By Dr Matthew Jenkinson of New College School

One of the highlights of my summer was taking my 18-month-old godson, Winston, to his very first baseball game. Despite his Churchillian name – and his alarming resemblance to a wannabe-Churchillian recently-departed foreign secretary – Winston is in fact American. This means, firstly, that he is a very expensive godson to visit and that, secondly, any life lessons that I’m meant to be offering tend to be delivered via Skype.

Except for this one: the Charleston Riverdogs versus the Hickory Crawdads (no, I’m not making this up.) As a godfather and a teacher, surely it’s my duty to draw lessons in life from whatever is placed in front of me, even if the godson/pupil is only a year and a half old, more interested in chewing hotdogs and spitting them out, and if he is bound to forget it all within seconds.

But, had he been capable of retaining these lessons, what would Winston have learnt from the baseball game? What messages can we all apply to our lives beyond the ballpark? More than you’d imagine.

I could have told Winston about all the physical and mental benefits of the game: all that throwing, running, squatting and bat-swinging provides plenty of cardiovascular exercise. The statistical complexities of the game provide plenty of mental ‘away time’, often in bright sunshine.

But, I would suggest, there are more fundamental lesson-in-life benefits to baseball that don’t always appear in other sports (though, I concede they do in some). One of these is the game’s healthy approach to failure and forgiveness. It is, after all, based on the improbability of hitting an extremely fast ball in the first place: players’ batting averages (their number of hits divided by their number of ‘at bats’) tend to lie between .260 and .275.

The great Joe DiMaggio had a 1-in-3,394 chance of achieving his 56-game hitting streak. Players only score a run once in six or seven times that they are at the plate. Babe Ruth scored 714 home runs, but this was over 21 years and from over 8,000 ‘at-bats’.

For the most part, players aren’t vilified for their ‘failure’ to hit the ball more frequently; they return to the plate and try again. In his epic 1994 documentary on the sport, Ken Burns noted that those baseball players ‘who fail seven times out of ten are considered the game’s greatest heroes’. What a lesson to all of us, and especially to our pupils towards the start of this new school year: glory (however defined) need not be immediate, but it is much more likely to come if you keep stepping up to the plate.

There are other educational takeaways that I could mention, like the ‘sacrifice bunt’, which involves a player forgoing his chances of home-run glory so their teammate can themselves make a run. Again, such team-driven selflessness should be lauded in a world where we are more often encouraged to think about ourselves and our own personal advancement.

But if there’s one thing I’d want Winston to take from the Riverdogs-Crawdads game, and baseball as a whole, it’s this quotation from A. Bartlett Giamatti: an appreciation of ‘how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another’. The slightest nick, the fractionally-missed catch, the split-second out: they all add up to something greater than their parts. It’s quite difficult to convey to a toddler the role in life of luck and contingency, but he seemed quite content to listen. Maybe it was the hotdog.