Msgr. Tom Coogan distributes Communion during Mass at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, N.Y., on Ascension Thursday last year. The Mass followed morning baseball and softball games featuring teams from Catholic elementary schools, which were closed for the Ascension feast.
One of our staffers played baseball as a youngster. He was no star. However, during one tournament in dusty Casper, Wyo. in 1981, he played out of his head. In game one, he hit a towering home run to left, just as a garbage truck was emptying a dumpster out there in a parking lot. A few days later, as another garbage truck rumbled by the field, he drove another fastball out. His teammates began chanting for a garbage truck in each of his at-bats.
In his memory, our staffer parked another ball in the presence of a trash hauler, but that seems so unlikely that it may be only enhanced nostalgia.
No matter. The Casper tourney remains with this now middle-aged fellow as a moment of exaltation, a taste of pure serendipitous glory. Of course, there were plenty of other at-bats when our man was the goat. He recalls that he went hitless for his first season and a half as a pee-wee. What anguish.
A new book by John Sexton, president of New York University, makes the case that baseball is a path to the divine. It's just the mix of elation and despair, in Sexton's mind, that makes the grand old sport such a fertile ground for God.
Since God works in all things, it makes sense to us that the sport is one of them.
Sexton makes the further point that baseball can help us emerge from the daily humdrum, lifting us outside ourselves. Meanwhile, because it is uniquely a team sport with so many individual moments, baseball is unparalleled in humbling us.
Religion, like baseball, Sexton explains, can also take us out of ourselves and help us embrace what's communal and noble.
So, as spring advances and summer approaches, remember that what is happening on your neighborhood diamond is not just hollering and competition, but grassy grace.