Elwood Yoder has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also Editor of Today, a publication of Eastern Mennonite School.
I’m a Cleveland Indians lifer, having followed the team since I was a boy in the 1960’s. My sister and I used to sit by the family stereo in Hartville, Ohio on a Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn and listen to an Indians game for entertainment.
More recently, I watched every game of the World Series, and it made for some short nights of sleep before school the next morning. I’m disappointed the Indians lost the seventh game in a heartbreak, but maybe we can win next year—it’s only been 68 dreadfully long years since we last won the fall classic.
Listening to the Cleveland Indians play baseball year after year has taught me valuable lessons for life. Baseball helps me navigate a challenging world and has given me a set of survival skills. Here are six lessons I’ve learned from following the Indians.
Aim for a hit, not a home run. Good hitters aim to meet the ball squarely and get on base. Only occasionally do they hit a home run. This past year the Indians were a scrappy team, eking out singles and doubles, stealing bases, and getting just enough clutch hits to achieve a winning record. At the beginning of the season, very few experts expected the Indians to make it to the seventh game of the World Series. Indian hitters went to the plate game after game, aimed for singles, and occasionally smacked the ball over the fence. My first life lesson is to hit the ball coming across my plate squarely, try to get on first base, and once in a while I may get lucky and hit a home run.
Do the little things. Learn how to bunt, make sure you catch the ball before you throw it, always run hard to first, and touch every base when you run. One hitter in the recent World Series watched his grand hit, and ran slowly because he thought it was a home run, but it bounced off the top of the wall back onto the field. If he would have run hard he would have made a triple instead of a double. For me, doing the little things means being ready to teach every time students walk in my classroom door, noticing each student, greeting them, caring about them, and doing my best to make history classes interesting. My life lesson is that doing the little things adds up and helps to win a few games over a career.
Forget about yesterday’s loss. Professional baseball players often have only one night to think about the last game until they have to get ready for the next day’s game. In baseball, you will lose about half your games, but the best players learn how to move on quickly and forget about yesterday’s loss. I’ve had some losses in life, some disappointments, and each time I’ve had to decide how to respond. Will I get up the next morning and go on, greeting the new day with determination, a smile, and attempt to do my best in spite of yesterday’s loss? That’s my goal, and it’s a lesson I draw from the Indians, who, over my five decades of listening, have lost their fair share of games.
Play like a professional. One of the reasons I follow almost every game the Indians play is because of their radio announcer, Tom Hamilton. He is an outstanding professional commentator, and he continues to entertain and call interesting games, even when the Indians lose a lot. Hamilton does his background reading and research, he shows up for work, and he stays interested until the 9th inning, even when we’re getting pounded by the other team. After one dismal season a few years ago, I wrote Hamilton a letter, thanking him for his outstanding work. About two months later, I received a nice handwritten note from Hamilton, thanking me for listening to him call games. Tom Hamilton announces in a way that inspires me to play the game of life like a pro.
Learn how to play for a new manager. The Indians have gone through their share of managers over the years. During 35 years of teaching, I’ve worked for several managers. Each one is different, has different values, and emphasizes different elements of the educational enterprise. It’s up to me to figure out the new manager and play hard with a new lineup. The players in the Indians’ dugout have to figure out new managers when they arrive and so do I.
Encourage the team. Over a season of following the Tribe, I can tell who the team leaders are. They encourage the other players, speak in positive ways and play hard until the last out. Baseball is a team sport, but the game relies on the success of individual players, which is why I find it a great mix of individual players’ skills and teamwork. On my faculty, I want to be a team player, encouraging others and noticing their successes. I’ve also learned from baseball that to be a good teammate I need to carry my share of the load.
Following the Cleveland Indians over the years has taught me good lessons for life. Maybe if the Indians apply these lessons to their game next year we can win the World Series.