I find that in large and small ways I am a man of routine. I was once told that a person ought to switch to a new brand of antiperspirant every few months. I've used the same brand for years, and always approach the aisle at the store fearing that it will no longer be available. I do not switch the ring tone on my cell phone. Having once set the background picture on my computer, it is likely that it will remain the same for the duration of my association with the machine. I take the same route to and from nearly everywhere I drive with any frequency. Likewise, I find that for three years of priesthood, I have done largely the same things in each season. Right now, we are in the midst of my trout season. I caught a lovely rainbow last night. Trout season, however, is interrupted by baseball.
I have written before that I am not a baseball player, and until I discovered that boys in my parish were on a variety of baseball teams, I had no intention of becoming a baseball fan. As it were, going out to support the kids of my parish has led me to a place where I am able to say that I rather like baseball.
The baseball team from the local Catholic High School participated in the state tournament on Monday. I drove, accompanied by the father of one of the players, to watch the games. We arrived late Sunday night, and after I spent the next morning with a young priest friend in Sioux Falls, we headed to the ball park. The first game was truly artful. Three errors by the opposition in the first inning led to two runs for our Cavaliers. Our team made no errors, nor did the opposition for the remainder of the game. High school games last only seven innings, and by the end of the seventh, the score remained the same as at the end of the first. Our boys would progress to the championship game. Lunch, two beers, and a nap later, we found ourselves once again removing cover to honor the flag and the fallen, then, "Play ball!" The game was heart-wrenching. Our boys led seven to four until the sixth inning. The opposition made a major comeback, and finally won in extra innings on a walk. That one of our players received the award for tournament MVP was of little consolation. Baseball is a fickle sport, and in in the final hour, her favor had abandoned our team. As we made our back toward Rapid City that night, the player in my back seat was distinctly unpleasant. His father and I both sighed in relief when he finally fell asleep. I was not in bed until around 2:00 AM. Was it worth it? Most certainly.
The crack of the bat, I have often remarked, speaks deeply to the American psyche. Baseball is rooted deeply in our American identity. It figures largely in our history. These are reasons enough to like the game, I suppose. In addition, however, baseball, more than other sports, speaks to our conviction that no matter how bad things get, they can always get better. Baseball is a Catholic game; no matter how recalcitrant the sinner, we believe, he can always be saved. Regardless of how deeply rooted the sin, it can be converted. So too with baseball - one good inning changes everything, and it is not over until it is over. We can generally predict the winner of a basketball or football game by the end of the third quarter. Wouldn't it be awful if the same were true of us as humans, that by the time we have turned fifty, everyone has given up hope that we can still change trajectory?
Baseball, it turns out, makes me rather hopeful. Even when we lose, there is always next year. For now, there are still lots of trout to be caught. In a few months there will be pheasants to be shot. A bit longer, and a winter to be endured. And then baseball again. Maybe next time we will win. Maybe next time, I will be holier. Maybe next time . . .