Being addicted to the sport almost from birth, I enjoyed each article, but particularly resonated with Donald McKim’s article, “The spiritual lessons of baseball.” But, as in any sermon or theological presentation, it is impossible to “touch all the bases” that pertain to the subject at hand. Therefore I’m bold to suggest a few more bases and spiritual truths that should be “touched” as we learn about life from playing or observing “God’s game.”
The need for control is essential for the game. It is often said that baseball is 75% pitching. It should be no secret that Abner Doubleday, the assumed inventor of the game, would have shown more than a casual interest in those 700 lefthanders from the Tribe of Benjamin who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20: 15-16.) What control! Think what the Washington Nationals could do today with just two lefthanders like that!
According to a story, Connie Mack, the manager of the old Philadelphia Athletics went to Kentucky to recruit a left-handed pitcher. He met the boy near his farmhouse. Mack said, “Young man, I hear you’re quite a pitcher. We want you to come and pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics. By the way, how’s your control?” The young man reached down and picked up a stone and asked, “What do you want me to hit?” Connie Mack replied, “See that squirrel over there? Can you hit it?” The boy started to throw, but stopped and inquired, “Mr. Mack, do you want me to stun it or splatter it?”
Having control and being able to throw to the corners of the plate will result in success in baseball. Throwing the ball to the “broad middle” of the plate in baseball is where one gets creamed. Staying on the narrow way is what leads to life, and truth and gives one eternal satisfaction and peace. Jesus reminded us of that when He said, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the lesser things will be yours as well. For broad is the way that leads to destruction, narrow the way that leads to life.”
Another lesson we learn from baseball is that, like life, the game is played over the long haul. You begin in February and you play late into October. You play more than 160 games, which is far more demanding than any of the lesser sports. Hockey or basketball players play 80 games a year. In football, they play 16 games in a season, one a week. In golf or tennis, the tournaments are about a month apart. But in baseball, like life, you have to get up every day and play at home and away. You have to put on your work suit whether you feel like it or not.
Another spiritual lesson one gains from baseball is that it helps us learn to live with failure and to strive again after we’ve known defeat. Think of the great immortal hitters for a moment: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken. Each was an exceptional hitter, but each of baseball’s greatest players made far more outs in his career than hits or home runs. Only four men who began their careers after World War II and have 4,000 at-bats have a batting average of over 310. That means that they were successful less than one out of three attempts.
A lot of failure and disappointment is built into baseball. Good players get beyond their long slumps, strikeouts, and errors. They learn to live with disappointment and come back tomorrow with vigor and enthusiasm. It’s the difference between a good player and one who never makes it.
Another great spiritual truth baseball aficionados grasp almost immediately is that the game, like life, is often totally unfair. Sometimes the pitcher can throw a perfect pitch only to have it hit out of the stadium for a home run. Again, the pitcher can completely fool the batter, only to have him stick out the bat and get a double, sometimes even a home run! It’s not fair. Games are won often because a ball that should have been caught takes a bad hop off the ground, or an easy fly ball gets lost in the sun or lights.
Like life, the unfairness of it all is frequently the result of a bad decision by someone in authority. We have to live with and even suffer because of the bad decisions people in authority make. We can rail against the “ump” but it usually doesn’t do any good.
Human error, poor vision, lack of understanding, or persons in authority acting with arrogance and refusing to consult their colleagues who had a better view of things, or “just the breaks” have caused each of us to lose some sleep or to lose some of life’s battles. We’ve lost unjustly and unfairly many times, have we not? But what do you do? You bounce back, and you play again tomorrow.
Another spiritual lesson we learn from baseball is that we sometimes lose even when we’ve done everything right. We’ve done everything to perfection; nevertheless, we lose.
The perfect pitch was hit for a home run, or the hardest-hit ball all day long was caught. Sometimes we have made the best presentation. We could not have argued more skillfully our case, we could not have built a finer machine, we could not have gotten better medical care for our loved ones, we could not have preached a better sermon, we could not have been more loving or sensitive or understanding, and we were called OUT. Life is not always fair, but we go on, struggling with our hearts and minds and we keep the faith, trusting that the purposes of God will be victorious. We hold on to the message of Scripture that the wrong will fail and the right will prevail and we go to work again tomorrow remembering that it is God who tells us to be faithful. Be faithful unto death; hang in there day in and day out over that long haul, and I will give you a crown of life.
And, in the meantime, “Play Ball.”
Jim Atwood is a retired Presbyterian minister member of National Capital Presbytery. He served as pastor of three churches in N.C. and Virginia and for nine years was a missionary in Japan.