The Surprising Appearance of Virtue

It was one of those moments in sports that those who saw it will never forget. 

           Armando Galarraga, a 28-year-old journeyman pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, had pitched a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians until there were 2 outs in the ninth inning. He had retired 26 straight batters, and was on the verge of doing what only 19 other pitchers in major league history had accomplished. One more out was all he needed.

            Armando let fly with one more pitch.  Jason Donald rapped a grounder to the right side.  The second baseman scooped it up and rifled a throw to Armando, who had run to cover first base.  It was a bang-bang play, and Armando stepped on the bag just ahead of Donald’s arrival. Three outs! Perfect game! The crowd began to roar. 

Except…in that instant, umpire Jim Joyce stretched his arms to the side and signaled that the runner was safe! The cheers got stuck in the crowd’s throats and everything just stopped, like someone had hit a pause button.  As replays on the big screen clearly showed, Jason Donald was out by a step.  The ump missed the call, and as he said later, that call of a lifetime cost a young man a perfect game, and a place in the history books.

But here’s where the story takes a wonderful turn into a beautiful demonstration of virtue. We are so used to watching players on the bad end of calls pitch a profane, cursing, violent, out-of-control fit.  You know what Armando Galarraga did?  He said nothing, but simply smiled, took the ball and made a few more pitches to get the final out that finished the game.

It didn’t end there.  Within a few minutes, Jim Joyce had watched the replay.  He made his way to the Tigers’ locker room and asked to talk with Armando.  He admitted his mistake and with tears, apologized over and over. He didn’t deflect or shilly-shally; he simply owned the fact that he blew the call and was deeply sorry.

Armando recounted their conversation with reporters.  Reporters most likely expecting  a quotable headline of anger and outrage and bitter calls for “my rights” and a hearing with Major League Baseball officials.  You know what they got?  A soft-spoken acceptance of Jim Joyce’s apology and a simple statement that “everybody makes mistakes”. It was pure and lovely grace.

Today, a few hours after all that excitement, the teams’ representatives met the umpire crew at home plate to exchange official line-up cards for today’s game. Armando Galarraga brought the Tigers’ line-up card and gave it to Jim Joyce, who was scheduled to work as the home plate umpire. From the moment he stepped onto the field, Jim was in tears and wiped them for that entire meeting. But there was a clear sense of reconciliation between he and Armando.  With a handshake and a pat on the back they put the past away and moved forward.

What did we see?  Hard work and people doing their best.  Mistakes and acceptance of responsibility.  Disappointment and self-control.  Forgiveness and grace.  Reconciliation with dignity.  All of these virtues that are largely missing from most public life in our day…and also missing from the reaction of some idiot fans who made threats against Jim Joyce’s family. That’s why it was such a surprise and has captured the attention of so many people. All day long, there was discussion about the reaction and questions of how Armando could react the way he did.

One person said that it was nice to see the two acting like grown-ups.  For once, we can point to our professionals as a model for our children.  Little League coaches (and parents) across America should tape this, watch it and talk about it at some point this week. 

This is sportsmanship; this is the way you behave when things go poorly in a game.

Another person commented that Armando had to be a person of faith, because reactions like that don’t just happen; they are shaped from an early age and draw from a deep well of moral training.  I don’t have a clue about Armando’s faith background, but I will say that this models the sorts of Christ-shaped virtues that we want to be modeling and training in the people who claim the name of Christ.

This is discipleship; this is the way you behave when you are a follower of Christ and things go poorly in your life relationships.

            There are dozens of arenas in which relationships get sideways: between spouses, parents & children, workers & bosses, neighbors, political opponents,  Facebook friends and yes, between church members. It’s just a part of life in which selfish sinners deal with one another. 

            The world is obviously hungry to see relational virtues like the ones we saw demonstrated between Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce.  It’s sad to think it is surprising because it is so rare.  What if they saw these virtues demonstrated and the people involved were known to be committed Christ-followers?  Then the surprising appearance of virtues like self-control, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation would have an explanation; they come from a deep well named Jesus. 

Simply living the virtues of the resurrection-empowered, heaven-flavored life to which Jesus calls us may be one of our most powerful means of leading people to consider a relationship with Jesus.  Why?  Grace still amazes and attracts people. 

And no matter where they see it – on a baseball diamond or in the face of a friend –everyday grace can point people to the astonishing grace of a Savior who goes to His death to absorb our failure and assure our reconciliation with Him for eternity.  Experiencing His virtue through the cross and empty tomb is always a surprise that leaves us in tears for the joy and laughing at the wonder of it…forever.

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