When To Give Up

This is one of those posts where I have three different things — sports, AA, risk-taking in the business world — oh, and writing… make that four things I want to talk about that are related to a common theme: the fear of failure. So bear with me if I jump around or digress.

As I write this, the big news here in the islands is the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine softball team, which is playing it its first NCAA Women’s College World Series. Since we have no pro teams, UH sports is the biggest unifying interest we have for locals. However, women’s softball has never been a major draw and until the past two weeks, it even took a backseat to off-season news about UH football and basketball.

My wife and I have spent thousands on tickets for other UH sports, but have never been to a Wahine softball game (which are free). Yet when they appeared on ESPN in nationally-televised games against mainland powerhouse, Alabama, we were glued to our flatscreen TV. To advance to the World Series, they had to beat the number one team in the country on the Crimson Tide’s home turf, in a best of three games series.

The ESPN announcers didn’t give the Wahine much of a chance, despite the fact they had set a college record for home runs in a single season. Basically, the “experts” said those homers came against lesser competition in ballparks with short fences or at high altitude schools where the air was thinner. When Alabama crushed the lady Bows in the first game, it appeared the announcers were right…

But the wonderful thing about sports is you get to play again after you lose. You can fail miserably, then come back to win or even be the hero, regardless of how badly you screwed up earlier. It’s all in your mindset… and in your heart.

The Wahine changed their uniforms, switched dugouts and charged out to a 7-2 lead in the second game. They did it by hitting the long ball. But ‘Bama came back to tie it, and my hopes sank like a rock. I saw the Wahine’s dream slipping away as momentum ebbed in the Tide’s favor. Yet the UH team managed to score one more run and held on to force a deciding Game 3.

And what a game it was! UH took the early lead on another homer. Alabama again came back and had a one run lead going into the final inning. The Wahine’s first batter got a walk. Conventional baseball wisdom says if you’re batting in the bottom of the last inning, you play for the tie. Most coaches would have the next hitter bunt the runner over to second base to improve the chances of that player scoring on a base hit. The downside is the bunt usually results in an out at first base — hence the term “sacrifice” bunt.

The UH coach did not put the bunt on. I was surprised. The ESPN announcers were surprised. Then the next hitter made an out, and the runner was still at first base. Third Wahine takes her cuts and makes the second out. They are down to their last out and I’m thinking, THE COACH BLEW IT — they should have bunted that runner over! And before I could say that out loud, the next Wahine belted the first pitch out of the park. Game over! The ESPN announcers were stunned. The ‘Bama faithful — about 3,000 in the stadium — were stunned. I was stunned.

They got there by playing long ball and taking their swings. If they were going to lose, the coach decided they would go down taking their best cuts. They weren’t going to bunt or play it safe. They weren’t going to change their game because they were playing mighty Alabama. The Rainbow Wahine won because they stayed true to their team’s character.

Yesterday, in the first game of the World Series, Hawaii did it again in the final inning, coming from behind with a dramatic home run. Once again, they chose not to bunt the runner over to set up a a chance for a tying run. The UH coach lets them swing for the fences because he believes in their abilities and isn’t afraid of taking the heat if they come up short.

Although that strategy has been working so far, I’m hoping at some point today or in their next game, the UH coach surprises the opposing team by doing the unexpected: bunt when everyone is playing back. Because that’s the other thing winners do — they save something for the moment they need it. The trick play, the small adjustment that exploits a weakness in the other team, the psych-out move that rattles your opponent.

That’s what I love about sports and why I bring it up so often in reference to the business world or writing. On one hand, it’s largely about numbers — playing the percentages. Real sports fanatics know their favorite players’ statistics inside and out. Yet sports is also about the intangibles: what’s in your heart and head. It’s learning how to win the mind games we play with ourselves.

When I saw that home run in the third game against Alabama, I got pretty choked up. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think the Wahine were going to win. The other pitcher was too good. I was feeling pretty pessimistic, largely because it had been a rough week for me and things haven’t been working out as I had hoped with my writing career. Life can be a real bitch. Life isn’t fair — you work hard, do the right things, and you still fail… I should just give up.

And when I saw them celebrating at home plate, suddenly I had hope. They didn’t give up when they lost their lead or fell behind. They did not stop swinging for the fences, or back down from the challenge. Why should I give up on myself? As long as I can type, I still have an at bat left — a chance to knock one out of the park.

If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging… or typing. Whatever. Anyhow, I didn’t make it to the second, third, or fourth thing I planned on writing about today. But I’ll get to it. Meanwhile, I’m going to watch the Wahine and root for the young women who are representing Hawaii in Oklahoma City today.

Never give up.


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2 Comments on “When To Give Up”

  1. I’m glad you were able to grasp the enormity of this event and apply it to your life, and I think the team would be as proud of being an inspiration to you as they are of their win. It took me twenty-five years to get my first book published, and I have the folder full of rejection letters to prove it. The ones with encouraging comments go on the right and are constantly reread, the nasty ones and form letters go on the left and are ignored. I didn’t stick with writing because I’m brave or even because I want revenge on everyone who rejected my work. I stayed with it because writing nourishes me. Why give up and quit? If you can spend your life believing in yourself and doing something you love, whether or not you are making money at it, you are a success.

    • richfigel Says:

      Thanks, Lycan (aka Porter Grand, author of LITTLE WOMEN AND WEREWOLVES, now available on Amazon.com). The “why give up” question is trickier though if you’re putting most of your life and energy into a creative pursuit that doesn’t pay much (if anything), and you start wondering if that time would have been better spent working in a field that may not have offered much creative satisfaction, but at least paid you a decent wage for the material things you may have sacrificed over the years.

      I mean, I don’t regret the material sacrifices for myself… but I look around the house, and know there are things my wife would have liked to remodel or fix up, and we can’t afford it because I’ve spent so many years pursuing a dream. I guess I should have held on to a regular day job… I dunno. But you’re a reminder that persistence and patience does pay off in the long run!

      The guy who cowrote the NIXON screenplay, which Oliver Stone directed, said it took him 15 years to sell his first script… which then got nominated for an Academy Award.

      Update: the Rainbow Wahine lost to UCLA 5-2 yesterday, but put up a good fight. UCLA has won 10 national championships. This is the lady Bows first appearance in the Big Dance. When they were down 4-0 late in the game, with a runner on base, two outs and two strikes on her, a Wahine batter fouled off over a dozen pitches… then lined a two-run shot into the stands. The crowd of 8,000 (mostly mainland people) went absolutely wild! She just refused to give in to the pitcher.

      Although they lost, ESPN showed that at bat and the 17 pitch sequence as one of the top plays of the day for ALL sports they cover! The Wahine have one more chance today since it’s double elimination. Twice before in regional play-offs, they faced the same exact situation — win or go home — and pulled it out. It’s almost too much to expect them to do it one more time. And yet…

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