The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)
When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right. In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. Jonathan Swift once mused “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”
Now of course in addition to being a Christian and a a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain I also belong to the Church of Baseball as the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti said “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” While I may become frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures I know that God still cares every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball.
To some that may seem like heresy but God even loves heretics that love football or basketball more than baseball. But really I don’t know of a game that can speak to the soul like the game of baseball, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game. Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.”
But then what is heresy? I mean I don’t think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do as even Christian. I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “love your neighbor as yourself thing” and not real cool with pompous religious leaders that seem to give preference to the rich and powerful and . Forgive my rather casual language there but I did grow up in the 1970s and who could forget “translations” like The Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man.
I am a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles and admirer of the Oakland A’s. I like some other teams as well but I am a fan of teams that seem to suffer much, although unlike my brother George Will I do not quite know his suffering as a Cubs fan. For fans like like me and others that suffer with their teams through bad times and good baseball is a love affair with our teams and the players that play for them. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 for the first time in over 50 years in San Francisco. The Orioles are now up to 14 straight losing seasons. The A’s have not won a series for two decades but their GM Billy Beane helped revolutionize the way that players are evaluated.
There is something right about baseball, even more right than the height of the trees in Michigan. Unlike the hyper politicized preachers who also specialize in making themselves rich and protecting their market share instead of shepherding their flocks baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that reality exists.
Baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow, the grind of the long season and the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection but the realization that most of the time you won’t get there.
In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
That is life and faith. While I am definitely a Christian I do have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel and who I think are actually driving people away from Jesus. At least when I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”
I think that is why I agree with Annie Savoy about baseball being the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out as well as the late legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell who said: “Baseball? It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”
*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays. I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line.