Catholicism and baseball would seemingly have little to do with each other. However, many have compared devotion to the cross and to the baseball diamond. New York University President John Sexton once wrote a book comparing baseball and religion. Journalist John L. Allen went a step further, comparing baseball to Catholicism in particular, although not always in a positive way. These men and many others have compared faith to fastballs with unique insights. We might call St. Peters the Yankee Stadium of Catholicism. Some might compare the odds of an obscure carpenter changing the world to those of a doormat team winning the World Series. Others might look as reverently at Babe Ruth’s bat as others would stare at The Shroud of Turin. The Litanies of Catholic saints and baseball heroes includes folks of all backgrounds including some we might not invite for tea. However, what made these saints and heroes special was their ability to achieve greatness in the clutch, when it really mattered. Ultimately, however, baseball and Catholicism teach us seven things that will help us reach our goal, be that heaven or a ring.
We must be patient, for good things often come slowly and only after many ups and downs.
Our faith teaches us that life is not always a bed of roses, and that suffering and setbacks are part of the deal. Given this reality, one cannot get too high or too low, merely riding on the waves of a particular instance or situation. Likewise, the season is long and hard, susceptible to the changing fortunes of streaks, luck, injury, and weather. Ultimately, those who best overcome and adjust succeed.
Faith and devotion go a long way toward bridging the gap between what we deem possible and what we fear impossible.
Everything from Christ’s miracles to his actual rise from obscure poverty to changing the world defies earthly odds. Practically every saint had moments when the only thing sustaining them was a strong faith and utter devotion to God. Likewise, the 69 Mets had no business beating the heavily favored Orioles- until they did. In fact, the team the 69 Mets caught to make the playoffs that year, the once lovable loser Cubs, have their own unique lesson in faith, devotion, and fulfillment.
As many baseball fans know, the Cubs just ended a 108 year run without a championship during which they were supposedly cursed by everything from an angry goat owner in 1945, to a black cat in 1969, then Cubs fan Steve Bartman’s interfering glove in 2003. Despite so many years of heartbreak and failure, the devotion of their fans never seemed to waver and they were rewarded in dramatic fashion last season (2016) with an extra inning final victory over the Cleveland Indians giving them that long-awaited World Series return to glory.
As for lovable losers, the 1962 Mets posted the worst record in major league history in their inaugural season at 40-120 and finished a whopping 60 1/2 games out of first. Despite their futility that year and for nearly the rest of their first decade, they cemented their legacy as miraculous with an improbable and dramatic rise from their first 7 seasons during which they averaged only 56 wins, 41 games out of first, and finished last all but one year, 1966, when the only team worse behind them was, you guessed it, the Chicago Cubs. After such an infamous run of futility, these Mets suddenly won 100 games and swept through the playoffs to become world champions, defeating one of the best teams in baseball history, the 1969 Orioles. Since that miracle, they have only managed one more title, when they were the best team in baseball but somehow needed another miracle error by an opponent on their way to a title they should have won easily.
If the Cubs and the Mets teach us one thing, it is that curses and futility mean nothing in the face of devotion, faith, and daring to believe.
Redemption is just around the corner
Christ teaches us that there is no sinner great enough that Divine Mercy cannot redeem. The greatest sin, then, is often not the original wrong committed but not being striving for the chance to make up for that error. While Judas brooded in his pride and self-obsession, Peter loved Christ so much that he could not wait for the chance to prove himself. Famous baseball announcer Bob Murphy once observed that baseball is a game of redeeming features; so is Catholicism.
Mercy is Divine
Our Lord told St. Faustina to spread the critical message of Divine Mercy that the greatest contrite sinners deserve forgiveness. Christ’s entire life and certainly his death witness the importance of forgiving others. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we cannot seek forgiveness and mercy if we do not practice it ourselves. Baseball has its own places where forgiveness is due. Cubs fans should consider Steve Bartman, the infamous fan mentioned above, a good candidate at this point.
Knowing and following the rules is important
The Ten Commandments are two for those who love God and want to follow Christ: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. However, they are a million for those who only see them as a burden on enjoying life as they please. How many games have been won and lost because someone knew what could and could not be done at a crucial moment? While baseball fans know that the rules of the game are often stretched to gain advantage with the silent approval of owners and umpires, even that wart teaches us a lesson. Precisely because human rules can be imperfect and given lip service, focusing on and following God’s rules always provides us with the safest route to noble results.
True glory often means transcending the vice around us with heroic virtue
Christ vividly demonstrated that following God and serving others amid evil and hypocrisy is par for the course. Baseball shows us no different a lesson. The history of the game is littered with heroes and villains whose skill on the field did not always match their nobility off it. The game’s famous Hall of Fame has enshrined some drunks and racists while banning others for cheating that the game itself condoned or at least ignored out of greed. The game is not immune to the injustice all too easily found in life and society outside the stadiums. Jackie Robinson is honored for breaking a color barrier that should have never existed in the first place but was fully supported by many of the game’s honored heroes. Life and people are not perfect and injustice abounds, yet we are called to bring Christ into such an situation because Christ did the same. Likewise, baseball has many warts, yet many greats, such as Derek Jeter, managed to exhibit sportsmanship, class, heroism, courage, and exemplary work ethics despite the mire around them.
History and Ritual are Important
Both Catholicism and baseball have a strong foundation in the past. What happened and what we did before only adds depth and richness to what we do today. Things are done for a reason and tradition is important. Ultimately, our ability to hold on to and extend what we hold dear rests on our understanding of why we hold it dear in the first place.
Participants have Different Levels of Participation With Different Perspectives
There are folks who attend daily mass and there are those who attend on Sundays. Others attend mass on Easter and Christmas. Still others never attend. Some folks go to weekly confession and others go once a month. Others go once or twice a year and still others think that telling God you are sorry in the woods is enough. Some folks really get into the liturgy and others are multi-tasking bystanders. Similarly, some fans buy season tickets and others go here and there. Some score the game while others look at their phone. Some knowingly cheer and boo good and bad plays while others obliviously cheer and boo when others do. Each of these folks will call themselves Catholics and fans. Whether they are or not is open to debate.
Easter and Opening Day
Most Catholics are happy and smiling on Easter. Perhaps they associate it with new beginnings, chances, or life. Maybe it is all about overcoming sorrow and suffering. Ultimately, they should see it as the core of our faith. Most baseball fans are likewise happy and smiling on opening day. Perhaps they associate it with new chances and overcome the pain of previous seasons. Maybe they see it as every team getting a new lease on life. Everything seems possible on Easter and opening day. For true devotees and fans, however, this hope does not depend on odds or predictions, popular opinion, or dumb luck. These true faithful understand the true value of the journey as appreciating the sacredness of each moment and keeping their eyes on the prize.
The spring brings the scent of incense and the sight of palms. It also brings the sound of the ballpark and the crack of the bat. Being a Mets fan, I know a thing of two about miracles and prayer. Being a fan means that one does not jump on bandwagons when victory is certain. Rather, it means that one stays the course when times are darkest and the future looks the most bleak. Following Christ often demands the same kind of dedication and devotion. More true fans are made on Good Friday than on Easter and Christmas. While it is true that there are many similarities between baseball and Catholicism, there is one major difference. In baseball people do everything they can to avoid extra innings. In Catholicism, the extra innings mean everything.