that player who seemed to strikeout every time, but strutted around the field like I was still the star player. And being sent to prison for me was like being sent down to the minor leagues to work on my swing. And that, I did. And now, even though my reputation is the baseball equivalent of Alex Rodriguez (who, for the record, I despise more than Sarah Palin), all I can do is treat each at-bat or each pitch – each life choice – like it’s my newest opportunity to do the next right thing.

Baseball is a team sport, and my team plays just as hard as I do. My wife is certainly the MVP, and while I’ll never be as good at life as she is, I know that me, plus her, plus my family and friends encompass our team. They depend on us and we depend on them, and we’re all cheering each other along. And as I’ve found, the best teammates aren’t the ones who ridicule a strikeout, but rather, say things like, “You’ll get ’em next time.” Being a good teammate means support and encouragement, not criticism and ridicule. And right now, I play for an amazing team, regardless of my countless strikeouts.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to fail miserably (as I did – and do) in order to live life in this manner. Everyone has the chance to hit a home run (or even just hit a single) at their next at-bat, simply by doing the next right thing. Every choice in life is the next pitch, sailing toward the plate, either in the strike zone, or not. Don’t swing at the pitches in the dirt. The pitches that life throws at us will flutter like a knuckle ball, or  curve like a curve ball, or sink like a sinker, or drop like a breaking ball, or cut like a fastball; and with every pitch, we have two choices: Swing, or don’t.

Do the next right thing.

If it’s a strike, swing. Because this at-bat, right now, is your chance to do it right. And your teammates are watching, and cheering, and hoping.