Left, Right, Left, Right,...
The crowd of a few thousand erupt with cheer. I mutter to myself and begin the long walk back to the dugout. As I walk, they narrate my stride. Left, right, left, right! In sync with my every step. Finally, I reach the lip of the dugout after the longest thirty seconds of my life. And for their final act? I know what’s coming-, “Sit down!” they scream.
Striking out was never fun, but in Bluefield, West Virginia, it was a whole new level of humiliation.
As a baseball player, failure is inevitable. As a hitter? Unavoidable. I remember failing for weeks on end, digging in and being down 0-2 in the blink of an eye. I would pray for a duck fart or a seeing eye single - anything to get on base.
I also remember the rare times when the ball found the sweet spot of the bat. The effortless swing and subtle vibration in your fingers at contact point. The distinct loud crack of maple meeting leather and cork, watching the ball fly through the air as the outfielders scramble backpedaling, unable to catch it.
Both experiences are just as important as the other, but the ratio which they occur make playing America’s pastime unique and important.
The prominence of failure in baseball, much like in life, teaches those who play to persevere through frequent hardship and celebrate the rare victories.
When my playing days ended, my life of teaching began, it started at MaineHits. If you’ve ever seen the movie Dodgeball, MaineHits is like the gym Average Joe's - everyone is welcome. The owner’s name is Bob, his two dogs Razz and Tally greet customers at the door. It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t have to be, it’s the people that make it special. Bob built MaineHits because he loves his daughter. He loves Alyssa so much. And her passion was softball. And so, he built it for her.
A business built around love is the perfect place to let kids swing and miss over and over again. To let them grit their teeth and squeeze the bat and ask for another shot. Because with all the failure comes progress and that satisfying sound - the one when the ball finds the sweet spot. That sound, it makes their eyes light up.
I had the privilege to teach kids how to fail, or more specifically, how to be okay with failure. Because once you’re okay with it - you focus on the process not the past. Educators call it a growth-mindset, coaches call it grit - you put in the work!
Nic Houde put in the work. Alyssa, Kyle, Mo, and Alana did too. They kept at it. They swung and missed and asked for a second helping, hungry for that loud crack of progress.
The best part of this? It’s transferable. Just like me, all these kids will one day hang up their spikes. But their exposure to failure, the countless swinging and missing, and their willingness to try again, will undoubtedly be key in much of their success down the road.
Teaching kids the game I love was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The transition of focus from myself to others, even if it was just teaching kids how to hit a ball was significant. I experienced a sense of contentment and purpose I had never felt before. I wanted to do more of it, but also experience life without the baseball.
I wanted teach kids, experience a new culture, and serve my country. So I applied to be a Youth Development Volunteer with Peace Corps.
Their response? Left, right, left, right, left, right...a familiar feeling I was okay with.
Like I’d learned many times before, failure is part of the game. So, I reapplied. And my life changed forever.
I was heading to Ukraine.