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“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” ~ James Earl Jones as Terence Mann, in the movie Field of Dreams
I think that, if God had a favorite sport, it just might be baseball. Life played out on a diamond in a field of dreams—a great crowd of witnesses cheering all the brave souls who suit up and enter the game.
Professional baseball has been a part of my life since that memorable day, forty-five years go, when my father walked into the house and announced, with great excitement, that he had just been named team physician for the Cleveland Indians. How did I greet his happy news? With a pre-teen eye roll, and a whiny complaint, “Does this mean we have to watch baseball games on TV now?” I couldn’t imagine anything more boring.
I knew about baseball—both my parents were fans, especially my mother—and I was familiar with the statistics. I knew the Indians had long been camped in the basement of their American League division with a dismal win/loss ratio, and that game attendance was a passion only of the diehard and eternally hopeful. Yes, I knew all about baseball and I couldn’t have been less interested.
Tonight, forty-five years later, I sit, riveted in my seat, watching my beloved Cleveland Indians face the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. My head knows that both teams really deserve to be here. But my heart … oh, my. My hopes skyrocket with each swing of the bat, and plummet with each strike out. Sometimes I just plain forget to breathe during a two strikes-two-outs-runner-in-scoring-position opportunity. What in the world changed? How did I go from that disinterested twelve year old girl to this?
I’ll tell you what changed. My heart became engaged when I came to know baseball. I attended countless ballgames at the cavernous old Cleveland Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie, and later at Jacobs Field/Progressive Field. This included shivering through early spring snows, exploring hidden corners of the stadiums during long rain delays, and seeking out frozen ice cream treats to survive sweltering summer night games. Quite unexpectedly, the ‘stadium’ had become my home away from home.
I also discovered some delightful perks that my father’s position as team physician and later, as medical director, afforded … like getting two weeks off from school every spring to attend Spring Training in Tucson, Arizona, and a day off from school and work every Opening Day. And, Cleveland baseball regularly put on the most magical, spectacular, heart-thumping fireworks displays—as good as any Fourth of July celebration.
But, the best part of knowing baseball was knowing the people of baseball. This previously uninteresting game changed for me when my friends were the children of managers and players, and later, when my romantic interests were the players themselves. It became a journey of learning the thrills and disappointments of life. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to my friends moving away because their fathers had been traded or fired, which happened frequently. It was a journey of learning how to love gently at the age of nineteen … to understand and encourage a pitcher boyfriend suffering the emotions and frustrations of both a personal and team losing streak. And, it was thrilling to have that same romantic interest tip his cap to me when he walked out onto the mound, knowing I was the only one in the stadium, or on national TV, who knew what that meant. The elation of the wins and the championships was thrilling, and the losses and disappointments, gut wrenching. All played out in front of a crowd of witnesses. Just like life.
The other night I heard a discussion about what it means to know God versus knowing about God. I immediately thought of baseball.
As that twelve year old girl, I knew about baseball … I knew the statistics. But not until my heart became engaged did I really know baseball. And it is the same with our relationship with God. We can read about him, know all the stats and stories about him, but not until our hearts become engaged with him will we really know God, nor will he know us. When God becomes the home that we explore and cherish, when Jesus becomes that friend and true love that we seek a relationship with, and when the Holy Spirit becomes that comforter we rely on as we ride the roller coaster of the thrills and disappointments of life … that is when we can say that we know God. That is the home run celebrated with fireworks on God’s field of dreams. That is what the great crowd of witnesses, the souls gone before us, (Hebrews 12:1) are cheering for as we step onto the great playing field of life.
Yes, I think baseball just might be God’s favorite game. And we are his dream team. <3
Jenn at Cleveland Stadium 1977
Photo by Terry Schordock
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