Baseball As A Road To God|Part 3

In this third part of the series we will be talking about the fifth and sixth innings in the bigger picture of baseball as a metaphor road of to God.

5th Inning: Miracles:

Prayer changes people, not things.

John Sexton

Same can be said the most nuanced notions in the study of religion is miracles. Some are looked at as answers to prayers, an effect of a magic trick. But miracles are really a special kind of hierophany. The definition of a miracle is moments of deep inspiration emerging from unlikely outcome at the most crucial times. Baseball miracles invoking ecstasy, electricity, and awe with the fans. To go deeper into the definition is to understand the Latin root of the word miraculous-object of wonder, a manifestation of the divine, and a revelation on a different plane.

True miracles in baseball change the course of the game, a series, and a season. Most of these miracles happen in September and October with the occurrence of the World Series. One true example is the perfect game played during the 1956 World Series game. That day in baseball lore, the game was pitched perfectly not seen since 1922 World Series game. To this day the miracles that happened during this game has not been seen to this day in any other World Series played since.

But there is of course “false miracles” in baseball which appear to be miraculous, but in truth are really ordinary products of coincidences or probability. One such example in the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” also known as the “shot heard’ round the world.” What Giant’s Bobby Thomson’s swinging connection on a fastball from the Dodgers pitcher resulted in pennant game. The ball to this day is missing in the stands. But decades later the unsettling fact became clear that the Giants had cheated using a sophisticated signaling system to players on the field. A miraculous moment diminished as false.

How do baseball’s miracles coincide with religion’s take on miracles? Miraculous is the gist of myth, myth permeates religion. Sometimes the story of a miracle entails the intervention or manifestation of a higher power. In itself, miracles convey a wonderment and amazement that transpires a sacred about all place. In baseball some of the solid hits become line drive outs, some of the weakest become box scores hit, few even win games. Other times players accomplish what their team needs at the expense of their statistics diminished as a result both on paper and scoreboard. All comes to the idea of concupiscence.

6th Inning: Blessings and Curses

What makes baseball so great is that everyone can play it- little kids and old people. But only the blessed are destined to play in the majors.

Tippy

When we speak of a blessed ballplayer, we use the word blessing in many other ways and contexts in both religious and secular. Blessing is a function of our belief that somehow God is on our side-either the team, the individual players and the fans are invoking a God as well. However, the deeply connected sibling of blessing is a curse. The word bless is ecstatic sensation one experiences after the release of profound accursedness, where a curse is associated with painful prolonged suffering that “sticks” to an object. Both are intertwined as faith and doubt. This all plays into baseball by the slow intense rhythms the game goes through at times.

The great baseball curses are associated with painful prolonged championship droughts, booted ground balls, most of all wrenching defeats. Blessings and curses also are tied to events off the field in bizarre stories of omens and harbingers. This bizarre practice even involves teams whose identities are deeply tied to how they and the fans have dealt with accursedness and epic adversity. It not so much how the teams, towns, and fans handle the curse, but how a reaction to it. The reaction, in the end, shapes the blessing when it comes and determines the effect it will have as a whole. This is where the famous cry in baseball come from “wait’ll next year.”

For teams accursed repeatedly to suffer preordained pain or hardship, the hardship is a necessary prelude to being released from its clutches and receiving great blessings. The most famous of all curses in baseball is the Course of the Cubs World Series appearance drought. It would take until 2016 to finally lift the curse dating back to 1945 and a World Series win since 1908. All this time Cub fans have accepted the fate with a good measure of cheer. Neither hopeful nor despairing but delighted in the status of baseball’s lovable loser.

Adversity is baseball’s handmaiden; the great challenge and it’s a great lesson. Like in religion, a baseball game is founded on aspirations rarely met. It generates far more failure than fulfillment. No matter how high the aspirations are, there still is joy, defeat, a cause of sorrow, but it is not about the curses, but about baseball and the moment of ecstatic release of blessing. Baseball can be a catalyst for everyone everywhere to see through curses there are blessings.

As in life, baseball too has it’s saints and sinners. In the fourth and final part of the series, the last three innings inches closer to the clubhouse of life. Stay tune!

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

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

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:

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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

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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

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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.

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View from our seats

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Whats going on?

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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!).

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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).

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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.