Enduring a little pain to grow in confidence

January 7 – “To grow and know what one is growing towards – that is the source of all strength and confidence in life.” (James Baillie)

There are few things in life more powerful than confidence. With it I can do most anything I set my mind to. Without it, I stumble and wander. Confidence can sometimes be hard to come by, and it isn’t something that anyone else can give me, it has to come from within. And it isn’t something that comes on at will, or all at once, it has to be built. Building confidence takes conscious effort, and time.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my mother signed me up for little league baseball. Other than an occasional game of catch with a rubber ball in the yard, I had no real experience with the game. At the first practices I was skittish and unsure of myself. The coach installed me in right field, where little leaguers go to die. In my first few games I played my prescribed minimum time, and spent the rest on the bench. I really wasn’t enjoying it much.

My brother is 11 years older than I am. He came to one of my early games. In that game, in my lone at bat, I struck out looking. I never got the bat off my shoulder, and worse, I kept stepping out as the ball came toward me. I was afraid of the ball.

Today young children play with special baseballs that are called RIF or Reduced Injury Factor balls. When you hold one in your hand it is slightly lighter than a regulation ball, and it can be squeezed a bit. The idea is that if the children are hit with the RIF ball, they are less likely to be injured. In the 1970s, when I was starting in the game, these didn’t exist. If you were playing with a stitched baseball, it was the same kind used by the big leaguers. It was hard and unforgiving, and to a new player with no confidence – scary.

My brother wasn’t too happy with how I played in that game, or more how I didn’t play. After the obligatory trip for ice cream we went back to my house. He was married and living with his wife, but he came to visit. That evening, as the sun was setting and it got progressively darker, he cured me of my fear of the ball.

He did so by having me stand in front of the garage and throwing a baseball at me. Don’t worry, I was wearing a glove, so all I had to do to protect myself was catch the ball. Preferably I would catch it without wincing or turning away, as each time I did that he’d give me grief about it.

Most of the first throws either hit my body, or hit my glove and dropped to the ground. He was careful to throw at my midsection, so my face was never in danger, but that didn’t spare my arms, belly and legs from some bruises. I am sure we were out there for no more than 30 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity to me. I hated every second of it. Then something happened. I started to actually catch the ball.

With each successful catch, I learned that it wasn’t so hard, and that I liked the mini thrill of having the ball snap into the webbing. When we finished that night, I am sure that I was smiling, not because I really dug bruises, but because a tiny spark of confidence was lighting inside me.

That night, in front of the garage, I had to make a choice. I could have chosen to cry that it hurt. I could have chosen to just endure the pain until it was too dark to throw, and then cussed my way to bed. I could have chosen to hang up my glove and hat and end my baseball career. Instead I chose to stick it out. I chose to make the effort to catch the ball and to learn to do so well.

After that day I played a lot of catch with anyone who was available. My friend Tony from down the street, my brother when he came over, my brother-in-law, anyone who could muster up a throw to me. And I made a point of keeping my eyes open, my shoulders square to the person throwing, and the glove outstretched. I still took my share of bruises, but over time those became less and less frequent.

I spent that year still working the outfield, but by the end of the year I did have a few base hits, and I had almost no at bats where I was called out on strikes.

My baseball career never really took off. Despite being left-handed and having a bit of pepper on my throws, I could never master control, so pitching was out. I could hit decently, but not with power. But one thing that I was good at was catching the ball. In subsequent years I played first base and did so well.

What happened on that night in front of the garage taught me a lesson. I learned that night that if I applied myself, and set my fears aside, I could learn to do new things. As I made those decisions, and started to get a pattern of success, my confidence grew.

Today my reflection is on those areas in my life where I need to set aside my fears and make the decision to spark an ember of confidence.

Note: I am not going to be using a book to tell me which quotes to reflect on this year, at least not a book that prescribes the quotes by day. Instead I am going to my book shelf and using one of the books I collected as a Dale Carnegie instructor. It is called The Book of Positive Quotations, Compiled and arranged by John Cook. I was looking through my book case and pulled this one out. A few times a week I am going to open the book to a random spot and pick one of the quotes. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

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