Hanging Up Your Cleats

As a kid, I had the impression that heroes don’t move on.

No one could replace Superman in his cape. Batman didn’t turn over the keys to the Batmobile. Spiderman couldn’t teach a mere mortal to swing effortlessly from one building to another.

I still remember one of the days when that view was shattered. It was May 30th, 1989. I was glued to the television as one of my greatest childhood heroes addressed a hive of buzzing reporters.

A single microphone perched on top of a podium was the only thing between Mike Schmidt and the crowd. The scene was slightly jarring. He was in a suit and tie while his number 20 Philadelphia Phillies jersey was lifelessly draped in front of him.

I loved that jersey! Over the years I watched it trot around the bases after game winning home runs. I saw that jersey jump fearlessly into the dirt and make unthinkable defensive plays. I witnessed it dive head first into bases while the umpire shouted “SAFE!”

Of course, the jersey was simply a symbol. In reality, I was in awe of the man who wore it. Many people consider Mike Schmidt the best 3rd baseman of all time and he played for my team. For me, he wasn’t just “a” hero. He was “MY” hero.

He began his remarks by saying,

”I left Dayton, Ohio, with two bad knees and a dream of becoming a baseball player; I thank God it came it true,” 

Shockingly, tears began to flow from his eyes onto his trademark thick mustache. You can watch the video here.

It was evident his historic baseball career was over. A piece of me wanted to weep too. I was confronted by the reality that my hero was a human being. It was like a fastball straight to my gut.

We all are hit by this truth in the people we love and admire. Whether your hero is an athlete, musician, political figure, chef, spiritual leader or social activist, a time comes when they either “hang up their cleats” or pass away.

The same will happen to you too.

One of the toughest parts of leadership is letting go. Transitioning from one role to another is disorientating. In order to do it well, we must release ourselves from everything we were known and respected for. Only then are we free to live out the next chapter of our lives.

Without a doubt, some people don’t give themselves enough time to develop into the leader they were intended to be. They expect extreme change overnight and fail to hone their gifts to their fullest.

Others stay in positions of leadership beyond what is healthy for them and the organization they oversee. The humility needed to make this change is too much for them to embrace.

Thank you, Mike Schmidt for showing me that a hero can acknowledge past success, grieve the current loss and move on with joy into the future. You are still trotting around the bases in my memories.

 

A note to the girl on campus, crying outside the gym

I saw you curled up in a corner outside the gym. It’s a spot where only someone desperate to escape the crowds would go. The window you were sitting next to is deceiving. You probably couldn’t see in, but I could see out. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else even noticed.

There was an undeniable look of pain on your face and tears were rolling down your cheeks. At first this startled me. I felt like I was peering into a very private moment.. Then, a sense of compassion hit me. I wanted to stop my workout to go outside and make sure you were OK. If it wasn’t for the fire alarm door standing in the way, I would have done it.

Then I began to think of what else I could do to help. Only one thing came to mind…pray. I don’t want to seem weird but it seemed like you could really use it. I also made up my mind that if you were still there in another minute or two, I would make my way out of the gym to where you were. It only took you about 30 more seconds for you to pick yourself up and move on. The gym is a complicated maze to escape. Even if I left when I first saw you, I probably wouldn’t have made it to you in time.

When you got up, many emotions filled me. I was sad to see you in pain. I was worried hoping that you would be all right. Interestingly enough, one my primary emotions was anger. I was angry at that door for separating us. There was someone in pain who I couldn’t reach because a barrier stood in the way.

I don’t assume you would want to talk with me even if I was able to make it past that door.   Still, it made me think of all the obstacles that stand in the way of me seeing and reaching out to people in need. Sometimes it’s self-centeredness. It is easy to look in the wall full of mirrors in the gym and stare impressed (or depressed) at what I see. Similarly, when my focus is on myself, I don’t consider what is happening in the world around me.

Other times, the fire exit doors are things like busyness or the next “important” thing on my calendar. I’m sure there are times when I miss people in pain because I’m too caught up in making it to the next meeting on time. It turns out, you taught me a very important lesson.

Most likely, you and I will never meet. I’ll probably never get to tell you this face to face but I want to let you know that at least for a brief moment in time, you had someone praying for you in your pain. Whether you realized it or not, you were not alone.

The same thing is true now. Even in the midst of your sorrow, you have someone who you can’t see who knows what you are going through. Unlike me, His love is unconditional and He can break through any door to meet you where you are. I pray that no matter what dark time you are walking through, you will experience the hope, joy and peace that only He can bring.