I am not a big baseball fan. The word fan is the short of the word fanatic. A fan is a patron, a partisan, an aficionado. “A person markedor motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause.”
Churchill said: “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
I’m just an October enthusiast.
I like baseball. I appreciate baseball. I respect the sport. It is poetry in motion. It’s religion in the open.
I’ve never worshipped a team or a player. As a kid I loved to play baseball. I thought the position called ‘shortstop’ was made for kids like me. Short! Low to the ground.
If there were enough kids to have nine on a side, which was seldom, I’d try to get the short stop slot and let the tall guys play first base, for which one needed to stretch to catch those wayward throws from third.or shortstop!
Still, I’d still rather play than watch.
When I was a wee lad, in 1941, Ted Williams emerged as Boston’s hero, ending the season with a batting average of .401, setting a new record, which, I understand, hasn’t been broken.
Now, what does that mean, “.401?” It means that he failed 60% of the time; less than anyone before or since!
In other words, to succeed 40% of the time is great!
That same year, Joe DiMaggio had a 56 game hitting streak, a record that stands today. He got at least one hit out of the three-plus times at bat. 56 games in a row.
I’ve climbed into a pulpit to deliver a sermon over 800 times.and still can’t stand the possibility of striking out; still afraid that the fans will say, “Throw the bum out!”
Williams and DiMaggio did these daring deeds in 1941, helping to keep up the spirits of Americans at a time when world tragedies threatened, which is true today.
That’s why I decided to do a sermon on baseball and America’s deepest spiritual needs.or, perhaps, our ‘one true religion.’
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have inspired us this year, especially most recently as they each broke the old record.and fans inspired us by giving those home run balls to the hitters without trying to make money from them.
We need all the inspiration we can these days!
I like the playoffs and the World Series . Lory is from Cleveland, so we’ve had a few good years lately.
My seven year old step-daughter, Carlyn, asked why we like the Indians, so we tried to explain. rooting for the home team, and ‘if they don’t win it’s a shame.’ She said she’ll decide which team she likes best.but she doesn’t know the criteria to use, she said.
So I’m an instant fan these days, and I become a ‘fan’ most every October. I get into it, especially if the Boston Red Sox are playing-though they haven’t won a world series since.when? But we still have hope.
Which is lesson number one from baseball. You have to have hope. It’s a Biblical virtue, along with faith and charity.
“Hope springs eternal
Man never is, but always to be blest.
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
But vindicate the ways of God to man.
Know then thysel f, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.”
Pope’s Essay on Man
To understand baseball, like a Biblical parable or myth, is one of the best ways of getting to know ourselves.
Baseball is the poetry of sports.it’s filled with imagery, metaphor and deeper meanings.
This has been a good baseball season. No strikes or disputes or scandals, or upsetting revelations.that I know of.
It has been a good season-especially because of the home run record being broken by two men. Mark and Sammy.
I loved seeing Mark McGwire running down the third base line, greeted by his son at home plate.
Which is my primary observation about the deeper meanings of the game of baseball.
It begins and ends at home. As T. S. Eliot said: “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Each time is the first time! Each season is a new season. Hope springs eternal.
Baseball is all about home.home plate, the home team, the home run.
It’s about the team, first of all, but it’s also about the individual players who form a team by sharing their special skills. You couldn’t win a world series with all pitchers, even the best.or all Mark McGwires and Sammy Sosas.
You need a balance.to make a team; you need men who can pitch, others who can get behind the plate and catch, or out in the field to chase the fly balls. You need hitters and base runners, and those who can steal bases, or threaten to so as to shake up the pitcher. You need coaches who encourage and direct the players, and a manager who can make quick, tough decisions under pressure, and in the big leagues you need the people in corporate headquarters who make money decisions, offering enough to get and keep all of the above players, coaches and managers.
Baseball is about team work, which means individuality combined with and balanced by the willingness to work for the team.to bunt or attempt a sacrifice fly for the good of the team, to win the game.
It all begins and ends at home plate.
Bart Giamatti put it nicely: “Nostos, the desire to return home, gives us a nation of immigrants always migrating in search of home; gives us the American desire to start over in the great green garden.”
Bart Giamatti was president of Yale and gave up cap and gown to become President of the National League, then Commissioner of Baseball.(though he died only five months after assuming the office.)
Giamatti waxed eloquent on the deeper meanings, even spiritual or religious meanings of baseball.
He would have loved those fans who caught the record-breaking home run balls: instead of cashing in on them, they gave them to the players, who in turn will give them to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was discouraged by fans who give the game a bad name.
Take me out to the ballgame! Take me out of, or away from, the incivility, greed and lust which cast such a shadow, our ‘collective’ shadow, perhaps.take me into the roar of the crowd after the crack of the bat.take into good sportsmanship; let me get lost in statistics.and record breaking feats.let me form an instant community with others who share the same hope, root for the same team, join voices in the tribal cheers as we become a tribe.
We’re living through a difficult time, when slander and gossip conspire to topple the hero, to shame the politician, to disgrace us all.
It’s a difficult time, and baseball is an antidote, a momentary relief from what ails us.
It allows us to engage in things we value-and I don’t mean ‘leisure,’ only.I mean religion.the mythology found in the old stories, and a mythology waiting to be discovered.
Think about it: in baseball you stand at home plate, with a stick in your hand; a ball is thrown at you with all of the opponent’s might, hoping to scare you, or trick you with a curve ball, or a slider or
change of pace pitch, so you’ll swing and look silly.and strike out! He wants you to fail!
You get three tries. He gets four failed pitches, throwing out of the strike zone, on purpose to lead you astray, or unintentionally, simply because he ‘missed’ the strike zone.
The umpire is God! Or at least Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His is word is final. There’s no appeal. You can argue a little to show that you disagree, or to save a little face when you let the last pitch go by.
And, like God, the umpire allows a certain amount of complaining, Job being a primary example: “Why me?”
But if you push it, if you complain too much or refuse to accept his decision, you’re out of the game entirely.
Remember God’s answer to Job: “Who are you to think you can question the ways of God.where were you when I created this whole thing? Did you teach the eagle to fly? Did you give the horse his strength?”
Now, if the umpire decides that the ball isn’t within your range four times you get a free walk.to first base.the beginning of what you hope will be a journey home.
And you’re allowed to steal! In fact it’s promoted, as long as you don’t get caught! You can sneak to second base, and from there to third and on rare occasions an eager runner has even stolen all the way home-especially if the pitcher and catcher get discombobulated; runners try to make that happen.
So stealing is legal! But you have to tag up. There are strict rules about stealing.
If you can’t steal the bases, you can get by with a little help from your friends, the teammates who follow you to the plate. If they get a hit, you can run to second, third and eventually all the way home, again.
If there’s a man on second or third, however, you can’t get home until he does! You can’t overtake. If he falls and sprains an ankle, you can help him home, but he has to cross the plate before you!
If you get home, you are cheered like the Prodigal Son returning after that treacherous journey, the journey you have to make by yourself, around those bases, with everyone trying to tag you out. It’s a cruel world out there, all alone in enemy territory.
Home plate isn’t like the bases. Those three are bags which sit on top of the ground, 90 feet from one another, in a square made into a diamond shape.
But Home plate is planted firmly in the ground; it is solidly imbedded.
Home plate, if you’ve never noticed, is shaped like a little house! A home!
The umpire has a little brush, and, I like this piece of poetic justice: the master becomes servant as he sweeps the house clean, bowing humbly as he cleans, a sign of his willingness to serve.
You see, the umpire doesn’t make the rules. He watches and judges, and he enforces the rules.
And the rules, like commandments carved in stone, are clearly defined. Boundaries are set. There are limits, just like in life.
The umpire is like God.watching from a distance. He must not interfere. He must get out of the way. He must keep his distance — an impartial observer.
The naturalist John Burrough summarizes it well: (from Accepting the Universe)
“The laws of life and death are as they should be. The laws of matter and force are as they should be, and if death ends my consciousness, still is death good. I have had life on those terms, and somewhere, somehow, the course of nature is justified. I shall not be imprisoned in a grave where you are to bury my remains. I shall be diffused in great nature, in the soil, in the air, in the water, in the sunshine, in the hearts of those who love me, in all the living and flowing currents of the world, though I may never again in my entirety be embodied in a single human being. My elements and my forces go back into the original sources out of which they came, and these sources are perennial in this vast, wonderful, divine cosmos.”
The ‘laws of life and death are as they should be.’ That’s a faith statement if ever there was one!
The laws of baseball.the rules.are as they should be. If you want to play the game, you’ve got to live by those rules, play within those paremeters.
Home is the place you start from, and, hopefully, to which you return.
Whether we’re year round fans, lifelong fans, or October fans, we watch and learn and hope.
Our values surface.
For example, we really do value, admire and appreciate hard work and dedication. We honor those who excel, and even appreciate those who may not excel, but give their best effort.who don’t try to cheat, who don’t complain too strenuously against a bad call.who take their disappointments and disagreements with civility.
We empathize or sympathize with those who fail, even if they are on the opposing team.
Who does not feel the sting of the pitcher taken out of the game afterwalking too many, or being hit, after several innings of spectacular work?
It can happen to anyone! It can happen to you.or me. When it happens to a pitcher, we’re reminded how fragile it all is. We’re reminded that you can be king of that little hill, standing on the mound one minute, and sitting shame-faced in the dugout the next, sent to purgatory.
Purgatory is a “state in which the souls of those who have died in grace must expiate their sins.” It is “A place or condition of suffering, expiation, or remorse.”
Pitchers taken out sit in purgatory ‘dug out’ for them.
Do you see the poetry, the mythology, the parables and ten commandments emerging in all of this?
Life is a tension between opposites: life and death; love and hate; victory and defeat.
This tension is symbolized as one man stands on the mound, just a little above the other man at whom he throws the ball.
When he releases the ball, when he lets it go, then he has to hope the batter swings and misses, or just stands there taking a called strike.
The pitcher is in control, but the batter might just take control of that ball with the bat he holds.
As the ball comes at him at up to or even above 90MPH, he waits, watching carefully for a split second, for 60 feet of space cut with the precision of a surgeon’s knife.
If his timing is just right, and his swing effective, he can whack that ball to kingdom come and make a leisurely run around the bases. (You might think it wouldn’t be necessary to run out there.but who would miss it?!)
If he doesn’t whack it into that sought after Kingdom, he might at least chip it over that short stop’s head, and get on first.or into the outfield beyond reach of the fastest fielder.and he might round first
and get to second or even to third base.
How good it is to get home. Odysseus made the journey. We need to leave home, and we hope to get back, in the sense of deepening our understanding; “to know the place for the first time.”
This play is serious work. This life is filled with such serious play. You can go home again. You really can.
In the bull pen there’s always someone warming up, as a reminder that you could be pulled out at any minute, so you better pay attention. concentrate.
As we watched Mark Maguire hit his record-breaking home run Carlyn said, “I wonder if his mother is watching. I bet she’s proud.”
Take me out to the ballgame!