Every few years, I tackle an item on my bucket list. It’s always the same item, and by my calculation, it will take another decade to finish. What’s that bucket list item? To see a Major League Baseball game in every ball park in America. Presently, there are 30 such ballparks, and me and a group of friends have crossed 16 off the list over the past 3 trips spanning 7 years.
A few weeks back, three of our group (numbering 6 on our first trip, 7 on our second, and now 3 on our third) took on six games over a seven day period. We watched the White Sox in Chicago, took a day off to tour Lake Ann Camp, then visited the Indians in Cleveland, the Tigers in Detroit, the Cubs in Chicago, the Twins in Minnesota and the Brewers in Milwaukee. It was a glorious trip.
During our first game in Chicago, watching the White Sox at U.S. Cellular field, I was given a baseball during the Sox’s pre-game batting practice. It was a nice looking ball, had only been hit once or twice, was handed to me by one of the Sox pitchers and was bearing just one scuff. Catching a ball at a baseball game is always a fun highlight.
As batting practice continued, my friends and I took off on a self-guided tour of the park. This is one of our pre-game rituals, and one of the best parts of our trip -- seeing the unique features that each park offers. We started in right field, worked our way across centerfield and then dropped down to the fence in the left field bleachers. My friend Chad caught a batting practice home run, and then tracked down another one that landed uncaught in the bleachers. It was a good first game.
As we departed left field at the end of batting practice, I saw a little boy, probably 8 or 9 years old, leaving the bleachers with his dad. I heard his father say, “Well, we tried buddy, maybe next time we’ll get a ball!” The boy was obviously bummed to have not caught a ball, but he put his too-large Sox cap back on, told his dad he was “ok” and proudly wore his Sox jersey as they headed up to their seats.
I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the ball I picked up at BP and chased after the boy and his dad. I caught up with them on the wide concourse, just a few yards away from the massive Frank Thomas statue that rests on the left field porch. I called fort the little guy’s attention and asked if he wanted a BP ball. It was a redundant question, and he looked at his dad for permission. The dad gave an appreciative smile and told his son it was ok.
The boys smile was as big as his oversized hat. He couldn’t believe it and thanked me four or five times. He rubbed the ball in his small hands and and you would have thought I had just handed him a hundred dollar bill. His eyes lit up, he thanked me again and he walked away buzzing with excitement. The little Sox fan walked off with a spring in his step as he tossed the ball lightly into the air. He was smiling and laughing and he and his dad were both a little happy about the gift.
For several seconds I watched them walk down the concourse, and was surprised by a little wave of emotion that washed over me -- I knew I had made that young boy’s night. I knew he was going to walk in the door of his home and when his mom asked, “How was the game?” his first response was going to be: “I got a ball!” I knew he was going to sleep with that baseball under his pillow and first thing in the morning, he would pull out his glove and play catch, dreaming of being a major league ball player one day. I knew because I watched my son AJ do the same thing at one of the first games I took him to in Seattle. (Thanks JJ Putz for throwing it to us!)
My buddies had come up after me and they saw the boy wandering off with the ball. The old man in our group slapped me on the back, because he loves the nostalgia of baseball, in fact, he’s the one who has helped me to understand it. My road trip comrades wandered off to the first restroom break of the night, while I just enjoyed the moment.
It was so simple, but the act of giving away a free baseball had changed the course of one little boy’s night. In fact, I’m fairly confident I improved the night of the boy’s dad, too. It was so easy and so fun.
In moments like that, I wonder why I don’t do those kinds of things more often. The simple act of giving kindness in meaningful yet unexpected ways is powerful for everyone involved. Makes Paul’s words take on whole new meaning: “Be kind…to one another” (Eph 4:32). A simple act of kindness can change the course of someone’s night, can turn sadness to joy, anger to joy and loss to gain.
I’m going to work on taking advantage of the opportunities God has already given me to offer kindness to others. Sometimes it might be big, but so often, it’s just a simple act that God provides space for. I know when I regularly take advantage of the small opportunities -- I’ll be ready for the bigger ones that are sure to follow an Overboard life focused on giving.
Will you put Colossians 3:23 to practice today? What about making a commitment to perform at least one simple act of kindness every day for week? How do you think God will you use to impact others? How do you think you will be changed?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!