Major League Baseball’s announcement last week that a 60-game season will commence in late July was welcome news for those of us who have long love
Major League Baseball’s announcement last week that a 60-game season will commence in late July was welcome news for those of us who have long loved America’s pastime.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken so much from us, especially cherished loved ones. And it has changed so many things.
Since the virus struck with a vengeance in March, there’s been no NBA and NHL, no Masters, no Kentucky Derby or Preakness – and no baseball. There have been no outings to such events with family and friends, whether in person or watching from home. These cancellations mean memories will never be made and broken traditions that may never be reestablished.
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Professional sports is something of a paradox. One of the reasons so many of us enjoy them is because they provide a reprieve from the stresses and strains of everyday life. My dad said he read the sports pages first in order to stomach the rest of the news.
On one hand, baseball doesn’t really matter. On the other, it means a whole lot.
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We may root for a team and even invest some of our heart in them, but whether the Yankees win or Aroldis Chapman blows a save in the bottom of the ninth, victories and defeats on the diamond don’t change anything in my life. Come morning, all the same challenges and choices remain.
Yet, I have an emotional connection to the game. When it’s missing, so is a piece of me.
From the sound of a ball hitting the bat, to the roar of the crowd and its rhythmic reliability, the presence of the sport tells us that despite all appearances to the contrary, everything is going to be OK.
Since 1869, professional baseball has enjoyed a constant, predictable and soothing summer role in the United States. Through wars, economic downturns, a deadly flu pandemic and political and social strife, the game has carried on with the near regularity of the rolling tides.
Sure, there have been bumps along the way, stoppages of play based on battles over money resulting in strike-shortened seasons in 1972, 1981 and 1994, and a temporary halt in 2001 due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But never has an entire season been scrubbed, a testimony to the game’s endurance and man’s perseverance.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, baseball commissioner Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis wrote President Franklin Roosevelt, offering to cancel play for the duration of the war. FDR declined the offer.
Missing from all the tumult of this last month is any real discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation.
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” replied President Roosevelt.
Almost 80 years later, I think the same advice applies, assuming they can safely and responsibly conduct competition amid a pandemic.
The country needs baseball – not because the sport itself is essential, but because the game transcends sports. Baseball is a metaphor for life. In any given day or week, we suffer wins and losses – high points and low points – but there is always another game tomorrow, and another chance to try and get it right. Success isn’t defined by perfection. It’s measured by averages – and coming through when your team needs you most.
Baseball has also exemplified and demonstrated something we’re in desperate need of today, a deficit well beyond the COVID-19 crisis – a reminder that redemption is always possible, even after decades of inequality and discrimination.
It was Jackie Robinson who famously and courageously became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
“I’m not concerned with you liking or disliking me,” he once said. “All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
At the root of Robinson’s strength was his deep, quiet Christian faith. In fact, when Dodgers president Branch Rickey first met with the rising star, the executive pulled out a copy of Giovanni Papini’s biography, “Life of Christ,” and read to him Jesus’ famous words from the Sermon on the Mount:
“But whoever shall smite thee on the cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Rickey knew it would take a special man of faith to endure the grief of baseball’s racial integration. But Robinson endured – and baseball thrived.
Missing from all the tumult of this last month is any real discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation. America’s not a perfect country because it’s always been full of imperfect people. But rarely, if ever, has another country come so far, overcome so much and done as many wonderful things as ours.
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Baseball won’t necessarily solve all our problems – but it will surely make many of them more bearable.
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