Each of us is made to know, to love, and to serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him for all eternity in Heaven. He is our First Cause and our Last End. Everything else in this passing vale of tears must be subordinated to a love of Him through His true Church which surpasses any and all love and attachment we have to the people, things, and creatures of this world. We are taking nothing out of this world except the state of our immortal souls at the time of our bodily deaths.
However, we are composed of bodies and souls. We do develop attachments to the people, things, and places of this world, which I have written about in some detail at various points in the last few years. As a New Yorker, I developed a deep attachment to and interest in the game of baseball when I was a little boy. It is simply part of the culture of the New York City metropolitan area. And while it would not be until the birth of the New York Mets in 1962 that I began to follow baseball very closely, I was attracted to the game even in the first decade of my life in the 1950s, a time in which three teams played within three of the boroughs of the City of New York (the New York Yankees in the Bronx, the New York Giants in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in Brooklyn). Each of those three teams were in multiple World Series in the 1950s, with the Yankees involved in every World Series save two (1954, 1959) from 1950-1959. The departure of the Dodgers and the Giants from New York left a void insofar as National League baseball in the nation's most populous city was concerned until the birth of the Mets in 1962.
As is explained in my book, There Is No Cure for This Condition, I took to the new team immediately, and began to devour every book written about the history of baseball as I could. Couldn't get enough of the game or its statistics. I read newspaper stories about the game with relish. Following the Mets on television and radio became a routine part of my life between Spring Training and the end of the regular season (and into the post-season on the six occasions the Mets have played beyond the end of the regular season). And the opening of Shea Stadium in 1964 made it possible for me to attend games regularly. Shea Stadium became something of a second home to me, a place where I have been able to enjoy the one real diversion I have in life, namely, major league baseball.
Indeed, I have been to 1,633 major league baseball games from July 15, 1962 through July 17, 2002. Baseball and the Mets are in my blood. Mind you, I do not live for the sport. I have lived quite well without it during players' strikers and owner lockouts. But it has been a great diversion. And as is somewhat well known, at least in baseball circles, I helped to revive in 1976 the tradition of the baseball novelty figure, the fan who dresses up to entertain other fans (which is the basis of There Is No Cure for This Condition). My adoption of the persona of The Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium added another dimension to my following of baseball and the Mets. The act, which was meant originally to be nothing more than a one-day lark, turned into something of an institution at Shea, something which many fans expected and looked forward to during the course of the games.
However, all things in this passing world must come to an end. The insatiable corporate greed exhibited by the entity known as Major League Baseball has finally driven me out of my beloved Shea Stadium. For good. Permit me a chance to explain why I am never going to set foot in a major league baseball stadium for as long as I live, even though I am in the midst of promoting a book that capitalizes on my appearances at Shea Stadium.
Major league baseball used to provide a refuge from the world. It is, as I explain in There Is No Cure for This Condition, a diversion. The ambiance of a baseball stadium is breath-taking for a small child when he attends his first game. That joy really doesn't fade over time. As a game, baseball has a never-ending ability to fascinate. No matter how fast a batter can run out of the batter's box after he has hit the ball in play to a fielder, the thrown ball usually beats him to first base. There is the drama of watching a well-pitched game by a rookie, such as I experienced on Monday, July 15, 2002 (the fortieth anniversary of my first major league game at the Polo Grounds between the Mets and the San Francisco Giants), when Mike Bacsik, a throw-in in the trade that brought Roberto Alomar from the Cleveland Indians to the New York Mets, demonstrated old-fashioned pitching know-how by going after hitters with pitches in the strike zone after the Mets had given him a big lead. And there is the thrill of watching a slugger like Mo Vaughn send the spherical object called a baseball into orbit by the carefully coordinated and timed use of a cylindrical piece of laminated wood called a bat. Though the players and some of the strategies (such as the use of one relief pitcher to face one batter) change over the years, the game retains its charm and fascination.
However, the major league owners and players have done their best to kill the game outside of the lines. Sadly, the effort to kill the game outside of the lines (exorbitant salaries and ticket prices, management and labor diffidence in the face of marijuana and steroid usage, among other things) has resulted in an effort by Major League Baseball and its thirty supposedly independently owned franchises to derive income from every source imaginable, thereby changing the wonderful ambiance that should be experienced at a major league baseball park.
This quest for corporate sponsorship of games and series between teams and special promotional events has reached an all-time low, however. It's bad enough that those of us who have voluntarily spent our money and time on the diversion known as baseball have to endure the invasion of rock music. It's bad enough that almost every single trinket handed out on special promotional dates is the product of slave labor in Red China. It is horrendous, though, that the innocence and purity of young fans is not at all a consideration when Major League Baseball and the individual clubs welcome a drug produced by the Pfizer Company as an advertiser on radio and television broadcasts, no less a sponsor of a particular series of games played in a major league baseball park.
The drug, which will not be named in this reflection, has been advertised by none other than the hapless Bob Dole. One hears advertisements for it on all-news radio stations and radio stations with all-sports or all-talk formats. There is seemingly no refuge from a subject that is unfit for public discussion by people of any age, no less among the young, who are entitled to the protection of their innocence and their purity. Our national obsession with carnal pleasure has become such that it is considered to be in the advancement public health and happiness to saturate the airwaves with anything to do with the carnal gratification of self. And the moral relativism that prevails in our society is such that anyone who attempts to speak about the fact that matters of conjugal intimacy are unfit for public discussion is considered to be old-fashioned, intolerant, self-righteous or just an absolute kook.
Well, suffice to say that the New York Mets proudly displayed the name of this drug as the sponsor of a two game "Triumphant Glory Series" between the Mets and the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium on July 15-16, 2002 The name of this drug was everywhere. It was on the scoreboard before and during the game. The public address announcer told fans where to pick up information about the drug. The July 15 game featured an announcement that the drug's representatives were conducting free screenings of blood glucose, cholesterol and hypertension levels. Worse yet, the July 16 game, which started at 12:10 p.m., was played in front of thousands of young children who were brought to that game by their day camps from throughout the New York City/Long Island/New Jersey/Connecticut metropolitan areas. Does anyone in the marketing department of the New York Mets care about exposing children to the name of a product that deals with such a subject? Other children, who were seated with their parents on the Field Level, asked questions about the drug in question. One employee of the Mets said to me that parents could give evasive answers to such questions. However, that attitude begs the question. Parents should not be put in a position to have to evade questions that their children should not be prompted to ask at a major league baseball game. Their attention should be on the game, not on that which will arouse curiosity and titillation. And how sophomoric was it for the manager of the Mets, Bobby Valentine, a Catholic, of all things, to exclaim that his team's two victories over the Marlins were the result of a festival related to the drug in question (which became a headline in the New York Post, giving more public play to the name and the subject of the drug)?
The standard response to concerns such as mine is to say, "Look, live in the real world. Kids today know more about this subject than they ever did before. There's nothing that can shock them." Well, sadly, this is true enough. Most children today are exposed to that which breaks down their natural resistance to things that are inappropriate for their spiritual and psychological development from the time they are plopped mindlessly in front of a television by their parents. Their innocence and their purity is undermined through the rot of sex-instruction, which even secular psychologists in the United Kingdom concluded a few years ago was devastating to the mental health of children. Children are taught to dress immodestly and to speak indecently by their parents and relatives and teachers. I don't live in the cabbage patch. I have been teaching college for nearly thirty years. I know what is going on, and it is tragic to see college students so obsessed with the pursuit of the pleasure that God meant to be enjoyed solely between a man and a woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony for the procreation and education of children unto eternal life unable to function in their studies because of their pursuit of that which they have been taught is their right to pursue regardless of "old-fashioned norms" that no longer apply in our supposedly sophisticated day and age.
Yes, indeed, most parents would not have a problem in this world with the name of the particular drug in question here being mentioned in public at a baseball stadium, which is itself quite a commentary on the state of the nation. But what about those parents who do mind it? What about those home-schooling parents who have gone to great lengths to shield their children from the culture of death, realizing that part of their own (the parents') eternal salvation depends upon protecting their children from those influences that could undermine their love of the Blessed Trinity and their devotion to the worthy reception of the sacraments? What about those parents? What about those children? How reprehensible it is to place parents who want to provide their children with a bit of legitimate pleasure at a baseball game in a situation where they have to deal with matters that are actually subversive of their efforts to raise children who will grow up to live at every moment in the Divine Presence with a view to praying and working for the sanctification of their souls for the honor and glory of God and for the conversion of their friends and neighbors to the true Faith. If great pains have to be taken so as not to offend Moslems after September 11, why can't efforts be taken so as to not offend those few Catholic parents who actually take seriously their responsibilities before Christ the King and Mary our Queen to protect their children from all harm, both spiritual and bodily?
Some smart-alecks in the front offices of major league baseball clubs and in the offices of the entity known as Major League Baseball might protest by saying that the numbers of such people are negligible. Well, as one who travels the length and breadth of this nation every year, I know that they are not as small as some sophisticates and know-it-alls would like to believe. However, let us assume that just one such child was at Shea Stadium during just one of the two games in which the drug in question was featured as a sponsor. Is not the soul of just that one child worth protecting? Cannot there be one refuge in this culture of death for parents seeking to provide their children with the sort of innocence they enjoyed at baseball parks not so long ago?
Indeed, Pope Pius XI noted quite presciently in a 1929 encyclical letter on The Christian Education of Youth, Divini Illius Magistri, the necessity of protecting the young:
"Another very grave danger is that naturalism which nowadays invades the field of education in that most delicate matter of purity of morals. Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education, falsely imagining they can forearm youths against the dangers of sensuality by means purely natural, such as a foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public; and, worse still, by exposing them at an early age to the occasions, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers. Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognize the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the Apostle speaks, fighting against the law of the mind; and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace."
As mentioned briefly before, it is not only the young, however, who are to be protected from the invasion of subjects that rob them of their innocence and purity. No human being of any age is to engage knowingly in the cheapening of the dignity of the great, procreative gift God gave to men and women to be united until death in a bond of selfless, unconditional love. We have not been created to engage in wanton, unrestricted, limitless acts of carnal pleasure until we die. Indeed, a married couple might be called, depending upon circumstances, to engage in periods of conjugal abstinence for long periods of time, especially during the illness of a husband or wife and possibly during and after a wife's pregnancy. And it sometimes happens that the generative powers fade over time as a result of disease and/or the aging process. A Catholic man can use that as an opportunity to prepare for eternity, offering up the loss of what might have been considered important at one time in his life to Our Lady to be used as she sees fit for the greater honor and glory of God and for the salvation of souls. The loss of the generative powers is not the end of the world. Men can die from hypertension. No man has ever died as a result of conjugal abstinence induced as a result of disease and/or the aging process.
Alas, a world that has accepted the evil of contraception, which denies the Sovereignty of God over the sanctity and fecundity of marital relations, comes to believe that the only purpose of human existence precisely is to have as much carnal pleasure for as long as possible (and to be free from the natural consequences of such pleasure during the fertile years, which makes the natural fruit of a mother's womb to be regarded as inhuman refuse to be discarded as a matter of legal right). Although the advertisement being run for the product in question during telecasts and radio broadcasts of major league baseball games features a married man, we know that Pfizer is marketing the product heavily to any man, whether married or single, whether heterosexual or sodomite. A distortion of the legitimate use and function of the generative powers results in the glorification of carnal pleasure to such an extent that even men who have not lost such powers believe they need the assistance of a drug to enhance their satisfaction. No thought is given to the natural end of the generative powers during the fertile years (pregnancy) or to the union of selfless, unconditional love that can be broken only by the death of one of the spouses that is produced by the Sacrament of Matrimony. No, it's all about self-gratification divorced from any recognition of God's laws, given to us for our own good and for the common good of society.
The obsession with the drug being advertised by Major League Baseball at present is the all-too-logical result of the embrace of the contraceptive mentality, which was denounced in a newspaper editorial seventy-one years ago:
"It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation of human birth. The church must either reject the plain teaching of the Bible or reject schemes for the "scientific production" of human souls. Carried to its logical conclusion, the [Lambeth] committee's report if carried into effect would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution, by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous."
That editorial appeared in The Washington Post, of all places, on March 22, 1931 (and was probably the only time in the last century The Post got something right). Accept contraception and one will come to accept the false assertion that we are nothing more than beasts who need to satisfy whatever urges come over us. Thus, the drug in question.
As I note all of the time in my writing and speaking and teaching, it is one thing to sin and to be sorry by seeking out the forgiveness of the Divine Redeemer in the hospital of Divine Mercy which is the confessional. I know the inside of a confessional quite well, thank you. However, it is quite another to persist in sin unrepentantly, worse yet to promote it in every aspect of our culture. And that which cheapens and degrades the dignity and wonder of the proper use of the gift God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a sin. It is a sin to speak in explicit terms about matters pertaining to the Sixth and Ninth Commandments. The off-color joke or the dirty phrase has no place in civilized society. Subjects pertaining to marital intimacy are discussed within the context of the confessional and/or in spiritual direction and/or a physician's office, not in public, certainly not in baseball parks. A husband experiencing difficulties in this regard during his wife's fertile years is to approach his confessor/spiritual director-and then to discuss the matter in the privacy of his physician's office, where it would be licit to receive a prescription for a pharmaceutical aid. The rejection of the need for this privacy, however, has resulted in the full-scale assault on our senses in every possible aspect of popular culture. A Catholic understands, however, that the drug now featured as a "proud sponsor" of Major League Baseball and its thirty clubs is an unfit subject for public discussion for any fan of any age.
Human nature tends toward passivity. This is so very true in our so-called "information age." Most people spend time passively before the television, which has become the "new tabernacle," if you will, which is worshiped and obeyed with a spirit of docility that should be rendered to Christ the King through His true Church. Advertisers know that words and sounds (the very name of the drug in question rhymes with a famous waterfall) burnish themselves into the passive receptors that pass for human minds these days. And they know that the average person is so steeped in his diversions that even if he does have some mild objection to the pushing of the envelope on a subject that he will never divorce himself from his diversions. "After all, baseball is baseball. There's a pennant race going on. The Mets are making a run for the National League Wild Card. What's the harm of two games sponsored by a particular product? Why should I deny myself the pleasure of watching baseball and following my team?" Quite insidious. Quite diabolical.
Major League Baseball and its thirty clubs have chosen to throw in their lot with Pfizer and its unmentionable drug. So be it. No one has put a gun to my head to attend baseball games; I have engaged in a very voluntary activity. And I will live quite nicely without it. Sure, it is a sacrifice, a voluntary denial of a legitimate pleasure. As a Catholic, though, I know that such sacrifices are pleasing in the sight of God. The more we prefer the things of Heaven to the things of this passing earth, the more we are ready to embrace truly significant crosses and thus to be prepared for the moment of our Particular Judgment. I, for one, have decided to withdraw my voluntary support for a sport that has no regard for decency and purity and innocence. Enough. I am out of the ball game.
Although I have enjoyed going to games over the years, I went to a lot of games this year in order to get word out about my book. It was tough being at games when my wife and our daughter were at home. My place is with them. However, my book has a chance of selling decently (and thus providing me with some help to support my family) if word gets out about it. My appearances at Shea helped in that regard to a certain extent. Thus, there might be a financial fallout from my decision to quit going to games. So be it. My wife and I will work with those bookstores willing to schedule signing events for us (and that is proving to be a challenge because of the fact that I do make references now and again in the book to how a Catholic is supposed to view the world through the eyes of the true Faith; there's no censorship in the United States, right?). Our Lady of Good Success will pray for us.
Sure, I will miss the game. I will miss the stadium that has become a second home to me. Most of all, however, I will miss the ushers, some of whom I have known since the park opened in 1964. These men work so very hard to make a living, being paid a pittance in base salary (relying upon tips to support themselves and their families). Then there are the hostesses who work in the Diamond Club, the season ticket holders' restaurant. They also work very hard to accommodate often unruly and very uncivil patrons (quite a change from the scene in the Diamond Club in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when people behaved most civilly). One of the reasons I kept renewing my season seat over the past few years was to continue to support the little people who work behind the scenes at the ball park.
Ending my association with baseball and the Mets will mean also that I will not get to spend time with my fellow fans, people who I know only from the time we spent together fleetingly at the stadium. Little Alexander Garrett, an eight-year old boy who was born without a leg and gets around the stadium with shoe rollers on his one leg, is a gem. Although I have not seen him in a while, he loved to make the rounds to visit his friends in the ball park, and I was honored to have been one of them. Lee and Evan Katz, ages 11 and 9, loved to come up to the Lone Ranger during the games to learn how to keep score. Other fans who were seated in and around my area would stop to say hello and exchange pleasantries. I will miss them a lot.
When push comes to shove, however, the unmentionable drug just drove me over the edge. Yes, baseball salaries are out of control. Yes, baseball clubs are catering to the big money people who can afford the increased costs of attending games mandated by ever escalating salaries. Yes, Major League Baseball caters to the demands of the television outlets which televise the games, starting night World Series games as late as 8:30 p.m. and running well after midnight in most cases. The fan in the stands is simply window dressing for the television cameras. Their convenience (and the needs of those watching at home to go to bed at a reasonable hour) means nothing to the scions of baseball. Worse than all of that, however, is the failure to consider even for one moment the souls of the young (which are assaulted also by several beer commercials played during game telecasts and radio broadcasts that border on the pornographic, leaving nothing to the imagination concerning conjugal relations used outside of the context of the Sacrament of Matrimony), no less the other concerns mentioned above.
As Catholics, we know that sacrificing legitimate pleasures in this world can help us love the Blessed Trinity more fully, becoming more and more attached to the things of Heaven than the things of this passing world. I am not "punishing" myself as some well-meaning friends have suggested. No, I am giving a sacrifice to Our Lady so that she can use it as she sees fit. It is a small way to show her that I love God more than I love the pleasures of this world-and that I am serious in trying to make reparation for my own sins. I also hope and pray that Major League Baseball will have the good sense to withdraw its association with the drug in question, providing a better, cleaner, purer environment for those parents who want to continue to attend games with their children.
While I will miss the ambiance of Shea and the people who I have come to know there, my goal in life is to gain my season seat in an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise by cooperating with the graces won for us by the shedding of our Lord's Most Precious Blood on Calvary.
Thus, with a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver, Away, the Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium rides into the sunset, hoping that Mary's Son will smile on him at the moment of his particular judgment.