Professional sports are a tough enterprise based on cut-throat competition with the goal of defeating the opponent. Players compete with even their teammates for playing time and for the opportunity to showcase their talents and hopefully score a lucrative contract.
That’s why I love the story of Tommy Pham. He’s a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks who played in this year’s World Series. On Saturday, October 28, his team was winning 7-1 in the ninth inning, in no small part due to his strong hitting. Four times he’d come up to bat, and all four times he’d gotten a hit. Going 4-for-4 in the World Series is pretty rare. To wit, Pablo Sandoval last did it in 2012.
With the team enjoying a comfortable lead, Mr. Pham asked his manager, Torey Lovullo, to let Jace Peterson bat in his place. Doing so was huge. First, this was only the second World Series game in which Mr. Pham had ever played and, second, he cost himself a chance to make history. No one, you see, in the history of baseball, has ever gone 5-for-5 in a World Series game.
Why would Mr. Pham do such a thing? First, consider that Jace Peterson is a reserve player, one who spends a lot more time cheering his teammates on from the dugout than out on the field playing. There was a high chance he wouldn't even step on the field during this World Series. Also, at the age of 33, Mr. Peterson is a young man, but his days in baseball are getting shorter and shorter. Mr. Pham knew his friend and teammate might never make it to another World Series.
One of these days, I can imagine Mr. Peterson showing his grandkids some of his trophies and photos and mementos. I can picture him looking around, finding a particular bat, holding it out to the kids.
"Is that it, Granddaddy? Is that the one you used in the World Series?" they'll ask.
"This is it," he'll say, his eyes filling with memories.
Jace Peterson will pause, I believe, and relive stepping into the batter's box that night. He'll hear again the stadium organ, the rustle and cheers of the crowd. He'll smell the popcorn. He'll see each pitch zipping his way. Oh, he'll wish he'd crushed a home run or at least popped a little bloop single. But standing there with his grandkids, he'll know for sure that what really matters is that he got to bat in the World Series.
"There's a story behind this bat," he'll tell his grandchildren.
"Really, Granddaddy? Tell it to us."
Then, I'll bet, he'll reach over and pick up a photo, the 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks team picture. Out of all those faces, he'll point to one.
"Well, that guy right there, kids, number 28," he'll start. "That's Tommy Pham. He was a really good ballplayer, but an even better friend. So, that Saturday night in Texas, in the second game of the World Series, we were winning big and ole Tommy was knocking the cover off the baseball. Then, in the ninth inning, he went to the manager . . ."
What if Jesus were holding that same team photo? What do you think He'd do? Or say?
I think He'd also point to number 28. And then He'd say, as He often did in the Gospels, "Go, and do likewise."