Religion and Sports
Baseball: A Spiritual Reminiscence
We need something "less" basic. When I married Peggy, I was a virgin of enormous naïveté, but I brought to our relationship all the determination and will of my baseball construction of desire. I mean, sexual love was something that one achieved, and I intended to be a winner. I had read all the sex manuals; I had the techniques correctly abstracted in my mind. It was like baseball. It requires determination and will. In the outﬁeld you get a running start at a line drive hit in front of you, catch it in full stride, and release the ball with all your momentum going toward the plate.
This is not the way to make love.
I have come to believe it is not the way to play baseball either. I don't mean you never make such a throw home. Such a throw can be one of the wonderful moments of the game. I mean, rather, that I played too much with my will, whatever in hell that is. I was so determined to win, to do it right, that I missed too many opportunities to play out of my desire or, when I did so, I played out of a distorted desire. I tried too hard to prove too much and missed the chance to play. I channeled too much of my passion into determination and overwhelmed the aesthetic ﬂows of the game.
My point here is not that there is some essentialist kind of desire that naturally ﬂows into baseball and other performances. All desire, so far as I can tell, is socially located and mediated, and expressions of desire in art forms like baseball require skills. Moreover, I am making no claim that I would have played better, though it is hard to believe that I could not have played a little better since I was as bad as I was. But I would have played differently. My love of the game would not have been so consumed in extrinsic efforts to prove my manhood or to be a winner. Winning would not be eliminated, but had I enjoyed the dance more, the end of the ball would have taken a different turn.
In speaking this way, I do not mean to suggest that this is something I never experienced. I remember coming in to relieve a game in the old Northeast League, a semi-pro group of town teams along the Merrimack River in Massachusetts. That afternoon is luminous in my memory. We were playing Newburyport, the best hitting team in the league. But that afternoon the strike zone was as big as a barn door. I could pitch down and in, out and away, up and in, and waste a pitch off the corner. The fastball jumped and the curveball broke like a darting dragonﬂy. I was in that zone where you don't think about your manhood or winning. There is only you and the ball and the catcher. The batter is almost insigniﬁcant to the action. Your windup is like some pirouette in slow motion, and your skin, muscle, and bone are connected to reality. You can feel the ball like some extension of your hand, except that your hand participates in some larger ecology, some enormous capsule that envelopes you and everything around you. At times the ﬁeld seems to be only some surface resting in some inﬁnite void of things, an emptiness ﬁlled with the trace of balls ﬂying through space, of bats swinging, players running, and of the graceful beauty of the human body doing something well. You don't wonder where the pitch will go. It is ﬂying along some mystic plane moving to a destiny undeterred by ﬁnitude or self-doubt. You become the beneﬁciary of some seemingly inexhaustible ﬂow of energy. This is no longer war; this is aesthetics. This is no longer willed determination; this is desire moving in the forms of life of baseball and ballet.