It’s been quite an exciting few weeks around our house. I’m working on some new projects which I’m very excited about. However, the BIG news is the birth of our 14th grandchild. Wilhelmina Alexandra Haskell was born on September 23 to our youngest daughter Abigail and husband, Henry. Grammie and I could not be more excited. We’re all about family, and heritage, and legacy and God has given us five wonderful children and now, with Mina – 14 beautiful grandkids. Mina is the news story around our house and community this week.
Otherwise, I am currently working on a new book. Old Paths, Ancient Markers, Guarding the Treasure of the Gospel. While doing some research this week I ran across a wonderful story written by Chris Sperry on his blog at Sperry Baseball Life. I am adapting the story for use in Old Paths and I wanted to share it.
His back was bent with scoliosis. His skin, withered and wrinkled from many years in the wind and sun. Sparse wisps of white hair garnished the top of his head. Coach John Scolinos walked with a definite shuffle as he scuffed across the stage toward the podium. He placed some papers on the podium as he turned to the 4,000 plus baseball coaches who had gathered for the express purpose of garnering wisdom from this aging mentor. As he turned to face the packed room, one realized that his eyes were the only part of him that didn’t reveal his age. They were bright and piercing as he scanned the room, he seemed to look every individual coach directly in the eye.
Snorts and chuckles slowly worked their way through the room as the coaches caught sight of the home-plate that swung awkwardly around his neck. Scolinos cleared his throat and began to speak. For almost 25 minutes he charmed, delighted, and challenged the coaches as he shared stories and priceless bits of coaching wisdom gleaned from his many years as a successful baseball coach. Not once in those 25 minutes did he mention the heavy rubber ornament that swung awkwardly around his neck.
Then, finally, he took the heavy rubber appliance between the bony fingers of one hand, “You’re probably wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, as he peered over the top of his spectacles. “No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned in my 78 years about home plate.”
His steely eyes scanned the room and under his stare, the atmosphere grew quiet––expectant. After a moment he asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After an uncomfortable pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches.” It was more question than answer.
“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”
Another long pause.
“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.
“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”
“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” they shouted, in unison.
“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”
“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”
“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’” Pause.
“Coaches, what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him, do we widen home plate?”
Chuckles faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”
Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.
“This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”
Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.
“And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!”
“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”
With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside as he spoke the concluding words of his speech in a voice barely above a whisper,
“… dark days ahead.”
Jeremiah urged the people of Israel,
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
(Jeremiah 6:16 ESV)
The writers of Proverbs warned:
Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.
(Proverbs 22:28 ESV)
Friends, there is a good way in which to walk where we can find peace and rest. It’s not new, it is not innovative, and it is not “cool.” No, this path was set in antiquity––no, even before antiquity––this path was set in eternity. We have abandoned the old paths, the good way, and we have lost our way.
There are markers that were set by our ancestors, markers that define our spiritual inheritance. God placed safety barriers around us to protect us from ourselves, but we have perceived them to be fences meant to hem us in. We have persistently moved the ancient markers and for it, we have forfeited our spiritual heritage.
We have defiantly widened Home Plate. We have cast off restraint, we have demanded a wider, more inclusive target as we demand more privilege and less responsibility. Home Plate is too narrow––make it bigger! And for us, there are dark days ahead.
(Home Plate is adapted from a story written by Chris Sperry at www.sperrybaseballlife.com)