One of the first Dixie Youth baseball games I ever played in, I learned a valuable, lifelong lesson.
I squibbed a ground ball off the very end of the bat up the first-base line. It was foul by a good six feet. Foul, that is, until the odd spin on the ball caused it to take a left turn into fair territory, into the glove of the waiting first baseman, who casually stepped on the bag for an out while I stood like stunned carp in the batter’s box.
Run it out. Always run it out.
Not just in baseball. In life.
That’s the beauty of sports, at least to me. You have fun playing your favorite games and learn invaluable lessons about life all at the same time. Very convenient.
And here I am again, forcing myself to run it out.
Many of you know, but many don’t, that the cancer I thought I was rid of from a couple of years ago has returned.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but it showed up again in my liver this time. It’s treatable, but not highly curable. I’m two chemotherapy treatments in. How many more do I have? I can’t tell you. It’s indefinite.
I don’t know what the future holds. I can promise only this: I won’t be caught standing in the batter’s box.
But enough about me and the despicable disease. I’m not here for a pity party. I’m here to encourage you, athletes, especially you young ones that still have your whole lives in front of you.
This is a sports page, after all.
Play as much as you can, as long as you can, as hard as you can, no matter the circumstances.
Even if you’re just a few games into your career, hopefully you already understand these games you play are microcosms of this incredible journey we call life. It might start out OK, but you’ll get battered and beat up and bruised somewhere along the way. You might come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard, but you’ll survive. You’ll always survive and play another day.
Run it out. Or as the late Jim Valvano, then stricken with cancer and weary from the fight, so famously said in his speech at the first ESPY Awards in 1993: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
That goes for all of you.
West Florence football, you guys have taken it on the chin so far, yet to win a game and maybe you feel like you’re in the deepest valley. There’s a way up the mountain you’re staring at. Find it. Fight like heck to keep going.
Hartsville, you’re rolling through opponents like they’re melted butter right now, unbeaten and on top of the mountain. Fight for all you’re worth to stay there. Take nothing — absolutely nothing — for granted.
And all you teams somewhere in between, whether you’re playing football, volleyball, soccer, whatever — don’t let this opportunity to play your tails off pass you by. If you do, I promise you you’ll regret it at some point.
No doubt for some, this sounds like one big, cheesy cliché. That’s OK. I might have felt the same way at one point in my life.
But most of you won’t be playing your favorite sport in college. Even fewer will ever experience the dream of playing professionally.
You’ll graduate and maybe further your education and then get a job and maybe a family. And stuff will get real when bills are due and somebody gets sick or life does its best impersonation of a safety taking out a receiver on a deep crossing route.
It’ll look like a foul ball. And you’ll just want to give up on it and stand there.
Don’t you dare.
Run it out. Always run it out.
It’s the only way you’ll ever win at anything.