|N A RECENT game against the Dodgers, Barry Bonds hit a pop-up toward second baseman and former teammate/antagonist Jeff Kent. Instead of hustling to first base, Bonds headed for the dugout.|
When Kent dropped the ball, Bonds had to change direction and barely avoided being the back end of a double play.
Cast that humiliating moment against what I saw at this past week's high school baseball state championships here in Mississippi, and Bonds' attitude becomes more acutely defined as apathetic. What I saw were young men closing in on second base when their pop-ups were being squeezed by an infielder's glove; they played until the play was over.
Bonds probably took steroids. He's intensely self-absorbed and has the temperament of a pit bull with an ulcer. But to disrespect the game the way he did that day -- and the way he's done it so many times before -- is the greatest offense in my book.
When you're cheating, at least you're trying to help your team win. He's certainly not the only professional athlete known for wild mood swings. But to give up when the ball is still in the air suggests total indifference toward the game and toward the team.
Bonds has become so far removed from baseball's foundational principles -- e.g., hustle, baserunning savvy, fielding smarts, bunting, etc. -- that he's become almost an intrusion on the game. He just doesn't fit in anymore. He's become so obsessed with hitting a ball (Ted Williams was obsessed, too, but he made hitting an art form; Bonds turned it into a freak show) that he's forsaken every other element of the game. Now, the only thing he has left, the hitting, is leaving him (.233 average, five homers through May 17).
Sure, he's closing in on Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron -- still stuck on 713 homers as of this writing -- but Mr. Sunshine's accomplishments are forever tainted by his estrangement from the soul of the game he so long dominated. His legend lacks the usual aura, partly because of the allegedly illegal means by which he cemented that legend, partly because of his surliness, but especially because of his disdain for baseball's integrity.
Untethering oneself from foundational moorings in pursuit of vain glories is always a dangerous exercise. Bonds' fruitless chase of history -- I call it fruitless because the "tree" is diseased -- is a reminder to me that I must be careful not to abandon the undergirding principles that make for a more productive, well-rounded and meaningful life.
Those principles, of course, come straight from God's Word. If I am to perform truly righteous deeds, and have pure motivation for such deeds, I must remain anchored in His Word, as it's said. Whenever I become unanchored, I find myself drifting aimlessly, discontent even if I grasp what it was I was reaching for.
Let's take my fondness for apologetics. I believe it's a worthy pursuit, but I mustn't become hyperfocused on being a great apologist and risk losing sight of why I should make myself a competent defender of the faith.
If I absorb great amounts of biblical knowledge but eschew the application of it and the introspection it demands, what good is it doing me? Who cares if I can win any debate if my arguments aren't borne of a love for God?
When a desired end becomes my central focus, then the really important things fade to the background. I compromise the integrity of my faith when I disdain intimacy with God, much like Bonds disdains intimacy with the game by not embracing every aspect of it.
It is pointless for Bonds to reach for history, because history will leave him hanging from a thread of ill-gained numbers, with no solid ground for him to land on when he discovers how precarious is his grip.
Trying to achieve righteousness without God will put you in the same predicament.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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