Baseball, my friends, has returned.
Much like Easter after a long Lenten season, Opening Day heralds the beginning of those warmer, peaceful days of AM radios, barbeque pits, and lawn mowers that undoubtedly announce that baseball is here.
No other sport possesses the raw humanity of baseball. Our best and our worst as a species has been represented on these diamonds. Think of Lou Gerhig and Cal Ripkin Jr; Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Now think of Pete Rose and Barry Bonds. I think of all the great charity work Major League Baseball does, and then I recall the 1994 lockout. I've seen grown men fight each other for foul balls and I've seen them hand them over to the cutest kids, thrilled as though they've been given hidden treasure. Cleared benches and warm embraces; ejections and backflips. It's raw, it's real, and it's so easy to be invested in.
Have you ever seen those two blue-haired ladies who sit in the same seats to nearly every home game? Or how about the guy with the Walkman who rests quietly and records the plays on his scorecard, some unofficial historian? Then there's the mascots, the vendors, the drunks, the uninterested people texting, the social gadflies, and the true fans who know every statistic, how Bob Tewksbury injured his calf in that one game 1,000 years ago. So many different people in the same place--crammed, sweaty, human. Baseball.
In many ways baseball is a means to fulfill that desire in all of us to experience some sort of exaltation, some triumph in which we can share. It's that "bases loaded, Bottom of the 9th" scenario, those three outs the closer has to make to get that big win. We all connect, boozers and businessmen alike, because the game can manifest what's going on inside of us, that search for more, that true elation and fulfillment.
Last May, when I saw my first game at Fenway Park (anathema to some in St. Louis) with my dad, uncle and cousin, I took a moment to soak in the history contained in that old park. It was almost mystical. In that great cathedral off Yawkey Way I found myself experiencing some profound connection, one which made me breathe deeper, stop and take it all in. It's then that I realized how poignant one of the St. Louis Cardinals' advertisements is: "This is Baseball Heaven."
As great as it is, however, it'll always fall short.
There's a real beauty found in appreciating a game like baseball, but it's only true when a greater connection is made. All the sights and sounds and excitement are for naught if they don't lead us somewhere, point to something else. In the Ignatian maxim to "Find God in all things," we see how something as minute as a rain delay in April or the smell of a bratwurst in August can be a means of connecting with the One who loves us and longs for us to know Him more. But, if we can't relate the game to its greater significance for our lives, relation with the divine, it's like leaving runners on base at the end of the inning.
Those of us who understand this have a task at hand: help the world to see God dwelling in the world He made. It's a very subtle form of evangelization, but it's oh so effective. If God can help a whole nation cross the Red Sea, die, and rise again, imagine what He can do with a few gloves, a ball, and a bat! If we're willing to see Him not only at work in this game but in our lives as well, imagine how many more disciples we can make through something as celebrated as this sport. It's like selling cotton candy, only sweeter!
Here's a quote from Gary Graf's And God said, Play Ball! to illustrate the power of evangelization through the game of baseball:
"Baseball, perhaps more than any other enterprise, brings together people of different religions, races, nationalities, and forges them into thriving communities where all work together to serve one another toward a common goal. Leave it to the game to hold out the possibility, the potential God sees for all of humanity." -69
On this Opening Day, let's enjoy the start of a new season and recognize the great opportunities given to us to spread the Gospel. Oh, and Go Cards!