I believe in the church of baseball…
Well, I don’t. At least I didn’t.
I didn’t grow up playing baseball. Perhaps it was not being good enough to be chosen for a Little League Team my first year, getting hit in the head by the first pitch I ever faced in a game—that was enough! So I put down my glove and walked away. I didn’t watch games; I didn’t go to games. I didn’t do baseball!
I was the Minister of Youth and Activities at First Baptist Greenville. It was a tradition (We’ve always done that!) to go to Atlanta, see a Braves game and go to Six Flags. I had to go. So the day after returning from another trip, we loaded up the bus and headed down I-85. To say that I didn’t want to go would be an understatement! I had been gone for a week. I missed my family. But at least we could do Six Flags!
So the tradition continued. As the summer of 1989 approached we started getting calls from the Braves, asking when we wanted to come again. This was back in the days when the Braves pleaded with churches to bring group. As was our tradition, we picked a game and made our plans.
When we arrived at the old field, we discovered that our seats were one row behind the box seats directly behind the Braves dugout! Dale Murphy came out to bat and I remember thinking he was so much bigger than I ever imagined! He really didn’t look like those Little Leaguers I had once faced!
I had long heard people talk about the poetry of baseball, the flow of the game, the intense strategy, the emotion. I had never seen it—until that night. Sitting there watching the pitchers chose their spots, the mangers sending in base runners, the slow rhythm of the game…I was hooked!
When 1990 came around I found myself watching games on TV, not just the seventh game of the World Series, but games in July and August. We ventured out to see the Greenville Braves, the farm club where guys with names like John Smoltz and Andrew Jones were playing.
By 1991 I was trying to figure out how many games we could take groups to. Maybe a game in June AND August—but we were now regulated to the outfield. But that didn’t matter! In 1992 I wasn’t just watching the Braves—though that was where my heart was—I was also watching the Giants and the Cardinals and the Dodgers and pulling against the Yankees! In 93 the fever had spread to my wife and we were staying up in May to watch the end of West Coast Games! We were so sure that the Braves were going to win it all…at least next year!
But next year…1994, just as the Braves were about to make their run to the pennant…the players went on strike. There was no run, no World Series, nothing.
And the fever broke. It was replaced with hurt and anger and my own strike. I would not watch! All through the 1995 season I would not watch. Even as Anita continued to watch (she is so much more forgiving than me…) I would go to another part of the house. Even as the Braves marched through the playoffs, I would not budge. The night they captured the Series, Anita was watching downstairs. I was huddled in the bedroom (though I will now confess that hearing the cheers from downstairs I did watch the final 2 outs!)
I had been hurt. And so I boycotted. I didn’t go back. Even through the home run derby with McGuire and Sosa and Bonds, I held fast to my convictions. When the steroids scandal broke, it only added fuel to the fire! I would not watch!
Oh, I did go to a minor league game. What can be more enjoyable than an evening on the banks of the Ashley River in Charleston watching the Riverdogs, munching on boiled peanuts? My brother-in-law even convinced me to be a part of a Fantasy Baseball League one summer. I read everything, knew more batting averages and ERA’s than ever, and won the championship! But I never watched a game!
And I haven’t! Since 1994! It is irrational! It is crazy! And the truth is….I miss it! While surfing through the channels I can’t go past Field of Dreams, or For Love of the Game, or The Natural, or Eight Men Out . (And yes it is time to let Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame!)
Today is opening day, and I am thinking that maybe sometime this year I will watch a game. But not today, because we are going to the Family Circle Tennis Tournament. And then in May I am going to Darlington, and by the fall there will be football. But maybe sometime this year…
I am the pastor of a church. Coming off Easter, I wonder how many people have had the same experience with church. They used to go, were a part, had deep convictions. Then something happened. Feelings were hurt, they took a stand—even an irrational one, they stood their ground outside. They left.
And they never came back. Oh, they want to. They really really do…but…there are still those hurt feelings, other things have taken the place.
But maybe this year…