Saturday’s baseball game was off to a tough start for Chase’s team. Nothing seemed to click in the top of the second inning when they took to the outfield. Our 11 year old pitcher struggled to get the ball over the plate and when he did the batters took full advantage, whacking it to different fielders who took turns fumbling with the ball, missing the tag, or making the play just a millisecond too late. It was one of those innings in which the parents sat on the sidelines and asked over and over, “How many outs do we have?” And the answer always seemed to be “None.”
At long last, our coach yelled out to the field, “Bring it in boys!” Our team jogged in, dejected but relieved. They hadn’t gotten the prerequisite three outs. But, the opposing team had scored six runs, invoking the mercy rule, which stopped the inning and prevented them from surging too far ahead. The teams switched sides and play continued without skipping a beat.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the mercy rule. For the losing team, it prevents prolonging the humiliation that goes hand in hand with a tough inning. So often, poor performance begets more of the same and downward spirals can wreak havoc on the psyches of even the strongest of young boys. For the team that is winning, it provides adequate recognition of the beating they are giving but keeps the game interesting as it ensures the deficit is surmountable. And for we parents, it saves us from three hour baseball games when we may (shocker) have other things to do that day.
I have been on both sides of the mercy rule, but the gratitude I had for it this past weekend got me thinking. We need to invoke this rule more often – not just in little league, but in life.
So, often as we move through our days, we are confronted with situations big and small where it feels as if we are falling so far behind, we will never catch up. We will never win. And it may be no fault of our own. Just as those boys were trying their hardest in the field on Saturday, so too do we have the best intentions for completing our tasks at hand only to have the inevitable curve balls or unfortunate bounces remind us that we are not in charge. Yet, in life, there is an unspoken obligation to keep at it, suffer through it, and emotionally flog ourselves for even considering the possibility of giving up. Enough of that.
I propose we all start invoking the mercy rule more often – for ourselves and others we see struggling – on a daily basis.
Doing so is not just authorizing surrender – it is embracing it as the smartest strategy available given the situation. Its applications are endless but the impossible math homework that is wet with tears, the endless queue of clueless, obnoxious, competitive, (insert personality disorder here) people that decide to throw a convention in the middle of our work days, or the household appliances that seem to conspire to all break within days of each other are all worthy of asking for – and receiving a little mercy. Mercy rules give us permission to stop losing – if only for an inning or two — and regroup with the hope that when we return to the field of life, things get a little better. And you know what – they almost always do.
So the next time you find yourself down by more than six points against the Universe — quit. For a bit. Take to your bed, go for a walk, abandon your family, or go offline for the afternoon. Surrender to the fact that you are losing the battle this time — but recognize that there will be other times in your life when you are so far ahead no one will ever catch up. And on those days, invoke the mercy rule for someone else.
Chase’s team ultimately lost the game on Saturday but we all gained a little peace of mind and spirit in the process. Life is too damn short not to give each other that break.
Mercy rules… in more ways than one.