This is baseball All Star week.
I love the game of baseball. Unfortunately, my love of the game and my lack of skill at playing it came in equal proportions. As a youth I spent many summer afternoons playing pickup games with friends, or simply throwing and fielding a tennis ball against our garage wall.
In Southern California, in the days before cable television, the Dodgers were the only game in town. (My love for the Angels came later) I loved listening to Dodger talk on KABC radio. I still remember the song that led off every Dodger Talk: “It’s a Beautiful Day for Ballgame.”
After Dodger Talk I would treat myself to the evening’s Dodger broadcast, where I heard the sonorous voice of Vin Scully who instructed me in all of the ways of baseball. Vin Scully sprinkled each broadcast with reminiscences about the old days when the Dodgers still had Brooklyn on the front of their uniforms. He shared all sorts of interesting facts about each player, his hobbies, if he had a college education, his major and what his father or mother did for a living. Before the internet, we never needed Wikipedia, because we had Vin Scully.
There is a great scene in The Sandlot, a baseball movie, set in Los Angeles during the 1960’s. The scene is not only a beautiful description of the game I love, it’s also a wonderful metaphor for how we should experience life.
The movie follows the exploits of a group of young boys living in a Los Angeles suburb. The story is told through the eyes of Scott Smalls, a bookish undersized boy who desperately wants friends, but because of his awkwardness has a hard time of it. After moving into a new neighborhood his life changes for the better when he meets a group of boys who love the game of baseball.
The following is the opening narration to the Sandlot:
I’d followed them to the sandlot once after school- I’d never seen any place like it. It was like their own little baseball kingdom or something. It was the greatest place I’d ever seen anyway. But they were good, real good.
And all I had was a plastic toy mitt that my grandmother gave me for my birthday when I was six. But when I finally got up enough guts to go out there and try and make friends, I found out that they never kept score, they never chose sides. They never even really stopped playing the game.
It just went on forever. Every day they picked up where they left off the day before. It was like an endless dream game.
A group of boys playing with their best friends, playing the game they love, not even paying attention to the time. They play endlessly, not even keeping score, for the simple love of the game.
Like Scott Smalls I was an awkward kid. Making friends was always hard for me, and yet there was always baseball. Some of my fondest memories as a twelve year old boy involved playing baseball with the neighborhood kids. During the long summer days, we played for hours. You might argue that those weren’t real games, since sometimes we only had seven players. It wasn’t regulation and we didn’t have umpires to enforce the rules, but it didn’t matter to us. We loved the game.
Looking back, I can’t help but feel as if the best of life could be found on that junior high school baseball field in Garden Grove.
Too often life seems complicated. Friendship seems elusive. In a busy work a day world, where everyone is too busy, how do you make friends? Even faith and life with Jesus gets encumbered with so many unnecessary and unhelpful things. Life is about following the rules. Life is about “doing things”, instead of “being” with God. We think we need to earn the approval of others or even earn God’s approval. Even without the scoreboard, we are still keeping score in our heads. We have taken the fun out of life and following Jesus. Why can’t we simply enjoy God and those around us? Why can’t we unpretentiously enjoy each moment of life?
I know some of you might not have the same love of baseball, but I hope you can appreciate a world, where we play together for hours for the joy of it. We’re not keeping score. It’s not about competition or about winners or losers. I think this really describes faith and life at its very best.
It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame.