“One blessing of participating in sports is that it provides an amazing training ground for life. Last year “America’s Pastime” provided a near perfect example of grace in action.
Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was having a tough season. In fact, he was on the verge of being sent back to the Minor Leagues. Given one more starting assignment, he pitched 8 flawless innings and stood only three outs away from the rare and coveted “perfect game.” With only two outs to go, the next batter hit a groundball fielded by the first baseman who tossed it to Galarraga as he covered first base. This play, like the entire game up to that point, was worked to perfection – except the umpire called the runner safe, who was obviously out. Galarraga simply smiled. It was a smile which conveyed, as one sports writer said, “a hope that the umpire was right because it sure seemed as if he was wrong.” The instant replay showed the runner was out and the umpire, Jim Joyce, was wrong. The obligatory and expected anger of the manager, team and crowd descended upon the arbiter, the Umpire Jim Joyce, except for one person – Galarraga. After the game while the media attempted to bait him into an angry response of condemning the umpire who made the bad call, Galarraga again simply smiled and softly said, “we all make mistakes.”
When Jim Joyce saw the replay he immediately and sincerely declared, “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Joyce personally went to Galarraga and asked for forgiveness. Galarraga not only forgave Joyce but attempted to console the visibly distraught umpire. Whether the two men are believers are not, they both exhibited the grace of confession and forgiveness.
Only, this story was not yet over. Joyce, being the first base umpire in rotation, would be the home plate umpire the next day and of course expected nothing but abuse, anger and jeers from the crowd. To start a game, the manager normally brings the starting lineup card to the home plate umpire but this time, the Tiger’s Manager sent Galarraga. When the two men met at home plate, Joyce wept and Galarraga again smiled, put his arm around him and consoled him. The private reconciliation of the day before became public. The crowd erupted spontaneous cheers and applause.
What would happen if Christ-followers intentionally acted this way toward each other? Did not Christ call us to “forgive others as we have been forgiven?” Would the world then react the same way those baseball fans did if we responded to the challenges of life graciously for Christ’s sake? They might not cheer, but they might be amazed and might even ask us what enables us to patiently forgive and encourage another.
That day baseball did its job of teaching lessons of life but tantalizingly manifested what Paul calls “the abundant life.” We live in a broken world therefore constantly have to deal with disappointments. We are not allowed to respond with vengeance. We are called to overcome evil with good. Here was a young man who had in his hands “the perfect game.” It was taken from him by an error, but he rose above the circumstance, realizing that even though he was denied a “perfect game” he lived in an “imperfect world.”
I hope and pray that Galarraga knows the Redeemer. I also pray that those who are redeemed will be challenged by this event to live redemptively by grace because of God’s saving grace. Because of his response, I was curious to know what or who was in Galarraga’s life that caused him to exhibit such courage and grace. Shortly thereafter in an interview, his wife said his response was no surprise because that “is just who he is.” Her comment reminded me of a maxim that I developed earlier to challenge my faltering life – Circumstances do not dictate your character, they reveal it and provide the opportunity to refine it. Armando Galarraga’s character was revealed in a circumstance which challenges me to call upon God’s transforming grace in my life to be, in the midst of disappointments, courageous, forgiving and gracious toward for Christ.
Being from a three-generation baseball family, a number of people asked me after this event if I thought we needed “instant replay” in baseball. My immediate answer was “absolutely not!” I personally believe that it is good, if not great, when “imperfections” happen in baseball. Why? Because “errors” and “mistakes” happen in life all the time. If the first baseman had bobbled the ball or thrown it away, it would not have been a “perfect game” because of his error. But, the first baseman fielded the ball, threw it to the pitcher who caught it. But in this case, the umpire made the error. In Big League baseball there are not just 18 men on the field. There are 22. Whether it was the pitcher or the umpire, an error meant it was not a “perfect game.” But, in this “Imperfect Game” we got to see something much better – a “Perfect Response.”
We live in an “imperfect world” with “imperfect people”because we are all sinners. But, there is a Redeemer who has overcome sin, and will make you an overcomer in a world of sin and errors – both the ones you make and the ones others make around you and to you.
My guess is, you can’t name a single pitcher who has pitched the rare and coveted perfect game unless you are my age and remember Don Larsen in the Yankee’s World Series victory. I’m even more certain that we could not name the umpires in those games. However, this generation of baseball fans will remember Jim Joyce, the umpire who confessed his error, asking for forgiveness, and Armando Galarraga, a man bigger than self promotion who freely gave forgiveness. In humble reliance upon Divine grace, let’s display the Gospel response of graciousness in an “imperfect world.” The world may not cheer, but Christ will be exalted and that will be glorious. Let’s “play ball!” by Dr. Harry Reeder III at www.harryreeder.wordpress.com