Norbert Kundrak

When Yeah But Meets What If…

8 minutes

Here’s my story about premature assumptions.

“I’m a freshman! I will go out for the high school baseball team and, since I am a freshman, I will sit the bench most every game.” My older brother Jon, home on leave from the Marines, was quizzing me. Being from a sports-minded family, he had asked about my next athletic challenge. I thought we were just goofing around, talking, you know, about guy stuff. That’s when it turned into something more.

“What position will you go after?”

“I have always played 3rd base and pitched, so I guess that’s what I will go for. But it doesn’t matter because I won’t be playing in the games. If I make the team, I’ll be at all the practices, and I will suit up. Maybe I’ll get to pinch-hit if somebody gets injured.”

He sat back on his old bed, propped up some pillows and leaned against the headboard as it cracked its expected complaint. “Who plays 3rd base now?” I told him. “Is he good?”

“Yeah. He’s a senior and has played that position for the last two years. He’s good. He’ll be the starting third baseman again this year, too.”

He looked out the upstairs window, expressionless, in deeper thought than I expected. As always, I hung on every word he spoke. My hero is thinking, so I will wait. Suddenly, he sat up with a half-smile on his face. He was about to test me. “What about you taking his place?”

“What?” Is he nuts?? He’s just teasing me now.

He scooted to the edge of the bed and stood up. “What about taking his position?” He walked closer to the window and started fiddling with the pull chords. 

“Uh . . . that’s not possible,” I said, attempting to dismiss this conversation altogether.

My brother no longer seemed to be the same person he was when he went off to boot camp. No, this was someone else, someone I now realized was much more all-business when it came to questioning Life and the possibilities. He turned toward me and his smile went away. “Did you just say, Not possible? Why is that not possible?”

“I just told you! I am just a freshman. He’s a senior. He’s also a solid ballplayer and good athlete.” I searched his face, looking for the button I could push to get him to drop this interrogation. “He’s earned that position!”

He shrugged. “What does being a freshman have to do with anything? Are you saying that it isn’t allowed? Are you saying it’s not possible because you are already saying it’s not possible? Is there some law somewhere that says that?”

Is he just testing me? Teasing me?My defenses went up. I cut him off. “Look. We don’t have a B team or a freshman team. He’s played third base for the last two seasons. He’s lettered Varsity the last two seasons. He’ll letter again this time, too, guaranteed.” I could hear my heart start to pound.

Hugo Delauney
Hugo Delauney

He looked out the window again. I took his place at the headboard, waiting. It will be just a minute or two, I told myself, and he will be ok with my reasoning.

“What would it mean to you to earn a Varsity Letter in Baseball your freshman year? How many people have ever done that at Fairmount High School, anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter!” I pleaded.

He didn’t budge. Still looking out the window, he repeated the questions, louder this time. “What would it take . . . and . . . how many people have ever done it?” He was sitting on the edge of the bed again, looking right at me and expecting answers.

“To letter Varsity takes playing in the game for a minimum number of innings over the course of the season. And, as far as people who have lettered Varsity their freshman year . . . not very many . . . maybe a couple dozen.”

“How many innings would you have to play? What is that magic number?”

Why won’t he let go of this? “I think it is an average of about 3 innings a game, maybe more,” I said.

“Now, we’re talking!” He looked down at the floor, calculating in his head. “I think you can pull it off!” He turned back toward the window, seemingly working the numbers some more. This discussion was far from over. The greater my resistance, the higher and louder his voice. He seemed to fill the room with a contagious anticipation. I, on the other hand, had my doubts.  

“You think I can pull off what?” I was slowly starting to believe him but wasn’t ready to admit it. 

“Look, I’m not saying you will beat the guy out of the starting position. You’re right; he’s earned that spot. But what I am saying is that you can earn that Varsity letter if you concentrate on getting in enough innings in enough games. You don’t have to be the starter. You just have to make yourself so valuable to the team that the coach has to put you in, at least for a few innings! That’s how you’ll do it.” I had to admit, he was on to something.

“So, little brother, here is what I expect: I expect you to be so good, so willing to hustle, so willing to make every play every time, that your coach can’t help but put you in because you will keep asking him to put you in and because he will respect how hard you are working. He knows this is the other guy’s last season; he’s going to need you at that position next year, so he will want you to get some experience. The timing is perfect!”

I tried to interject but failed. Why won’t he just let me be right on this?

He kept going. “You’ll be the first one to practice, the first to run the perimeter, the first to volunteer for picking up the practice bases, loading the bats in the bag, any kind of job. You’ll run laps and never come in last in sprints. You’ll be the guy that works harder than anyone else.

“You’ll knock down everything that is hit your way. You’ll steal bases and pump everyone else up all the time. If he doesn’t play you after seeing you work that hard, you will know, in your heart at least, that you gave more to this than anyone on the team. You won’t quit. You’ll dive for balls. You’ll throw people out. You’ll get good at hitting just past the infield and he’ll let you bat because you always get on base.”

“But what if I cannot be that good? What if the coach doesn’t believe in playing me that many innings?” The room became eerily quiet.

When Yeah But Meets What If…
Fairmont High School

He searched my eyes, smiled, then countered: “That’s possible! You could go down in flames! But, what if he sees how much you want to be a starter and he wants to reward your consistent hustle? Remember, you just have to earn enough innings and that Varsity Jacket with four down the arm is yours, something few people who attended FHS ever accomplished.”

Mom had summoned us for the third and final time to come down for dinner. I stared out the window again and he headed toward the door, leaving me to think about it. Then he stopped and turned around. Oh boy . . . now what?

His voice became softer, more loving and encouraging. “David, when I was in high school, I wanted a Varsity letter more than anything, but I was cut from just about every sport I went out for. Our dad was good. Look at the writeups Gramma kept. Our brother Dan was good, too. Look at what he accomplished in basketball. I had more hustle than anyone, but I hadn’t developed my skills, yet. That didn’t happen for me until I joined the Marines and went through bootcamp. That’s when it all came together for me.

“But you? You have more natural talent than I ever did at your age, and here’s the deal: Because you do have so much talent, I’m going to expect you to hustle harder than anyone. I expect it of you, little brother. You can do this. Just think about that Varsity jacket with four down the arm. What will it feel like when you put that jacket on, the one you earned because you were willing to work that hard, the one few guys achieve?”

When Yeah But Meets What If…
Dave’s Varsity Jacket


My older brother convinced me I could do what I initially dismissed as impossible. I wanted it but couldn’t see my way. I also knew I didn’t want to declare my intention to the world because then if I didn’t make it, I would suffer all that imagined embarrassment. I was so hung up on failing that I couldn’t see any way to guarantee success. I was willing to not expect it. My hero convinced me otherwise and I am so glad he did.

Before you convince yourself that something beyond reach cannot be reached, take a breath and check your ego. Stretch yourself from ‘Yeah But’ to ‘What If’and see what comes up. Take on more than you think possible. Dream it. Whether you get there or fall short, you will be rewarded; you will learn and grow in the possibilities that become your contribution to the world.  

Speaking for the rest of us, what if . . . ?


When Yeah But Meets What If…