"The largest thing I've learned is the enormous grip that this game has on people, the extent to which it really is very important. It goes way down deep. It really does bind together. It's a cliche and sounds sentimental, but I have now seen it from the inside."
--A. Bartlett Giamatti, former Commissioner of Baseball
Baseball is the closest thing I understand to "immortality."
It's also the vehicle by which I most connect to understanding the meaning of the word "faith."
I grew up a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. Now, granted, I had no choice. My grandmother willed it. She was born in 1917. She was nine years old when they won their first World Series in 1926. She was in high school during the era of the Gas House Gang, and a junior in high school when they won in 1934. During the season, the Cards were always on--if not on TV, on the radio. I can remember sultry summer nights out in the yard with the game on, and falling asleep with the radio on in my bedroom during the "West Coast Swing"--when they were playing the Dodgers, Giants, and later the Padres--and the two hour time difference was just too much.
I learned no matter how bad things are, there will always be another game. Even when the season was over. There would be that day in late winter that opened it up all over again with the magic words, "Pitchers and catchers report."
It was as much a part of my heritage as my family tree. I grew up knowing all about Enos Slaughter's mad dash in the '46 Series, about Paul Dean pitching a no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader which called his brother Dizzy to remark, "If I'd a known Paul was gonna pitch a no-hitter, I'd a pitched me one too." (Diz "only" pitched a shutout in the previous game.)
In my lifetime, I had just missed Musial in my own memory banks, but there was Gibson and Brock, Cepeda and Maris, Flood and Shannon. In later years there was Forsch and Ozzie, Tudor and Sutter, Jack Clark, Mark McGwire, Jose Oquendo.
Only the names changed; the drama did not.
There were those awful seasons, too. The early 70's, some pretty lean years in the 90's.
But for all the tension in my family, I knew I could always talk baseball with my grandmother, no matter what. One of the most wonderful days of my life was the day in 1992 when she and I traveled to Dyersburg, IA, to the actual "Field of Dreams." We actually played catch on the field, among other pilgrims there from all over the country.
But my life with my grandmother and baseball taught me more about faith than anything I ever learned in church. Faith that the rain would let up, faith that the the latest trade or change in the lineup would somehow work out, faith that you could go from a goat to a hero in the blink of an eye. Faith that there was always another game tomorrow. Faith that a day of rest or travel could change things. Faith that once in a while, you really could be on the top of the world.
If only our church could consistently send those messages of faith, think of where we might be!
One of the questions we are often asked in our theological reflections in my EfM class is "What is is like in the world of the (fill in the blank?)" The more I study the Bible, the more I ask myself that question. Baseball makes me ponder Heaven sometimes. In the world of my life with baseball, I see a world where the sun is shining or even in the darkness, there is light enough to do what needs to be done. I see a world where no one is counted out of the game even when it's the bottom of the 9th with two out. I see a world where the main objective is to find "home." I think the Bible also points us to a world like that.
In the movie Field of Dreams, the question "Is this Heaven?" posed, and the answer is, "No, this is Iowa." Granted, the native northeast Missourian in me could never quite stomach that, but I can certainly buy that baseball is, for some of us, a window to the Heavenly Feast of the Kingdom of God.