Last year, for my 40th birthday, I took a trip with Big League Tours to four different baseball stadiums that I had not previously visited (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Cincinnati) . I had a blast as you can see in this picture with the Pirate Parrot and if you’re a baseball fan, I’d highly recommend Big League Tours. They’re loads of fun and the seats are fantastic and they get you ballpark tours and player experiences as well (Dave Parker met us in Cincy and was really a fun guy).

However, while I was with a bunch of nutso baseball fans, I noticed a disturbing trend all around us:

Nobody was watching the game.

It seems that the ballpark experience today is more about what’s going on besides the game. What can I get to eat, what other distractions are there and what music will they play between innings? Sometimes if the team is popular or are winning, the ballpark becomes a place to be seen as well and celebs make their way to the choice seats.

Now the leisurely pace of baseball lends itself to SOME distractions and I’ve had numerous philosophical conversations with friends and colleague over nine innings…but we at least knew what was going on down on the field. I keep a scorecard because I’m a baseball geek and don’t expect others to, but some people can’t tell me if there’s two outs or one. True baseball fans realize that at the game every nuance means something–and what I think makes baseball so exciting and nerve wracking. Baseball isn’t about what’s happening so much as what MIGHT happen and what a manager MIGHT do. I could speculate all day long about pitching and catching and where the infielders are playing and why the outfield isn’t shifted to left against A-Rod. In my opinion, the game’s the thing and the distractions are a bonus that I don’t particularly need but many people come to the game for them.

Guess what? Tennis isn’t far behind. A recent article in the New York Times tells the story:

Mixed doubles was front and center at Arthur Ashe Stadium one afternoon last week. Not on the court, where a United States Open women’s singles match was being played, but in a midlevel suite where two men and two women, drinks in hand and backs to the court, carried on as if they were at a cocktail mixer.

On one point, their peals of laughter caused the server to catch her toss and the chair umpire to call for silence. The suite holders were so oblivious, they did not know the scolding was directed at them. The match ended, and they kept talking.

Afterward, the winner, Victoria Azarenka, whose high-decibel grunts were not the main distraction for a change, said, “As a player, we would all like to have a bit of respect and quietness.”

More than any of the other tennis Grand Slam events, the United States Open is where elite sport and high society intersect. Its premier show court, 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, has 90 suites that are leased for $250,000 for the fortnight, ensuring that any match will have dilettantes mixing with die-hard fans.

I think this says a lot about the attention span of the modern person, perhaps even the younger set.

Researchers tell us it’s the equivalent of a hummingbird.

So here’s a challenge for all of us, sports fans or not. What can we give our full attention to without all of the distractions? Can we spend a full minute in silence without going crazy or even doing anything once an hour? Could we journal for hours? Be focused on one task instead of defaulting to multi-tasking six things at once?

Can we even spend an hour at a peaceful mass without all the hoopla that sometimes breaks our prayer?

My students tell me that they need that peace. That they are surrounded by noise and distractions all the time. Church, for them, is an hour of peace and quiet without the need for high energy vibrance that surrounds them all day long. They look forward to our 8PM mass and when we pause for just a moment of silence to start mass and re-focus ourselves on our relationship with God and others and what’s truly life-giving.

While sports sometimes imitates life, I think in this case, perhaps some sports fans need a quiet mass. And maybe then, they’ll realize that the distractions are in the way of something truly beautiful.

A great game.

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