God and Baseball: Point to the Sky

Baseball has suffered a lot of indignities over the years – the designated hitter, commercials that add over an hour to playing time, the designated hitter, unions, pitching specialization and, of course, the designated hitter – but it’s still a great game.  I probably should’ve listed the elongated post-season too – another affront to orthodoxy, and one which lessens the importance of the regular season games.  But the truth is:  I dig it.  Here on the west coast, it’s just about the only time I get to see my Yankees play.

Getting the Point.

They’re playing now, as usual come October, and I watch every game I can.  And I find myself stirred by the number of players pointing to the sky after a successful at bat.  The gesture was, I believe, popularized by asterisked home run king Barry Bonds, who used to do it every time one of his steroids hit the long ball.  But you see it pretty frequently now.  And though I know Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher does it as a tribute to his late grandmother, I assume most players intend it directly for God.  In any case, the sentiment is the same:  gratitude and the baseball version of a non nobis – “Not to us, Lord, but to your name give glory.”

Media wise men – by which I mean fools – frequently attack religious worship on the ballfield.  I’ve run across any number of columns in which sportswriters and others take a snarky, condescending approach to athletes who pray.  Do they think God cares who wins?  Do they lose their faith when they strike out?  What do they do when an atheist outperforms them?  And so on.

Interesting questions, all of which miss the point.  I’ve played some kind of sport most of my life:  street baseball and backyard football as a kid, karate for a long time, mostly tennis now.  And on the playing field, as in every other aspect of my life, I find prayer illuminating, uplifting and conducive to excellence.

Do I pray to win?  No, I pray for the other guy to die!  Of course I pray to win!  If I didn’t, God would know I was pretending to be a much more selfless and high-minded person than I am.  But I understand that God is not concerned with who wins and, after I finish pleading and begging and promising to be God’s best friend if he’ll just let me smash my opponent this one time, I pray for excellence and a good heart and mind throughout the match.

What’s more, I pray about the games I play.  Did I choke?  Did I lose my temper with myself and abuse myself?  Did I make a call when I wasn’t 100 percent sure?  If you bury that stuff, it lives inside you as self-lacerating shame.  Bring it to God, and he’ll take it off your hands and teach you to stop doing it after a while.  “Your sins are forgiven you.  Go and sin no more.”  That sort of thing.

A sport played well – played with joy, effort and sportsmanship – spreads its good lessons to the rest of life:  play hard but fair, make your emotions serve you not the other way around, love the game whether you win or lose, never stop striving to be better.  Prayer can interweave those lessons with the fabric of your soul and make them part of  you.

All of which are good reasons to point to the sky in gratitude when you feel you’ve reached your best level, even if only for a moment.  It’s really not a question of who God is rooting for at all.  Although, let’s face it, he’s rooting for the Yankees.

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  • ari

    Well, how’s about it’s great b/c it is just belief in God woven into a life. Not everything is an hour-long sermon, or hanging out with impossibly ill kids. God’s with the fun stuff, too. In little bits.

    I loved it that Tim Tebow would paint verses on his face. The kids would come into sunday school, and look up the verse. It was huge for them. HUGE.

    I’m curious how many atheist sportswriters have kids? I don’t know any atheist guys with kids. None. If they can’t close that deal, I just wish they’d listen to someone who has. It’s really easy to have contempt for the day to day dealing with small, self- centered, immature little people in what one hopes is the wisest, kindest way. While sleep- deprived, or hungry, or lonely. It’s a life involving McDonalds, and plastic toys, and vibrantly colored tee-shirts covered with dinosaur graphics. It just is. It’s not careful, and tasteful and mature. It is wonderful in its own way, just not a stand in line for three hours to see a Matisse whilst wearing a taupe, lined woolen dress while carrying a five dollar coffee and chatting about the opera last week. just saying.

  • chukmaty

    I always thought it was Chris Carter of the Vikings who popularized the double point. Carter had serious drug abuse problems and was on the verge of suicide after having Buddy Ryan of the NY Jets cut him from the team despite being a top tier threat on the field. Carter found Jesus Christ, and from then on made a point of trying to communicate that he was only still alive on this earth because of that encounter. Now Carter was not a perfect person, had temper/over competitiveness issues, but despite all of that it was really inspiring for me as a young person seeing someone’s life change so dramatically just from a religious experience. I think that is why his point to heaven always meant something, he knew that if he had never prayed/cried out to God he could have very easily been found dead in a hotel room from a drug overdoes. He knew that he owed not only his football career, but his life to God, and he reminded everyone (including himself) of that fact after each of his, very frequent, touchdown celebrations.

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  • Ed Lee

    I’m not sure Jesus is rooting for the Yankees this year, though. CC took a drubbing, Phil Hughes took a drubbing, and Andy took a drubbing. Next up, Burnett. I’ll have to pray louder!

  • Ndbmedic

    Indignities? You might as well add that replay review of fair/foul home runs.
    Remember when the players left their gloves on the field at the end of the inning?
    Remember leaving Yankee Stadium after being allowed to walk on the field after the final out?
    Those were the days.

  • Comms35

    I’m a big fan of MMA. There are a lot of Christians in MMA. I have always took notice in general, that a sport built largely on aggression and machismo, is stuffed full of pretty humble guys. I think its the combination of the danger factor and the fact one second you’re the cock of the walk and with the right punch, then a feather duster.
    Matt Hughes, Ken Shamrock, Vitor Belfor, Rich Franklin …..I like wise am inspired by these guys . They say the connect can be made between struggling with opponent is like the inward struggle Christians face everyday by putting on the armor of God and walking into the world.

    ….and besides, God was a grappler..

    24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
    25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
    26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
    27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
    28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
    29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
    30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

  • DAVE

    CAN MUSLIMS USE THERE PRAYER RUGS WHEN THEY SCORE A
    TD OR HIT A HOMER?