Baseball: As A Road To God| Part 1

Back when I was a student at Northwest University, a professor of Christian Thought had the class read an excerpt from John Sexton’s book Baseball As a Road to God to understand how sports can and at times lead people to God. The game of baseball has deep-rooted features associated with life and the journey many Christians take on the road to God. Yet two years later I would pick this book up again after reading Lou Piniella’s autobiography.

Photo by Steshka Willems on Pexels.com

Baseball As a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game grew out of John Sexton’s courses tough at New York University. It all started when a fellow student told him how silly people are for thinking baseball is life. This sparked a challenge to see what makes baseball so true to life and how the game is one of the roads to God. Little did Sexton knew, it would become one of the most popular courses among students.

In this four part series I will go through what I learned about the game of baseball as a road to God, and how it has made me look at baseball differently all because of John Sexton’s book.

The Knothole Gang:

Related image
Missouri Historical Society Cardinals players looking through a fence, 1935

The knothole gangs came about as professional ballparks were first being built with wooden fences. Kids without the price of a seat would find that the wooden fences surrounding the parks provided spy holes to watch the games for free. These holes were created when knots in the wood popped out. Naturally, gangs of kids gathered around the knotholes.

Baseball evokes in the life of it’s faithful features associated with life; faith, doubt, conversion, blessing, curses, miracles, saints and sinners, and community. In Sextion’s book, baseball is really the physical representation of the road to God played out before an audience.

How is this sport closest to the road of God you ask? It is a superficial similarity between baseball and religion. Sextion spells it out:

  • Ballpark is a church
  • Ballgame is a mass (Sextion is Catholic)
  • Three strikes to an out
  • Three outs to an inning
  • Three holy trinities (baseball diamonds)
  • Nine positions on a field
  • Nine innings to a game
  • Nine muses in Greek mythology.

To the outsider peeking through the knothole of a ballpark fence they see a game, but if look closely, there is a complex sacred dance playing out in all corners of the ballpark.

1st Inning: Sacred Space & Sacred Time

Unity in time and space in the nature of the show.

John Updike (Unity In Life

Sexton starts off the road to God at the first inning, the inning where baseball moves beyond ordinary space, time, in the flow of feelings and images. Baseball in full context is “constructed stage beast three folds of Dante’s rose (heaven, hell, and purgatory).” Remember the knothole? Looking through it, does it look like a game of chess or ballet or both? Baseball is a combination of both. When looks like nothing is going on choose a player and watch the reaction. The game ebbs and flows like water. A sacred water flow coming from within the deepest recess of a player.

Seattle Mariners: T-Mobile Field

The sacred space of the ballpark is similar to a sacred place like a church. Sexton notes that a day at a ballpark summons an inner self-conjured as one moves through the entrance to the park. Crossing the threshold separates the profane world outside the sacred world lies inside the gates. Most people find a state of being, a transformation evoking a deep and meaningful connection to something within the ballpark. A stadium a church. The bleachers are the pews. The intersection between our world and the transcendent world, the connection between ordinary from spiritual dimensions.

Baseball operates out of ordinary time-timeless in it’s essence. Sitting in the seats, what do you notice?

  • Length of an inning or game is not set by a clock.
  • Time is not linear (simple: past, present, and future)

Time is cyclical building towards certain quintessential moments in baseball game according to Sexton. This same cyclical building mirrors religious times: liturgical. The time marked by ritual and ceremony. The liturgical time of baseball is the season from opening day to World Series. But it goes further than this. According to Sexton, it all starts before opening day with Easter/Passover (spring training) where there is a sense of renewal and the “wait until next year”, the prolong replaced with hope. Opening day with pomp and circumstance of something wonderful can and will happen (the beginning). The great time of the season (midseason), and the holy of holy days in baseball, the World Series. The World Series according to baseball lore, is the holiest of days where baseball stories become memories passed down to the next generation.

Yet Sexton notes, during this time overwhelming occurs throughout the ballpark. As you sit in the seat watching the game, notice the crowd around you. The cheering crowd wells up and carries you along as a powerful wave. In this wave, there is a solid foundation supported, and riding this wave carries you along. There is meaning to life in this powerful feeling of waves, just as this powerful wave moves through worshipers during Sunday morning service. Baseball creates and lives the cyclical repetitive liturgy and sacramental time of religion.

Over millennia such sacramental moments have been a part of human’s efforts to touch the deepest place of existence.

John Sexton

This time exists within the realm of baseball fields, parks and stadiums. Each field holds the greatest show, the greatest game, a journey, a road each person takes in life, all within nine innings.

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

Note: Safeco Field is now T-Mobile Field as of 2019.

New Sports Fan Is Born In 2014

78ddb69eb431207f97d9de71bf6876ca

I use to be one of those people like the guy above. Regarding every sport with a form of being clueless. This year however, I had to learn fast because M is an immense sports fan. Ask him about any sports (except the absurd ones like Shinty) and he will tell you all about it. I have been a fan of the Seattle Sounders, and have been to a few games before M came on the scene. Yet this year, the world of professional sports was thrown open wide for me to experience.

Seahawks Superbowl Championship

In February the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl Championship against the Denver Broncos. Our city’s first Superbowl victory and our second time as a team playing. The nail-biting, the Skittles flying, and the celebration after made for one crazy Sunday night and one epic ending to the 2013-2014 Seahawks season. My work’s tailgating party brought us all together for on huge party like we have never had in a very long time. I got a “12 Man Manicure” for the games, and I even bought me two Seahawks t-shirts to wear on Blue Friday. You can say I’m not a hard-core fan as my boyfriend is, and I will admit I probably the “bandwagon” fan more than pretending to be a super fan all along. Either way I had a chance to celebrate like everyone in Seattle did and I am very proud of the Seahawks for bring home the trophy and uniting the city again.

First Mariner’s Game:

I haven’t experienced a professional baseball game before until this past summer. I have drove past Safeco Field, and even grumble about the cost of it until M took me to a game. Now I can check this off my bucket list of things to see in Seattle. This would not come as a huge surprise for most, but this game, they didn’t even win. Bummer since it would have been nice for them to win on my first game experience. I will say this, I’m not a huge baseball fan like my boyfriend, and am still learning all the rules, lingo and yes, even how to play it properly. Would I go again? Maybe. I think I would like to have better seats next time so I could see what is really happening on the field since they were so far way from where our seats were located.

Seattle Sounders:

I’m a fan, but this is the first time in a very long time I have been to multiple matches. This year I went to two Sounders matches with Michael, one for our birthdays, and one unexpected tickets from a friend. Both times M made it worth it with all his knowledge about what happening on the field at any given moment and how entertaining he was to watch throughout the game when cheering (same dance as when the Seahawks score or win on TV).

Did Someone say Olympics?

I watched maybe two other sporting events besides the ice skating event (who doesn’t watch that event?).  All I have to say is how interesting some of the events get. For the first time I was rooting for team USA to win not only in figure skating, but some of the other events not normal for the USA to win. Did we get a lot of medals? Yes. Did USA come out at least in the top five countries? Yes. Olympics this year were boring in comparison, but what made it worth watching, was seeing the USA take a top spot overall.

Watching Two Sounders Play In The World Cup:

A proud moment to watch two of the best Seattle Sounders players play at the World Cup in Brazil. The company I work for had one big tailgating party for the opening game, and throughout the whole event, had people rooting for different teams. The best part, seeing Team USA make it through the Group of Death to the second round of play off. Even after being beaten out, it was fantastic to see the world take notice of how far USA soccer team has come since the last time played. Plus seeing two of our best players from Seattle play against some of the best players from around the world was a proud moment.

Now I can say I’m nothing like the guy in the above picture. I can regard every sport with out clueless and be able to know what is going on without boring me to tears. Maybe in the 2015 there will be more time to go to games and cheer on Seattle sports teams.

Play Ball Boys! First Seattle Mariner Game

IMG_0958

Hard to believe being a born and raised Seattlelite that I have never been to a Mariners game. I have always wanted to go and experience what all the hype was about, but there was never anyone wanting to go or ever asked me. This changed when I was asked by M if I wanted to go to a game with him and his friends. Of course I jumped on it. The game I went to was the Seattle Mariners vs. Baltimore Orioles. For some apparent reason I want to call Baltimore Orioles “Oreos’.” Yes I did receive dirty looks from a few Orioles fans when I accidentally called them Oreos’.

Our outing started with a trip to one of the many food trucks parked outside the ballpark. Between  M and his friends, this is what they both do when ever they go to a sports game. The food truck of choice was the El Camion for their huge burritos before the game dinner. The burritos were spicy and hot enough to make me not able to feel my lips after a few bites. Overall a great food truck to eat from. I unfortunately I did not sample the stadium food, especially the famous garlic fries that M’s friend told me is a right of passage for the first time you go to the game. After a while I think I could have lived without trying the fries since the smell after awhile started to become nauseating. I think I could pass on them, and go from something else next time.

IMG_0947
View from our seats

IMG_0955
Whats going on?

IMG_0946
View from our seats

Our seats were in the sunny outfield of the stadium in the lower half of the bottom deck. For the first three innings we were in the sunshine, which made it a little hard to see what was happening around the bases until it went behind the stadium. I will admit I have never been a huge baseball fan, and have found major league baseball to be boring (Little League has more excitement most of the time). Being between two baseball experts (both played baseball from little league through high school) made the game a little more exciting to hear with much crazy banter they both got into at times. Towards the later innings I started getting restless and may have started to drive M nuts with me asking when the 7th inning stretch was going to happen. Apparently in the middle of the seventh inning, stretching means to standup and sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame, than sit back down. Um that is not what I call a “stretch.” I think I will just chalk it up to me being a clueless baseball fan. M is slowly teaching me what I need to know about baseball, and other sports like golf (golf is even more boring than baseball!).

photo 1(1)
Lemonade with a whole lemon!

Towards the eight inning I needed to have a lemonade. Lets say this was the only time I have ever witnessed how fast an exchange of goods can go. Within thirty seconds I had the lemonade guy give me my lemonade and my change in my hand. M and his friend commented on this, as they never seen anything like it before. This is the same lemonade sold at all the Sounders and Seahawks games and something I look forward to every time.

Unfortunately the Mariners lost the game when an umpire said one of the players did not have his foot on the base when the first base catcher caught the ball. This sent the whole Mainers fans in the stadium almost over the edge. At one point  a fly ball went into the stands in our section and a fan defiantly threw it back on to the field and that is when things started to be thrown on to the field. According to many fans, this rarely happens at the games because if you throw something on the field it is grounds of being kicked out or worse. At this time M and his friend wanted to leave before the fireworks started and to avoid a whole crowd of people leaving at the sometime. AS we were leaving it looked like people had the same idea as we did. There were crowds of people surging out of the stadium. From the backseat of the car I did see the fireworks as we left. Looked like any old fireworks display to seen at a fourth of July show. When Michael and I go home, we both were so tired from a very long and exciting day (or exciting for me mostly).

IMG_0945
Home plate entrance

My first Mariner game was an experience to check off my list of things I have done. I still am not sure if I want to go again. I think I would like to go to another game if the Mariners won a few more games. Will see what next year will bring.