For me, baseball is a spiritual matter. It encompasses most of the themes I’ve discussed so far.
I first came to baseball as a spiritual matter back in 1984. I had been sober for a little over a year. While that was a great blessing, I felt my life was tepid ( a not uncommon challenge for people newly sober). I decided I needed to be enthused.
I do not have the gift of enthusiasm. I have known a few who do — some family members, an actor-friend. I have also been privileged to see some people discover that gift once they got out from under oppressive circumstances. But in my case I had to practice. But what could I be enthused about?
After some discernment, I settled on baseball. I would be one of those men who opened the newspaper and cheered or cursed depending upon the latest scores. But to be a true enthusiast, I had to follow one team. Which one?
I knew right away it wouldn’t be the Yankees (although I was and am a fan of Yankees Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera). I also wasn’t much of a fan of either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Then I remembered that my hometown of Scranton had a Redsox farm team when I was growing up. My first autograph was from Jimmy Piersall, a Redsox at the time. And my beloved Uncle Joe had been an avid Redsox fan. So the Redsox it was. (Little did I know what I was in for!)
I bought a Redsox hat and glove. I began to read the sports page religiously. It worked. In time, I became enthused. Further, over time baseball provided me with a way to stay connected with my sons and daughter. Eventually it provided another way to connect with my 6 grandkids.
Enthusiasm has been an important spiritual theme in my life. It has kept me from being consumed by the pain I witness. It has brought me back to gratitude (especially when the Redsox won the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013!)
Baseball is also a gateway to other spiritual themes. Currently scapegoats are on my mind in the wake of the Redsox collapse and release of manager Terry Francona. Baseball appears to come up with scapegoats to deal with disappointment or tragedy. Do the names Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman ring bells? Scapegoating is very human and has been with us since Biblical times. Rather than look within at our own failings, we put them onto someone else and point an accusing finger.
And as I watched my Redsox lose in the bottom of the ninth to the last-pace Orioles on the last day of the 2001 season, another important spiritual theme came to mind. Hope! Wait until next year!
And indeed hope came in 2013 and is with me now in 2018.
Reflections: 1. About what are you enthused? 2. Have you ever scapegoated someone?
Further Reading: There are many books on baseball that give a glimmer of its spiritual nature. Some of my favorites include Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times. You might also enjoy Baseball Haiku edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.
Further Viewing: Spiritual themes abound in films such as “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Pastime”. I can also recommend the documentaries “Nine Innings from Ground Zero” and “Tenth Inning”, the recent addition to Ken Burns’ series on baseball.
I leave you, though, with a reminder of the spiritual theme of hope in the face of adversity — the final scene from “The Natural.