Baseball is, of course, a biblical game because we are taught “the homer shall be the standard measure” (Ezekiel 45:11, RSV). Jesus was looking for the diamond when he asked, “Where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17) Baseball is congenial to Christians because it is played in green pastures and often beside still waters (in Pittsburgh, however, we cross three rivers to get to the park). We keep our voices limber for hymns by singing about peanuts and crackerjack. While neither of those viands is our daily bread, we want our best hitters to come to the plate — and with ducks on the pond.
We plead with them not to strike out because that means their teammates “die” on base. Relief pitchers come in to “save” the game. And the really big stars become “immortal” and are “enshrined” in the Hall of Fame. If baseball were a simple game, there would be a fourth base, but baseball, like theology, is all about getting home safely.
The congregation comes from many “walks” of life, but shy people like to take a friend to baseball games. My best friend, having grown up in Africa, thought baseball was slow and boring. I convinced her otherwise by casually suggesting one of the players looked a bit like our oldest son. When the mighty maternal instinct kicked in, I had created a monster fan who soon learned more about baseball than I knew. However, I pride myself on being one of those guys who can handle having a wife a lot smarter than he is.
Like Christian faith, baseball has a fine balance between group and individual accomplishments. Baseball and church are both essentially team sports requiring tremendous cooperation on the field of action. However, there are also many opportunities for individual excellence. This is because, unlike contemporary American Presbyterians, everybody plays by the same rules.
Man and boy I have watched a lot of baseball, but the other night for the first time I saw a player hit for the cycle. To produce a single, double, triple, and home run in one game is extremely difficult. Even rarer is this feat for a catcher — most of whom are quick of decision but slow of foot — something like rolling a cement block around the bases.
The game was in late innings and we (meaning, of course, the Pittsburgh Pirates) were leading by double digits. Our pitcher was cruising to a complete game so the contest was practically over. The die-easy fans had already gone home, but die-hard fans, like my Margaret, do not fade away. They stay to the end. Our catcher came to the plate needing a triple to complete the cycle, the hardest hit in baseball to achieve. A tremendous shot to left center sent him chugging around the base paths — running incidentally on an ankle that had been shattered in a freak accident the previous season and was supposed to keep him in a rocking chair the rest of his life.
When our hero slid safely into third I suspect the good Lord was also on his feet cheering. After all, the Bible starts off with a description of what God did in the Big Inning.