Batter Nine looked timid and frail as she stepped to the plate.  It was obvious why she batted last on a lousy team.  She was facing a Goliath, a large, immensely talented fastball pitcher.  None of Batter Nine’s teammates had made it to first base.

The first two pitches were called strikes.  The bat never left the shoulder.  I doubt Batter Nine even saw the ball.  Brimming with confidence, Goliath launched missile three.  The pitch went wild and struck Batter Nine’s left leg.  There was dead silence as she doubled over to fight through the pain.

As Batter Nine slowly rose, she started shaking her head in response to a directive from the umpire. My daughter-in-law quickly informed me that Batter Nine was being given a choice to advance to first base or finish her turn at bat.  Given the situation, I just assumed she’d opt for the free pass to first.  But to my surprise, Batter Nine stepped back into the box.  Goliath quickly finished her off with one more whirl of the cannon arm.

I detected a slight limp as Batter Nine slowly trudged back to the dugout.  But like many others, my applause was building.  Against near impossible odds, the message was clear to all: “No freebies for me.  I’ll earn what I get.”

As I continued to watch the shellacking that afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about Batter Nine’s message.  My first thoughts were of a March CBO report that I had read the previous week.  The report estimated that our chronic unemployment mess would cause an additional 750,000 people to file for Social Security disability benefits.  Beyond the normal numbers, three-quarters of a million people will permanently leave the workforce, claiming they’ve been hit by a disabling wild pitch that entitles them to freebies for the balance of their working days. My mind was off and running.

Wild pitches are a part of life. They’re everywhere. We read about and watch daily the misery of those victimized by natural disasters, disease, war, terrorists, business failures, criminals, old age – you name it.  I continually take comfort in knowing that we have government programs and volunteer organizations that soften the blow for those who are hit the hardest and need the most.  And I will forever disagree with those who question the wisdom or role of such programs.

But, like so many, I detest the abuse and the notion that government freebies are there for the taking.  It appears that an ever-growing segment of our populace is hell-bent on leveraging and maxing out every wild pitch and forever gaming the system.  And if that means fabricating or exaggerating a wild pitch every now and then, so be it.

How else can we explain three-quarters of a million additional people claiming disability benefits?  Or over 10 percent of the unemployment benefits paid last year being classified as “improper payments,” the bulk of which were paid to people who had already returned to work?  Or the thousands who opt to stay out of the workforce because the marginal yield over their unemployment benefits isn’t worth the effort?  Or the annual $65 to $100 billion of fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid that many now regard as unavoidable?  Or the ongoing litany of welfare and food stamp abuse stories that surface in the media almost daily?  Or the estimated $300 billion that the government losses from tax fraud each year?  The list goes on.

Then consider that 45 percent of Americans don’t pay a cent in income taxes.  How many of them just figure that the bills are being paid by someone else?   Is it any wonder that, for many, the freebie/entitlement mindset has completed supplanted the work ethic of prior generations that built this country?

My parents never had a dime of capital, gave their all every day to raise seven children, and sucked up many wild pitches along the way.  I can’t imagine that the thought of a freebie ever crossed their minds. Through their words, deeds and example, they were forever teaching their kids the all-important “earn it” ethic: to never expect something for nothing and to always give more than you get.

Perhaps that’s why Batter Nine had such an impact on me.  A little 10-year-old girl had just reminded me that the “earn it” ethic is alive and well and still being taught.  Somewhere along the line, a parent or coach had done the job.

I watched some great softball that day, all coming from my granddaughter’s victorious team.  But as I left the field, my hands-down pick for MVP was a little girl on the losing team who struck out twice without taking a swing and got hit by a wild pitch.

May 27, 2012