Twenty-two years as a Major League player, two trips to the World Series, 2,715 hits, National League batting champion, National League All-Star, All State wide receiver twice while in high school and a second round MLB draft pick. Remarkable athletic career, right? Unfortunately, what this great athlete will always be remembered for is one embarrassing moment in the World Series. Now you know who this is... Bill Buckner.
Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on the ﬁeld? I’ve had plenty, but they were not on the biggest baseball stage in the world— 10th inning, game six of the 1986 World Series. The Mets won the series in game seven. Buckner became the most hated man in Boston after letting a weakly hit ground ball off the bat of Mookie Wilson go between his legs near the ﬁrst base line at Fenway Park. To any Boston fan or any baseball fan over 40, just say the name Bill Buckner and you immediately think, “error.” Is this fair? No, but it is a sad truth.
When the spotlight is on you in sports, it can be exhilarating. It can also be the loneliest place in the world. My mind goes back to my junior year in high school on a basketball court in a small town in rural Kentucky. I had scored 18 points in the ﬁrst half and was well on my way to the best night of my career. I was already thinking about how proud my mom and dad would be and, also how my girlfriend would smile at me. I was thinking about a scholarship in basketball at the University of Kentucky (I got a little carried away in the moment). In those days, there was a jump ball to begin the second half. The ball was tipped to me and I was streaking down the court just ahead of two defenders, an easy lay up was just ahead of me. The benches were on the end of the court in this particular gym. It was packed with screaming spectators. As I left my feet to drop in my 20th point of the night, the opposing coach was standing up in front of the bench, waving his arms, yelling “don’t guard him, don’t guard him!” Too late...I'd just dropped in an “easy two” for the opposing team. I’m lucky the nickname “wrong way” wasn’t penned on me for life. On a side note, I didn’t score another point and finished with 18. I was too embarrassed to stay focused. After the game, which thankfully we won, my coach tried to make me feel better by saying, “It’s OK Keith, you weren’t the dumbest player the court, the two guys guarding you were.” Thanks, Coach.
Even in the most humiliating of circumstances, when we feel totally alone, we are not alone. After the overwhelming embarrassment slowly slips away, those of us who believe can find comfort in knowing God is with us. He is Immanuel, which means, God with us. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
When we win, when we lose, when we’ve been honored or when we’ve been humiliated, when we finally get that dream job, or when we’ve been rejected, when the doctor gives us good news or shares a grim diagnosis, God is with us. He’s with us to help us celebrate, but also to help us pick up the pieces and move forward. For this, I’m thankful for Immanuel.
(By the way, Bill Buckner also moved forward. Amazingly, most Boston fans have forgiven Bill. And, Bill has forgiven them for the boos, the hate mail, the death threats and the rejection and loneliness they inflicted upon him and his family.)