Monday, April 4, 2016

PLAY BALL! The Miracle of Spring, God's Opening Day.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” --Rogers Hornsby (American baseball player and manager)

As I write this column it is Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox, the 116th year that our hometown team—the BoSox—begin another season, begin in a way, another spring and then very soon, another blessed New England summer.  Granted, Mother Nature certainly didn’t seem to get the memo. Game time forecast in Cleveland is for clear skies and thirty five degrees, hardly baseball weather, the crack of the bat mixed with the crack of icy puddles on the infield. The daffodils outside my front door that so courageously blossomed for Easter are buried under heavy wet snow, their delicate yellow blossoms bowed over, as if in prayer.  The snow shovel I barely used all winter seems to taunt me from its corner in the garage, daring me to put it away.    

And yet…spring comes. Spring arrives. Spring is here. The calendar cannot be stopped.  The movement of the Sun closer to the earth cannot be held back any longer.  It is finally spring, God’s Opening Day, when anything, everything is possible. 

And so the Red Sox just might win another World Series. Yes. Really!! Even though three of the last four seasons they’ve ended up as one of the worst teams in baseball by chilly October.  On Opening Day nothing is beyond our fevered spring imaginations.  The Sox begin this day with a perfect record, tied for first place, and in contention on a lush green playing field.  First hot dog of the season. First “PLAY BALL!”  First faint sounds of radio announcers calling the game, the soundtrack of spring returning back home. It all makes me look forward to a warm summer night, sitting on a hard back seat in some far away baseball stadium, swapping jokes and stories with my old friend, as we crack open peanuts and watch the sun go down behind the old scoreboard in left field. 

A dream.  A dream only spring can bring forth.

Yet I confess: my lifelong passion for all things baseball and Red Sox has been challenged in the past few years. Maybe it’s because the quality of play they’ve put on the field has been so darn terrible. Yes, there was the miracle of a world championship in 2013, when somehow the rising up of Boston from the marathon bombings so beautifully dovetailed with the triumph of the Sox.  But since then?  It’s hard to rush to read the sports page every day, when the team is essentially out of contention by mid-July.  And all professional sports are now so…well…professional. Overblown in cultural importance and oh so neatly packaged. Covered wall to wall in an orgy of media outlets and fantasy leagues and gambling and gargantuan contracts, like the $217 million the Sox will pay their new pitcher David Price.

That all feels so far away from the baseball I fell in love with long ago. The game of spring.  The itchy wool uniforms we squeezed into as Little Leaguers.  The sweet ritual of sitting in the bleachers at Fenway, cheap seats that were actually cheap, watching the game with my grandfather and brother and cousins.  Playing wiffleball in the backyard, smacking fantasy home runs over the rusted chain link fence that was our imagined Green Monster. Wanting that game to go on and on, but then finally being called home by the distant calls of our Moms, their shouts of “DINNER!” floating out and over the neighborhood backyard.

Maybe that is what spring is finally all about.  An admittedly romantic, nostalgic, even corny, yet ever new vision of what might be in this life.  What can be, as winter recedes and gives way once again to one more year, one more season, one more game and one more spring.  Opening Day makes me want to have faith again, in everything, even though to have such hope always risks a broken heart. That’s the bittersweet nature of spring. The truth that fall will eventually roll back around and the last pitch of the season will be thrown. But not yet.

Not today. Not now.  On Opening Day it is always spring. A season when faith somehow is fully alive again.  Faith in a Creator, the One who so artistically shapes Creation that can still take our breath away: buds blooming and birds chirping and snow melting and wooden bats smacking a brand new baseball.  Faith that on Opening Day, life just might get better, and so we pray for a home run on the field of dreams and on the field of life.  Faith.  That today, this one day, we all start again. 

Welcome back spring.  We missed you.


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