A heavenly day at the ballpark
ARLINGTON, Texas — In my family, major milestones include births,…
ARLINGTON, Texas — The stadium felt like a furnace — think obnoxious Texas heat in early July — when I walked into my first major-league baseball game at age 14.
By then, of course, I was already a big baseball fan, with thousands of baseball cards, an autographed picture of Pete Rose and a dream of growing up to do radio play-by-play. For all the hours I had spent watching televised games and poring over newspaper box scores, though, I had never actually been to a game.
But in 1982, my family moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, and a heaven with the greenest grass I had ever seen beckoned us.
We made it to our bleacher seats in the bottom of the first inning, just as Texas Rangers slugger Larry Parrish stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. That Saturday was “Bat Day,” so 10,000 wooden bats banged thunderously against the concrete and the crowd roared at an obscene decibel as the ball sailed over the fence — a grand slam!
A young lifetime of rooting for the Cincinnati Reds suddenly vanished. I fell in love with the Rangers that day. (They have won exactly one playoff game since.)
Later, I fell in love with an Oklahoma girl. Tamie grew up in a small town and had never attended a game. Living on a student budget, I bought tickets for seats way up high in right field and we snuggled up together.
Soon, it started raining. Then it rained some more. And fans started leaving, so we slid down a few levels to better seats. So what if we got soaked? The Rangers came from behind and won.
A few years later, I dressed my 10-month-old, Brady, in a tiny Rangers outfit, with team socks, a Rangers hat and red tennis shoes, and whisked him to a game.
He smiled and waved at everyone. But when the loudspeaker came on, a look of serious concern stretched across his face. At the singing of the national anthem, he totally lost it. Tears welled and major-league screaming erupted. He and Tamie retreated to a couch in the air-conditioned fan relations office. At one point, strikeout king Nolan Ryan strolled through to say hello to a lady who worked there.
Tamie was impressed. Brady was not.
I learned my lesson. When Keaton was born, I waited two years to take him to a game. He loved it — the giant popcorn his daddy bought him, that is.
My daughter, Kendall, was 3 before she experienced the Rangers. While completely unimpressed with baseball, she liked the ice cream sundae in a plastic Rangers hat and the pink Rangers pompoms we bought. She still has them, by the way.
I like to say that I love God, I love my family and I love the Texas Rangers. (I love country music, too, but that’s a subject for another day.)
I’m not the most philosophical person. I tend to view the world in black and white and not spend an inordinate amount of time looking for deeper meanings. But when it comes to baseball, I can’t help myself.
To me, it’s impossible to miss just how much baseball mirrors our Christian walk.
As Brady, who turns 13 this month, puts it, “Baseball seasons are long, like a faith journey can be. Baseball players get injured, just as Christians get hurt by the world. You have to keep going if you want to be the best.” (And you thought I had no purpose in taking him to a game when he was still in diapers!)
I asked Keaton, 9, the same question, and he mumbled something about not using steroids and playing the game right. I don’t think he’s a big Barry Bonds fan.
Kendall, who celebrates her seventh birthday in July, gave a one-word response to what baseball teaches: “Perseverance.” Of course, she heard me say it first.
I used it in reference to the baseball team at Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va. Coach Chad Porter’s Fighting Scots recently endured the longest rain delay on record in NCAA or professional baseball history: eight hours and 54 minutes.
Related: A heavenly day at the ballpark
But here’s the cool part: After that “wet, tedious eternity,” as Sports Illustrated described it, Ohio Valley overcame an 8-3 deficit to win the game, 10-9. The Scots capped their 18-hour day at the ballpark by winning a second game to earn a postseason bid for the first time in school history.
Lest you think all this talk about faith and baseball is totally abstract, meet Brent High, a deacon over outreach and local evangelism at the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn. The former Lipscomb baseball player and I met for pizza a couple of times when I worked for The Associated Press in Nashville a few years ago.
At the time, Brent was helping introduce the concept of “Faith Nights” at Sounds minor-league games. Mixing Bible character bobbleheads, faith testimonials and Christian music with a sport worshipped by many proved hugely successful and spread to stadiums across the country.
And this summer, Brent is realizing a childhood dream of sorts, as the Atlanta Braves, his favorite team, host three Faith Nights sponsored by Brent’s Third Coast Sports marketing company.
“We are more convinced than ever that God is using Third Coast Sports for reasons that are so much bigger than us,” Brent said after The New York Times recently featured the effort in a Page 1 story.
One of my favorite verses is 2 Timothy 4:7, where Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I’m certain that if Paul had lived after Abner Doubleday invented the precious game of baseball, he would have said something about pitching into the ninth inning and keeping his team close.
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