“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” –Steve Prefontaine
My dad, Larry H. Miller, was a world-class fast pitch softball pitcher. In this sport, pitchers throw the ball with an underhanded motion at speeds of up to 85 mph from a distance of 40 feet.
In baseball, the distance from the pitcher to the batter is 60 feet.
Softball’s reduced pitching distance means that batters experience softballs pitched at 85 mph as equivalent to baseballs pitched at 125 mph.
In other words, there’s a good reason it’s called “fast pitch.”
In case you were wondering, there is such thing as a Softball Hall of Fame, and yes, my dad’s in it.
But he had to learn a few lessons before he got there.
He used to talk about one lesson he learned on the pitcher’s mound early in his softball career. Pitching is strenuous, he would explain, physically demanding. Especially in tournament play, where it was sometimes required to play multiple games per day, it was important to conserve energy.
One way he attempted to save his strength was to estimate the ability of each batter he faced, and then to pitch only as hard as necessary to strike each batter out. So he used this strategy, and for a while it worked okay.
Then one night in an important game, my dad underestimated a batter. He threw a pitch that was less than his best, and this batter got on base. I don’t know the ultimate result of that game, but I do know that my dad was so upset with himself that he committed from that moment to throw every pitch as hard and as well as he possibly could.
Besides, he reasoned, every batter you face deserves the very best pitch you can give him. If you’ve thrown your best pitch and a batter manages to hit it, more power to him.
My dad carried his best-pitch determination into everything he did, both on the softball diamond and off it. Every transaction. Every meeting. Every negotiation. Every lesson. Every act of service.
This explains the thinking behind something he said in his autobiography about the Jazz: “I’ve always said to our guys, ‘I’ll never ask you to win, but I will ask you to give us everything you’ve got.’” This quote now hangs inside the entrance to the locker room.
Sometimes we need to be reminded.
Life is our softball diamond, and our days are our batters. Each one deserves our very best pitch.