I think baseball should be the official sport of the Slow Church movement.
I love baseball. When I can, I listen to or watch games at home. I read books about baseball. (I’m currently reading Bruce Weber’s magnificent As They See ‘Em: Travels in the Land of Umpires.) I play catch or wiffle ball at home with my daughter. And I like to take in games at the high school, the local short-season single-A team, and even the very occasional big league game. The two things I have most on mind these days are Slow Church and baseball. Here is my first, albeit ham-fisted (and self-indulgent!), attempt to connect the two.
Baseball is slow. Back in 1956, the sportswriter Dick Wade timed a nine-inning, high-scoring big league game and found that the ball was in play – defined as the time between when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and when it reaches the plate, and, on balls that were hit, the time before the hitter was either safe or out – for just 8.5 minutes. In 2000, Rick Reilly, a cranky Sports Illustrated columnist, famously used a stopwatch and determined that, in a Yankees-A’s game that lasted three hours and 15 minutes, the ball was in play for 12 minutes and 22 seconds. Reilly ended his column this way:
Percentage of time that the ball wasn’t in play: 94.
Percentage of time my cerebrum wasn’t in play: 94.
Number of baseball players crushed by unexpected fiery chunk of Planet Zorbig hurtling to earth: Not nearly enough.
Times I plan on watching baseball on TV ever again: 0.
That’s okay, I had stopped reading his stuff years before.
The slow and measured tempo of baseball appeals to me, as it does for many folks. The time between pitches and innings gives the fan time to chat with their neighbors, not to mention the time to think (Reilly’s inactive cerebrum notwithstanding), which is maybe one reason why baseball inspires so much philosophy and poetry and literature.
When I think about the connection between Slow Church and baseball, George Carlin’s famous comedy routine comparing baseball and football also comes to mind. “Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game,” he starts. “Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.” Carlin says it better than I can. You can read the transcript of his routine here. But I recommend watching the video. I bring it out every year when I want to tease my pacifist Mennonite friend about being such a big football fan: