How The Game of Baseball Prepared Me for Life as an Army Ranger… and What Came After by Vincent Vargas
Every veteran deals with “life after service” a little differently. Some do it well, some self-destruct, and some just muddle along in a kind of post-military no-man’s-land. One of the most important things we can do as a country is to help those who have served the nation get on with their lives after they leave combat behind and once again take up the mantle of private citizenship.
Life is hard for all of us, both in and out of the military. I have lost friends as a kid to gang violence, I have had a significant other attempt suicide right in front of me, I been overseas three times, I have had close friends die in combat and in training, I have been through 2 divorces, a few custody battles, deaths in the family and teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. As you can see I had seemed to have run the gauntlet of life and I am sure there will be more to come. But I adapted, and I overcame. And so can you. We all just need to work together.
Helping veterans adapt to life after service is a challenge I take personally. I have spent the better part of the past three years trying to find ways to help veterans transition out of the military and get on with their lives as smoothly as possible.
Like many of my fellow veterans, I have personally had my share of mishaps in my path to finding normalcy in my life after the military. One of the biggest struggles I had, and have frequently mentioned in my dealings with fellow vets, is dealing with my sense of identity after the military.
Fortunately there are some great veteran-focused non-profits out there, and I have worked with several of them in recent years. There are many out there, but I will only vouch for those from which I have personally seen results.
One example of a great veteran-focused nonprofit is The Next Objective. The name is powerful on its own and I agree 100% with fitness and its power of getting guys "back into the game" from my own personal connection to this mission.
But this particular article isn't about The Next Objective orvince-heroes-sports-pic the Raider Project, which is another non-profit I have worked closely with. Right now, I want to talk about how one non-profit that goes by the name of Heroes Sports, and how they gave me the opportunity to get back on my game, to reflect on something that has been an important part of my identity, my sense of self-awarness, and a source personal strength for me.
In this article, I want to talk about a passion of mine, something I loved as a child and that served me well both during my time as an Army Ranger and in my life after.
I want to talk about baseball.
Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game.”- Ted Williams
It was a moment of reflection… when Heroes Sports gave me the opportunity to get back on that mound I saw a timeline of my life… from the moment baseball was taken from me for being academically ineligible (no one's fault but my own) to enlisting in the military and eventually to my life now.
I started playing baseball when I was 4 years old. I had no choice. My father made sure I was playing year round to keep me out of trouble and away from gangs and street kid mischief. He didn’t care if I was the best or the worst. He only cared that I gave 100% at all times.
It wasn’t until years later, standing on that foundation of grit and character, that I finally discovered a true love for the game and elevated myself to a level of success. But reaching that level would have never been possible without those early years of forced participation by the old man. Though I didn’t understand it at the time; it remains to this day one of his greatest gifts to me.
For me, baseball is life. For most, baseball is considered boring or monotonous, but to someone like me, it’s something much more. “Baseball” the sport is just a sport. I got it. But I see baseball as a whole, very similar to the grind of life. It's a game of failure, a game of negativity. It’s a problem to be solved, it’s something to be overcome… just like life itself.
I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me... but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch.”- Ted Williams
Hitting a baseball is considered by some to be the most difficult thing to do in all sports. Hitting a round ball with a round bat and trying to hit it square… it’s a wicked problem. Sound familiar? Life is nothing but trying to hit one out of the park no matter what field it's pertaining to... relationships... fitness... kids.... transitioning out of the military... it's all a difficult game. It’s just difficult no matter how you cut it. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Every strike brings me close to the next home run.” – Babe Ruth
It is said that baseball is a game of failure, because even the great hitters are only successful 30% of the time. The best pitcher might throw one no-hitter in his entire career.
And even the most proficient fielder is at the mercy of the batter, and whether or not he ever gets the chance to make a play. Typically a score of 30% on any test is well below failure. If I was faithful too my significant other 30% of the time, I wouldn’t be in a relationship. If I only paid 30% of my bills, I would be filing for bankruptcy. But nevertheless, life is a game of failure.
We have so many things holding us down…stress, collapsing relationships, impossible dreams and unattainable goals. But like all sports and most of life, it is a game of preparation meeting opportunity.
You have to shake off those unsuccessful moments and keep walking back up to the plate for another chance to hit the ball out of the park. Because the only truth is nobody hits a home run while crying in the dugout. I was a terrible baseball player when I started. But at some point I fell in love with the game. I didn’t need anyone to push me anymore. I pushed myself. Every day I was outside swinging the bat and soon seeing the results on the field.
The way those clubs shift against Ted Williams, I can't understand how he can be so stupid not to accept the challenge to him and hit to left field.”- Ty Cobb
Life seems to have mirrored this same trajectory. When I was young, I had no idea what I was doing, but the harder I worked, and the more of myself I give to any task, the greater the outcome. This is the secret of baseball, and the secret of life. The trick is falling in love with your own life, and making it a game you can win, despite the inevitable failures.
See in life we take swings... chances... and we miss a lot. We miss often, but when we hit the ball, we hit it big. In a world where success is minimal, we live with the mindset knowing that anything is possible.
One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” – Bob Feller
One of the best things we can do for veterans is to help them find their identity after service, their “space” in the world. We need to help them become “highly functional” and not fall into the “entitled victim” mindset.
My space is baseball, my heart is baseball. My identity is baseball.
All we can do as humans is to find our tribe, our family, our sub culture within an existing community. The spirit of competition is alive and well in the game of baseball, as it is (or at least should be) in life.
But we live in a culture where people believe in the ‘participation award’. We are raising a generation of weak individuals because we won't let them fail.
We won't let them feel loss or the pain of knowing you lost because you weren't good enough. This does not build a strong will to succeed. Strong will to succeed requires effort and real motivation, not success given to them without effort and motivation.
In today’s society so much is based on numbers, so the numbers I use when describing the long-range prospects of any youth baseball player go like this … For the five million children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play ball in high school. Of those 400,000, around 1,500 will be drafted by a professional baseball team. From those 1,500 or so, 500 will play two seasons or less in the minor leagues. Of the 500 in the minors, 100 will reach the Major League level, with one making it to Cooperstown, N.Y. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame." – 2005 Little League Baseball World Series Program
Those issues used to be what drove us to work harder and fight to become the best. It gave a baseline of what you needed to do to become the best in your space. And somewhere throughout the years we have guarded our children from a major necessity of life and that is to build resiliency in them, in our culture. Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is.
Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”- Babe Ruth
We need our kids to lose and lose often, to identify why they lost and where they need work and fight to get better. Whatever sport they choose. But they need to lose! You can't build resiliency with a life of no failures.
Their spirit needs to feel crushed and then us as parents, put the pieces back together for them to get crushed again. Sounds harsh, but in reality they are building the hard scars they will need to get through LIFE!
Real life issues like death, heartbreak, transition, separation… the list goes on and on. We need to protect our kids’ future by letting them lose!