Baseball fans everywhere are mourning the loss this week of one of MLB’s greatest players, Tony Gwynn. In his 20 years of playing at the professional level, Gwynn has built an impressive resume that includes 15 selections to the All-Star team, 8 batting titles, and 5 Golden Glove awards. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and it’s easy to see why when you look through his full list of accomplishments in the sport.
Tony Gwynn had a great attitude about the sport, and was known for saying things like:
“Remember these two things: play hard and have fun.”
By itself, that’s great advice we can all take away and apply in many areas of our lives. But as I dig deeper to understand more about what makes this man so great, there are a few other things that stand out. These are the kind of ideas that not only made him great in his profession, but when applied correctly, can also make us great in our own professions.
1) Be Who You Are, Not Who People Expect You to Be
We have this idea in our head of what an athlete is supposed to look like. I think of guys like Michael Phelps (Olympic swimmner), who probably doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his entire body. Dwight Howard (NBA) is another one who has the physique of a champion. Even in Gwynn’s own sport, there are guys like Derek Jeter and Evan Longoria who are the model of physical fitness.
But not Tony Gwynn. At 5’11″ and 200 pounds (which is likely to be under-reported), with a little extra thickness around the waist and thighs, he’s referred to himself as having a “body by Betty Crocker.” He may not look like the quintessential athlete, but he doesn’t let that stop him. In fact, he’s embraced the image. He didn’t try to become something he wasn’t. Rather, he used what he had to his advantage.
In talking about being yourself, Brené Brown states, “There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.” So don’t try to be someone else. Be you. Embrace yourself, (perceived) flaws and all. It’s hard when people have expectations on you, but you can do it! You won’t regret it, and you just might go farther with simply being yourself.
2) Exercise Patience
Gwynn was known for his patience at the plate. By using a smaller and lighter bat than most, he was able to wait a bit longer before committing to his swing. He was hardly ever fooled by a pitch, which resulted in his consistently high batting averages.
While the kind of patience Gwynn practiced was measured in milliseconds, the idea of slowing down and not jumping the gun on decisions is an important one. We often feel like we’re doing better if we jump into a decision early, even before we have all of the information.
Jesus spoke to His disciples (in Luke 8) about having patience (emphasis mine). He new the importance of waiting, and how it would produce good fruit.
As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
3) Focus on the Important Things
In an effort to maintain his high batting average, Gwynn studied pitchers to learn their nuances. Understanding how his opponent would move gave him early insight into the kind of pitch that might be coming his way. For Gwynn, this was all part of his effort to study the craft of making contact with the ball.
While many batters want to hit the homerun everytime they’re at the plate, Gwynn saw more value in simply getting on base… regularly.
NBA coach Pat Riley once said, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” That’s what Gwynn did. He never stopped studying and working to improve his ability to connect with the ball. And that was more important than hitting the big one less often.
4) Develop Yourself on Both Sides of the Ball
Gwynn’s study of the game didn’t end with the offensive side of the ball. He developed himself on the defnesive side as well. At times he worked even harder on his defense, and eventually became one of the best right fielders in the game. He went as far as studying the outfield walls to understand how balls might bounce off of them, so that he could optimize his position and timing in an effort to respond quicker and make the play.
He believed that being well-balanced is more important than only excelling on one side of the ball.
Solomon spoke of finding balance in Ecclesiastes (7:16, NIV). He even went as far as to point out that being too strong on one side of the ball could be to your detriment.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
A Final Thought on Being Awesome
Tony Gwynn’s excellence in the sport of baseball will be remembered for generations to come. He accomplished great things by embracing who he was, making smart decisions, finding a sweet spot and constantly working on his craft, and striving to be well-balanced in all phases of the game.
These concepts apply to far more than just baseball. It would be nice if we could get elected to a Hall of Fame for our work in (insert your job here), or for being a great parent, or for our service to the Church or community. But even if that doesn’t happen, think about the legacy you’ll leave. Who knows? People just might talk about your contribution to whatever it is you do for generations to come. And that would be awesome!