Keep Running Till You Cross Home Plate

I used to love baseball. Or at least I thought I did. I joined the Franklin Phillies in the 5th grade, got my glove and my T-shirt with Franklin Phillies on it and my baseball hat. I was ready. I only played one year. Actually, it might have been less than that. I really only remember one inning. I was up to bat. First time. First game.

I think I knew from the minute that the ball left the pitcher’s hand that it was coming straight at my face. I did exactly the wrong thing. I turned and ran. Two steps. The wire mesh backstop kept me right there till the ball hit me right in the back of the head. I can still remember my fingers holding onto the backdrop right before the lights went out. When I woke up several minutes later I had made up my mind. I knew right then that baseball was not for me. I went home and told my mom. “I don’t want to play anymore. I want to do something else.” My mom wanted to know what we were going to do with my brand new $15 dollar baseball glove. $15 dollars. Boy those were the days. I think gloves are more expensive now. Anyway, one game, one inning, one pitch, end of baseball career.

You know, scouts, I think Scouting is a lot like baseball. You know after the first campout whether or not you like it. Maybe it takes a little longer. Maybe after your first winter campout. Or maybe after your first rainy campout or your first summer camp. But you know pretty early if the scouting program is the activity for you.

Scouting is a great activity because of the values it teaches. Any young man would benefit in a positive way from learning about the Scout Oath and Law and the values that these codes of conduct represent. But let’s get real. Very few boys join scouting because of the code or the Oath or the Law. They join because of the fun. If its not fun, they put their uniform in the box marked “garage sale” and move on to something that “is” fun. And that’s OK. Scouting isn’t for everyone. I wish everyone loved it as much as I do but that just isn’t the case.

But what if you do like it? Lets pretend that scouting is like baseball. What if you hit the ball instead of running from it? What if you get to first base and everybody is cheering and you feel great about yourself? What if you steal second and get into scoring position and everyone in the stands is going wild?

What if you hit a triple? The coaches are screaming and clapping. All your team members are excited. You are standing proudly on top of third base with your chest stuck out. You’re dusting yourself off after a fantastic slide into the bag and you glance up in the stands and see your parents with their cameras and camcorders preserving this special moment. A triple. How great is that? Your heart is about to bust through your chest. You just can’t believe you love baseball so much.

But let’s say you hit a game winning home run. You are a senior in high school. This is the final game of the State Championship. Bottom of the ninth, score tied, two outs, two strikes and three balls. Bases empty. This could be the last pitch. You swing. You connect. You see the ball going over the fence as you round first base. And what if this is your very first home run? Ever? The fans are going absolutely nuts. Your grandparents are up there in the stands. So is your little league coach. And there is your little brother. He’s wearing a T-shirt with your number on it. Popcorn is flying in the air as people high five each other and fireworks are going off and the computer generated scoreboard has the words “HOME RUN” flashing on and off for everybody to see.

That home run is the product of all the coaching, all the games, all the practice sessions. You’re part of a team and you have developed the skills to make a difference in the game. As you round second base, you think about all the times your parents have driven you to practice. All the uniforms you have bought and outgrown. You think about all the coaches you have had that shared a little time out of their lives to spend with some invaluable time with you.

You round third base. You see home plate. The third base coach is waving you home. The team is lined up waiting for you to lift you on their shoulders when you cross the plate. People with cameras are trying to get into position for a great shot. Hats and gloves are flying in the air. The fans are stomping the bleachers with their feet and chanting your name over and over.

But then a strange thing happens. You stop. You look around. You see all the excitement that is going on. And then you see the excitement stop. Your team is looking at you. Your parents are looking at you. They don’t know what you are doing. They look confused. You look over at the bleachers and you see the little kids team. They were chanting your name just seconds ago. They looked up to you and they wanted to be like you when they got to be seniors. Now they are looking at each other wondering what you are stopping for. You look back at the scoreboard. They have already added your run to the total for your team and the scoreboard is now flashing “State Champions” over and over.

And then you turn away from home plate. Your batting helmet is lying in the dirt somewhere between first and second. You take off your baseball hat and drop it in the dust between third and home. And you walk to the locker room without looking back. The field and the stands are absolutely silent as the team and the spectators watch you walk off the field.

What do you think of this little story, scouts? I repeat. I think Scouting is a little like baseball. And if that is true, the story I have suggested to you is exactly what happens when you have passed your Life rank and you walk away without getting your Eagle Scout award. All the people who invested time in you from your den mother and your Webelos leader to your scoutmaster and all the merit badge counselors will never understand why you walked away after getting that close. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to explain. I was First Class when I quit and I have a tough time explaining that. I can only imagine what it would be like to be so close to the Eagle Scout Award, and then not earn it.

This Scoutmaster’s Minute (Sorry, I know it has been longer than a minute!) is for Life Scouts. The rest of you need to hear it too but it is primarily for Life Scouts. You are getting older and other things are starting to become important in your lives. Cars, jobs, girls, coaches, harder courses in school, peer pressure, lots of things. But remember what you said to yourself that very first time you saw an Eagle medal pinned to someone’s chest. You told yourself that you were going to be standing there someday. I know that is what you said because that is what I said.

If you are a Life scout, you can see the prize. You have worked so hard already. Home plate is just a little further. Don’t walk away before the game is over. You have the skills, you’ve hit the ball out of the park. Come on down the line to home plate so we can give you the recognition you deserve.

© Bill Shaffer 2004