One particular trait resides inherently within each and every person regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they have been through. Whether you are a student, an athlete, a professor or a doctor in the nearby Texas Medical Center, each day presents challenges that you must overcome. The way to overcome these challenges is by competing.
Take, for example, students. Students compete amongst themselves to do well and become the very best and most well-rounded individuals they can be. Athletes compete every day to better themselves physically in order to dominate the opposition at both the individual and the team levels. Professionals such as doctors compete against terrible diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s in hopes of one day developing a cure that saves countless lives. The point I am trying to make is that competition, whether it is against yourself, another person, a circumstance or a daunting task, brings out the best in people and is the way we should live out our lives.
While competition is integral to every aspect of life, perhaps the most prevalent way this is shown is through the avenue of sports. The will to compete for your teammates is like no other. There are two teams sharing the same court, field or stadium, and more often than not only one team can come away victorious. As the stakes are raised from preseason to regular season to postseason and beyond, the performance on the field is elevated and enhanced. In looking specifically at the game of baseball, I can say competition has been the single most exciting aspect of my time with the Rice Owls.
Baseball is the most competitive of all sports when it comes to its individual aspects. When a pitcher is on the mound, he is doing nothing but trying to get the batter out. Simultaneously, the batter has no other motive than to drive in runs for his team. During the past year, there have been two instances in which the competitive nature of baseball and of the Rice Owls in particular has been on full display.
Last season, Ford Stainback, a four-year starter for the Owls from 2011 through 2015, was playing in a Sunday game at the University of Arizona. In an odd turn of events, Stainback was ejected in the first inning of that game because his competitive spirit overflowed into the love and loyalty he had for his teammates. Following a tough loss the previous night to the Wildcats, Stainback scored in the first inning and yelled as he crossed home plate due to his excitement. Stainback was trying to rally his teammates while never losing sight of the respect he had for the game or acting in an unsportsmanlike manner towards the opposing team. However, the umpire decided to eject Stainback for the first time in his storied career. Stainback was greeted by a clubhouse of fired up teammates who realized he had sacrificed himself for the sake of the team.
“Nobody was mad about [the ejection] and some people were happy that it happened because it showed some fire for the team,” Stainback said. “Competition shows [that] people care and while we were out there having fun, it comes down to competing for each other and not just ourselves.”
More recently, the team has been taking part in a spring series of intrasquad games in preparing for the season opener against Arizona on Feb. 19. Competition has been running rampant at Reckling Park with players fighting for weekend start slots, positioning in the starting lineup, and even backup roles. A unique incident unfolded in the third intrasquad game of the spring.
All-American pitcher Blake Fox was on the mound trying to get one of the team’s most prominent power hitters, Andrew Dunlap, out. Dunlap hit a towering shot to deep left field but the trajectory of the ball carried it just foul and out of play. Fox, being the competitor that he is, felt irked by how long Dunlap had watched the ball and on the very next play, Dunlap was jogging over to first base not because he had hit the ball but because the ball had hit him.
Fox intentionally threw at Dunlap because the competitor in him had urged him to do two things. First, Fox was sending a message that there were certain rules of etiquette in baseball that Dunlap was not following. Second, he purposely hit Dunlap in the strong muscle of the back so as to not injure him because of the respect he had for him as a person and because he would never dare to intentionally harm a teammate.
Fox said he has a lot of respect for Dunlap despite the brief altercation.
“I grew up with Dunlap, I went to middle school [and] church with him,” Fox said. “I know he is a big strong hitter and when I get on the mound I’m very competitive. But all in all there was a conversation between me and him within 10 minutes [of the incident] and things worked themselves out pretty quickly.”
As Fox detailed, this small feud did not even last 10 minutes. Moments such as these portray the level of camaraderie in competition and serve as a learning opportunity that gives sports its higher meaning. All in all, the respect one has for his teammates, the game itself, and for striving to win comes about through an appreciation for competition and an ability to celebrate in the good times and reflect in the bad times.
The lesson of these two separate incidents is that competition must focus on making others better more so than making yourself better. This message can be translated into multiple facets of everyday life for those engaged in competition beyond sports. Compete to earn that job you have been striving for in order to impact others with the work you do once you have acquired it. Compete against a disease experts believe has no cure and be the individual that saves countless lives. Compete in the academic world to expand knowledge and inspire students to reach their full potential. Compete in life so that you may reach your goals while learning valuable lessons along the way that do more good than you could have imagined. I challenge all of you reading this to compete in an effort to make the world a better place.