Baseball As A Road To God|Part 2

In continuing this four part series we will look at faith, doubt and conversion a person goes through in playing the game of baseball or as a fan, as a road to God from the book
Baseball As a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton.

2nd Inning: Faith

Ya gotta believe!

Tug McGraw (NY Mets 1973)

Baseball offers a window into the nature of faith even in the deepest meanings of the word. Faith is often the handmaiden of hard work, intellectual and otherwise. But in baseball faith is something more than coincidence. It is involved in most delightful anomalies. Faith, not reason, gets us to God, just as faith in one’s favorite baseball team will make it to the World Series.

Looking at some of the most famous players in baseball history, each one of them had faith in themselves, their teammates and the fans to step on the field to play the game. Looking closer, does each player show faith? Faith does not have to be loud or full of swagger. It often is private. At little league games you see it, a coach, a parent or family member bestowed this faith principle to each child who plays. Over time as the child move through the different levels of the league, one element of faith is acquired at a time. In a Christian’s life, each person who walks the road to God has faith principles bestowed on them by others in the community of believers. As the person moves through life’s stages, each stage they acquire one element at a time. Each of the four elements: comfort, motivation, understanding, meaning and ultimate purpose are tough at all levels of the game. Each blend together to form faith-baseball faith.

It can come in flashes, come very slowly, or even painfully. On a baseball field, as it is in life, faith is not certainty; it is a special kind of confidence. A leap of faith when stepping up to the pitcher mound, stepping into the batter’s box, and when run the bases. To have faith in something unseen, is to embrace feeling over logic. As Tug McGraw said many of times in his baseball career “ya gotta believe!” Faith goes century by century. Baseball as Sexton points out baseball can lift us from the ordinary to a different plane as well propel a drive toward something. Its the faith anything can happen during baseball season.

3rd Inning: Doubt

Doubt is but another element of faith

Saint Augustine

As a Seattle Mariners fan, each season ballplayers and the fans start the season with fans doubting the team could win games. It is this doubt that at times can make it harder to have faith. When the victories in the games being played happen, the player’s outlook starts to move from doubt to hope and even faith.

Doubt is at the core of baseball. It touches every player and every fan. You don’t even have to look far to find doubt happening in baseball games. Take a look at the players in little league, middle and high school teams to see doubt playing out. The player telling the coach they doubt they can even hit the winning home run, but the coach pushes the doubt aside. Baseball tolerates doubt, even when it can be resolved. Baseball embraces the human judgement rather that the science of insta-replay. Even with all the technology going into figuring out if strikes happen in the strike zone, the umpire still makes the call.

Doubt is central to religious experience, just has it is in baseball. Faith and doubt are not separated, they coexist together. In baseball as in religion, doubt and faith are intertwined in the flow on the field. In Eastern tradition there is a saying “great doubt, great awakening, little doubt, no faith.” Baseball players, fans and faithful live with doubt, even Jesus had doubts at times (Gospel of Matthew). Faith communities at their best add to the storehouses of human well-being.

4th Inning: Conversion

Is God a clown who whips away your bowl of soup one moment in order, next moment to replace it with another bowl of same soup? Even nature isn’t such a clown as that. She never plays the same tune twice.

C.S. Lewis

Conversion is not for the faint of heart. It can begin with a dramatic external event or it can be a result of lengthy period of reexamination and introspection. It is a difficult process requiring effort and perseverance. Ask any baseball fan-or any fan of a team, the heart breaking feeling when a team so ingrained in their life move on to another location. The same for a favorite ball player to another team. One story of baseball lore I know well is the Portland Mavericks back in the 70s, a team stitched together by unexpected players. Then the end of the team after Major League Baseball expanded with the team Portland Beavers in 78. Many fan would eventually convert not only to the Portland Beavers team, but also to the Seattle Mariners.

In baseball it can be entirely about the future, requiring no rejection of previous allegiances. Spiritual conversion looks forward and backwards, same as in baseball. Previous allegiances are in the end rejected even as new ones faithfully embraced. Think about one of your favorite baseball player. How many times has this person been traded or went to another team? Each time they go through conversion-a great leap froward. The same can be said of the fan who looses their favorite team to another city. This conversion mirrors the nature of religious conversion each full of feeling, emotion or acceptance. At times it can be a journey from a sleeping baseball fan to awakening. Every experiences, spiritual or secular is an experience of conversion.

In the first inning, of sacred space and sacred time, the idea of baseball touching transcendent comes into perspective when it comes to conversion both on the field and in the stands. Conversion is a serious matter of two components: dilemma and choice. Both put many players and fans at a crossroads before, during, and after a season. Conversion in baseball cannot be a crossroad of stop and wait, because baseball pushes forwards by life.

Conversion possess a powerful capacity to induce this sensation and stir feelings of childhood excitement, anticipation, sorrow and joy. All components players and fans go through in a single game, if not life.

Baseball is more than a game. It’s like life played out on a field.

Juliana Hatfield

Baseball As A Road To God: Seeing Beyond the Game, by John Sexton