Sunday, January 28, 2007

Baseball Eschatology (Part Two)

(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 #4.)

There is an eschatological dimension to the game of baseball.

Last Sunday, in part one of this essay, I said that in baseball there is a realized and an unrealized eschatology. Baseball’s realized eschatology is seen in at least three ways. First, Baseball fans have such intense experiences as we get caught up in the games that it is hard for us to imagine that things could ever get any better. Second, the lives of baseball fans are changed by the experience of baseball and that change is almost always for the better. Third, we are drawn into a community of the faithful in which we share in our common experience.

Baseball’s unrealized eschatology is seen in the fact that there is always a longing for something more. That something more may be one more hit, one more run, one more strikeout, or one more victory. Ultimately, that something more is a World Series championship, something that the fans of many teams have experienced but something for which the fans of many teams are fervently longing, either because their team has never won a World Championship or because it has been a very long time.

Today in part two I want to point out how the eschatology of baseball has some elements in common with the biblical concept of the Day of the Lord. As you may know, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible looked forward to the Day of the Lord. They envisioned a time when the Lord would make all things as they should be, when rights would be wronged, when God’s people would be vindicated and their enemies vanquished, and when there would be peace. Sometimes such a day was actually experienced in the history of Israel, but when it came, it came in a limited way. That is, while there had been some righting of wrongs and some vindication of the people and some vanquishing of enemies and some increased level of peace, none of those were complete and final. Sometime soon—maybe the next day, the next month, the next year, or the next decade—there would be a new crisis, a new challenge, or a revitalized or new enemy.

Really, then, the prophets thought in terms of more than one Day of the Lord. While they envisioned one future great and glorious Day of the Lord after which things would always be as they should be, in the meantime they worked with the concept of “little” days of the Lord in which glimpses of the final fulfillment were seen.

We can examine the baseball parallels to those experiences by moving from the greater to the lesser. Let’s say that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays win the 2007 World Series (hey, if we’re thinking in terms of the Day of the Lord, we can reasonably expect divine intervention!). It’s October 2007, the Rays have just won game seven over the Washington Nationals, the champagne has been sprayed all over the locker room and the Commissioner’s Trophy has been awarded. It’s the day of the Rays; their enemies have been swept aside, they have been anointed as the top nation in the baseball world, and they can rest in the joy and peace that is rightfully theirs.

For about twelve hours, that is. That’s about how long it will take management, players, fans, and media to start wondering about and asking about next year. Everybody will already be anticipating what teams will offer the greatest challenge in the Rays’ defense of their title and what other obstacles they will face in trying to win two championships in a row. As soon as the day of victory and vindication has passed, attention will turn to the next potential day of victory and vindication. Therefore, what we baseball fans think of as the “big” day of vindication is in fact only one of a series of “little” days of vindication.

We can see this reality in other ways as we move from the greater to the lesser. On their way to their World Series championship, the Devil Rays will have to win the American League pennant. The team will jump up and down on the pitcher’s mound, holler and scream, and, of course, spray champagne all over the place and pour it on everybody. But before the players, the management, and fans, and the reporters go to bed sometime the next day, they will already be thinking about what they will have to do to win the next World Series. It’s a big day, but there is another day to come.

On the way to winning their American League pennant and their World Series championship, the Devil Rays will have to win the American League Eastern Division championship. Again, jumping. Again, shouting. Again, spraying and pouring. They’ll even put on t-shirts and caps that proclaim “Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2007 American League Eastern Division Champions.” They will proudly don them hoping that in a few weeks they will be reduced to car washing implements because they will be so far superseded by World Series Championship t-shirts. One great day gives way to another, greater day.

In baseball, such experiences actually permeate the season. Time and space will not permit me to offer all the possible examples, so a couple will suffice. The single that keeps the inning going gives way to the walk-off home run that wins the game. The victory today is tempered by the loss tomorrow and that is more than offset by the four-game winning streak that follows. And always, always, there is hope, because there is the chance for a great victory tomorrow. Nevertheless, once that victory is accomplished, the team has to start working immediately toward the next possible victory.

As I said earlier, biblical theology does look forward to the great and final Day of the Lord after which everything will be forever as it is supposed to be. I do not know what parallel there may be in baseball to that experience, unless it is the experience that will be had by the team that wins the last World Series before the Lord returns.

Speaking of that—the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and the Chicago White Sox won the 2005 Series. Had the Chicago Cubs won the 2006 Series, I would have been fairly well convinced that the triumvirate of events that would most likely signal the impending Apocalypse had occurred.

But, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who took it.

Definitely another little day.

No comments: