It’s happened. The Blue Jays have made it to the postseason for the first time since they won back-to-back World Series in ’92 and ’93. This feels like a good time to revisit an article Paul wrote in the hopeful offseason of 2013:
There is quite a bit of hype surrounding the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays and happily the experts of the game are predicting that this new found excitement of great winning expectations in our city is well justified. On the occasion of this very promising 20th anniversary season of the Blue Jays last World Series victory, my mind is bursting with many things baseball, at all the various of the levels of meaning that this wonderful sport has the unique capacity to evoke. These days I have been reflecting on the personal, the profound and even the prophetic depths of this inspiringly mysterious game.
Twenty years ago this coming November, on a rainy, cold Friday, the MVP of the World Champion Toronto Blue Jays, one of our city’s all time most recognizable and beloved athletes, and one of the baseball’s all time greatest hitters, walked into my life. Following that dramatic and unexpected encounter, I became good friends with this future hall of famer, and the success of the Toronto Blue Jays and the outrageous spell they held over our community drew me in deeply. Access to countless games, both home and away, introductions to many players, along with inside exposure to the ups and downs of life in professional sports became part of my world during those heady halcyon days in the history of our town. It was during that time of my connection to Paul Molitor that the potential of baseball for reflecting on life first began to dawn on me.
Baseball has a very strong reputation for possessing a deeper spiritual meaning. Over many years, a whole culture of politicians, professors, cultural critics, film makers, journalists, and even theologians and pastors, have pursued baseball for its intriguing transcendent quality. This history of reflection has an impressive bibliography of books, movies, articles, speeches and courses. If you want to discover the existence of this long tradition of reflection, all you have to do is google simple phrases like “theology and baseball” or “baseball and the meaning of life” or “religion and baseball”. You will be ushered into a seemingly boundless world where baseball is constantly being probed as an indispensable metaphor for other important things. A very recent example of this stream of baseball spirituality is a new book by New York University’s President, John Sexton, entitled ” Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game.”
While some of this popular baseball mysticism is outlandish, wishy washy and over the top with cheap sentimentality, there are several very helpful insights for faith offered by this particular sporting tradition. Let me briefly identify a few of the best insights for you.
First, baseball has a very long season in which each game is all about the journey of going home. We are reminded that the spiritual life also seems to be about making the long journey home.
Second, baseball is laboriously slow, often to the point of boredom for people shaped in a culture of constant distraction and instant expectation. But it is exactly in its slow pace where baseball holds profound counter intuitive potential. No other sport invites and instills the kind of patient contemplation required to notice all of the fine details and subplots which are taking place in the game, even when it seems like nothing is happening at all. Being able to skillfully notice the ways of God in the midst of the mundane flow of everyday life or in the seams of the ancient and demanding texts of scripture might be one of our greatest spiritual needs. Baseball’s pace can become a training ground for other contemplative abilities practiced well beyond the game.
Third, baseball is the only sport that does not have a designated timeframe for the completion of a game. This unusual timelessness quality raises questions about the nature of time itself by reminding us that we live in time not of our own making. What is time ? Who controls time? What is the meaning of time? Who shapes the meaning of our time? Is there a purpose and an end to time?
Fourth, and not unrelated to the above two points, is what I like to call the “moment of truth” quality of baseball. The story of a game unfolds at various levels simultaneously, a seemingly endless mixture of pitchers/ batters, strikes/balls, ups/downs, base runners/coaches, strategies/signs, relays/cutoffs. Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of all this labour and longing, there is one swing of the bat, one hit batter, a dropped ball or a base stolen and the game’s direction is catapulted ahead in a way you couldn’t predict because you didn’t see it coming. The Christian story depends on God’s action which is at once decisive, effective and surprising. God’s action requires a certain kind of recognizing, receiving and responding faith which is filled with expectation for those coming moments of truth.
Fifth, baseball is a wonderfully important picture of community where every member brings their indispensable gift to the team and the game. It achieves this because of its unique structure which seems to insist on holding individual skill and responsibility inseparably together in close tension with cooperation and teamwork, while never allowing us to lose sight of either reality.
Finally, along with the hope of arriving safely home, baseball’s greatest gift must be its cultivation of humility. Don’t you find it humbling to think that the greatest percentage hitter in the history of baseball got out 6 out of 10 times! While some commentators make the connection to the doctrine of original sin, we might be better served to simply remember that profound failure is weaved right into the human search for perfection.
As I continue to reflect on baseball and the Blue Jays, and as I look forward to the unfolding of this most hopeful season, my best memory of those dreamy World Series halcyon days has to do with what actually transpired in Toronto as the community was blessed with a euphoric sense of common cause and community celebration. Those times were filled with group trips to the ball park, community get togethers, excited workplace conversations and social improvement initiatives. Blue Jays baseball was on the air and in our veins, influencing our personal and communal priorities and shaping our plans and patterns. We possessed a common baseball language which reached across almost every normal cultural, social, generational barrier, bringing us together as one big blessed civic family.
I do not want to over swing about the meaning of those wonderful days, but I do want to say that they did succeed in giving us at least a taste of what a peaceful, generous, hopeful, joyful city looks like; the kind of city we are now longing for, praying for and working for because of our understanding of God’s great love for the city and because of his desire to bless and prosper the city. The story of scripture begins in a garden and ends in a city. While some people think about baseball parks as images of the perfection of the garden of Eden, I am suggesting that using baseball’s past joyful visitation to Toronto for reflection on our hopes for the future of the city is a more timely, imaginative and prophetic strategy.
As we enter into this year’s Blue Jay journey, let’s remember that baseball has a reputation for pointing to something way beyond itself. Let’s not stop dreaming about and longing for those halcyon days of Toronto’s blessing, which are coming and which are only ultimately made possible through the coming of God’s kingdom.
Image credit: Keith Allison.