As another baseball season heads into its second week, those of us who grew up hitting a ball or running the bases recall that youth so full of energy and enthusiasm for the wholesome simplicity of nine innings and a hotdog. That youth was also full of respect and clarity in God's ball field as well, where we knew and followed the rules and, contrary to Leo Durocher's line, nice guys finished first!
History and Tradition Meant Something
Unfortunately for me, I am too young to recall what baseball and church were like before the 60s, but my interest in history and respect for the past have filled my mind and soul with regrets that I was born at least 15 years too late, if not more. What I do know from what I read and hear from old timers is that, in the good ol' days, fans developed a special relationship with their players and players stayed with their teams, which therefore developed unique and lasting personalities. When one thinks of the old Brooklyn Dodger teams, names like Hodges, Campanella, Snider, Reese, and Jackie Robinson naturally fall off the tongue. "Dem Bums" as they were affectionately known, were like family for the fans, and stately Ebbets Field was everybody's "home away from home." Sure it must have hurt to lose to the powerful Yankees every year but, like family, the team seemed to ride the highs and lows together. The one great year that they did win, their fans and all of Brooklyn must have gone wild!
Baseball is perhaps the sport where history and tradition have meant the most. In no other athletic arena are statistics, which are history in numbers, and records, which are historical standards, so honored and pursued. True fans could tell you the batting averages and stats of their favorite players, who they might have seen riding the subway with them to the game. Certainly the game was particularly filled with an awe and reverence for the past and its great players. Yankee Stadium is known as "The House That Ruth Built" to honor that legend of American sport, for example. Its Monument Park in Center Field is considered hallowed ground in baseball circles. Many people are still fond of photos of old ballparks which are long gone physically, but not mentally, from the fans who spend summer afternoons with a father or grandfather taking in a game.
The Church was also a place where history and tradition meant something. The churches were the stadiums where fans of God Almighty could attend the game of salvation between good and evil. These fans of the Faith knew the great players of the past such as Joseph, Peter, Paul, Francis, Anthony, Therese, Joan, Bridget, and Bernadette. The fans knew where these players played for God and what their great accomplishments were. There was a Ruth here too, not from the Bronx but from the Old Testament! Even ancient players such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah were popular.
Just as on the ball field, these players became family to the fans of The Faith because they were exposed to them and could relate to their human struggles and great deeds.
Of course, just as baseball fans know who created baseball and who the most important figures in the national pastime have been, fans of The Faith honored God The Father, Christ His Divine Son, The Holy Spirit, and Mary Our Blessed Mother. Yes, history and tradition always meant something on the field and in the pew, and the past was respected and honored. The field and the Church each developed a Hall of Fame of sorts as a way of remembering that past and those accomplishments.
Many of the adults my age or older speak of going to their first game with their dad or grandfather. Others daydream about sunny afternoons with the family enjoying peanuts, hot dogs, soda, and a double-header. For many of those people, going to a ballgame was a family event. For others, it was a special bonding experience with a father or brother.
This fun was not just limited to the males, of course, as moms, daughters, and sisters were seen cheering for the home team. Mother's Day was typically a day for honoring mothers with prayers at church and games on the field. As I mentioned earlier, even the players became like family to many fans, since they played for many years amid the cheers, and tears, of pennants won and lost. Our faith used to be all about family as well, from the Holy Family to the large families that would attend Mass together. The messages and themes we learned were about family, marriage, children, and the safety of our parents' arms and prayers. Yes, the theme of family was always present among the fans of the game and the fans of The Faith. Respect was the rule of the game of life.
Respect, Rules, Integrity and Fairness
Sure, there have been scandals and infamous figures in baseball, but the overriding theme was of respect, rules, integrity, and fair play. It seems that where there was injustice or disrespect, events and people came to turn the tide, as when Branch Rickey put Jackie Robinson on The Dodgers as the first African-American player in the Major Leagues. There were rules and consequences, as when the Black Sox Scandal led to players being banned from the game for life. It seemed that people cared more about the game than themselves. Both players and fans treated the game like some important yet delicate plant that needed to be maintained and cared for so as to grow.
The Faith likewise had respect for rules, integrity, and fairness. Of course, there were scandals and infamous figures as in baseball, but the overriding theme was of respect, sanctity, and Christ. There were rules and consequences. Instead of fines and suspensions, there were sins and Acts of Contrition. Instead of Friday doubleheaders there was Friday abstinence. Both the fans of the game and the Fans of The Faith respected, knew, and followed the rules. Obedience and deference to these rules was the norm. People did not seek to rise artificially or by cheating or lying, either on the field or in the pew.
Miracles, Words and Actions
Just as David miraculously slew Goliath, the Miracle 1969 Mets defeated the mighty Orioles. Both baseball and The Faith had miracles, sacrifices, trying to reach home, prayer and angels. Just as Christ spoke the message heard around the world, Bobby Thompson hit the shot heard around the world in '51. Just as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen rallied the troops with inspirational words, so too many managers inspired their troops with motivational speeches. I remember the fiery Sparky Anderson and Tommy Lasorda. Today there are few left, save for Joe Torre and Jack McKeon. All four are orthodox Catholics who had respect for the game and the Faith, though I quite suspect visited the confessional often because of their salty language.
A Fan's Lament
Alas! Other than a few who still retain loyalty to the game and the Faith, those days of yesteryear have long passed into our memories, fading more with each passing innovation, interpretation, or clarification of the past. Now we have players who know little of the past and fans who know little of the players all getting swallowed by the New Order moguls and muggers. Now we have players who move from team to team or are let go for money or convenience. Now we have rules, which bend so much that they no longer look like rules. Now we have more people than ever cheating, lying, and rationalizing their way through the game of baseball and the game of Faith, of life, and of salvation. Amid greed, scandal, selfishness, hype, crude and lust-oriented advertising and promotion, hypocrisy, cheating, and rationalization, baseball and our Faith are stumbling toward an uncertain future. Loyalty has given way to arrogance and treachery.
Values and ideals have fallen to greed and money. Our society no longer preaches what is the best for the game or the soul, but instead hypes poisons of the mind and spirit, which tarnish the morality, and idealistic goals of many souls. Just as many players have artificially enhanced their performance by using dangerous drugs and supplements, so too many Catholics have artificially enhanced their images by selling out to the devil and attacking God's Word and work.
To show the similarities and how out of whack both the diamond and the dioceses are, I have a quiz for you: Who proclaimed something as "anathema" last summer? A. The Pope, B. The Bishops, C. Baseball Commissioner. The answer is C. for Bud Selig proclaimed as anathema, not the out-of-control drug epidemic, not the hypocritical beer sponsors and sex-oriented products being pushed, not the outrageous prices for tickets that no family can afford today; no, his outrage was over first baseman Randall Simon, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates and now with the Cubs, who before the game began was playfully playing pepper with a bat by the dugout and swatted the fully-padded bratwurst character as the entourage of assorted costumed meats sauntered by, something the Milwaukee Brewers PR people had brewed up several years ago as a Milwaukee tradition for the "Sausage Races." The gal in the costume who tumbled over was not hurt other than her pride and a bit of a bruised knee. That's it. Yet Kaiser Selig declared it "an anathema to baseball!" Wouldn't it be refreshing if someone truly declared what should be anathema for what it is, especially someone high up in the hierarchy in regard to offenders against the Faith?!
Just as many players want to play by their own rules, so too many Catholics do likewise. Weakened by problems within, invaded by parasitic, selfish, arrogant people, both the clergy and baseball are in serious difficulties right now. Instead of being surrounded by Cubs, Tigers, and Braves, we are surrounded by secularists, modernists, and radical liberals. Yes, there is more that binds baseball and our Faith than merely Cardinals, Angels, and Padres. There is a rich past threatened by a rebellious present.
Yes, as another baseball season begins amid the smell of cut grass, the taste of hot dogs, the sound of a bat, and the hopes of optimistic fans, we wonder how many more innings we have left before the ultimate Umpire of The Universe yells, "Game Over on Account of Sin!"