Just One Shot?: Reconciling a Desire to Win with an Outcome of Loss

United States Olympic medalist Dara Torres once said, “Setbacks have an upside; they fuel new dreams.” Like Dara, many people believe that while losing hurts, it also does more for people than cause pain and sadness. Losing strengthens one’s sense of resilience, motivates one to do better, and ultimately, helps one grow. This idea is one that many naively cling to, but can create an oversimplified sense of comfort with loss. In One Shot at Forever, Chris Ballard writes about emotionally complex characters and their different values in regard to winning and losing, breaking down the “you win some, you lose some” mindset by suggesting that defeat is more convoluted than meets the eye.

Ballard’s characters each place a different value on winning, which shows that winning cannot be attributed to a single emotion. The first of these characters is Coach Lynn Sweet, a hippie whose teaching, coaching, and lifestyle are the polar opposite of the conservative Maconites in whose town Ballard’s story takes place. Before the baseball state championship games begin, Coach Sweet discusses his unconventional coaching style: “I don’t like the win or die attitude. We set our goals to have a good time and learn some baseball” (Ballard 168). Rather than the overly thought-out approach that other coaches in the book take, Sweet tackles coaching in a very simple way by placing value on learning and having fun, rather than winning as the end-all, be-all. Sweet challenges the idea that winning is the end goal and losing is just a roadblock on the way by asserting that other things are actually more important than winning. Unlike Sweet, baseball player Steve Shartzer takes winning much more seriously: “To him, the game was sacred. What he couldn’t overcome was the idea that when he came to the park everyday, he was arriving at his job…. He was supposed to pace himself, to think about the long term, to look out for number one” (218). Here, the sport of baseball is attributed to something “sacred” and “a job,” and this diction sheds an inviolable and serious light on the sport, suggesting that baseball is much more than just a game. Additionally, the connotations of obligation and pressure that are associated with a job reveal Shartzer’s reasoning for placing such a high value on winning. Overall, Sweet and Shartzer personify two very different emotions in regard to winning and losing. While Sweet is able to incorporate a broader view of winning, even including the possibility of deriving a positive outcome from losing a game, Shartzer takes a much narrower view. He subscribes to the idea that the only thing that matters is the ending score of the game, regardless of what it may have taken to get there. These differences reveal that winning and losing are not black and white, though many people tend to oversimplify them. Sweet and Shartzer show that these two potential outcomes cannot be attributed to a single emotion, but rather a multitude of them.

Despite the fact that Sweet and Shartzer may have different attitudes toward winning, interestingly they share some commonalities associated with their feelings toward losing. The deep emotional impact that loss has on them reveals that loss has very real consequences and can’t just be moved on from like is mandated in the well known slogan, “you win some, you lose some.” Rather, these feelings must be acknowledged and dealt with in a way that works for each individual. At the beginning of the story, the boys are disqualified from the state championships because one of their players is not on the team roster. Coach Sweet, who generally represents a very optimistic and opportunistic mindset, is perplexed by this dilemma, and feels a deep sense of defeat: “He’d watched them come together and seen their pride in the team and the confidence they’d gained. Usually, he felt there were important lessons that came from losing. He didn’t see much of a lesson here” (79). Here, the contrast between the team’s achievements and their disqualification creates a paradox that puts readers in Sweet’s shoes and evokes the same feeling of hopelessness that he is feeling. Additionally, Sweet’s feelings of defeat contrasting with his general upbeat attitude show that loss cannot be pushed aside or ignored. It gets the best of everyone sometimes, and Sweet’s realization of that here reminds readers that dealing with loss is not as simple as some might like to think it is. Similar to Sweet, Shartzer struggles with these same feelings of defeat, but rather than these sentiments serving as just a bump in the road, they stay with him for longer than he might like. Even years and years after graduating, Shartzer is not able to forget about the boys’ loss in the championships: “Unlike his teammates, who revel in what they accomplished, he can’t stop thinking about what they did not…. He can remember every pitch of that game, every opportunity missed” (219). The hopeless tone of this quote again evokes feelings of sympathy for Shartzer. Also, the emphasis and focus that Shartzer puts on this one game shows that for some people, loss can’t just be moved on from. Sweet and Shartzer are living proof that while you do win some and lose some, it is okay and natural to be sad and perplexed, and loss is not something we always must set aside.

Contrastingly, other characters in the story have positive reactions to loss, which shows that loss can also be motivating. This variation in reactions to loss emphasizes the idea that each person is entitled to his or her own opinions and feelings and there is no one correct way to go about reacting to losses. After the boys lose the championships, they celebrate the effort and hard work that was required of them to get to the championship game: “Had you walked past Route 51 on the evening of June 4, 1971, you would have been forgiven for thinking Macon had won the state title” (201). The happy and celebratory feelings that this quote evokes, despite the fact that the boys just lost, is very respectable and shows an alternative response to loss which is more in accordance with the “you win some, you lose some” attitude. Here, the boys are able to set their loss aside and put it into perspective, considering all of the positive things they achieved despite losing the final contest. Overall, the different reactions to loss strengthen the idea that winning and losing are not black and white and should not be treated as such.

Lastly, the legacy and long-term impact of the ‘71 season on the team and the town reveal that there is a difference between success and winning even if it is sometimes hard to remember. For example, Lynn Sweet is a coach whose values and way of life completely conflict with the small, conservative town of Macon. Even though he endured many struggles due to these differences, in his mind, he emerged victorious, though not in the most obvious sense of the word: “He’d gone into the hardest, most doctrinaire corner of the scholastic experience and proven that a team didn’t need a dictator to win, that a coach could put the emphasis on the experience–on fun and cooperation and the kids–and also win” (174). Here, the intense tone of the words like “hardest” and “most doctrinaire” used to describe Macon creates a strong contrast between the town and Sweet. It reminds readers of what Sweet had to go through in order to be successful, and provides an alternative definition of winning to the residents of Macon. Unlike Sweet, some of the teammates have a harder time separating success and conventional victory: “There are those among the Ironmen who want to see the trophy moved somewhere more prominent…. The way [Sweet] sees it, that’s not how the season survives. ‘It was a beautiful thing that happened, but it’s over,’ he explains. Then he points to his chest. ‘It’s in here now.’” (230). This quote shows that some of the team members, even years after the championship game, have a hard time separating their 2nd place win with the other less obvious successes that they achieved throughout their years on the field. The dialogue in this quote helps us get into Sweet’s head and feel his feelings regarding the season: ones of pride and nostalgia. While some players narrowly define their accomplishment by a small trophy that will gather dust in some display case, for Sweet, the memory will remain forever in his heart: a living, breathing reminder of their season. However, these disparities again remind readers that it is impossible to hold people to a homogeneous emotional standard. In the end, though, the Ironmen each dealt with losing in very different ways, they all acknowledge the great impact that the season had on their lives: “Standing there, peering up, [Sweet] sometimes wonders how one long-forgotten season can hold so much power. How its memory can lift up some men but haunt others. How it can continue to change so many lives” (2). Though each of them has different feelings toward losing, they can all acknowledge that what they did achieve impacted each of them and the memories – both positive and negative – will stay with them forever.

For most people, losing is a terrible feeling. It can ruin a day, decrease self-esteem, and make it seem like the world is ending. A common, and oversimplified, approach to deal with losing is to acknowledge it, forget about it, and move on. Contrasting with this approach, One Shot At Forever zooms out and takes a more realistic approach to the emotional labyrinth that is loss. In this story, the emotionally complex characters, their values about winning and losing, and their reactions to winning and losing, present a very multifaceted approach to dealing with loss. Rather than perpetuating the idea that winning and losing make everyone feel the same way and can be dealt with in the same way, these characters reveal the true myriad of feelings about winning and losing. They suggest a new approach, one that is much more individualistic rather than the collective emotions that are traditional in Macon. Their stories teach readers that there can be successes even when one loses by conventional definition, but also sometimes there are not successes, and that is okay too. This story brings to light the idea that though you do win some and lose some, it’s not always as simple as everyone makes it out to be.