I am a diehard baseball fan. I’m old-school enough to even keep a scorecard at games, a dying art that seems invariably to draw attention and leads to newfound friends and conversations. My top bucket list dream was fulfilled in 2015 when I attended Game One of the 2015 World Series, watching my beloved Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets and capture the crown. (Mostly, including this year, the hapless Royals fit the description of the best minor-league team in the Major Leagues.)
On a baseball vacation in Boston, my wife and I stayed at the Boston Buckminster, the closest hotel to Fenway Park. In the hotel’s lobby is a plaque noting that on a September day in 1919, the Buckminster was the site where a baseball player and a bookie hatched the fixing of the World Series. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby,” makes note of the Black Sox baseball scandal and the deep impact it had on the American public in this exchange:
“Who is he anyhow, an actor?”
” … No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added cooly: “He’s the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919.”
“Fixed the World Series?” I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as something that merely happened, the end of an inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
That reference in Fitzgerald’s book led to a collection of essays called The Faith of 50 Million. One of the book’s premises is that baseball fills a unique role in American society as a civil religion. Baseball and religion are a rich mix: Rick Warren once preached a “Sermon on the Mound” at the home ballpark of the Anaheim Angels. In the movie Bull Durham, Annie Savoy says, “The only church that feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball.”
Theologian William Herzog says: “People are incurably religious. We have to have some form of religion, and for some people it’s baseball. It’s only a game, but it has elements that point beyond. (Baseball) doesn’t feed the hungry, or care for the sick, or settle disputes between warring nations. And yet, there is something ineffably stirring and nearly transcendent about sitting in Boston’s Fenway Park and seeing the outfield where great players once roamed – the ‘great cloud of witnesses,’ or ‘communion of saints,’ if you will.”
Each Opening Day, legendary Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell would slightly alter his reading of Song of Solomon 2:11-12: “Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the umpire (instead of turtle dove) is heard in our land: ‘PLAY BALL!’” Harwell once observed: Opening Day … is what Easter is to the church. The faithful come out, but a lot of once-a-year attendees are there, too.”
As a baseball fan, I could rhapsodize on and on. But in life we have no extra innings, no ghost runner, and, too often, we come up short in hits, runs and wins. Still, here’s to whatever you may love with the same passion that I have for baseball.