Grace under pressure is no fluke
June 10, 2010
Armando Galarraga was one out from perfection. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander induced Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians to hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield. Covering first base, Galarraga took the throw, stepped on the bag and prepared to celebrate something that has been accomplished only 20 times in baseball history: He had pitched a perfect baseball game.
Except. Umpire Jim Joyce thought he saw the play clearly. He thought the runner beat the throw. Except. Replays clearly showed the ball was in Galarraga’s glove and his foot was on first base before the foot of Donald arrived. It was a realization that Joyce said he later suspected as he walked from the field and then had confirmed by taped replays.
The reactions of the two people most affected by the play were most interesting. After the game was over and Joyce had realized his mistake, he stood up and accepted the criticism. He apologized to Galarraga, he faced the media and he admitted that he had blown the call.
In the other clubhouse, Galarraga also spoke of the incident. He couldn’t have been more gracious. He basically said that Joyce is a human being and that we all make mistakes. He had accepted the apology and sounded for all the world like a young man that had already moved on and was ready to try and duplicate his feat. There was no bitterness, no rancor. He will be remembered by many as a gracious person, somebody who transcends the sport in which he plays.
It was nice to see something like that. Frankly, I think the reactions were more refreshing than if Galarraga had actually pitched a perfect game. Athletic accomplishments are nice, but the display of good character is a far more valuable lesson for the others to observe.
That led me to think about what develops that type of character. Stressful situations are what reveal character, and the aftermath of that situation certainly qualifies as stressful. Galarraga says that his reaction in that situation (a wry smile at first and a forgiving spirit) were qualities he remembers seeing modeled by his parents.
I have a friend who has been in public education for about 50 years. I know him well and appreciate his perspective. He has often told me that, in his observations, the most consistent predictor of success for students has been the expectation of good behavior and solid values placed on those students by their parents or significant family members.
I have coached for over 20 years and thought, early in my career, that sports developed character. I have since come to believe that sports reveal character. In most cases, the best a coach can do with a student athlete is build upon or reinforce what has already been learned and, more importantly, modeled at home.
The main point is that I have come to admire the coaches in the public school systems in Grand County. I have also come to admire the parents who raise the children I, and others, have coached.
It was my pleasure this winter and spring to be given the opportunity to write about the high school sports teams from both West Grand and Middle Park high schools. As a result, I got to know the coaches on both sides of the divide (Byers Canyon). I found out that none of the coaches are perfect. They make mistakes, just like you and me.
However, I find this group of people to be very dedicated and selfless in their desire to provide opportunities for the children of our community to participate in activities they love. I have also seen their athletes perform. None of them are perfect either.
How each of them would react if they were placed in the shoes of Jim Joyce or Galarraga is only a matter of supposition. I believe the vast majority would reflect the values they have seen modeled and would react in similar fashion to those two men who were place on a national stage. And, in the end, that is a reflection of what they have learned at home and, ideally, had reinforced by significant adults in their lives.