It was the infield fly that should never have existed. And by rule, it seems, it never did. The infield fly rule – which was created to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping pop-ups in order to turn double plays – requires that the fly ball could have been caught by an infielder with “ordinary effort,” and requires that the umpire make an “immediate” declaration. In this year’s inaugural wild card playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals, an infield fly declaration was made during a critical seventh inning, and yet very clearly neither criteria was met. In short, the umpire blew the call.
The seventh inning was critical for at least two reasons: the Braves were behind three runs, and they were rallying. Without the bad call the Braves would have had the bases loaded with one out, which is a very good potential scoring situation. The infield fly declaration effectively killed the Braves’ rally, and although there is no guarantee they would have won absent the incorrect call, there is no question that the call significantly diminished the Braves’ chances of winning. One call by one man should not have such a monumental impact on a team’s 162-game, 94-win marathon season, but that’s exactly what happened. In the mind of veteran umpire Sam Holbrook, the infield fly existed, and unfortunately for Braves fans, Sam Holbrook’s reality is the only one that matters.
I will not go into technical detail why the call was plainly erroneous, but I will say this: as an avid baseball-watcher for twenty years and someone who knows the rules well, it was one of the worst calls I have seen. The Braves fans in attendance hissed and booed – and justifiably so – and as a Braves fan myself, I did my part by shouting at the television. For all Braves fans, that should have been enough demonstration of complaint, but the fans at Turner Field took it several steps further. Fans threw beer cans and trash onto the field, delaying the game for nearly twenty minutes and endangering the players and officials on the field. It was a shameful and embarrassing scene, and one which brings to my mind thoughts about strength of character.
I believe that one’s strength of character, or lack thereof, is largely revealed by reaction to adverse conditions. The tough times pull back the curtain and reveal one’s true moral fiber. For Christians this is especially true. One of the apostle Paul’s fundamental messages is that faithful Christian service will always result in antagonism, and even persecution. Paul tells his protégé Timothy, and in so doing tells us, to be strong and to keep the faith when faced with adversity. In other words, when your faith is tested, always demonstrate through word and deed the same principles of living that are relatively easy to demonstrate when there is no test of faith. Be bold and courageous, and in so doing demonstrate true strength of character.
But that is not always easy. As Christians, we will face “phantom infield flies” in our lives. That is to say, we will face situations where another person presents, advocates and defends a belief or worldview that is not based in fact. The Bible calls these people “false teachers.” We will also face situations where our beliefs and worldviews are aggressively challenged. How we choose to react to these situations is vitally important. Do we react with passivity and indifference? Do we react like petulant children, metaphorically throwing our trash onto the field with no substantive contribution or rational thought? Or, do we react with thoughtfulness and firm compassion, speaking the truth in love and with a genuine understanding and appreciation for the truth we advocate?
The scriptures say to choose this day whom you will serve. As Christians, we must make the choice to serve God, and we must stand ready to defend our choice once this day passes and a more difficult one takes its place.