I finally made it out to the village park a few days, ago, on a very warm Thursday evening to check out the baseball action. Baseball programs for youth are a big thing in my current parish’s town. Almost every evening there is some sort of game going on, apparently. I’d been asked more than once at pastoral council meetings if I had been to our youth group’s softball games which I had to regretfully reply, “No, and I don’t even know when the youth play. Would someone get me a schedule and I’ll make sure I make an appearance.” Apparently, my predecessor would attend all the games plus many other of the little league and high school American Legion games in town. He continues to travel to town from his retirement community several times a week to watch games and will follow the older boy’s team when they play out of town. I guess I was feeling a little threatened by his continued interest in the youth of the parish when I hadn’t even bothered to find out when they play. So, after dinner, I made a trek out to the park and was greeted by several parishioners waiting for the senior high school Legion ballgame to start. And my predecessor, I soon learned, was also there, so I made sure I greeted him.
Turns out, about a third to half of the home team that evening were youth from my parish. I had no idea there were so many. My appearance at the ball diamonds was welcomed and a good public relations move on my part, I suppose. I also suppose I better do it more often to build good will and relationship with the youth and their parents. It’s part of being pastor I’ve learned over the years, to be “present” at events in the community even if the sport or activity is not one of my strong interests. Even at “secular” events, like a ball game, a priest is a sign of the presence of Christ in the everyday lives of his people. I wonder if Jesus would have played baseball. He’d probably be better at it than me. I was always the kid stuck in right field because there I’d do the least damage to the team’s potential to win. My batting power and base running skills pathetic.
I do like baseball, its relaxed pace for the fan in the stands. But I also tend to let my mind wander quite a bit when watching a game. And so, sitting on the bleachers after talking with parishioners my mind began to wander. I noticed that, this being low-budget small town ball, that when a foul ball left the confines of the playing field, little children would run in a sort of competition to see who could get to the ball first and retrieve it. Unlike the major leagues, though, who seem to get a new ball every couple of pitches, this errant foul ball was brought back to the playing field by the child and given back to the home plate umpire who would 99% of the time put it back in play. I began to think, “Isn’t that like God?” How often do we, his children, go “out-of-bounds” through our sinful acts, fouling the name we bear, Christian, by our deliberate striking out on our own instead of seeking the will of God. The Good Shepherd doesn’t give up on us, but seeks us out and carries us back into the confines of the church, restoring us to the playing field of relationships with God and Church. God, like the umpire, doesn’t want to give up on us, and gives us another chance to play in the fields of the kingdom.
There were other thoughts that occurred as I sat there and watched. Baseball requires a team effort, all working for a goal, to overcome the power of the other team. An individual may stand out on the team, but the whole team shares the victory (and defeat). So too, is it like that with the church. We’re all winners, so to speak, over the power of sin and death because our star player, the human Jesus Christ, has scored the walk off home run when it seemed things were bleakest. We share in the victory of his resurrection, not because of our talents but because we’re members of his body through baptism and through faith.
I suppose the analogy comparing elements baseball with faith could go on for more paragraphs. The most obvious is that the point of the game, however long it takes (there is no time limit or limit on number of innings) is to go home, victory snatched from the hands of the opponent. No matter how long we live, no matter how long before Christ returns again at the end of the age, we’re all hoping for that walk off home run, when we “Go Home” and cross the threshold home plate symbolizes, the heavenly home. I have to admit, the image of “going home” isn’t original to me. I borrowed it and “baptized” the idea in Christian thought. One of my favorite comedy routines that I first heard as a young person was by the comedian George Carlin. Many of his thoughts on the Difference Between Football and Baseball can be tweaked to reflect some similarities with the life of a disciple in the Church; Managers who must dress like the players (Christ took on our human form), Baseball has the “Sacrifice,” Baseball begins in the season of “New Life” and football is about “sudden death,” baseball has no predefined end (extra innings are possible) and is played on a field that extends into infinity (eternity?) if there’s no fence in the outfield and so on. A text of the routine can be found at the web site Baseball Almanac. Remember I said, “Many” not all of his thoughts could be reframed with a Christian perspective.
So, I hope my readers don’t mind the stretched analogy and reference to a sometimes profane comedian (now deceased) but my trip to the ball park really did remind me that “In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!” (Quote from Carlin’s routine.) My heavenly home, that is. And may you, too, my friend, find that you arrive safely home with our manager Christ welcoming you with a high-five and embrace to the home plate full of the banquet of eternal life. In the meantime, I guess I better show up at a few more ball games at the city park and be the sign of Christ present in the midst of his people (without wearing the managers uniform, though).