Lessons on Life from a Hall of Fame Pitcher

John ArmstrongBaseball, Discipleship, Leadership

Many of you already know I am a huge baseball fan. In particular, I am a life-long Braves fan. I loved them when they were in Milwaukee and when they moved to Atlanta in 1966 I was a 17 year-old kid who found ways to drive four hours to Atlanta to see them play several times a summer. I have followed them over all these years and seen them play in at least nine different cities as the visiting team. I watch some of their games and listen to them on my MLB App now and then.

Don Sutton A few days ago I listened to one of those rare moments when a baseball analyst talked about pitching. The announcer asked him how a young guy could learn to be a big league pitcher. The commentator was Don Sutton, a Hall of Fame hurler who won over 300 games. Sutton is a regular on Braves radio and an astute student of the game. His subject was what about it took be to a successful pitcher. To me it was memorable.

He said that he learned to pitch in several ways but one of the most valuable was listening to commentators describe the game on radio. He then said limiting oneself to only video was not the best way to learn the intricacies of the art of pitching. He had my full attention.

Sutton suggested that when a young pitcher watched video he might try to “copy” someone else or learn by seeing a performance, even his own, and then simply go out and trying to do the same himself. He said this was not the best way to pitch. He said that there were three things needed to be really good. First, intelligence. You must understand the game and the craft of pitching. Second, athleticism. Third, imagination. The third point was the one he related to listening to the radio. He said that as a kid he listened to commentators talk about pitching and then imagined how to apply this knowledge to his own skill set and forms. He then said he realized that every great pitcher was unique. You could not copy anyone else and be really good. Copies are poor imitations. The very best pitchers take what they know, use what God gave them (ability) and imagine how they will put these together and develop an art that is their own style and form.

I was talking out loud in my car at this point. I said to myself, “This is exactly how I understand and teach discipleship.” You have to know some basic stuff. You cannot be like Jesus if you do not know who he was and what he said. You must have a knowledge base but be sure you know that this was not the same as passing exams or getting a degree in theology. Second, you must discover your unique gifts and abilities. Everyone has something they can do. Most of us have several things we can do. Some have a lot more. Finally, you need imagination. You must move toward what you see yourself becoming and doing and then begin to do it. You must dream and envision the future. You must aim high and be determined.

Sutton HOF Former star pitcher Don Sutton underscored for me why I refuse to teach people my style, my theology, my views. Don’t misunderstand. If I was your teacher you would know a lot about my beliefs, style and views. But I would never force you to copy me. I would encourage you to learn from me but I would stress that you need to imagine your own way so that you would become the best Christian you could be.

I thought about that again today and thought about those people I have trained the best over the course of forty years of ministry. In so many ways these people are not like me. They have their own form, style and insights. I never try to make cookie cutters. This is why I resist formulaic ministry and the various models that turn out clones. There is only one me and there is only one you. Be yourself. God gave you the native intelligence that you possess. He also gave you the gifts that you should use. It is you who must then use your imagination to grow into what he wants you to be. You are free in Christ to be that person. No one, no church, no movement and no school should ever turn you into “their” product. You stand or fall to Christ alone. Make sure that you understand this and practice it with great freedom.