Cardinal Virtues

1% of your entire life. Assuming average life expectancy, that’s what happened to you between the first pitch of the 2011 season and the last out in Game 7.

Life, like baseball, has been going on all around us this season. Our kids are a year older. We’ve been married a year longer. We realized a few more of our goals – and saw others recede into the distance. Perhaps this year has brought challenges: illness, job loss, strained relationships. This season, as in every season, we’ve been made to feel that life’s horizon is wider than a ball game.

Baseball games happen in little snapshots of time, mini-duels that happen while life continues around it. The games come and go. The fans, the players, coaches – all mortal. But behind this game that we all love so much is something much deeper, something greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes on the surface and sometimes hidden, baseball is a game full of lessons in virtue. Every season, we have the distinct opportunity to grow not only as fans but also as individuals.

I don’t remember a season in which virtue was more apparent on any one particular team than the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. Team injuries. Failed closer. Shoddy bullpen early in the season. August 25th. And they didn’t quit. Berkman beats the Vegas odds and makes a storming comeback. Craig gets to Ogando…twice. Holliday survives a massive bug attack. Pujols starts hitting again. The bullpen is lights out. And who can forget Game 6? Down to our last strike – twice – only to seal the win on a walk-off in the 11th inning. Fortitude. Resilience. Courage. Perseverance.

How about Chris Carpenter? Six arm surgeries, early season struggles, and little offensive support behind him. But who among us doubted he’d come out like a beast in the post season? Game 5 in Philadelphia. Game 7 on short rest.

We watched these men collectively strive toward excellence day in and day out. Sure, they weren’t perfect. Plenty of games saw us pulling our hair out and shouting at the TV. But life isn’t so different is it? We’re all dealt challenges, trials, and difficulties. We either persevere or we give up. We fight through the challenge or give in to cynicism and passivity. Thank you, St. Louis Cardinals, for showing me a great model of resilience. Thank you, Chris Carpenter, for being the kind of guy I can point to and say “See kids, don’t let anything stop you from pursuing excellence. Never give up. Never stop fighting.” Thank you, Yadi, for showing grit from the first game to the last. Thank you, Adam Wainwright, for sitting on the sidelines every game of the season to support your teammates and for showing us what it means to persevere through set backs. Thank you, Tony La Russa, for showing us how to fight for 33 years for something you love. Your resilience is a profound example. And thank you, Dave Duncan, for the way you served your family during your painful trial. Your actions speak louder than words.

For all their successes and eventual victory, the Cardinals also taught us something about humility. Humility, it has been said, is not thinking less of yourself: it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is the proper recognition of who we are. Humility respects others and gives credit where credit is due.

I was struck by this virtue as I watched the rise of David Freese. The Hometown Hero had countless opportunities to gobble up the limelight, to shower himself with glory. How you would feel if the crowd you’d dreamed of playing in front of suddenly chanted your name? If you were suddenly a hitting force headed to the record books? If you were out-performing the All-Stars (and your mentors) on the team?

But from everything I saw of our third baseman, Freese looked for every opportunity to give credit to his teammates, his coaches, his parents, his past influences, and the fans. There are a few shots of David leaning in to speak to Berkman, Pujols, and Holliday during the celebratory mob in Game 7. One wonders what sorts of comments were shared. My guess is that whatever was expressed in the exchanges, it was done in a spirit of thankfulness and humility.

So thank you, David Freese, for modeling what it means to think less of yourself than you do of others. Thank you, Bullpen, for cleaning up messes and often not getting much glory. Thank you, Lance Berkman, for being a relatable and humble guy, always keeping things in perspective. Thank you, Alan Craig, for coming through when you were needed and not pouting over limited playing time. Thank you, Jake Westbrook, for humbly accepting your duty in the postseason. And thank you, Albert Pujols, for reminding us every time you get on base Who gives you the strength to do what you do.

It’s now up to us to ask the question: Do we exhibit the virtues we see in our favorite team? How did we grow as individuals this 2011 season? We can be more than just better fans. We can be better people. More resilient. More humble. And if you need some inspiration, look no further than the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

Motte hurls, makes sure his beard is still in tact, and then stares. La Russa, jittery, fixates his laser vision on the ball. The infield stands frozen. Alan Craig backs up…up. ”It’s well hit!” comes across the airwaves. And as people rise to their feet, take a look at the person standing to your right. To your left. People like you. Something remarkable could be happening off the field too.

5 thoughts on “Cardinal Virtues

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: