The 2015 Senior Perspectives is the 10th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
For a complete listing of 2015 Senior Perspectives, click here.
Jake McGuiggan, Baseball
Hometown: Hingham, Mass.
House Affiliation: Mather
As I reflect on my years as a Harvard student-athlete, I think of the significance baseball has had on my life and the lives of my teammates. I am one who truly believes baseball is a metaphor for life. Consider all the expressions that baseball has given our everyday conversation. For instance, how many of us have found ourselves in a pickle now and then? We probably all know someone who is out in left field or who plays hard ball to get what they want, someone who has had a curve ball thrown at them. When someone has a big success we say they hit a homerun.
But baseball is not only a game of common expressions; it is also a game of numbers. We hear about a pitcher’s earned run average, his ratio of strikeouts to walks. We hear about a hitter’s batting average, his runs batted in, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Radar guns measure the speed of the baseball and stop watches measure how fast someone runs. Players seem to be defined by these numbers and too often in life, as in baseball, we also seem to be defined by numbers.
I’ve been thinking about how often during our school years we have been measured and defined by a number. Beginning in elementary school, we take standardized tests that rank us in a percentile. Then come the PSAT and the SAT as well as the SAT II. How did we do out of a perfect 800? Some students take AP exams. How did we do out of a perfect 5? Next, our grade point average, calculated down to one one-hundredth of a point. How did we do out of 4.0? The importance of numbers persists even after college, as one’s grade point average becomes a consideration on job applications and scores on the MCAT or LSAT can make the difference between being accepted or declined by a graduate school.
I, for one, would like to be defined by a different set of numbers:
• 65: I’ve had the honor to call 65 individuals teammates and friends over the course of my college career. These men will always hold a special place in my life, as they’ve epitomized friendship, teamwork, and intelligence. They’ve made college baseball the fun and enjoyable experience that it should be.
• 9: I’ve played for 9 different coaches and mentors, highlighted by head coaches Joe Walsh and Bill Decker. From these men I have learned what true passion and sacrifice is. I will forever cherish my years spent with Joe Walsh, who passed away suddenly in July of 2012. He believed in the power of baseball to change lives and I can only hope that one day I will enjoy a career as much as he enjoyed his.
• 29: Over my four years we’ve played against 29 other Division I college baseball teams. It is from these opponents that I’ve learned the true value of winning with class and losing with grace. I’ve always believed that losing isn’t always a negative, for it drives one further towards winning.
Aside from these numbers, I’ve also come by a lot of my own life philosophy by watching and playing baseball, and these last few thoughts might come in handy as we leave the playing field of Harvard University.
• First, as an infielder, I know this one very well. A simple ground ball can take a bad hop. Stay focused and take nothing for granted.
• To get to where you need to be sometimes you have to dive in head first. Be daring.
• The ball doesn’t always come to you, sometimes you have to go to the ball. Be assertive.
• Follow through and complete the play. Be reliable.
• The line between fair and foul is a thin one. Watch your step.
• First impressions can be deceiving. The best player isn’t always the flashiest. Don’t pre-judge.
• Fly balls force you to look up. Remember that on the next starry night. Ground balls force you to look down. Remember that on your next walk.
• Choose your pitch carefully and don’t chase after something that’s unhittable. Be disciplined.
• When the team wins, you win. Be selfless.
• As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Never stop perfecting your game and being curious about the world outside the gates.
• And every now and then when you hit the sweet spot you’ll know it. At that moment, life won’t get any better.
I’ll end with one last thought. I was looking over an evaluation form that coaches use to assess a baseball player and among the intangible skills they look for, those not directly measured by a statistic, three stood out – soft hands, quick feet and a strong acumen for the game.
Despite it being a game of numbers, much of baseball is about the intangibles, things that can’t quantitatively be measured. The same goes for life, as it is important to have a soft heart, quick mind and strength of character.
Congratulations to the Harvard Class of 2015! I wish everyone the best of health and the best of luck in the future!