The rain clouds loomed more and more ominously with every passing minutes, so practice winded down shortly after I started watching. When the team broke their huddle and headed over to the side where I was standing, I caught the eyes of two, familiar looking players. It took me a second, but soon I realized that they were former teammates of mine from my youth travel baseball days. With practice being over, I hopped the fence and jogged over to talk with them.
They looked generally the same way they did when they were thirteen, just a bit older, and with more scraggily facial hair. We spoke for a few minutes, catching up on life, talking about the MLB. They were attending small junior colleges, playing ball there, and trying to finally figure out a major. I told them about acting and graduation, and that sports we strictly a hobby now. I’m sure they were waiting for me to explain why I was walking around their baseball practice with a Bible in my hand, muttering to myself. But I figured that my transformation from baseball jock to theatre nerd had already set them off balance enough.
After a few minutes, we looked up at the black, thundering clouds and decided that it was time to go, so I wished them good luck and we said our farewells, promising to take some time this summer to hang out and catch up some more. As I drove home through the rain that night, I couldn’t shake this one thought out of my mind. “How could they still be playing baseball?”
Now I have no vendetta against organized sports. I love sports. In fact, not playing varsity high school sports is something I look back on with great regret. But what you must understand is that I am a victim of over exposure to youth athletics. Baseball started for me when I was four years old. I played a year of T-ball, which proved too easy for me, so when I was five, I had moved to the seven year old coach pitch division, and by the time I was seven, I was playing with nine year olds in full-on little league. From that point, I decided that in house play wasn’t enough for me, so I ventured into the world of travel teams. From the time I was nine until I was fifteen, I played sixty to eighty baseball games, every summer. Not including fall ball, and winter workouts. Winter workouts for twelve year olds, you ask? Yes, personal trainer and all.
Needless to say, by the time I got to high school, I was completely worn out. I looked at these guys, now in their twenties, still playing ball, and probably playing more games then we ever played as kids, and it just didn’t click for me. I couldn’t imagine myself still putting in the long hours at practice and in the batting cage and at pitching lessons, because somewhere along the line, the game had stopped being fun, and when it stopped being fun, I stopped wanting to play.
While baseball is something that is in my past, and youth athletics is something I plan to be very selective and careful with for my children, I do not regret the memories and the friendships that I formed during those long travel summers. Nor the lessons I learned from being a part of a team.
In my backpack, at all times, I keep a regulation size baseball. This is not to pour salt in the wound of my “could have been” baseball career, but rather, it is to remind myself that as an artist and as a man of faith, I never want to lose my sense of play, as I did on the baseball diamond. In the game of collaboration and creative art, there is no winner and loser, there is no right and wrong, there is just pure play. I hope to never get so serious, that to create art becomes nothing but work. Because it is from a playful heart that genius takes root and beauty begins to grow. I think that’s maybe why Jesus calls us to have a childlike faith. Children are constantly in tune with their sense of play; and because of that, they see the world through a different, more dynamic, brighter lens then the rest of us who have stopped playing the game for fun and have started playing for money, power, clout, or any other worldly gain.
The pursuit of sincere creation starts with a willingness to pick up the ball and begin to play. This is how art and creativity has been developed since the beginning of time, through a willingness to experiment, and an unwillingness to accept anything as failure or loss. It’s just like Albert Einstein says, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways it hasn’t worked.” I believe that if everyone viewed art this way, instead of some serious, dark, suffering, professional experience, we would begin to tap into undiscovered wells of creativity that God has divinely interwoven into our souls from the day we were created in the secret place.
So lighten up, and play. After all, it’s just a game.