By Rev. Ryan Dunn
"Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand."
I can't verify who actually said that. Some sources say former Major League catcher and manager Wes Westrum said it. More sources attribute the quote to another long-time Major League manager, Leo Durocher.
Leo was known by many names: The All-American Out, Swamper, Lippy, and Leo the Lip. As a manager, he was quite well-known for his direct, often confrontational style. Though he left pro baseball many decades ago, he is still near the top of the list for most ejections from a game. He was also quite well-known for winning. He was not, however, known as a church-goer. It seems that if the quote truly is his, though, then he had some experience in the church world. At least enough to understand that most of us are in a process of making sense of the mysteries of faith… and baseball.
How is baseball like church?
Let's face it. Baseball frustrates the uninitiated. My young son exemplified this when he yelled "What are you doing?!" at a pitcher who had just issued an intentional walk. A key principle of the game is to keep runners off base. So why did the pitcher purposefully put a runner on?
We attend. But we don't understand.
However, baseball excites and inspires us, too. Some inspiration is found in the tension we experience while we are constantly searching for better understanding. I've followed the game for a few decades, yet each season reveals new and fascinating peculiarities to the game. I love learning more.
Should I expect anything different from church? Afterall, church and baseball hold many similarities...
10 ways baseball is like church:
Most of us have some experience with it.
Sometimes it feels like it will never end.
So. Many. Traditions.
Long lines for food and drink.
It requires sacrifice.
At some point, we all get to stand and sing.
It's a team endeavor.
There's something beautifully unifying in traditions.
"Home" is the final destination.
Participants will never be perfect… but we get to play anyway.
This final similarity reflects what we often call "the Gospel message." It's the Good News.
In baseball it goes like this: players often fail more than they succeed. If a hitter only fails 7 out of 10 tries, she or he is a great hitter. Hitters will not hit a home run in every at bat. Hitters will not reach base in every at bat. Hitters will most likely make an out. Yet they are still contributors to the team.
In church it goes like this: we have failed. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have failed in obedience. But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That proves God's love toward us. God loves us and and works in us all the same. We are a team.
Baseball requires a lot of hope. It's the hope of a hit that keeps fans watching. It's the hope of success here and there that keeps players playing.
Church is for those who are hopeful. It is not a home for those who have it all together. It is not a body for those who have it all right. It is for those who are hopeful that we can be more than what we've been.
What is the hope of the church?
In a sense, we're hopeful that humanity might become one, united in mutual care and concern. We're hopeful that the world might be like the image of the Garden remembered in Genesis and foretold of in Revelation. We're hopeful of resurrection. We're hopeful that with each passing week we are becoming a little more selfless — a little more compassionate — than we were before.
Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan lives in Nashville, TN, where he works as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church. In his spare time he looks for more similiaritites between church and baseball while watching Chicago Cubs games.
[Posted April 5, 2018]