Saturday, 26 May 2007

Ten reasons why baseball is God's game

by Kim Fabricius

The story is told of the aristocratic English cricket supporter who dies and appears at the Pearly Gates. St Peter checks his list, but, alas, the old gentleman is not on it. “There must be some mistake,” the man protests, “I have a permanent seat in the Lord’s enclosure!”

Well, Lord’s may be the home of cricket, but if cricket is heaven – and I write as an American expat who has lovingly lived in the UK for over thirty years – then heaven is as the cartoonist Larson depicts it: a bored bespectacled soul sitting on a cloud, thinking (in his thought balloon): “Wish I had a magazine.” Cricket is indeed baseball on Valium, while baseball is “chess at ninety miles an hour” (Roger Kahn). Baseball is God’s game. And here are just ten reasons why.

1. “The game of ball is glorious” – Walt Whitman.

2. Baseball is about coming home. The whole point of the game is to finish where you begin – home plate – and once you are home you are finally safe.
    “In my beginning is my end…
    Home is where one starts from…
    In my end is my beginning.”
    (T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”)

3. Its rudiments come from another world, i.e. England (!); its beginnings are shrouded in myth and legend (Abner Doubleday, “Casey at the Bat,” etc.); and its origins are rural, its destiny urban, i.e. it began in a garden and ends in the urbs. And the Original Sin: the banning of black players.

4. Its believers are nourished on Word and Sacrament, viz. the umpire’s shout, “Play ball!”, and the pilgrim fare of Crackerjacks and soda, hotdogs and beer. And, amidst elaborate ritual, there is that numinous moment of stillness as the pitcher takes the sign, winds up, and delivers, and that most majestic of sounds – the crack of the bat (rubric: All stand).

5. It has its saints – e.g. Lou Gehrig (the Iron Horse) and Jackie Robinson (the first African-American player of the modern era) – and sinners – e.g. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (who took a bribe) and Barry Bonds (who is alleged to have taken steroids). And there is the Great Satan: the New York Yankees.

6. It has its cathedrals – ballparks, awesome, hallowed grounds, the immediate playing area the “diamond” – and its Temple in Jerusalem, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York – replete with relics!

7. It had a Reformation with a splinter church, viz. the advent of the American League – with, alas, its ultimate descent into the heresy of the “designated hitter”!

8. It has its Suffering Servant, viz. the Chicago Cubs, the “Cubbies,” a team annually “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (and crucial to the game is the play called the “sacrifice”). But “Cub fans love the Cubs, warts and all, no questions asked. This quality is called faith” (Peter Glenbock).

9. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive this game as a little child will never enter it (cf. Mark 10:15). Magically, baseball always brings out the child in you, and draws you back to your childhood, indeed makes your childhood present (anamnesis). And it is a tie that binds the generations, communio sanctorum.

10. Finally, baseball abounds in hope (cf. Romans 15:13): “Next year!” – and, indeed, past-redeeming eschatological promise: “If you build it, he will come” (Field of Dreams). Maranatha!

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