Rites of Spring: Spring Training and Faith

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sharon Olds wrote, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

This week was the true beginning of spring. I know that spring does not actually begin until March, but even so amid the continuing winter, spring is showing its first sign of dawning as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. As Bill Veeck once said, “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

I grew up with a love for baseball that was cultivated by my late father, we didn’t always agree on much, but he imparted to me a love for the game that knows no bounds.

For me that is true. From the day the World Series ends I wait in anticipation for the beginning of Spring Training and I can agree with the great Rogers Hornsby who said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Now don’t get me wrong I like Hockey, Soccer, and Football, but in the end they are merely sports and entertainment, were Baseball is a refuge with profoundly religious meaning to me. As Bryant Gumbel once said, “The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.”

I think that unlike so many other sports and entertainment that it has a healing quality that is good for society. Walt Whitman wrote, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

In a society like ours, wracked by political division, social turmoil, and economic uncertainty, that is important. It can teach us a lot about ourselves, as Saul Steinberg wrote, “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

When I came back from Iraq the ballpark was one of the very few places that I could go and feel absolutely safe. There is something comforting in looking out over that beautiful diamond, smelling the freshly cut grass, the carefully manicured infield, and taking it all in. In fact for me tit still is one of my few truly safe refuges where war, terrorism, political and religious hatred, and the endless ideological battles of conservative and liberal pundits and politicians take a back seat, and as they fade away I find a peace that I seldom find anywhere else, and that includes most churches where for the life of me I find neither peace, nor God. Maybe that’s why I believe in the Church of Baseball.

I guess that is why it baseball matters so much to me, and why in spite of all the craziness of this week, that the seemingly insignificant act of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training means so much.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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