Like many of you, I am an avid baseball fan, I would be what Joe Maddon calls a baseball nerd, by this I love everything about the game, the numbers, the stadiums, the rituals, and just the game itself. I get taken back by memories of playing, watching games, and going to games. It’s American to love baseball. It’s something that gives me chills. So like any normal baseball fan, I have my team, the Chicago Cubs, and the moment finally came in 2016. This was our year and there was something special about this team, about the win, and how it was done. During game 7 when Rajai Davis hit that game-tying home run I sat there next to my wife Kim and uttered “of course.” Realistically by the rules of nature, it was a borderline miracle the Cubs were there. I mean just a few days earlier they were on their last leg, on their brink of elimination, on the brink of becoming another great Cub team which couldn’t close it out. However, from the genesis of the season, there was something special. They were stacked and only got better as the season continued. For the first time in my life and pretty much anyone’s life we were the champions. So that was a special moment. My love for baseball began long before this moment and it was in the sandlot like many other children. I dreamed of being a baseball player, but God had different plans for me. Now being in seminary I can see my love for baseball was not a coincidence, but for a reason. It’s this beautiful game which gives me a sense of deep theology. When I am taken to the ballgame I can often feel the presence of God, and while many of you probably believe I am crazy at this moment, others know exactly what I am talking about.
Church of Baseball
Let me make one thing perfectly clear here, I am not professing that baseball should be your source of connection with God. This is not a Bull Durham type of post, but some of the facets of the beginning of the movie hold theological value. Ok, well this post will discuss some of the movies. When Susan Sarandon spoke those eventual iconic words it began to click in the minds of many people.
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball and it’s never boring … which make it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you gotta relax and concentrate. Besides I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250 … not unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident and they make me feel safe and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime, what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul is the Church of Baseball.”
While there are some inaccuracies we can appreciate some of the value here. How many people have wondered around seeking the right place of worship? Many people these days walk around with deep holes within their being because they have not found their connection with God. Whatever that may be people connect to God in various manners. For me there is something calming and spiritual about baseball, whether it’s a perfect execution of a double play or a walk-off home run, baseball is surreal. I get emotional when I hear the national anthem, and I feel a lump in my throat when I hear their perfect execution of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It’s a beautiful game, and it’s a game which can bring us closer to God, and it’s a game which unites us. Baseball is America’s Pastime, and it has a new youthful vibrancy with the likes of Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw leading the way baseball’s future is well intact. It’s a game which holds dear to my heart, and something I wish to always have in my life. When I have children I wish to share the game as my dad did with me. He instilled the passion for the game which I now have. Baseball is more than a game, it is a pathway to life.
My First Step in the Cathedral
It was a rivalry game amidst on of the most exciting times in baseball. It was 1998 and I was heading to my first baseball game. As a proud boy from Illinois, I love my Cubs, win or lose. Rocking out my Cubs shirt heading into to enemy territory Busch Stadium. I was filled with an enthusiasm of attending my first professional baseball game. I had attended other games before, but that day I was going to see Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Kerry Wood. It was a hot day in St. Louis and we sat in a stadium which somehow made hot days even hotter. The traffic was heavy, and the spirits were high. We enter the stadium, and quickly I was ambushed by a stadium hand selling programs and I was handed a promotional photograph of a Cardinals player which I quickly wanted to discard. It’s almost methodical how we enter the game though you park your car. You look around and head into the building where you know something bigger than yourself is going to occur. You pass through the turn style and much like church immediately are greeted by other lovers of the game. You’re offered a bulletin or a program of upcoming things, and within a couple minutes, you find your way to your seats likely stepping over a couple people to get to the spot you want. We proceeded higher and higher and found our seats. The national anthem was sung and we were ready for some baseball. I looked down on the field and looked to the sky with bliss as I had my glove ready to catch foul balls which I clearly had no chance of catching.
While I was there for baseball, that passion I had I used to help me draw closer to God. While I am not promoting a personal worship of the game, in fact, that’s downright blasphemous. We can still find value from the Church of Baseball, we can use it as a link to God. My childhood passion for the game, which still seemingly lives within me is God given. For you see coming close to God is how God wants us to come close to Him, while I know this may rub a few of you the wrong way, but a church is not a building, no it’s a gathering of people in the name of God. Whether it’s the millions of fans around the world praying for their team or maybe the link between the impossible happening. See its when people truly believe in a team is when it is truly successful. No, I am not proclaiming a large fan base is the key, if so my beloved Cubbies would be one of the most successful teams ever. God is there when we need Him the most, and His healing is second to none. I was sitting in the hot sun in front of thousands of people all gathered for the same reason, to see a ball game. However, for some, it was a route to healing and a path to redemption. For that moment for many in that cathedral, people were silent only to stand when needed, only to cheer when they felt it was warranted. It was in that moment, a father saw pure joy in his child’s eyes and knew at that moment he could be just as happy.
So the ball game started and it stayed slow. We were expecting dingers in the midst one of baseball’s revival periods the great home run chase. Sosa, McGwire squared off and they saved baseball. Their methods may not be approved by all, but they alone saved baseball, because if it was not for that historic chase baseball could be dead. One of the biggest pieces of American History would be gone with the wind. Maybe, not obsolete, but not as popular. The first pitch was fired and I remember a Lance Johnson slicing a single to begin the game, but from that point on the Cubs were quite until the middle of the game. A few batters later, I was thrilled to see my then favorite player Sammy Sosa step up to the plate. He smacked a screamer into the right field only to be corralled before it could get down. The scare was over for St. Louis. A few innings later the Cardinals struck first blood, and Mark McGwire didn’t disappoint the hometown faithful. He drove one deep to left just shy of Big Mac Land. I was distraught as the Redbird Faithful took to their feet. However, I would get my moment soon. Soon after the Cubs took to the plate and Sammy was up. Sammy smacked a line drive to the wall. He was on with a double, Mark Grace would drive him in later to knot up the game. No home run, but we were tied and we had a chance. Later in the contest, the Cubs would take the lead and keep it for good. We left the game fighting the crowd, much like trying to get around the people who want to talk in front of your path at church. We hit the parking garage to be greeted by thousands of other cars, but that day was like no other because it was my first day at the big league ballpark with my dad, and I still remember the trill of going to that game.
The Game of Heart Breaks
The crazy thing about baseball it’s like life, it’s not fair. Your heart will ache, it will triumph. Whether it being in the form of being a Cubs fan prior to this season or seeing you team botch year after year. Baseball strikes a nerve of every baseball purist. To simply think about the game for some is as calming as talking to their pastor for others. I don’t believe that God created one way to learn about Him, and I believe that there are many ways to finding Christ, if there was on way to find Him, then we would all be lost. Why would God make us all different if He didn’t want us to connect Him in different manners? To see your team lose is almost as big as a blow as being shot by a metaphorical bullet. So you see, for every time you get to see the celebration about, the possibility of the following lurks the next possibility. Thus ending your World Series dreams, and breaking the heart of a fan who finally understand baseball. Thus opening the door to an eight-year-old boy who finally understood the game getting his first taste of what it is like to be a Cubs fan. The first playoffs I ever watch ended quickly as the Atlanta Braves swept the Chicago Cubs right out the playoffs. 1998 was a good year for me, I had little worries, and was oblivious to the things in the world. I knew my God, family, friends, and baseball. However, for the first time in 1998, I truly understood baseball. I had played for a while, but I really developed myself as a fan that year. The world came crashing down that year as it flourished most of the year and this was just the beginning. However, little did I know that the game I fell in love with back in 1998 would be the foundation to my understanding of so much.