On Baseball and Pledges

This past weekend I participated in another opening day of Little League baseball. It was my ninth Spring opening day as a parent. I’ve been a coach, a manager, an umpire and a spectator. I love Little League baseball. I follow the Little League World Series closer than any other sports playoff or tournament. I love the joy on kid’s faces as they begin to understand the game: that an underhanded toss to first base by the pitcher is more effective than an overhanded throw, that a bigger bat isn’t necessarily a better bat, and that your team’s vulnerability is in direct proportion to how the “worst” kid on the team feels about themselves at any given moment. In turn, the good teams stay positive and encourage each other.

Because it’s a game played by children, Little League is a game where anything can happen. I’ve seen amazing feats of athleticism and courage by kids: the unassisted triple-play (the rarest feat in all of baseball), the young pitcher called in to mop up a blow out, the cheerleader on the bench who, with tears of frustration streaming down his face, still tries to rally his team. The pinch-hitter called upon to knock in that winning run; all the weight of the game resting on his 10-year old shoulders. It’s fun to watch, no matter which team you’re rooting for.

Among the many things I appreciate about Little League is the Official Little League Pledge. It reads as follows:

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best

The Little League Pledge was written by Peter McGovern (then President of Little League) in 1954. It made its first appearance in the February 1955 Little Leaguer Magazine. The text has remained unchanged in 64 years. According to the official Little League website, Mr. McGovern drafted the Pledge after he learned that local Little League programs were reciting the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance before games. As Little League is an international program, Mr. McGovern wanted to give all leagues (not just those in the U.S.) a pledge reflecting some of the sentiments of the Pledge of Allegiance, minus the reference to the U.S., while adding the elements of sportsmanship and the desire to excel.

Depending on the Little League you belong to, the pledge is recited by players at opening day and/or before the start of every game. It is not mandatory. The pledge can be amended by the local league’s board of directors as they see fit. I like it the way it is and I like that we continue to recite it before we play our first game. I appreciate its attempt to bring focus back to the principles which make all things worthwhile.

I trust in God – With 84% of the world’s population professing ‘faith’ I like this reminder that regardless of the outcome of a Little League game, God’s desires are bigger than ours. I think this line is meant to remind us that God isn’t too concerned with whether the West Springfield Owls defeat the West Springfield River Cats, but God is very concerned with how Owls treat River Cats – regardless of their jersey.

I love my country – Every August Williamsport, Pennsylvania hosts the Little League World Series. Unlike Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic, the Little League tournament in August really is a World Series! The 2017 Little League World Series had eight representative teams from all over the United States as well as eight teams from Australia, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Latin America, Europe/Africa and Canada. These kids and their fans love their country and it’s a great reminder that they’re part of a team bigger than themselves.

And will respect its laws – While there isn’t a lot of debate on the baseball diamond about the merits of the Thrid Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the game of baseball does lend itself to an understanding of the American judicial system. Namely baseball, like America, is arbitrated by an independent judiciary – the umpires. And while their rulings carry great weight you can, like in the judicial system, make an appeal to another judge for a final ruling. Additionally, baseball, like society, has boundaries. Hit outside the boundaries and your efforts won’t count. Run outside the boundaries and you’re automatically out.

I Will Play Fair and Strive to Win – Baseball is a competitive sport where scores are kept and individual stats matter perhaps more than any other sport. So imagine my surprise when my first baseman, Jeremy, crossed home plate (scoring from second) and reported to me that he hadn’t tagged third base. Jeremy didn’t score a lot, so this was a big deal. According to baseball’s rule 5.09(c)(2), Jeremy was under no obligation to report the missed base and the defense is responsible for noting the missed base and making the appeal to the umpires. The defense hadn’t noticed. There wasn’t even a play at the plate. Jeremy was literally home free. But he brought the rules violation to my attention. He took the pledge seriously. I asked Jeremy what he wanted to do (I knew we’d ultimately report it, but wanted to give Jeremy the chance to do the right thing – he didn’t disappoint). Jeremy said we needed to tell the umpire, so we did. His run didn’t count. We had to work a little harder, but we won the game. Jeremy got the game ball for his living testament to the Little League Pledge.

But Win or Lose I Will Always Do My Best – Baseball has more games per season than any other sport. In MLB, with 162 games, the wisdom goes something like “every team will win 54 games and lose 54 games. It’s what you do with those other 54 games that determines the outcome of your season”. In baseball, there is no perfect season. In baseball, there’s no perfect player. In baseball, if you get a hit 4 out of every 10 times at bat, you’ll be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball is a game of failure where you must come to terms with your shortcomings on a daily basis but not become so overwhelmed by them that they prevent you from getting back out there and playing the next game. While on a much smaller scale (because they’re smaller), Little Leaguers understand this too. Little Leaguers know to do their best and be patient.

What a great message for our kids (and every adult within earshot): trust in God. Love your country. Respect its laws. Play fair. Strive to Win. Do your best. While I’m a little too jaded to think that everyone will join hands and agree to live by the Little League Pledge for a year, I know you can see it on a field near you for three months a year. And that’s a pretty good start. Long live Little League.

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