Odd Man Out

My, how quickly we forget.

It was only five months ago (May 11, to be exact) that Shelby Miller allowed a leadoff single to the Rockies’ Eric Young. After that, the Cardinals’ rookie retired twenty-seven consecutive batters—a perfect game, if not for one bad pitch to start the first inning.

Miller’s performance tailed off some after that, but not much. He ended the season as the Cards’ second-best pitcher and put himself at least in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

Then the playoffs started. And Shelby Miller disappeared.

You would think that a team that won the National League pennant and is getting ready to start the World Series would want a guy like Miller around, and in fact they do—just not as a starting pitcher. The Cardinals have stashed him among the relievers as one of the last options out of the bullpen. Miller, effectively benched, is now considered an emergency option should the starter disintegrate in the early innings.

Plenty of people who know more about baseball that I do (a la Rob Neyer) can debate whether the Cards made the correct decision in pulling Miller from the rotation, and it’s an interesting argument for baseball geeks like me. But as a guy with a slant toward the metaphorical and spiritual, it seems to me there are some lessons to be learned here, even for the non-baseball fan.

From Miller’s perspective, his apparent demotion cannot be pleasant. Every kid dreams of playing in the World Series—not just wearing a uniform and watching, but playing. That dream is just within Miller’s reach, but it looks like his bosses aren’t going to let it happen.

Still, Miller has remained positive. Publicly, at least, he has not whined about his situation. He continues to get himself ready just in case, and to cheer on his friends and teammates. It’s not that he is not competitive or does not want to play. It’s just that he seems to understand the situation and be able to put his ego aside for the greater good.

Would that we were all so selfless, or at the very least that we could all maintain such perspective.

But there’s another side to this situation that also bears exploring. The Cardinals have been quiet in terms of what’s going on with Miller. No surprise there. The organization is not known for loose lips.

Behind closed doors, however, I hope they remember how much good Miller did for the team this season, winning fifteen games and logging 173 innings. And I hope that they express that gratitude. In a culture with a memory span barely longer than the 24-hour news cycle, we need people who remember to say thank you.

In my years as a church professional, I’ve worked with plenty of divas (male and female) who could not function in ministry once the spotlight was taken from them. I’ve also worked with countless people who never recognized the sacrifices made on their behalf, much less went back to say a word of thanks. And, truth be told, I’ve spent a considerable amount of my time trying not to become either high-maintenance or ungrateful, an effort that has not always yielded success, but has probably been good for my soul nonetheless.

How much better would Christian community be if we could trust one another enough to set aside our egos? How much more joyfully would we sacrifice if we knew that someone other than God was watching and would someday comment on our good work? And what would happen if, rather than just complain about it, we tried to become the kind of people we wished we worked and lived and worshiped with?

Whether you’re the star of the show or the odd man out, these are questions worth pondering.


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