Don't Die on Third

In 1945, a now rare-and-hard-to-find pamphlet, Play Ball, Son!, featured an inspirational essay by William J. Cameron called “Don’t Die on Third.” The Ford Motor Co. soon printed copies of the essay to motivate its workers. Since then, it has had a long and influential life as an encouragement for anyone who is close to his goal and needs a little extra push.

The setting of the essay is the home half of the ninth inning in a tied game. The fictitious “Moriarty” is shuffling back and forth at third base. Reaching third means nothing. Coming home to score the winning run means everything. 

As the author reminds us, “Third base runs are not marked up on the scoreboard. Third base is not a destination — it is the last way station on the road ‘home.’ The world is full of third bases. … Third base is opportunistic, and opportunity is not arrival; it is only another point of departure.”

The game of baseball is replete with symbolic hyperbole. As a result, it can seem more real and more important than life itself. Bases are “stolen.” A relief pitcher comes in to put out a “fire.”  Fans shout, “Kill the umpire.” A batter can “kill” a rally merely by taking a called third strike.  A double play is a “twin killing.” When the score is tied, the sides are said to be “dead” even. A team that is trailing by more than five runs is being “clobbered.”  The 1927 New York Yankees offense is remembered as “Murderer’s Row.” 

Then there is arriving safely at “home,” where home plate is shaped in the outline of a little house. Ninety feet away from home is so tantalizingly close. It is truly a shame to die at third.  But the journey from the batter’s box back to home is a matter of 360 feet. This pales in comparison with the ordeal that Ulysses endured before he could arrive home after his 10-year odyssey. Baseball is really prosaic, not epochal.

Let us imagine a game that has a billion and one bases and is played, from generation to generation, down through the corridors of time, over thousands of years. Imagine a runner reaching base No. 1 Billion and dying there.  Let us also imagine that it is both difficult and improbable to get from any base to the next. To die on base No. 1 Billion, a microscopic millimeter from home, would be catastrophic and unbearable. Dying at third pales and vanishes when compared with dying at base No. 1 Billion with just one more base to go in order to arrive safely at home.

Yet, this actually goes on and, in many circles, is neither noticed, nor appreciated, nor lamented.

Each one of us has an ancestry that goes back to the world’s first parents. The line from this primal couple back to each of one of us is one of unbroken continuity, though one that could have been snapped at a billion intersections. How easy it would have been for that line to have been broken! How easy it would have been for none of us ever to have come into existence!  The odyssey that brought us to the shore of life is one of unimaginable length, complexity, danger and improbability. This long, multimillennial vector from our primitive parents to us had to survive countless battles and blizzards, calamities and conflagrations, fires and famines, hurricanes and holocausts, pestilences and plagues, typhoons and tornados, as well as the fickle flame of interpersonal love. Yet what do we say about those millions who made it all the way up to the next-to-the-last base, the penultimate of a billion and one bases, and whose lives were snuffed out by abortion?

Pheidippides, in the year 490 B.C., ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Greek army had defeated the Persian army of King Darius. He reached the end of his run stumbling and exhausted. “Rejoice, we conquer,” he blurted out, and then fell to the ground dead.

We remember Pheidippides as a hero, and the marathon is so named and run in his honor. It would have been tragic had he died at the outskirts of the city.

“Don’t Die on Third” has a far greater and more important message to the contemporary world than William J. Cameron could have imagined back in 1945.  He was not envisioning the womb as “the last way station on the road ‘home.’” The unborn child comes so tantalizingly close to “home” on his long journey from generation to generation to generation. Abortion is the denial of destiny and the repudiation of human history.

Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.