Forfeiting Your Opportunity
by C.A. Phillips
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
Matthew 5:13 (NLT)
The regular season was wrapping up, and two foes were facing off for the top seed in the season-ending tournament. The game was neck and neck. Each team had to work to eke out each run during the game. And, then it happened: a pivotal moment in the game when the ball got by the catcher with a runner on third base. The catcher scooted to retrieve the ball, as the pitcher and the runner raced towards the plate. The catcher threw a dart to the pitcher, who caught the ball and applied the tag as the runner slid in.
It was bang-bang, with the proverbial cloud of dust lingering as I stood behind the plate, slightly up the third base line to get the correct angle to make my call. I paused for maybe two seconds – an eternity when each team is in limbo, awaiting the determination.
“He’s OUT!” I exclaimed, as I raised my right fist high in the air. While I was the most popular man in the world to one side of the field, I immediately became Public Enemy No. 1 to the visiting team.
The head coach ran down the line and demanded an explanation and shared his thoughts vehemently. “How in the world was he out?! He beat the tag. There’s no way he didn’t get in there! I want you to tell me how you could call him out!”
What the coach didn’t realize in that moment was that he wasn’t going to get anything from me. Not because I didn’t know what I saw – I certainly had seen the play unfold. I wasn’t going to give him an explanation because he had forfeited his opportunity when he decided to handle things HIS way.
At the plate meeting, I tell every coach, “If you have a question about a call, wait until the play has ended. Then, ask for ‘Time’ and make sure ‘Time’ has been granted. Then, speak with the umpire who made the call.” This coach never asked for ‘Time,’ and he then didn’t handle himself in an appropriate manner.
As umpires, we are trained on this. We are told that when coaches choose not to handle the situation properly, with respect and some level of decorum, they will not be “rewarded” with a discussion or explanation. They have lost that right at that point.
This is a valuable lesson – not just for coaches, but for all of us. When we make the choice to throw decency and diplomacy out the door, and just fly off the handle, we can miss opportunities. And often worse…we can lose influence with others.
Like the verse in Matthew 5 above, we can lose “saltiness” – even for an instant. And, then what we say and do become less palatable to others. Essentially, “worthless” to them. They won’t give us the time of day, because we showed that our agenda was apparently more valuable than them as human beings.
If the coach had asked for “time” and asked me what I had seen, I’d have been happy to tell him that the runner DID, in fact beat the throw, but that his foot never touched home plate. But, in his mind, I was just another blind umpire who cost his team a run.
For what it’s worth, the game ended in a 9-9 tie. Following the final out, that same coach – and his assistant – ran out towards me as I took my mask off and began to gather my belongings. I thought they were going to apologize for their behavior. I had another thing coming.
“You need to stand here and apologize to every one of my players for costing them this game,” he exclaimed.
“Are you serious?” I replied.
“Yes, we’re serious,” they said in unison.
“You know what,” I said, “You guys should stand here and apologize to them for how you behaved this entire game.”
Remember – we each have influence. How are you going to use yours?
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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