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“No One is Bigger than the Game” Baseball, America and the Rules Trump Hates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This afternoon I will be attending an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and their Triple A minor league affiliate the Norfolk Tides at Norfolk’s Harbor Park. The Tides won’t open their season until April 6th and while this is not the home opener it is for people like me a harbinger of goodness, as the late Commissioner of Baseball and President of Yale University A. Bartlett Giamatti said; “There’s nothing bad that accrues from baseball.”

Baseball is a game where the game itself is sacrosanct and is more important than any commissioner, team owner, manager, player or group of investors. In a way it is much like how our nation’s founders and many of our greatest political leaders, President’s, Justices of the Supreme Court, Senators and Congressmen, military leaders, civil rights leaders, and academics viewed the United States, its Constitution, and the very proposition upon which it was founded, the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Fay Vincent who succeeded Giamatti after the Giamatti’s sudden death in 1989 noted:

“As all of us are aware, and no one more than I, Bart had a singular skill as a public speaker. He spoke well because he thought so well. But I point out to you that the most often quoted remark of Bart’s brief tenure as Commissioner is a very simple declarative sentence. That sentence is the cornerstone on which I will build my own administration. Bart said very simply, ‘No one is bigger than the game.’ I repeat today what Bart said in August, no one – no player, no executive, no owner, no Commissioner, no umpire is bigger than the game.” 

Today the United States has a President who truly believes that he is bigger and more important that all of our public norms and who has no respect for the Constitution or our form of government.

Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last . . . . A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”

The late conservative political commentator Micheal Novak once wrote about baseball connecting it with the heart and soul of the American political system. What he wrote is important for we who live in this day and age to understand, and which all too tragically President Trump does not. Novak said:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

The American political system, like baseball is, to use the words of Novak, “absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.” This is something that our founders understood as have the vast majority of America Presidents and other political statesman regardless of their political party or whether or not they were a conservative or liberal. The fact is, that the interiorization of public rules, or rather, how we incorporate public rules, norms of behavior, traditions, customs, and the unwritten yet imperative rules of our social contract into our lives and behavior.

Neither President Trump or his most loyal supporters can fathom the meaning Novak’s words. The President flagrantly flaunts every norm of our American social and political contract that have existed since the days of the Continental Congress and is cheered and even given theological cover by his supporters.

That is why documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms are so important. None have the power of law, but all are essential to the functioning of the American political system. The American system is not a business contract, nor is it an Ayn Randish descent into a maelstrom of hyper-individualistic social Darwinism. Instead it is about the enlightenment, it is about reason, it is about freedom and responsibility. It is about obeying unwritten rules, rules that are placed upon our hearts.

Last year the President has continued his assault on that social and political contract drawn up by our founders. At the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford he urged active duty military personnel to lobby their congressional representatives for his agenda. A few days later he turned a Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally. He did a similar thing when he addressed the CIA at the beginning of his Presidency. But these are not new and they have continued, less than two weeks ago the President addressed Marines in San Diego and to their cheering delight he castigated the press and called them “enemies.”  It was a direct assault on the First Amendment and the Marines cheered him. I wondered what the hell was going on.

Since his campaign began the President has done everything that he can in order to subvert the American political system, and his words and actions show that he has no respect for the Constitution or laws for the land. If only there was someone who could call him out, as Bill Veeck said: “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

I do not say this with any malice, nor do I say it for any gain. I only say it because the President has stepped so far out from the norms of the American political system that it is impossible to say what he will do next. Our system of government is resilient but at the same time fragile. Unless the GOP majorities in Congress stand up to him our system will not survive in the way that our founders intended. Sadly, I have little hope that they will do so now.  For years most of them have fanned the flames of anti-government and anti-Federalist passions so vehemently that there is no room in their hearts for the very thing that holds our system together; the interiorization of public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors; that is, the interiorization of liberty. The President show no evidence that he understands any of this.

Judge Learned Hand who has been called the greatest American jurist to have never served on the Supreme Court wrote:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

That is why I think that baseball serves to enlighten us to bigger things and why I welcome it with an open heart.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Sunday at Oriole Park


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was a long day but a pleasurable one. I took a trip with the booster club of our Baltimore Orioles AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides to see the Orioles play the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It and the San Francisco Giant’s AT&T Park are my favorite places to watch a major league game. I also like the Astro’s Minute Maid Park in Houston. All three are beautiful and have a certain intimacy that I really enjoy. 


We arrived about an hour and a half before game time, it was hot, humid, and steamy, so I elected not to sit in my ticketed seat but wander the ballpark before and during the game. This allowed me to get a chance to meet the Orioles legendary First baseman from the 1960s and 1970s, Boog Powell. He was outside his bar-b-que stand on Eutaw Street, Boog’s BBQ, signing autographs and letting people get their picture taken with him. I was able to shake his hand, tell him how I admired him as a kid, get a picture with him and having him autograph the inside bill of my Orioles hat. The man is a gentleman and reminded me a bit of the late Harmon Killebrew who I had the opportunity to meet fifteen years ago while serving at Mayport, Florida. I won’t trade that brief experience for anything. Maybe I’ll get a chance to meet Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Rick Dempsey, Cal Ripken, and some of the other great Orioles in the future. I always regret that I never got to meet Earl Weaver, though I did get to spend time with Paul Blair on two occasions before he died. 


The Orioles won the game 9-7 with Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and Trey Mancini, all playing big roles on the offense to buttress a weak start by Dillon Bundy. Back from the disabled list, Zach Britton got the save. It was a nice game to watch. I was able to observe it from almost every angle, I wish I had brought my SLR camera with the zoom and sports setting for pictures but such is life. I’ll have to break it out for a Tides game before the end of the season. When it was too hot I enjoyed some nice craft beer at a couple of the pubs in the concourse, and at Dempsey’s Brew House on Eutaw Street. Of the beers I had I liked Raven’s Lager the best, as the sign said it was “Poetic.”

Baseball is a refuge for me that even in the age of Trump assures me that there is still hope that the world might not just blow up. To me baseball is more than a game, it is a key part of my faith. As Annie Savoy said in Bull Durham: “The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball”

So until to tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Stillness in Baltimore

no fans

Yesterday the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox by a score of 8-2 at Baltimore’s Camden Yards “Oriole Park.” Normally an afternoon game in April would pass nearly unnoticed except for the fans of the teams involved and those who just love the game. But this game was remarkable, for the first time in over 140 years of Major League Baseball, no fans were in attendance. The ballpark stood empty as the teams played a game that is probably more associated with the connection that fans feel towards players and teams than any other sport. Home runs were hit and the only sound was the crack of the bat sound of the ball landing in the stands. Players could hear the raidio and television announcers as they gave their play by play and the pitchers in the bullpens could hear every word spoken by the outfielders. It was surreal and somewhat symbolic. 

But the silence and emptiness at Oriole Park was emblematic of the plight of the people who live in the decaying inner cities of America, and a clarion call for us as a nation to address the root causes of what happened in Baltimore, what happened in Ferguson and what will happen in other cities if we do not take action to deal with the root causes.

The reason for this was the rioting and violence that followed in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a young African-American who had been arrested, and severely injured while in police custody and not given immediate or adequate medical attention for a spinal injury from which he subsequently died. What was Freddie Gray’s crime? He ran from the police, as far as I know he was engaged in no criminal activity and from what I understand, running from the police is not a crime.

As always there are conflicting accounts of the incident and the official State Police report has not been completed, and will probably not be made immediately available leaving his grieving family to wonder what happened and to suspicions of another cover-up. But the key thing is that we do not yet know what happened. In order to be fair I want am placing a link to the press conference of the Baltimore Mayor and Police regarding the arrest and the timeline of what happened to Freddie Gray in the police van:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-ci-freddie-gray-arrest-documents-20150420-story.html

riots

The riots caused much property damage and many people were injured and arrested. The Baltimore Police and the Mayor were overwhelmed and allowed the rioting to get out of hand before requesting that the National Guard assist. President Obama called those who rioted and looted calling them “a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes,” who should “be treated as criminals.” The President also said “We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions,” and noted that “This has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.” He sought balance though and expressed a measure of sympathy for police who have to “do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise” in broken urban communities where fathers are absent, drugs dominate and education, jobs and opportunities are nonexistent.

President Obama has been criticized by those who think he has not done enough to address the numerous accounts of police violence, and those on the political right like Senator Cruz who blame him for “inflaming racial tensions.” Frankly President Obama’s plight reminds me much of the tensions that Abraham Lincoln had to deal with in dealing with the various political factions in the North during the Civil War. The issues are not the same, but the political climate is quite similar. Lincoln was somehow able to navigate through the various crisis including some that involved his closest advisors and even political allies.

American conservatives today, especially those on the “Religious Right” are quick to blame the problems on the disintegration of the family unit, there may be some truth in this but is certainly not at the heart of the problem, otherwise all the white kids from broken families would be out doing the same thing.

But the difference is that many, if not most of those white kids, even those from broken families have educational, economic and social advantages that kids in the inner city ghettos, be they African American, Mexican American or Hispanic, or any other racial or ethnic minority trapped in the hellholes of the inner cities; hellholes that were not created by them but by decades of neglect and intentional political and social policies that served to marginalize Blacks and other minorities, leaving them without hope. As such I think there is a measure of racism in the argument of American conservatives in attributing the riots to the collapse of the family unit in Black communities, which they cannot admit, but secretly harbor.

This has been going on since the 1960s at least and there are historical examples of other Americans trapped in similar situations who resorted to rioting as well, notably the 1863 New York Draft Riots which mainly involved the poor Irish immigrants who were shouldering much of the burden of the war and were trapped in similar social and economic conditions in the Irish ghettos of New York. Those riots cost many lives and because the New York Police could not control them Federal troops, fresh from their victory at Gettysburg were sent to New York to restore order.

The simplistic “answers” of the conservative pundits, politicians and preachers who seek to blame this on the demise of the family unit are wrong. As I mentioned the issue is not broken families, it is the lack of opportunity that we as a white dominated society have sentenced those who inhabit our inner cities to, a lack of opportunity that has bred a culture of despair, a culture where hope is absent and dreams die, and after seeing incident after incident of what looks like police brutality and the seeming abuse of power by white dominated police forces, people are taking matters into their own hands and are venting years of pent up anger and frustration.

freddie gray

Back in 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the rioting and violence that were occurring in his day. They are words that we need to heed today, because things really haven’t changed that much for those who are trapped in the inner cities. He said:

“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act. This may explain why most cities in which riots have occurred have not had a repetition, even though the causative conditions remain. It is also noteworthy that the amount of physical harm done to white people other than police is infinitesimal and in Detroit whites and Negroes looted in unity.

A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’

The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”

We as a society, as Americans need to deal with this. We cannot go on as a society if we fail to address the legitimate claims of those trapped by our neglect, our social policies, and our economic policies which have doomed millions of Americans to live without hope.

I pray that somehow something good will come out of this and that the silence at Camden Yards will echo across this nation and open our eyes to see our collective responsibility to address these issues, something that our political, social and business leaders seem so want to do. If we do not, what does that say about us as a nation?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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And So it Ends: O’s Swept by Royals

Buck Showalter

It’s hard to win a pennant, but it’s harder losing one. ~Chuck Tanner

The amazing season of the Baltimore Orioles ended this evening in Kansas City as the equally amazing Kansas City Royals ended 29 years of post season frustration, sweeping the O’s with a 2-1 victory.

The Royals have won eight straight games since starting the post-season in the one game Wild Card playoff against the Oakland Athletics. Then they swept the mighty Los Angeles Angels who had the best record in the big leagues before sweeping the Orioles who had not been swept in a series this season since July.

All of the games were competitive going down to at least the 9th inning and the biggest margin of victory was just two runs. The Royals won with outstanding defense, timely hitting and good enough pitching. They certainly deserved to win and deserve to be congratulated for their achievement. No one picked them to go this far but they did and Ned Yost their manager deserves a lot of the credit.

The Orioles had a great season but in this series missed the injured All Stars Matt Weiters and Manny Machado and the suspended Chris Davis.

While the Orioles are out this year they have solid management under Buck Showalter and General manager Dan Duquette. I have no doubt that the Orioles will continue to build on their success this year.

As a fan I believed in the Orioles even when major league scouts told me that they didn’t think they would hold on to win the AL East.

I feel bad for my friends on the Orioles who I have known as they worked their way up through the minors. No one likes to lose but these young men are a classy and determined crew who are part of a first rate organization. I expect them to continue to do well in the future. I know that is no comfort now, but they will be back.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Orange and Black is Back

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One might say that I have an obsession with baseball, in fact I would dare say that to me it is closer to a religious faith than any of major revealed religions known to humankind. Since coming back from Iraq it is one of the few things in life that center me, more than scripture, prayer or in fact most traditional spiritual disciplines baseball speaks to my heart more than anything. I can truly understand the words of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in the classic baseball film Bull Durham: 

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” 

Please do not get me wrong, I am not depreciating religion or my own Christian faith in the slightest by saying this, but it is true that Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball…

This year my two favorite baseball teams are in the playoffs and look like that have a strong chance of moving on the the National League and American League Championship series. Of course I am talking about the only teams whose uniforms fully are appreciative of the month of October, the Baltimore Orioles and the San Francisco Giants whose orange and black uniforms are distinctive. Entering the playoffs many experts consider them underdogs, and while neither has won their divisional series yet, the odds are that both will.

Last night I was watching the Giants play their usual brand of torture ball against the Washington Nationals in a record setting epic 18 inning playoff game that went longer than any post season game in the history of baseball. As is usual with this kind of game I could not leave it for anything. I remember the 2005 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, and the 2005 World Series game between those same Astros and the Chicago White Sox which both went 18 innings. I couldn’t stop watching those games either, but with the Giants and the Orioles it is different. The Orioles like the Giants are really tough in close games and during the regular season were amazing in extra innings games, but I digress…

John Leonard wrote in the New York Times in 1975 that Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.” Last night was amazing, that cumulative tension that built throughout the game was high was palpable. Jordan Zimmerman put down 18 Giants in a row before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the top of the ninth, and the rest is history. Buster Posey singled and Pablo “the Panda” Sandoval doubled in to tie the game  It went another nine innings before the appropriately named Brandon Belt “belted” a home run into the second deck in right field at nationals Stadium to give the Giants the winning run.

So tonight, the Orioles who came back against the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the eighth inning to shock the Tigers and Detroit fans play what might be the deciding game of their divisional series against the Tigers. I think that the Orioles have a strong chance at closing the series out tonight. So be assured I will be watching.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Joy in Birdland: Orioles Win AL East

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It has been seventeen years since the Baltimore Orioles won the American League East, a period in which they and their fans endured 14 strait losing seasons between 1997 and 2012.

I have always liked the Orioles. When I was a kid they were on television a lot as under Earl Weaver and a Hall of Fame roster they always seemed to be in the playoffs or the World Series. I remember when they had the California League Stockton Ports as a farm team and going to games at Stockton’s Billy Herbert Field when my dad was deployed in Vietnam.

Now my dad couldn’t stand the American League. But he did know baseball and despite his dislike for the the American League, and since they were an American League team, the Orioles, he admired baseball players who were exemplary, as such he loved Frank and Brooks Robinson as well as some of the Orioles pitching greats. I wear my Orioles hats, t-shirts and clothing almost everywhere, I have an Orioles doormat at the entrance of my office and lots of signed memorabilia around my house and office. People ask me all the time if I am from Baltimore or Maryland, I always surprise them and tell them that I was a West Coast Navy brat who fell in love with the Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s. I guess some folks don’t get that you can be as devoted as fan as me without being from Baltimore, a city that I really enjoy which has one of the nicest and friendliest ballparks in the majors, Camden Yards.

My real passion for the Orioles was reignited in 2004 when we took a trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Yankees, and when I met the late former Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited different bases that I served. But that passion for the Orioles really took off when the Orioles became the major league affiliate of our local Triple-A minor league club the Norfolk Tides in 2006. Now mind you, al lot of those have been very lean years, but I have gotten to know a decent number of Orioles players, some who are with the team that clinched the AL East tonight including Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Manny Machado, some who have left baseball and some who are doing well with other organizations including the Cubs Jake Arrieta and the Diamondbacks David Hernandez. Likewise I have gotten to know scouts and front office personnel who have spent time in Norfolk evaluating the Tides over the years.

In 2011 things began to turn around for the Orioles, after a miserable two thirds of a season the O’s hired Buck Showalter as manager, and then Dan Duquette, who had laid the foundations of the Boston Red Sox World Series title as their general manager. In 2012 they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In 2013 they didn’t get in the playoffs but had a winning season. This year very few people picked them to go far in a division that had the 201 World Series champion Red Sox, the free spending New York Yankees, the amazingly talented and gritty Tampa Bay Rays and the well stocked Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I believed from the beginning of the season that this team would go far. I think that the organization is smart, Buck Showalter is an amazing manager who gets the best out of his players and develops an amazing work ethic, selfless team spirit combined with a climate that the players are relaxed but determined. Led by Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy the team has a gritty and under rated pitching staff led by Chris Tillman and a host of players that all do their job on a daily basis, often without the fanfare of the big market teams that have tons of money to spend. The team has made smart trades and between August 6th and September 16th went had a record of 27 wins and 11 losses.

Now that they have won the division the Orioles will try to best the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League and for that matter, baseball. The currently own the second best record in the majors at 91-60. My belief is that the Orioles will at the minimum advance to the American League Championship series, and quite possibly on to the World Series. I am really happy about this because I will be in Munich next week and won’t have to be continually checking my iPhone or iPad to see if the won the division.

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So anyway, I am happy. Now if my other Orange and Black team, the San Francisco Giants can get a spot in the playoffs or somehow overcome the Dodgers to take the National League West I will be truly happy. But until then I will still be truly happy because there is joy in Birdland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“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)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

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. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball 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, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, 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.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. 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, the last player to hit for .400 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* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

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 true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

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.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

Churchofbaseball

 

The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell 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.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*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. 

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