By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
I admit I didn’t watch a lot of the College World Series. I caught a few innings when Louisville or Vanderbilt were playing, but I’m just more of a Major League Baseball fan. There’s nothing wrong with the college game at all — I enjoy it when I am really into it — but the big leagues have a big place in my psyche.
Before I knew there was anything other than basketball in Lexington, Ky., where my favorite college team resides — yep, I am a Big Blue fan — my imagination had already been captured by big league baseball. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling the action.
I went to Crosley Field in Cincinnati for my first game when I was six years old. The Reds beat the Houston Colt .45s, 2-1 in 11 innings that day. I don’t remember much about that one other than I came home with a white batting helmet with a red bill like the Reds of that era wore. I remember Vada Pinson, who had the coolest name ever in the big leagues, roaming center field for the Reds. At the time, I was unaware of the significance, but Houston’s starting pitcher that day was Don Larsen.
Yes, the same Don Larsen who threw a no-hitter in the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees. It’s amazing what you find out on the internet, you know.
And it’s amazing how the digital age can shape perceptions, regardless if they are right or wrong. I didn’t watch much of the College World Series but two images will likely remain stuck in my memory for quite some time, even though I have never had even the slightest interaction with either individual involved. It’s just human nature and it’s magnified in a world with instant access to just about anything.
The first was Louisville pitcher Luke Smith captured yelling at a Vanderbilt hitter after recording a strikeout to end the eighth inning of their game on June 21. Smith appeared to use vulgar language. We only saw a few seconds of the incident and what truly happened is really not important. But, what was said overshadowed a brilliant pitching performance in which he allowed just one run through eight innings and struck out 10 batters. It was Smith’s first loss in seven decisions this year.
Vanderbilt rallied to win, 3-2, after the incident and many pointed to that moment as the game changer.
I am not going to judge Smith here. For several days, it seemed like every news source criticizing the young man was offset by another talking of the many great things he’s done for U of L and the city of Louisville. Some at the game said there was verbal sparring coming from both benches, which would not surprise anyone who has been around a high level game. Smith obviously got caught up in the moment — like many people — and to many that is remembered much more than his good deeds.
If you don’t believe me, type in Smith’s name on a Google search and see what comes up.
On the other hand, I saw another photo that made went all over the world wide web after Vanderbilt defeated Michigan, 8-2, to win the national championship. It was of Vandy senior outfielder Stephen Scott cleaning his team’s dugout an hour or so after the Commodores had won the big trophy. It was telling that his gesture came after his final college game, but let’s face it, simple service is often forgotten these days.
I didn’t follow college baseball enough to know who Stephen Scott was or anything about his personality. Checking the stats, Scott went 1-for-3 and drove in two runs in the championship game. But what will most people remember? My gut feeling is it will be that moment of service when he did not have to be and few were watching. It was just such a special moment that we rarely see, especially at a time when he could have been celebrating.
Just like most of us would have been.
My intent is not to compare what happened and, as I have said, I don’t know anything about either player other than what little bit I’ve seen in connection with the College World Series. I’ve personally been on both sides of the spectrum in my life. I’ve lost my temper and yelled. I might not have cursed someone but I have used hurtful words and ended up having to eat them and apologize. During my more than three decades working for a newspaper, I am sure there were things I wrote that were hurtful. There were things that were taken the wrong way and there were times I wrote things I wish I could have taken back.
Chances are just about everyone reading this column could say the same.
In sports, it’s easy to lose it. It’s easy for trash talk to escalate too far. And it’s easy to want to retaliate. But, as most coaches can attest, the one the referee sees is usually the one fighting back or retaliating.
On the other hand, I can say the greatest compliment to ever come my way as a writer came not from the 60-plus first-place awards I earned in contests, but a simple comment coming from a Christian athlete.
“I just knew you were a Christian by the way you write,” the person said.
I was simultaneously humbled and honored.
The whole point I am trying to make is that we never know when someone is looking nor do we know the perceptions of our actions. With that in mind, we must strive to always be mindful that we really are “Christ’s ambassadors” (II Corinthians 5:20) in all we do.
You never know when someone is paying attention.