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All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Baseball

By Janet Worley, Middle School Principal April 4, 2018


Have you ever spent time as a parent guiding your child, only to have them change course midstream? Have you ever imagined your child’s path and future only to have them make an abrupt 180?

At times, it breaks your heart, doesn’t it?

Me too.

It’s no secret our family eats, sleeps, and dreams baseball. My love of baseball extends beyond my love of watching my son play or looking through my daughter’s most recent photos of the game. It reaches to the very core of life. I’m confident that each of us, at one point or another, crossed paths with Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

While the sentiment and assertions of his work are very accurate, I would argue that I all I ever needed to know, I learned from baseball. I credit the founders of Baseballism for summing up my thoughts into concise statements and phrases. Each one contains deep philosophical meaning for me.

1.) If you don’t run to your position, someone else will. On June 1, 1925, Wally Pipp lost his starting position to Lou Gehrig. Why? He asked his coach for the day off. Never, never, never get lazy. Period. Enough said.

2.) Live life like a 3-1 count. Known as the hitter’s count, 3-1 puts the pressure on the pitcher. Missing location on the next pitch awards the batter a base. To reduce the risk of traffic on the bases, the pitcher must serve up a strike. When you live life like a 3-1 count, you sit perched ready to open the door to success. You embrace the challenges of life with confidence. You stand ready to succeed. You expect it.

3.) Be great at dealing with failure. Be horrible at accepting it. Baseball provides constant opportunities to learn, especially from failure. As with everything, response to failure defines you. I define baseball as the great equalizer. Rarely will a player go more than a few days or weeks without the opportunity to respond to failure.

My son had the opportunity to live this lesson just 24 hours after hitting a base-clearing triple. The highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. He had, by far, one of his worst pitching outings ... EVER. I truly expected the remainder of the day to fall into the abyss. I expected rage and anger to control every response.

His response shocked me. When I asked how he was, he said, “I just gotta stay here.” He drew an imaginary flat, even line. I knew what he meant. He meant he couldn’t allow emotion to beat him down. “Be Great at Dealing with Failure.” But he also refuses to accept it. When we experience failure, does it consume us? Cripple us? Leave us immobile? Sometimes I fall into one or all of those situations. My son pulls me out of it not with words but with his passion and commitment to never give up.

4.) The name on the front of your jersey represents who you play for. The name on the back of your jersey represents who raised you. Do them both justice. I focus on this lesson every time I want to be lazy at work or take a shortcut. I cringe every time I make a mistake or display character that is selfish, self-centered, or downright awful. I recognize in those moments that I let down not only the people I work with but my family and their reputation.

5.) There is a story behind every number, on every back, on every baseball player. I will never forget when my son first picked number 1 for the back of his jersey. When he returned from practice with his uniform, I found myself horrified. I immediately pulled my husband aside and suggested that selecting number 1 was pretty arrogant. He smirked and encouraged me “to ask [him] why he picked it.”

After a 15-minute history lesson on the relationship between PeeWee Reese, who wore #1, and Jackie Robinson from my then 9-year-old, I realized I had much to learn. I realized that the lessons I would learn from this sport would far outweigh my own opinions and shallow understandings. Bottom line: Always look beyond surface level understanding. Avoid judgment. Seek to understand.

6.) Respect is two steps back. Believe that those around you will hit it out of the park. Respect others and their abilities as an outfielder respects a batter. By taking two steps back, the outfielder acknowledges the ability of the batter.

7.) If you lack the will to dive, you lack the will to win. If you don’t go all out, all the time, you don’t want it bad enough. If Hunter’s uniform comes off the field clean, he didn’t go all out for his team. He made no sacrifice, took no risks. Baseballism sums it up this way, “Bruises go away, errors last forever.” Steph Curry and Draymond Green would say, “You have to go hard in the paint.” Second place is the first loser. The same is true for life. If you don’t work hard all the time, giving 100%, do you really want to succeed as much as you say you do?

8.) When in doubt, slide. No matter what obstacle you face, face it full force, focused on success. If you don’t think you’ll make it safely to the other side, throw your entire heart, soul, and body into it. No regrets. No halfways. Do whatever you can to avoid the tag.

9.) The player you are today should be able to outplay the player you were yesterday. After spending ten weeks training last fall, my son earned a spot on the summer roster. He was over the moon. Why? The focus of this team extends far beyond winning. The coaches focus on improving play for the next level. They model excellence on and off the field. They develop the entire player — mentally, emotionally, and physically. The same is true in life. The person we are today should be better than the person we were yesterday because we chose to learn from mistakes and make adjustments.

10.) There are three outs in baseball: out-play, out-hustle, and out-perform. To succeed in school, in work, and in life, we can’t sit back passively and watch things happen.

11.) When you step away from the game, you will lose the competition and the thrill of making plays, but you’ll keep your teammates for the rest of your life. In the end, it’s about the relationships, the connections, the humanity. Last night, I returned home from a board meeting to find my son watching Field of Dreams. The movie was at the part when a girl fell off the bleachers and wasn’t breathing. The Rookie had to make a choice: live in the Field of Dreams or save a life. He crossed the line between fantasy and reality and saved the girl from choking. I believe that our life purpose is to love others more than we love ourselves. But we have to choose self-sacrifice to do this.

I return to my earlier questions. As you reflect on this post, think about how you would handle an abrupt about-face from your child. What if they walked away from their dream? What if they changed their path abruptly, with no warning? Could you, would you empower them and support them?

Whose dream is it, really?

My bottom line: I hope that I live life in a way that honors those individuals I represent. I hope that I live life fully, completely, passionately, and intentionally. I hope that I choose to work in a way that demonstrates a commitment to excellence. I hope that I live in a way that encourages those around me to live in the same way.

As Baseballism would suggest, “Great plays aren’t made on balls you didn’t dive for.”