Baseball as Religion

John Sexton, a Fordham grad and the current President of NYU teaches a course on Baseball and Religion. Where do I sign up? Two of my most favorite things.

And the metaphor of baseball as religion, in Dr. Sexton’s hands, is a long way from the cornball claptrap about stadiums being “green cathedrals.” Over the current semester, the students are reading and discussing the work of theologians and cultural historians like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Michael Novak, Robert N. Bellah and Johan Huizinga alongside novels and reportage by literary chroniclers of baseball like Robert Coover, W. P. Kinsella and Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Dr. Sexton is distilling his own ruminations into a book, “Baseball as a Road to God,” which will be published in early 2013.)

When the class met on the night before opening day this year, Dr. Sexton took out the intellectual version of a fungo bat to knock questions around the room: Was the fisherman in Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” having a religious experience? If he was, how did that experience resonate for the students in the class?

“In the depth of his adversity,” said William Visone, a 19-year-old junior, “he keeps talking about how the big fish is out there. That’s a kind of faith. And it’s like last week when I said that I believe that in my lifetime I will see the Mets win the World Series.”

I totally resonate with this. I remember being a Mets fan as as kid watching the 1986 World Series with my dad in our living room. All was lost…the Red Sox had taken the lead and surely the series. I had never seen MY Team win the world series–too young for 1969.

And then…

That ’86 team often came back when the chips were down. Having faith that they always would was the true mark of a fan. When Carter got the single I turned to my dad and said, “They just might have one more in them.” He thought I was nuts. When Knight crossed the plate I jumped up and nearly cracked my head open on the chandelier in our living room. I tackled my father and was sternly warned by my mother to not react the same way when they won Game 7.

Baseball often provides you with character. There’s an element of forgiveness associated with baseball. Sox fans needed and wanted to forgive Buckner. I have longed to forgive Fred Wilpon for ruining a team, my team…and for treating a bunch of us media types awfully bad in the late 90s. I vowed not to root for the Mets until he sold the team—and karma may still come for Mr. Wilpon before it’s all over, though it seems that he’s escaped having to sell the team for now.

Until that day, I root for the Cubs in these days. They help me build a bit of character. An old ballpark in a great city with great and intelligent fans. The ghost of Harry Caray and Ron Santo and the longing for a World Series. I remember those feelings growing up longing to see MY team win a World Series just once.

I knew I had become a Cubs fan once this happened:

The wheels came off after that play with the Marlins scoring 8 runs after an additional error by SS Alex Gonzalez. They went on to win 8-3 and then again the next night and Steve Bartman became infamous.

Baseball is about loss. It’s almost never about winning. The day in and day out grind of the season reminds me of an imperfect world, where bad things often happen to good people. Even the best teams lose more than a third of the time. You make an out more than 75 percent of the time unless you’re a star and still, you don’t come close to only failing 60% of the time.

The second thing is that baseball is almost never about what happens–it’s about what COULD happen. Anticipation both as a player and an observer is paramount. Strategy is at an all time high with every pitch and every single one is important. Alou makes that catch and Gonzo is shaded a bit differently and perhaps makes a double play a bit easier. It’s a tough game and one moment indeed can make a difference.

I can see Sexton comparing Steve Bartman and Bill Buckner’s one mistake to Richard Wright’s character Bigger Thomas in Native Son, where Bigger, a black man, accidentally smothers a white woman after chauffeuring her home carrying her into her bedroom because she has passed out. Her blind mother entered the room and Bigger thought he would be accused of rape if he was caught in her room. So he stifled her with a pillow and in doing so accidentally kills her. The rest of the story is all downhill from there.

One moment often makes a big difference. That’s life and that’s baseball.

Memories of a Father

My good friend Shannon Shark who runs the Mets Police blog wrote this touching story on Father’s Day a few years back. I thought it would be good to post it again here this year as it really touched me as I’m sure it will you. For all of you who share baseball memories with your dad, this one is for you.

The story has to start somewhere. It really doesn’t matter when this took place, and I don’t remember the date or the year or even anything about the game, but my father took me to a Mets game.
We went to plenty of games back in the day. A man we knew had season tickets at Shea since 1964. He had a great three-seat box behind home plate, just to the right of the net in some seats that no longer exist since the Mets redid that area a few years back.
Maybe we sat in those seats, I don’t remember.
I remember plenty of other nights. Dad would sit there with Pat, he of the seats, they’d have a few cigarettes, and even more beers, and this being a three-seat box I’d take the solo front seat. What great nights these were – I remember watching a guy named Mike Scott pitch for the Mets. The Astros later had a pitcher of the same name, he even looked the same but he was clearly a different pitcher. The Mets version of Mike Scott was nowhere near that good.
Pat’s wife had died, leaving him with nobody to go to the games with. So we went. Thirty, sometimes thirty five times a year. I remember some nights hoping that we wouldn’t get tickets, not even free tickets behind home plate for a team that was starting to get good (this Gooden guy seems like the real deal), sometimes it’s nice to just have a night at home.
The game I’m thinking of isn’t 1984, it’s earlier. For sake of the story let’s make it a mid-summer day game, oh say 1979. Whatever it was, I don’t remember it, I only remember the ride home.
We’re on the 7 train, and we’ve had an awesome day at the ballpark. Daddy & me. I remember thinking about it on the train, what a great time we had. The 7 was crowded and I was still small enough that I couldn’t reach the handrail, so I grabbed what I could. His pocket.

Read the rest here and then go take your kid out for a catch.

Hey Dad! I’m glad we are still making memories!

Happy Father’s Day!

Should Security Guards Use Tazers?

Shannon Shark over at the Mets Police finds this offensive and I agree.

While the fan as Shannon states is a knucklehead, do we ever talk about tazers as being an inappropriate means of restraint? If we were really pro-life, gun control and the immoral torture practices that exist in the world should also be on the agenda.

What thinkest you?

A horrible baseball season…but we still look good

Here I am with my college buddies Victor (the dope wearing the Phillies shirt and hat) and Kevin. While the Mets had a terrible season, I rather enjoyed their new park, Citi Field, albeit it took them forever to at least make it look somewhat like the homefield for the Mets and not some homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I grew up a Mets fan as many of you know but after covering the team as a beat reporter I stopped rooting for them because Fred Wilpon really treated us media types poorly as did most of the players at that time (Jeff Kent was by far the surliest guy I ever met). So I vowed that I would never root for them again until Wilpon sells the team.

Still waiting…

I will miss going often to major league baseball games after I move to Buffalo. But the Mets triple A affiliate is in Buffalo and I am considering getting a partial season ticket plan to those games. Toronto is not far away and so I will travel to some Blue Jays games and Cleveland is also not that far and I have not been to a game at their ballpark.

Lastly, please pray for the brother of our friend Phil Guibileo. Kevin and his wife Jen joined us for the final game at Citi Field under unfortunate circumstances. They were Phil’s tickets and his brother died suddenly on Saturday night at a rather young age of an apparent aneurysm or something similar. Sad. Phil is a great guy and a broadcaster for a minor league hockey team and was just recently married. So it’s tough on him during this so-called honeymoon period.

“Eternal rest grant unto him and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Once in a while…I still have some sports thoughts

I guest columned an item on the Mets Police retiring #8 for Yogi Berra and Gary Carter.

Retire #8 on 8/8
Two Hall of Famers have worn #8 for the Mets and yet that number has not been retired. It’s not a stretch to think that the Mets could retire #8 for both Gary Carter and Yogi Berra the prolific manager of the 73 “Ya Gotta Believe” pennant winners.
Berra was an astute manger for 4 years with only the 1974 season being a blight on his record. He brought the team back from a huge deficit and got the players to believe in themselves with a little help from Tug McGraw’s rallying cry. McGraw often said that it was really Berra’s managing style that enabled the players to believe in themselves and led them to that pennant. To top matters they spanked the Reds in the playoffs and in a crazy world series he took the mighty A’s to 7 games–all an almost impossible feat to accomplish for any manager. We forget he was also a coach with Hodges on the 1969 Miracle Mets (in fact he was a coach since 1965), so you can’t say he wasn’t involved or around long enough with the Mets to merit inclusion. While more well known as a Yankee, Berra deserves to be acknowledged as someone who contributed much to the Met franchise as a coach and manager.
Carter was the missing piece to the 1986 World Series Champions. The young Mets pitchers needed someone to be a leader within those 60 feet 6 inches. Carter led them well for 3 years until his career began to wind down. He helped spark that team into the cocky bunch of players who never felt they were out of a ballgame even when things looked bleak. In game 6 of the 86 World Series Carter started the rally with a single that led to the improbableMookie Wilson grounder through the legs of Bill Buckner.

I love this Mets Police blog because it has a good take on all the stupid stuff that the Mets do as an organization–a big reason why I can’t root for them any longer. Read the rest here and then agree or disagree.

Mom and the Mets

From our friends at The Mets Police where Shannon Shark tells the story of his mom on her birthday at the now old Shea Stadium:

So, we go to the game – my parents, my sister, and I. Our mom is tickled pink to be at Shea. At the gate they are handing out teddy bears as a promotion to all kids. Of course my mom wants one, and as soon as they hear that it’s her 71st, no problem, they give her one. That was very nice.

Skip ahead to the fourth inning. One of the staff comes over and lets my mom know that during the 4th, Mr. Met is coming over to give her a present. Middle of the 4th and here comes Mr. Met to present her with the 1-800-FLOWERS birthday cake bouquet. Mr. Met sat down behind her and she is giddy – starts talking to him and laughing. Then at the end of the inning they put her and my dad on Diamond Vision with Mr. Met. Priceless!

So we thought that was the highlight of the day. After the game, we took some pictures, then went up to check out the Diamond Club. While up there she (as only an older Irish woman does) starts chatting with the security guys – asking about Pedro, her favorite Met, and where he might be. Security actually tells us that because of the Billy Joel concert set up, the players are coming out from Gate D today. So Mom now wants to go down to see if she can spot Pedro. All 0f a sudden this 71 yr old woman is acting like a 16 yr old.

Read the rest here for a very special gift from a great pitcher.

Straw: Redemption

Darryl Strawberry has written a chilling autobiography–Straw: Finding My Way. It is a great story of redemption for a man who really could’ve been one of the all time greats but had too many demons nipping at him constantly.

Sean Hannity has a great interview with the once great ballplayer.

A huge tip of a classic blue and orange Mets hat to The Mets Police.

To add to this, as someone who covered Strawberry when he was with the Yankees and who grew up idolizing him as a Mets fan, I used to be tempted to just shake my head at what I thought was a waste of such pure baseball talent. Straw was every pitcher’s nightmare with his tall lanky frame pulverizing baseballs all over the place. Still, those Mets only won a single world series title. Their arrogance on display eventually crumbled the team and broke them part, the front office seemingly needing to break them apart. After leaving NY Strawberry was nothing and I remember people laughing when the Yankees added him and Doc Gooden to their roster. They seemingly both turned it around at that juncture: Gooden throwing a no-hitter in 96 and Strawberry making significant contributions as well and sticking around for 3 World titles.

Yet the two still had their struggles. It seemed unforgivable that two men with such talent would cast that talent to the wind.

Then I learned about addiction–something most people don’t understand. It was then that I was impressed that both Gooden and Strawberry were able to accomplish anything at all with all the demons that they had faced. Potential unrealized, perhaps, but Strawberry seems to have kicked the habit to realize that his true potential is no longer about bruising baseballs, but about inspiring others.

What is it that prohibits you from reaching your full potential some days? What addictions might you have to kick? Some may not be as self-destructive as Strawberry’s are but nonetheless, they are powerful enough to keep you at bay from another hurdle in your life.

Addiction to substances is something that thankfully I haven’t had to face in my life but I also know that there are plenty of things that weigh me down on my own road to peace and serenity. What keeps you tied down–and more importantly what allows you to rise again?

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Opening Day at Citi Field

Blogging was light yesterday because I attended the Mets Home Opener. Also the first “real” game at Citi Field.

Here are some pictures from Opening Day at Citi Field. Thanks to my pal Steve Nadel for offering me the ticket.

The Scoreboard Says It All

Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza head in for the ceremonial first pitch

It’s Your Pitch, Tom Seaver!

My friend Steve Nadel and I who offered me the seat at the game.

My favorite of all the pics: Citi Field at Night.

The Mets lost but they also lost their first game at Shea and their first game in 1969.

Two stadiums and a hole in the ground

A great post today from our friends at The Mets Police:

Six and a half years ago a nightmare descended upon this city. At the time both the Mets
and Yankees had been discussing new stadia with the city. Following 9/11 those discussions were put on hold so that the city could recover and rebuild.

Recover we did – rebuild we have not.

Six and a half years later, two structures designed for a game have been designed, constructed, and now opened. Several hundred million dollars in city and state “assistance” has helped in getting these structures built.

Yet just over 9 miles away from each site there remains a big hole in the ground where two office towers once stood.

Think about that for a moment.

6 1/2 years
$2+ Billion
2 new, state-of-the-art ballparks
0 towers

Read a bit more here.

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