I suppose I learned from Augustine how important the ordering of desire is. When the flows of desire get diverted into idolatries of domination and the religion of winning, when eros is corrupted into proving masculinity, then a field of play becomes an arena of perdition. Baseball is not ultimate, but it flows into a larger realm of yearning. How I wish now I had known to let it be finite, to let it be a game, to let it be like tossing a ball behind the 13 Taxi Company.

I never expect to get over many of the stinging memories of the game. In 1957 I picked up a routine bunt down the first base line and threw it past the first baseman and into right-field foul territory. The runner ran all the way home. It cost us the game. I have thrown that ball over and over again, thousands of times.

Yet, I owe baseball. It drove me to find a different place to live my life. It made me search for an arena where my talent and my desire more nearly came together. It made me look for what I could do. I learned that I do have competence, that I do have gifts and graces, and that these can be enormous repositories of energy. I have passion about my work. Life does not have to be "pushing a truck with a rope," an endless straining against a challenge for which you do not have ability. I found a vocation in teaching that is more like water skiing, where the energy is so much there and the interest so real and the payoffs rich and profoundly rewarding, and where you do not so much push as "hang on."

It too has its moments. A student sees something never engaged before, or, better yet, discovers the call and vocation of her life. Or someone transforms before your very eyes and becomes the person he has never been before but was always meant to be. Or a former student becomes a competent, sensitive professional making a significant contribution to the faith and the community. Or students who were initially your "enemies" become your lifelong friends. Then things take on a rightness, not unlike the arc of a ball settling so perfectly in the pocket of that Sears Roebuck authentic Ted Williams baseball glove.

 

Excerpted with permission from The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, edited by Christopher Evans and William Herzog II, published in 2002 by Westminster John Knox Press.

Tex Sample is Robert B. and Kathleen Rogers Professor Emeritus of Church and Society Saint Paul School of Theology. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he is the author of several books includingU.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches and Ministry in an Oral Culture: Living with Will Rogers, Uncle Remus, and Minnie Pearl, published by Westminster John Knox Press.