How baseball imitates the spiritual life

Keep sacrificing. Keep praying. And when you fall, pick yourself up and get back in the box.

By John Clark

It seems that when we truly love things, our heart struggles to find similarities between those things. Perhaps that is why I am often struck by how much baseball resembles the Catholic spiritual life. I thought about this again recently when I saw an interview that confirmed my perspective. The interview was with Sean Casey, a former first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and my all-time favorite player. Casey was interviewed about his mental approach to hitting, and he mentioned four main points. It immediately struck me that these points are entirely relevant to the spiritual life.

1. Process Over Results

Casey explains that when he was a rookie, he was intimidated facing the toughest pitchers in the game. But after struggling for his first few at-bats, he said to himself, “No more! If I’m going to stick around in the big leagues and I’m going to do well, I have to find a way to hit those guys.” For Casey, that meant focusing on the process, not the results.

In the spiritual life, it is easy to become discouraged. But discouragement is often the result of focusing too much on the results. We’ve offered up our physical sufferings in a prayerful effort to convert an atheist friend, but he’s still an atheist. We’ve fought to overcome temptation, yet we fall into sin again — and wind up back in Confession, sorry for the same sins as the previous month. We’ve endeavored to forgive a brother 70 times seven, but thoughts of unforgiveness still tug at our souls. If we focus on the results, it just seems like a series of strikeouts.

But what if we focus on the process? The process of the person I’ve just described is that of a major-league Catholic. This is a man or woman who suffers for a friend for the sake of God, who repeatedly reconciles himself with the Father of Mercies and keeps trying to improve, and who battles against the dark powers of unforgiveness. That’s the process of a saint. The world might see a strikeout, but heaven knows better.

Focus on the process.

Keep sacrificing.

Keep praying.

Keep forgiving.

Keep reconciling.

Keep giving to the poor.

And when you fall, pick yourself up and get back in the box.

2. Watch Only Positive Video of Yourself

Catholics are often tempted to look back on their lives and hyperfocus on their sins — even though those sins have been confessed and forgiven by God. That’s not only a depressing and discouraging mistake; it is a lie. Hyperfocusing on past sins trains your mind to believe that this is who you are; but it is not. Those were the sins of an old man, but you have put on the “new man.” Stop replaying the life of an old man in your head.

Many players habitually watch videos of themselves striking out — that is, videos of what they did wrong. What did Casey (a lifetime .302 hitter) do instead? He watched videos of his hits. He repeatedly watched DVDs of his best at-bats — a steady diet of line drives. By the time he arrived at the ballpark for a game, he had tremendous confidence. He knew he was a good hitter. After all, he had just seen the evidence to prove it.

Years ago, I explained to my spiritual adviser that I felt like I had let God down in so many ways. Problem was, in baseball terms, I had been watching the video of an old man. My spiritual adviser gave me this advice that changed my life. He said: “At the end of the day, think of all the good you have done today, and think of all the good that God is calling you to do tomorrow.” Especially when you are discouraged, run the video of the great good you have done by God’s grace in your life. And when you arrive at the “ballpark,” be assured of this: the same man or woman who did those great goods can do more by God’s grace today and tomorrow.

3. You’re Here for a Reason

Casey points out that nobody is called up to the major leagues by accident. Someone saw how good you were and believed in you. It’s vital for a baseball player to remember why he is there.

The same is true for each one of us. We believe and profess that “God loves us,” but simply saying it that way can be too generic. To be more specific, God loves John Clark. Am I bragging? Absolutely! And you should be bragging about it, too. Fill in the blank and say the words out loud with your name. Remind yourself every day. Remind the world. You’re here to love God and to be loved by God — to follow and serve him and to share eternal and total happiness with him in heaven.

4. Keep It Simple

Casey says that he kept a note card in the back pocket of his uniform. He says he read the card every time he arrived in the on-deck circle. It read: “See the Ball. Be Easy. Hammer it.”

Even great saints have temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil. It’s not easy to live a virtuous life in a vicious world. But the faith is not complex; it is simple. Casey had three things to read, but we can narrow it down to two: “Do good. Avoid evil.” When you are facing a challenge in life — when it’s time for you to go to bat against some pretty tough temptations or difficulties — think about those two simple things: Do good; avoid evil. Amid a chaotic world, maybe it’s time you and I wrote that simple advice on a card, put it in our pockets, and looked at it throughout the day.

Simply follow that advice, and you’ll be called up to real major leagues.

This blog originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.

Clark is an online-homeschool course developer for Seton Home Study School, a speechwriter and the author of two books, “Who’s Got You?” and “How to Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape.” He has written hundreds of articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as Magis Center, Seton Magazine and Catholic Digest. John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in Florida.