In May 2011, Justin Verlander, then a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, threw his second career no-hitter, becoming the twenty-sixth pitcher in Baseball history to do so. Does that make Verlander one of the best pitchers ever?
“In the final game of the 1965 World Series you could see that Sandy Koufax had almost nothing. You could see that his curve was hanging high in the early innings and, as the game went on, you could see that he pretty much tucked the curve ball away and stuck to the fast ball. And yet you also knew he was going to win.” (Article by Ed Linn, Boy’s Life, March 1967)
No pitcher in baseball goes undefeated all season. What’s more, no pitcher in baseball has ‘his best stuff’ every time he takes the mound. Even the greatest pitchers have their off days when their command is weak, and they can’t seem to throw the ball how and where they want it to go.
Sandy Koufax once quipped that any pitcher should be able to win when he has his best stuff. But a good pitcher can keep his team in the game even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
Even during a shaky outing, a truly great pitcher has enough momentum and confidence to mix his pitches and battle the opposing team. He knows he’s going to give up more hits and runs then he’d like, and he knows he’s not going to be all he can be that night. But he doesn’t allow that to overwhelm or deter him. He forges on, one pitch at a time, doing the best he could to give his team a chance.
We live in a society that doesn’t like second best. We want perfection and we demand perfection, and we are unsatisfied with anything less. But the bottom line is nothing in life is perfect. Our homes aren’t perfect, our cars aren’t perfect, our spouses aren’t perfect, our spouse’s spouse aren’t perfect (with one notable exception), our vacations aren’t perfect, our schools aren’t perfect, our jobs aren’t perfect, and our children aren’t perfect.
Above all, we are not perfect. But our ‘all or nothing’ mentality seeps in and enervates us. We often have the feeling that if our davening isn’t as passionate as it is on Yom Kippur (which is just about every day), our learning isn’t as perfect as Shavuot night (which is just about every day), and our performance of mitzvot isn’t as enthusiastic and passionate as Seder night (which is just about every day) then what’s the use of even trying?!
The true Servant of G-d is not one who is always nearly perfect or is always on a spiritual high. Rather it is the person who can ‘stay in the game’ even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. He may have twenty things weighing heavily on his mind, including deadlines at work, mortgage payments due, and a child sick at home with a high fever, and he’s absolutely exhausted. Yet he doesn’t throw in the towel on that morning’s shacharit. He knows it may not be ‘his best outing’ but he is confident that if he does his best he can ‘stay in the game’ and pull off a win.
By Rabbi Dani Staum
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