I see great things in baseball. It’s our game–the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us. (Walt Whitman)
I love baseball. Growing up in southwest Missouri I was, naturally, a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards were historically the westernmost ball club until the team expansion began, so you will find Cardinal fans in the strangest places, all the way out west. Plus, they win a lot.
It’s not that I have actual memories of summer evenings listening to the radio or watching games on TV with my family. I do have a vague recollection that my parents traveled to a playoff game in St. Louis once or twice in the 1960s. (I was also aware that my maternal grandfather was a Yankees fan, and that made him somehow controversial.) But I must have listened or watched, because there are names in my heart that evoke happy feelings: like Orlando Cepeda, Julián Javier, Lou Brock, and Red Schoendienst, for starters.
For the past 35 years, though, my heart has belonged to the Chicago Cubs (who—you may have heard—won the World Series last year.) I married into this loyalty for the Cubbies, and with that loyalty came the burden of all those years of pathos, desperation and broken dreams. There is something religious about a devotion to something that never quite pays off. There is a sad joy in keeping the faith in the face of continual disappointment. And by the way: I am always surprised when somebody tries to tell me I can’t possibly be a fan of both the Cubs and the Cards. Balderdash, I say.
I could go on and on about the beauty of baseball: the perfect parabola of a flyball that falls just shy of the fielder, the constant and wordless communication between all the players and coaches. Baseball seems slow, and some people think it’s boring. You may be one of them. But stick with me for a moment more.
Baseball and church have a lot in common. There is power in gathering with others for ritual, and for the purpose of sharing a moment. I can certainly pray by myself, and often feel the presence of God most keenly when I am alone. But to pray with others raises my spirit and my heart even higher. The prayers of others buoy me up. Gathering for worship in a community makes us a part of something: it is spiritual, and emotional, and intellectual. We do not need to ask God to show up; God is already here. God is in our joys and present in our crises. God is dwelling and moving among the people of Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico and Bali and Mexico. God is in Charlottesville, and in the NFL, and in all our efforts to love people we don’t want to love.
To gather for worship with others is one of the best human things, right up there with what Annie Savoy calls The Church of Baseball. Church done right–and heaven knows it can be done wrong–worshiping with others gathers us into the Holy. I also believe with all my heart that people who gather together to worship can and do help heal the world. One of the Episcopal Church’s Eucharistic Prayers asks God for this: “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to [the altar] for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only and not renewal.” Gather to worship with others. It will change you, strengthen you and renew you. Then you can go out into our world and repair its losses and be a blessing. Thanks be to God.
PS: In case you haven’t noticed, the Cubs clinched their division again on Tuesday. Bring on the post-season.