Lessons From the Game of Baseball

Rev. Douglas J. House, M.Div.

“Every strike brings me closer to the next homerun.” – Babe Ruth
A new Major League Baseball season began recently. Over the years, I have always been a baseball fan. I have played it, watched it, coached it, and traveled distances to see it. I have followed the Atlanta Braves with a passion since my seminary years in the late 1970’s. The seminary I attended was in Richmond, VA where the Braves housed their Triple-A farm team. While in grad school, few of us had much extra money, and the ballpark was a ten-minute walk and a three-hour distraction from the academic rigors we endured. The Atlanta Braves were a terrible major league team in those days, losing more games than they won. As a matter of fact, I remember when they would come to Richmond to play exhibition games against the Triple-A Braves. Richmond generally won those games. Over the years, my son and I have traveled to Montreal, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta (and this summer – to Baltimore and DC) to catch Braves games. There is something about the comradery with other Braves fans, as well as the taunts that our Braves jerseys evoke that make the experiences so memorable. Still, the theologian in me looks for lessons about God everywhere…even in ballparks. Like so much of life, in baseball there are successes as well as challenges. There are home runs and strikeouts, stolen bases and getting tagged out. Like life, in baseball you never know what’s going to happen next.

Cooperstown – Where Baseball Players are Enshrined
On a couple of occasions over the years, my son and I have made the trek to Cooperstown. It’s always a joy to spend time with him as we maneuver our way through the farmlands of central New York, on our way to the place where baseball legends are enshrined and history comes alive. One of the strange things about Cooperstown is that it honors players who have failed more times than they have succeeded. Retired baseball players are enshrined there for having hit the ball less than 50% of the time. Lifetime batting averages of .400 are considered rare and exceptional. An
average of .300 is considered phenomenal. That means that failing to hit the ball more times than hitting it renders someone as a master. I wonder if that is true in life as well. If we struggle more times in life than we succeed, we probably won’t be enshrined anywhere. But certainly, there are lessons to be drawn from our life’s struggles. Babe Ruth, a homerun hitter par excellence, allowed that “every strike [brought] him closer to the next homerun.” Every time we are faced with hardships in life, we are challenged to meet them and move ahead. We are called to remember that “every strike” can bring us closer to a homerun in life.

“This Must Be What Heaven is Like” – The Rev. Rufus Womble
A number of years ago, I served at an Episcopal Church in Henrico County, Virginia, just north of the City of Richmond. Some years later, I was invited to return when that church was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding. It was like “old home week”, as former rectors were joined by former seminarians, parishioners who had moved away, and people who currently were members of the congregation. People who had not seen one another for years were having a wonderful time remembering stories of their past. The preacher for the day was the Rev. Rufus Womble who had brought the congregation from downtown Richmond to the Lakeside section of Henrico County some 30 years earlier. As Fr. Womble looked out from the pulpit upon those assembled that day, I’ll never forget him saying, “This must be what Heaven is like.” I believe that he was correct. The joyous gathering of people who had not seen each other for so long seemed to reflect what so many of us believe about Heaven. I sensed a “taste of heaven” in the air that day at Epiphany Episcopal Church. The experience of that occasion challenged me to begin writing a book, which I have never published. It speaks about Heaven, but more than that, it speaks about the “Lessons We Learn About God from Baseball”. In thinking about Fr. Womble’s words about Heaven, I have often reflected on how “Heaven is like hitting a homerun”. We leave the dugout, step into the batter’s box, take our swings, and then with a little luck, we hit the ball with such force that it flies past the infield, past the outfield, and over the fence. We round the bases, and after touching home plate, we make our way back to the dugout where we are greeted and welcomed home by teammates we love. What a fitting analogy for life…and for what Heaven must be like. For in life, we all “take our swings” and do the best we can. Sometimes we hit the ball. Sometimes we miss. But as Babe Ruth reminds us –

“A Person Who Never Gives Up is Hard to Beat” -Babe Ruth

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