I once asked a friend which she preferred: baseball, football, volleyball or basketball? “Highball,” she answered sarcastically. One could see why the soothing fizz of the drink was helpful given the recent acquisition of the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Look it up on your own to learn of the division this has caused among fans.
But it’s baseball time now after another arbitration scare nearly short changed the season again. I love old-fashioned baseball. I love to hear the crack of the bats in practice and to smell the fresh grass in the outfield. I love the peanuts and hotdogs and I love studying the program booklets with all the stats of the team and players. I love hearing the broadcasters of the game coming through the open windows on warm summer days.
This year our beloved Indians have a new name which is slowly growing on me. Fans were invited to submit names last winter and I thought I had a good one. An obvious choice for a Great Lake city team would have been ‘Captains,’ but that’s the name of our minor league team. I tried to come up with something nautical and I settled on ‘Commodores.’ Then I realized that since teams always get nicknames, ‘Commies’ wouldn’t fly politically and ‘Doors’ would confuse the team with a rock band. ‘Guardians’ is from the classical Greek and iconic sculptures on the Hope Memorial Bridge which welcomes you into the heart of Cleveland. OK! I give in. And word has it that the nickname is ‘Guards,’ which I like.
We are looking forward to a better-than-average season this year. Jose Ramirez has happily signed for five more years and there is a new phenom, a guy named Steven Kwan, who looks more like the bat boy than an outfielder and super hitter. Remarkably, he is the first player in history to reach base 15 times in his first four career games since 1901! I have been watching his every move since then.
So what does all this have to do with spirituality? I promise not to stretch the argument but here goes:
Baseball Teams are Communities. Players work together as teammates; they cover for each other’s failures and they celebrate each other’s successes. The core of that community impels them to reach out to their fans in volunteerism. They know the value of extending their community.
Baseball Teams Exhibit a Sense of Inclusive Mission. Players are encouraged to go among fans and bring the joy of the field to them. Baseball might be the first sport to widen enthusiasm for itself by supporting teams from very young kids through the minor leagues. All are welcome!!
Does this sound like a thriving parish community? In some ways it does. Baseball is not comprised of ‘saintly’ people; just people trying to do their best in their careers and in the public. Historically, it has seen its share of bad guys, the users of banned substances to boost their stats, the philanderers, the occasional gambler, the alcoholic unable to accurately seize the line drive. Just like any community, these are the players who let us down, rusted their haloes, got caught in the web of fame over service. Many of them returned clean and sober, clear-eyed about the goal now in focus. Just like community.
Whether baseball players know it consciously or not, they are part of a community playing with and for a community and it demands the best of their spiritual attention to do this successfully. I once wrote an article for Cleveland’s newspaper, The Plain Dealer, on my experience as an eleven year-old who covertly got on to the first kids’ team in our rural town. None of the adults managing the team realized I was a girl because I had stuffed my hair under a ball cap. I was left-handed so I was considered a good prospect playing either first base or pitching. My brother and I elicited training from a former pitcher for the Dayton Dragons, Pinky Dalton, who now lived near us. He was a cheerful guy who taught us how to field just about every type of ball. He trained us for a full month before our opening game. There was never a question that I could learn from him. He simply taught both my brother and me. It was my field of dreams. But someone had blown my cover and I was dismissed from my career in baseball. But the young pitcher who took time to train us and deepen our love for the game, well, that is what baseball is all about.
Years later when considering my vocation, I thought: Sisters can do anything. They aren’t just teachers, nurses, or secretaries. I’ll join the Sisters and maybe someday – through them – I’ll be in the major leagues!!
Resolve to do something with friends or family to enjoy the beginning of the baseball season. Baseball invites community and so does faith. Watch a game on TV together or get to a game in person. Make a point to give a personal gift to someone as a gift of attending a game with you in person. That’s community.
Maybe just plan on a televised game with friends or family present and have snacks and enjoy each other as you cheer the team on. Community moves in the threads of your togetherness and connects you with each other. Appreciate this. It is truly God in your midst. God is there.
And, of course, Go Tribe! Sorry, I meant Go Guards!!!