The Cost of Winning


Lance D. Smith



            Tommy was the most athletically gifted person I have ever known. He was charismatic and a highly gifted kid in every sport he played. But Tommy stopped playing sports because of the high cost of winning.

            I remember little league games when Tommy crushed homeruns, scored more than anyone, and threw harder, farther, more graceful, and accurate than anyone.

            Looking back, it was simply a case of a father wanting the best for his son. But I am left with the burning memory of his father, always disappointed or yelling, sometimes under his breath, not over the incredible things Tommy did, but what Tommy could have or should have done.

            Tommy was the hero of the all-star tournament that year. After the final game, all of us players were happy and smiling, clinging to our trophies as we filed out of the dugout. Tommy's dad waited at the gate, patted him on the back and said, "Good game Tommy, what happened with that grounder that got by you? That cost us runs you know." Tommy deflated and dropped his head to his chest.

            His dad steered him away from the single file line of players and said, "Let's go practice ground balls, boy. Son, easy ones like that don't get by a good shortstop."

            He held Tommy by the back of his neck as if to guide him out to his position on the field. As the rest of us walked toward refreshments and a celebration that waited beyond right field, Tommy's dad drilled ground balls at him until he was satisfied. Tommy was humiliated but tried not to show it. His humiliation quickly turned to anger as he gobbled up ground balls like a hungry animal. Tommy never enjoyed or developed a love for the game, or any game.

            Did his father not see the three-run homer Tommy hit that practically won the tournament? Did he not see the diving catch in the second inning that none of us could have pulled off? I began to wonder what WAS good enough for Tommy's father.  I felt sorry for Tommy, but didn't know what to say to him.

            I am sure Tommy's Dad wanted the best for his son. But Tommy started to despise sports, and himself. Even if Tommy played a perfect game, he never felt good enough because there was always a next game or the last game he wasn't quite so perfect.

            Tommy quit sports altogether. I could not believe it. The greatest player I have ever known walked away from it all. The most talented warrior I have ever seen simply dropped his shield and sword and walked off the battlefield.

            Looking back, I understand why. No matter how much he won, he was never good enough.

            A few summers slipped by and he began hanging out with "a different crowd." He became guarded and hid behind a different self that he showed the world. He turned into somebody that no one had any real expectations for. He tossed out emotional landmines to anyone who tried to get close to him. He eventually turned to drugs, trying to escape himself. His dad despised him and kicked him out of his house.

             Looking back I often wondered if his dad ever missed the charismatic, talented kid he once poked and prodded? Would he have done anything different? Would he have simply allowed Tommy to just play and take in the whole experience?

            But Tommy's life came to an abrupt end, way to soon, at seventeen years old.

            So if you ever see me coaching or cheering my kids on, know that my childhood teammate's story is always with me. 

            Tragically, Tommy never learned what his story taught his teammates:

             Do your best, and let the rest fall into place.

             Sports are games, not real life.

             Win or lose, be proud of your best effort and always respect yourself by respecting your opponent.

             If life was about keeping score, then forgiveness is useless.

             Even professionals strike out and miss ground balls. It happens to twelve year olds too and is not the end of the world.

            Most people don't remember the score anyway. If they do, it takes work.

            If victory were only about the score, then we should be able to find salvation in winning.  If putting up the winning numbers on the scoreboard didn't save Tommy, I donít think it can save anybody.

          Victory becomes, to some degree, a state of mind. Knowing ourselves superior to the anxieties, troubles, and worries which obsess us, we are superior to them. Basil King

          Being a winner means getting knocked down, getting up, forgetting the last play and giving your best now. Former Cincinnati Reds Catcher/Baseball Coach; Sank Powe.


Enjoy Life,


Back to ToInspire Home Page