Sunday, January 21, 2007

Baseball Eschatology (Part 1)

(Note: On Sundays I am posting a Sabbath blog, my logic being that the Sabbath is a good day to post about things that I enjoy. Fun writing is recreational writing, I figure. So, here is Sabbath post #3.)

There is an eschatological dimension to the game of baseball.

Let me define my somewhat complicated terms.

“Baseball” is a game played by two teams of nine players each in which the goal is to score the most “runs,” which are attained by moving a base runner around a diamond-shaped configuration consisting of three bases (designated first, second, and third) and “home plate,” which the runner, who has gotten on base either by (1) hitting a pitched ball in such a way that no one on the other team could catch it in the air or throw it to first base before the runner arrived there or perhaps to another base, in which case the base runner must be tagged out unlike the situation at first base, in which a fielder bearing the ball must simply touch the base before the runner gets there, (2) a walk which is defined as not swinging, before three strikes are achieved or an out is made or base is reached in some other way, at four pitches that are deemed not to be strikes by the umpire, (3) being hit by a pitch, which is painful, (4) having a fielder make an “error,” which is defined as missing a ball or throwing a ball away, (5) a fielder’s choice, in which case the fielder catching the ball chooses to try to make a play on a base runner other than the one who hit the ball, (6) catcher’s interference, which means that the catcher got his mitt too close to the plate so that the batter struck it when he swung or (7) a passed ball or a wild pitch on a third strike, a passed ball meaning the catcher should have caught the ball but didn’t and a wild pitch meaning that the batter swung at such a bad pitch that, while he couldn’t have hit the ball with a ten-foot long pole the catcher couldn’t have caught it with a ten-foot wide mitt, circumnavigates successfully.

“Eschatology” is the study of last things.

I remind you now that the point of this essay is that there is an eschatological dimension to baseball.

First of all, in baseball, there is a realized eschatology and an unrealized eschatology. Let me illustrate by way of a New Testament (NT) example. The NT teaches in places that the kingdom of God is a future reality, yet to be fulfilled. But it teaches in other places that the kingdom of God is “within” us or “among” us, depending on what decisions you make about a Greek participle.

The same situation exists in baseball. Watching a baseball game is an experience so uplifting that it can at times approach an out-of-body or other-worldly experience; in that way, it has aspects of realized eschatology, a sense of “it is so good that I can’t imagine that it can be any better than this.”

Moreover, baseball’s realized eschatology is seen in the ways in which the experience of baseball changes someone’s life, almost always for the better. Witness the fellowship that exists among the congregants who are gathered in the stadium for the game. But witness also the way in which community is built among those who watched it on TV or listened to it on the radio or read about it in the paper or on the internet; they gather around the water cooler at work or around the table at the coffee shop or around the blog at the computer to share in the joy of their common experience. In a sense, the kingdom of baseball is among us and within us; it draws us together in the community of the faithful.

And yet we live with a clear sense that there is something more. That something more is, of course, the World Series Championship. It is a dream held dear by all fans of all teams. For some it seems unattainable. I remember how, when Queen’s hit We Are the Champions would come on the radio in 1977, I would imagine my beloved Atlanta Braves running onto the field celebrating a World Series championship and tears would come to my eyes. The Braves’ record in 1977 was 61-101. They finished 37 games behind the Dodgers. Unrealized eschatology. Way unrealized eschatology. When the Braves did win a World Series in 1995, I felt vindicated, fulfilled, and relieved. Hope realized! Perseverance rewarded! Suffering justified!

Some fans still live with unfulfilled hopes. Those amazingly loyal Cubs fans have been waiting ever since their team won back-to-back championships in 1907-1908. Literally speaking, of course, none of the fans who actually witnessed those championships are waiting, but you know what I mean. Fans of the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers, and San Diego Padres are still waiting for their first championship.

You see, then, that baseball fans experience both a realized eschatology and an unrealized eschatology. We know all about “already and not yet.” We all know the “foretaste of glory divine” that comes with every great play, with each win and with each close call. Some of us know the deep satisfaction of coming out victorious in the end. Some of us know the deep pain and quiet longing of waiting for vindication.

(Next Sunday in Part Two of “Baseball Eschatology”: “The Day of the Lord.”)

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