Sunday afternoons during May and June are dedicated to Pirchei Baseball. Every grade has its own teams and games. As the boys get older, the games become more competitive and intense, especially for the parents. That’s why I really enjoy watching the pre-1Aers, the youngest boys, play; their games are pleasant and unpressured. I saw it when our oldest son Shalom was in pre-1A years ago, then again with our second son Avi, and this year, with our third son, Dovid.
Watching those boys play is like watching a mini-comedy show. The batter hits the ball off the tee, and the ball slowly dribbles up the middle of the field. Suddenly, from all sides of the field, 14 players converge on the ball. So much for having set positions. Somehow the ball makes it through all their scrambling legs, and like a swarm of bees all of them make a sharp turn and start heading towards the outfield to retrieve the ball.
Meanwhile, the hitter is being told to run. Sometimes he begins running up the third-base line and must to be redirected. As he runs up the first-base line, often holding the bat, he tries to figure out where to stop. By then, the ball is in the outfield and he’s being told to head towards the other white fluffy thing in the middle of the field.
When the play is finally over, everyone is told what a fantastic job they did.
By the time they reach the next grade, a year later, the game has already progressed to new levels. Fathers and coaches are calling out to batters to “wait for your pitch” and “good eye,” while fielders are instructed, “play is to first” or “try to cut off the run.” But in pre-1A, there are no such instructions being called out. Everyone will be deliriously happy if the batter actually hits the ball off the tee, and remembers to run to first, and if the fielders actually find the ball and send it back into the infield. Lower expectations lead to greater satisfaction all around.
In baseball, as in all sports, players must be proactive in deciding what action they need to take before the play begins. It’s vital that a fielder and a batter know how many outs there are. Whether a fielder will make a play to second or decide to hold the runner, and whether a runner will be running if there is a pop-up depend on how many outs there are.
If the player doesn’t think it through before the play begins, and has to start contemplating how to proceed once the ball is in play, he will most likely mess up the play.
In sports, there are scouting reports and coaches, to help players figure out their best plan of action so they can be ready to make their move as soon as the play begins.
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year, Cleveland Cavalier guard J.R. Smith forgot the score with four seconds left. He pulled down an offensive rebound after a teammate missed a free throw. He didn’t realize that the game was tied, and so, instead of passing the ball or taking a shot, he dribbled out to midcourt and ran out the clock. The Cavaliers lost the game to the Golden State Warriors in overtime.
In life, too, we need to plan in advance as much as possible. Undoubtedly, there are many situations when surprises and the unexpected is thrust upon us. But there are many other situations in which being proactive could make a world of a difference and change the entire dynamic.
Regarding relationships, we often know the types of comments or situations that frustrate others. If we mentally prepare for such encounters, we will often be far better equipped to handle the situation properly and avoid confrontation.
This idea is no less true when it comes to our spiritual pursuits. One moment of thought before davening or performing a mitzvah can make a world of difference.
M’silas Y’sharim cautions us to never perform mitzvos suddenly. The entire point of a brachah is to give us a moment of pause to contemplate what we are about to do – to appreciate the benefit Hashem has granted us, or to mentally prepare for the mitzvah we are about to perform.
In sports, not pre-planning is frustrating; in life, not pre-planning is a tragedy!
 The underlying idea in this essay was based on a schmooze by Rabbi Daniel Kalish. The connection to Pirchei Baseball is my own.
By R' Dani Staum