What Baseball Has Taught Me About Living With Cystic Fibrosis

How the 'game of failure' encourages this columnist to keep moving forward

William Ryan avatar

by William Ryan |

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To become a National Baseball Hall of Fame member, you only have to be successful roughly 25–30% of the time you’re in the batter’s box. Using the word “only” may seem like I’m slagging on people like Willie Mays, who had a batting average of .301; Derek Jeter, whose average was .310; or Ken Griffey Jr., who batted .284. But hitting a baseball is arguably one of the hardest feats to accomplish in professional sports. These men are considered some of the greatest and most clutch baseball players of all time, yet over their careers, they were only successful at hitting a baseball 28–31% of the time.

Consider Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Jordan retired from the NBA in the middle of his career and played professional baseball at a minor league level, with a batting average of .202.

It’s unfathomable for the average person to hit a four-seam fastball coming at 100 miles per hour, or a curveball — a pitch that may look like it’s coming in high but curves low, either away from the plate or inside the plate toward the batter — coming at about 78–85 miles per hour.

It’s ostensibly a game of failure, and if you let it, it can beat you up.

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Moving past defeat

I played baseball until I was in the fifth grade. It taught me more about myself and how to live with cystic fibrosis (CF) than any doctor or scientific article ever has.

I understand that sounds hyperbolic, but it’s absolutely true.

I stopped playing because I wasn’t good enough. I can count on one hand how many hits I had between second and fifth grade: three. In four years, I had three hits.

I drew a lot of walks (shoutout to the analytic baseball nerds like me who appreciate this statistic), but I also struck out a lot. I was a pretty good infielder, but I didn’t play infield often. Instead, I was relegated to the outfield, where I was just OK.

An old photo shows a young boy wearing a red baseball cap and a red and white baseball uniform. He's standing to the side of a baseball field, and his mitt is just visible on his left hand.

A young William Ryan plays baseball. (Courtesy of William Ryan)

The beautiful thing about baseball is that you’ll never see the same game twice. Yes, in advanced levels there will always be 90 feet to round the bases and 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, but the day-to-day activity on the ballfield will always vary — just like in the average CF body. My basic makeup will never change, but every day something within my body looks a bit different, whether I’m dealing with more mucus than usual or my breathing issues aren’t as severe as they were the day before.

The reason baseball players can play for 20 years, fail 70% of the time, and have the mental and physical wherewithal to make it into the Hall of Fame is because they have a good memory and a healthy perspective on failure.

I believe the same mentality is required when it comes to living with CF. We never forget the difficult situations we face, but we have to move on quickly from setbacks and adjust to changes so we can lead a healthier life.

As winter in New Jersey slowly (and I mean slowly) turns into spring, I look forward to the New York Yankees taking the field and succeeding through any adverse situation that may arise.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Anthony Palmiero avatar

Anthony Palmiero

Great article Will.Love ya

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you Tony! Love you too!

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Hi Will! I read your "Baseball" article & had to admit I was quite lost regarding batting averages and other statistics. Sorry, but I know zip about this game. However, the analogies you used worked themselves into my brain and understanding came about easier. I love your writing! Tell you what - I'll get you a Yankees keychain next. Love, Helen

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you Helen! Love you too!


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