Looking out my window at the endless mounds of snow, I find I am where I was a few years ago:
So, in the midst of all of this peacefulness, all this wonder, it seems strange that my heart is filled with a longing for something else: I am desperate to watch baseball.
Even as I extol and enjoy this silence, I am already ants-in-the-pants to hear the crack of a bat, the whiff of a ball into a glove. In counterpoint to this clean, cold air, I want to smell salty hotdogs and warm beer. I want to feel the sun on my face as a crowd alternately calls out derision or roars its approval. I want to hear the snap of banners blowing in the breeze, and an umpire calling out the count. I want to watch Derek Jeter round third and blow a gum bubble as he pours it on toward home. I want to watch a little kid with a big helmet and a bigger glove eat peanuts and throw the shells on the ground in perfect, allowed-to-be-messy contentment. I want to stand up in the 7th inning and “root, root, root for the hoooome team,” and then duck when a foul ball flies into the stands 100 feet away from where I am sitting. I want to participate in a wave. I want to hold up my hand-painted signs with my family and babble at the camera like happy baboons when it spots us.
I want winter, finally, to end. Wandering about in my heavy wool socks, I need it to be time for sandals and ice tea; time to walk into any place of business and hear a game being broadcast—it doesn’t matter what team, on the radio every game sounds the same: talk, count, crack, whiff, cheer.
Okay, so, Jeter is gone — he left us with one more gasp of wonder as he singled in the game-winning run in his last at-bat — but baseball is bigger than any one man, and I need it to begin, soon. I need it because Lent is teaching me too many hard lessons, so far, and I need a few that go down easier, and that only baseball can teach:
Likewise, the notion of temperance, or self-control, is one promoted and reinforced on the ball field. When a pitcher allows his emotions to get the better of him so that he beans a batter, he isn’t so very far removed from St. Peter at Gethsemane, unsheathing his sword and slicing off a centurion’s ear. Could the look of admonishment Jesus gave Peter at that moment have differed markedly from the one Joe Torre once laid upon the hot-headed Roger Clemens, as he took the ball and sent his ace to the showers?
As much as some fans might find excitement in a dirt-kicking confrontation between an umpire and an angry player, or in a bench-clearing brawl, in the game of baseball a lack of restraint will put you on the bench — and perhaps keep you there for days or weeks — and so the virtue of temperance, even in the most crucial games, must necessarily rule the day.
I need it because in my personal life, right now, I am “in the clutch”, and I need to be reminded that some personal stresses will, indeed, come to an end:
The clutch makes us hold our breath in the name of love. It is the biopsy report we are waiting to hear about on our husband; it is what keeps us from fully sleeping until we hear our kid pull into the driveway; it is the acknowledgment that we lack control over an outcome, and the wondering that comes before the knowing. Within the clutch are contained all the possibilities of our wild imaginings, and it is in those imaginings that we find ourselves hating the object of our love, for making us care so deeply.
Only love can sink us into screaming, ruinous despair while in the depths of a clutch, and of all sports, only baseball can so routinely wear us down to that place.
Come to think of it, the screaming madness that comes with a love of baseball seems a lot like the rants and bellows we’re currently seeing among Catholics on the internet, and it too is born of love.
Love of faith, love of baseball, love of family, love in general: it can make us little crazy, because, after all, it’s love that is driving us. But when we let our love build up genuine, authentic hatred for what we perceive to be a threat — a player from a different team, a dreaded Beantowner or a Yank who is really just another human being doing his or her best — we allow the greatness of our love to become the author of our hatreds. And how does hate work within the Christian life, again?
. . .it is only in surrender that the clutch is resolved.
For when we are weak, then we are strong. It’s why I end all of my evening prayers resigned to kiss it all up to God, and then to trust.