America is a nation in love with sports. Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey—we find these and many more reasons to watch games in person and on television. Baseball, which used to be the national pastime, remains a popular but less dominant sport, especially compared to the NFL.
While I have spoken of my love for baseball before, the renewal of a new season brings new reasons for that affection. In philosophy, it is often argued that we love certain persons or things either because they are good or because they are our own. I love baseball because it is good. The tradition, the history, the smell of a ballpark—these and more warm my heart. However, I also love baseball because it is my own.
Baseball is not my own because I played; far from it. I spent most of my time in minor league scared of being hit by the ball. Instead, baseball is my own because of what it means to community. When in Genesis God said “It is not good for man to be alone,” He posits us as inherently social beings. We long for community, be it with spouse, parents, or friends. Baseball, in some strange way, has been and continues to be a means to community.
First, it connects me to complete strangers. I have hugged people I did not know because of game-winning home runs. I have sat in diners and had wonderful conversations with persons I did not know about baseball trivia, history, and statistics. Baseball creates an almost immediate community, with its own history, rules, and affections.
Second, it connects me to my regional and national heritage. My favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, became the first all-professional baseball team way back in 1869. This fact already places me a mere four years after the Civil War. Take into account that baseball was played even before the 1860s, and a connection exists deep into American history. In this way, the game watched and participated in by those engaging in our nation’s most decisive moment—the Civil War—is also one I watch. Such knowledge further reveals the humanity of these great men and women. I also learn much about the history of Southern Ohio and America, from the story of the Reds’ ban from the National League (they were selling beer on Sundays!) to their temporary name change to the Redlegs to avoid comparisons with Communism. It is a heritage rich and at times even profound.
Third, baseball connects me to my family heritage. My father took me to baseball games since as long as I can remember. In the summers, we would gather around the radio and listen to games, our days rising and falling on Barry Larkin’s bat. My brother and I still talk on the phone about Red’s minor league prospects, all-the-while making snide comments about the foolishness that is the designated hitter. I love baseball in part because I love them. For part of loving another seems to include sharing love for common things. I do not just love baseball because it is fun or even because it is my own. I love it because my own—those dear to me—love it as well. Together, we partake of something beautiful in loving the same things together.
Yet baseball was not just a connection between father and son or between brothers. It is not even a connection merely amongst the living. I recall watching a videotape of my first birthday. In it, my father mentions to my great-grandfather how the Cincinnati Reds had won their seventh game in a row that day. My family have been Reds fans since the turn of the century if not before. In my love and devotion to the sport, an electric chord runs back to these long-gone family members.
Recently I married my wife, Emily. It turns out her Great Uncle, Don Liddle, played in the Major Leagues. He was a relief pitcher. Even more, he was the pitcher who threw the ball that became “the catch,” a fly ball famously caught by Willie Mays in spectacular fashion in the 1954 World Series. Now even that great heritage is in some way my own, a part of both baseball history and of my own family.
As Christians, we can love the community created by baseball. We can cheer a team and recall the connection of history and family it evokes. But the existence of such ties, such loves, points to greater truths. First, we are beings made to worship and made to worship in community. We love to praise a home run or a perfect game together, reveling in the majesty, the excellence we just saw. These are faint—and sadly sometimes sinful—images of worship. We should see them as impetuses to true worship of the Creator and Redeemer God, who gave us our being, salvation, and yes, baseball.
Second, our love for the community created by sports should reveal that we were made to live in community. We were made to commune with the Triune God and with the rest of His creation. Thus we should look to the Church as our ultimate satisfaction. This community, with other believers and a Holy God, forms the true basis for the hope and fulfillment we desire in a Cincinnati fan club.
As these last statements reveal, loving baseball can either point us toward a greater love of Godly community or become an idol itself. I hope for myself it does the former, that it is a blessing from God to be enjoyed with family, friends, and even among the community of the Redeemed.