Going The Distance

How pitching has changed over the years. Cy Young (who has a rather prestigious award that carries his name) won 511 games in his storied career. Bob Gibson, Cardinals great from the 1960s, averaged 270-280 innings pitched in a year. Then came the advent of the modern bullpen with its cadre of specialists. Long relievers. Left-handed relievers. Set up men. Closers. Soon, managers had reduced the pitching aspect of baseball to a 6 inning game (which now forms part of the definition of a “quality start”). In the seventh, a reliever comes in to set up the batting order the setup man, who comes in for the eighth inning in order to set the stage for the closer to come in and shut down the opposition for the ninth inning. That is sure different from the years of old when pitchers like Walter Johnson would routinely go 300 innings in a season—no wonder he ended his career with over 530 complete games! Today the standard has been recalibrated to 200 innings for a season, and, as a result, one of the most laudable achievements in baseball, the complete game, has become increasingly rare.

While baseball purists will continue to argue the relative value of a complete game to the overall success of a team, there is something worthwhile about finishing what we start. Going the distance. Running all the way to the finish line. Playing until the whistle blows. All of those sports metaphors exist for a reason—completion is satisfying. Paul expressed this desire for completion in his service for Christ when he told the Ephesian elders:

“And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:22-24) 

“So that I may finish my race with joy…” What a goal! To complete what I have started and, in the process, to finish well is a powerful value for the follower of Christ. That is why words like endurance and perseverance are so meaningful. “Finishing” is not necessarily easy, but it is deeply gratifying—especially in the matter of serving Christ with out very best all the way to the end. And Paul reached his goal, allowing him to say before his death:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Finishing well in our lives for Christ… it is not merely for the purpose of reward, but for joy of finishing well. It is, in effect, our “complete game.”

Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain