Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Last Shall Be First - And Get Trounced

Well, with the 2011 World Series starting tomorrow, it’s time for a baseball story from third grade.

I remember very clearly that when it came to choosing sides for softball, I was always among the last to be picked. Nowadays schools tend not to do something as “potentially damaging to a kid’s self-esteem” as to pick two team captains and then have them chose players by turns. Nah, today they’d just have everyone count off by twos and then divvy up the teams that way, so no one’s feelings got hurt. But let’s face it, in the real world, not everyone’s gonna be a winner. Not everyone is equally good. Some people are going to be chosen last, and some won’t be chosen at all. And you have to learn this at an early age, otherwise you’ll be in for some major disappointments when you get out there in the world without bumpers.

I sucked at softball and I knew it. I knew I couldn’t catch if you threw the ball to me from two yards. I knew that I couldn’t hit if you threw a basketball at me. I knew that I sucked, and I knew that as a result I’d be among the last to be chosen every time. It didn’t bother me, it was just a fact of life. I sucked at softball, but there were other things I was good at.

However, every day, when Miss Murphy’s class went out to recess, two different kids were picked as captains. So even though I knew that I’d always be among the last kids chosen for a team, I also knew that one day I’d be one of the captains. And when that happened, things would be different.

Well, the day finally came, and when it did, I picked Terry, who was another kid who was perennially at the end of the list, as my first player. The other captain picked Roy, who was good. Real good. My turn came again and I picked Gregory, another end of the list kid. The other captain picked Robert, another powerhouse player. By the third or fourth iteration of the picking process, it was apparent to even a third grader, which we were, what I was doing – I was picking all the last kids first. All the kids who I thought would appreciate being first for once in their lives. The other captain was taking advantage of my idealism by picking up all of the good players while I took the scrubs.

I thought that the end of the list kids would appreciate being picked first, but I wasn’t prepared for the response I got. After I’d picked the first three or four kids and my teammates figured out what I was doing, they begged me, even screamed at me to pick some good players. They realized that in picking them, I was picking a losing team. They had no illusions about their softball skill. They knew that they sucked just as much as I did. The difference here was something I hadn’t counted on: they didn’t mind being picked last as long as they were on a team that had a fighting chance of winning. When they were picked last, the teams were at least evenly matched. Barring either a miracle or major incompetence from the other team, my picking all of the end of the list kids first doomed them to a team that was bound to lose. Badly.

And we were trounced.

That was over 40 years ago, and do I care about losing that game? The answer is a resounding “no.” I don’t care about losing that game or any of the roughly 60 others from that school year. Heck, that’s really the only game I remember, and I don’t remember it all that clearly. What do I remember? The fact that even losers want a chance not to be chosen first, but to win; and that if it means that they’ve got a chance at being on the winning team, they’ll take being chosen last. What I won as a result of that one game I remember from third grade is the knowledge that I need to not shallowly assuage the egos of those who are always chosen last, but to give them a fighting chance of being on a winning team – by specifically choosing them last.

I also won the knowledge that by allowing myself to be chosen last, perhaps I’ll have a better chance of being on a winning team.

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