Out to the Ballgame

Out to the Ballgame

By Joseph McDaniel, OSFS, seminarian

Stepping out onto a ballfield during the height of summer can sometimes be an idyllic experience for the senses. The blades of freshly cut grass whisper in the wind, the smell of freshly graded earth unmistakable as plumes of dust rise beneath the bright midday sun. By October, however, the grass has been roughly trod, the earth is dampened and the sun begins to fade. Yet, for the pros, this is when the greatest drama is about to begin.

In many ways, the Major League Baseball regular season is a marathon ordeal: 162 games of nearly daily play from April to October. Those teams who do advance to the playoffs, must do so with some degree of exhaustion. By this point, I ask myself whether I have begun suffering from fan fatigue, and whether I ought to be spending my time on more productive matters.

At a pragmatic level, the answer would clearly be “yes.” In many cases, the only real relationship a fan has with his or her “team” is an accident of geographical association, or an inherited faithfulness from older generations. Why then, do we continue to invest countless hours of attention in following baseball, or any other pro sport? The answer maybe lies in what Thomas Keating, a Catholic monk and spiritual writer, called mythic membership consciousness: we identify with the symbols and purpose of a group, and find some sense of personal meaning in doing so. Is this because we cannot find such meaning in our own real lives? Or is it rather because on the field or rink, we see our own struggles and triumphs translated into another context, in a manner not too dissimilar from the drama of theatre? Perhaps it expresses our desire to not have to “go it alone” in life.

The mythic level of consciousness is natural for us; we may see it as “beneath us,” but it is never behind us. That said, we are not meant to remain stranded on base in this level of consciousness; we are called to advance to home plate, which is being conscious of the real union with God and others into which we can enter in everyday life. Being spectators to on-field heroics and heartbreaks can remind us that we are not alone, that we do not have to play 162 games, win some, lose some, hit home runs, or strike out alone. We can then remember that when the lights are dimmed, the crowds cleared, and hats hung for another year there is a loving God, and the teammates he has placed in our daily lives. They are family, friends, colleagues, and strangers, who will always be willing to go to bat for us. Hopefully, when they need someone to pinch-hit for them, we will return the favor, and lovingly step up to the plate.