“Baseball is a road to God.” That is the intriguing premise of a book written by NYU president John Sexton, who based it upon discussions he had while teaching a popular course on the same topic. According to Sexton the real idea “is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball’s not ‘the’ road to God. For most of us, it isn’t ‘a’ road to God. But it’s a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being.” As a priest and a baseball enthusiast, I could not agree more.
“America’s national pastime” has always been a passion of mine. I first fell in love with the game at an early age thanks to childhood heroes like Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez. In time I came to rise and fall, inning by inning, with my beloved New York Mets. Over the years I have bonded with friends and strangers through the shared experience of our team’s miraculous victories and crushing defeats, and I have talked through hopes and dreams, relationships, and job searches all while sitting in the bleachers of Shea Stadium (now Citi Field) with fellow fans. As the fictional character Terence Mann (portrayed by the actor James Earl Jones) once observed in the classic film, “Field of Dreams,” for me a “constant through all the years … has been baseball … (amidst change and uncertainty; joy and sorry; victory and defeat) baseball has marked the time.” Religion, at its best, helps us to to do just that: to mark the time and to remain hopeful in times of plenty and in times of adversity (perhaps especially in times of adversity!).
Baseball does not replace my Christian faith in God as I have come to experience Him through Jesus Christ, but it does help to provide me with another avenue through which I can explore my spirituality and notice the presence of God in my midst — the presence of God found in the warmth of a bright sunny day, or in the sight of clean cut grass, or in the amazing moments of fellowship that can happen between total strangers over something beyond themselves. Baseball helps me slow down and develop a heightened sensitivity to the world around me. As Matthew’s Gospel puts it, it helps me to “consider the lilies of the field” and marvel at the wondrous works of God. It also reminds me of the Christian pattern of death and resurrection, because no matter how bad things get for my much maligned Mets, I can trust that “there’s always next year.”