Is It Time to Learn the Knuckleball?

Whether you realize it yet or not, there’s a good chance you’re entering a new season of life. Some of this is just the natural progression of your aging or the aging of your kids or grandkids. But that’s not the only way new seasons occur. Recently our entire culture has shifted, requiring critical transformations in how God’s people respond.

I’ve come to an important conclusion while watching many seasons come and go during the past 70 years: We usually can’t rely upon the things that worked in the past. In each new season, success requires us to adapt to the changes and learn new lessons.

Somehow that caused me to reflect on the career of Hoyt Wilhelm, a major league baseball pitcher from Cornelius, North Carolina. While most pitchers were trying to perfect blazing fastballs and tricky curveballs, Wilhelm found another niche. He became famous for his knuckleball.  

If you’re not familiar with knuckleballs, they are pitches thrown from a pitcher’s knuckles instead of his fingertips. This minimizes the spin of the ball and causes erratic, unpredictable motions – very difficult for hitters to follow.

While studying the life of Holt Wilhelm, I found some life-changing principles we would all be wise to heed, even if we don’t consider ourselves baseball fans. As you navigate this new season, ask yourself these vital questions:

  • Do you know your niche? One sportswriter commented that although Wilhelm didn’t have the “look” of a baseball player, he was “the best player in history at what he does.” While many of us spend our lives trying to imitate someone else, Wilhelm focused upon his best pitch. Have you ever taken time to assess what your best pitch is?
  • Is it time to quit relying on your fastball? Your 100 mile per hour fastball isn’t going to last forever. In the same way, if you’re now in your 60s or 70s, you probably shouldn’t still be trying to do things the same way as you did in your 20s. One of my favorite stories about Hoyt Wilhelm is how he saved the career of a pitcher named Wilbur Wood. Early in Wood’s career, he relied on fastballs and curveballs, but the velocity of his fastballs eventually diminished. Thankfully, teammate Hoyt Wilhelm taught him how to throw knuckleballs, and this helped to extend his career. In this new season of your life, is there some new tool that God wants to add to your toolbox?
  • Are you geared for longevity or just for speed? Some fastball pitchers flameout after just a few seasons. In contrast, Wilhelm didn’t retire from the major league until just days before his 50th birthday. He was the oldest professional baseball player during each of his final seven seasons. This should be a great example for us! You see, life is a marathon, not a sprint. If we’re wise, we’ll resist the urge to aim at short-term rewards. Instead, we’ll make sure our lifestyle and career are sustainable for the long haul.
  • Who are you mentoring? Longevity is a great thing, but at some point we all must “retire” from actively playing the game. Just as he had mentored Wilbur Wood, when Wilhelm retired he became a pitching coach and mentor for young ballplayers. Throughout the Bible, we see examples of leaders who poured their lives into the next generation like this. Notable examples include Moses with Joshua, Jesus with His disciples, and Paul with Timothy, Titus, and others. Who are you mentoring today? There’s no better way to leaving a lasting legacy.
  • Are your eyes set on the Hall of Fame? In 1985, Hoyt Wilhelm was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame – the first relief pitcher ever elected. Although some people had ridiculed his knuckleball, it had served him well! Someday we will all stand before God’s judgment seat to have our lives evaluated. Our eternal rewards won’t be called a “Hall of Fame,” and our objective shouldn’t be the accolades of people. Instead, our lifelong quest should be to hear the beautiful affirmation of our Savior: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Hoyt Wilhelm was just a baseball player, not a preacher or evangelist. Yet he exemplified some important lessons for every believer to follow. Don’t wait until your life is almost over before you figure out how to live it!   

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