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On the Comforting Convergence of Faith and Baseball

April 6, 2012

I’ve always felt more comfortable evangelizing baseball than any part of my faith. Both are so much a part of me that I could swear they were running through my veins with my blood, carrying a kind of oxygen that fuels my sense of right and wrong,  ruination and redemption, death and rebirth.

But where faith feels personal, in its natural allowance of an ecumenical berth, baseball is unifying celebration.  It blurs language and color, age and economic line.  It is praise for the hero without being individualistic.  It is black and white, with comfortable grays. Where faith makes me feel peaceful and whole, baseball is unadulterated joy.

Still, there they are: faith and baseball, faith and baseball, beating along in a natural simpatico and intersecting at all the important places.

It feels like more than just convenience that baseball would begin in the spring. After sweltering through the summer and winding down just as the leaves begin to turn that sickly gray that signals impending hibernation, it emerges fresh and new with the buds on the trees–more than a passing metaphor for the hopefulness of Game 1 of the 162.  Rebirth is a stirring theme in baseball; for me, it coincides neatly with another Resurrection.  Whether a literal revival of life or a reawakening of hope for a fresh start, the arrival of spring promises both in spades.

Both take my breath away.

I value forgiveness as a virtue. Not as a means of assuaging the conscience, but simply as a concession to our humanity. Rarely is there an individual who isn’t needing and deserving of a second chance. Life gives us utility roles when our legs give out and breaking balls when our velocity decreases. My faith tells me there’s large-scale forgiveness waiting on the ballfield beyond this life, but absolution can come from unexpected places here on earth.

Profoundly and strongly, just as faith allows, the role redemption plays in baseball is as  much a part of its fabric as Kentucky bluegrass in the outfield.  As long as players have laced up the cleats, salvation has been present between the lines. In the patchwork nature of its team play and the soothing catharsis of its timeless structure, baseball allows for atonement of all kinds. Whatever frailty–whatever weakness that crafts what it means to be human–there is saving grace on the other side, even if it’s middle relief.

In many ways, baseball is an easier version of faith.  In both, I appreciate the greatness of the tangible and seek to understand the glory of the intangible. But in the search for meaning behind what seems inexplicable, a sacrifice bunt with a runner on second pales in comparison to global poverty or genocide. Still, there is value in the perceivable answer, even if it seems baffling.  The joy in escapism–in baseball or novels or excellent cinema–is the way reality lingers just past our fingertips.

When the hows and whys weigh too heavily, I turn to baseball. In its parallel lessons  it feels familiar, but where it diverges from faith, it becomes a blessing of its own.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2012 7:20 pm

    As a lifelong atheist, it’s interesting when someone can articulate what their faith mean to them, as it is obviously not part of my life. This is beautifully written and I can feel the passion and how much this is part of your life.
    However I can share the faith in baseball… ;-)

    • April 6, 2012 9:24 pm

      I’m so glad you were able to take that away from this. It’s absolutely a personal account and not meant to be any sort of generalized analysis of faith or religion, so I’m glad it’s being taken the way it was intended.

  2. JJ Finn permalink
    April 7, 2012 12:14 pm

    A very timely piece, beautifully written. My guess is there’s an entire book here, waiting to be written. W.P. Kinsella connected religion and baseball in Shoeless Joe, but your approach is actually more faith-filled and more balanced.

    A great mediatation for the Easter/Opening Days Weekend!

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