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The Church of Baseball

August 16th, 2013by Sr. Marla Gipson

There’s an opening line in the beginning narration of the film Bull Durham where one of the main characters emphatically states “I believe in the Church of Baseball.” Perhaps the reference here is partly to a Church of many gods. All things being equal, the baseball gods sometimes smile upon your favorite team and sometimes they don’t. Even past the last out, if it doesn’t go your way, there’s still another inning, another game, another series, another month, and another season. There’s always hope and a chance for redemption.

In the wake of the latest “doping” scandal in professional baseball there have been some interesting comments from managers, teammates, other players, and sports commentators. These comments would be in reference to a player who used performance enhancing drugs, who lied about it, who initially was absolved on a technicality but who eventually has faced the mounting evidence with assent to a plea agreement. In my mind, such a player’s life is forever changed even after he comes back from a 65 game suspension.

For the people who know him and have a personal relationship with him it’s a sad thing. People are hurting. What was he thinking? Why not just admit the wrong-doing in the first place? Why stand there and profess personal integrity only in the end to plea bargain your way out of a lifetime ban from baseball. In this situation a plea is a clear admission of guilt.

So now life will never be the same. Not for this player. Not for his family. Not for his friends. Not for those who thought they were his friends but who wonder now if they ever really knew him. Not for his teammates. Not for the organization he plays for and not for the fans. Truly, good people make bad choices, even sometimes habitually. Innocent and not so innocent people suffer as a consequence.

One of his teammates, however, said something that caught my attention. His comments have been sitting with me for a while. He said, and I am paraphrasing, its like learning that your older brother cheated on his SAT’s, gets dismissed from school, and is not allowed to graduate. He has thrown his life off course and all the plans to get into college have come to a crashing halt. His future is in jeopardy. You are as angry with him as you can be. You may cease to speak or be around him for a lengthy period of time. You eventually might have to fight your way back to forgive but right now you really don’t feel like it. Yet, in the end, you know you still love him and you know that will never change.

Now, I thought, we really are talking about Church-and not the baseball gods’ kind of Church-but the Church of love and forgiveness, the Church of Jesus Christ. This teammate’s analogy I can relate to. When someone we know, someone in our family, someone we work with, someone with whom we are friends- when that person has to be separated from our midst because of their own wrongdoing-we experience devastating loss and rollercoaster emotions. Reactions and non-reactions come and go just like the weather. There are plenty of stormy, overcast days.

Forgiveness is a process. Its not so much about letting someone off the hook or letting their behavior slide. Its about relinquishing resentment, outrage, anger, and annoyance. It takes time to get there. And it does not necessarily depend on restitution, justice, apology, or any other kind of reciprocal move from the wrongdoer, though such a move might help. Its about inner freedom from thoughts and feelings that ultimately drag us down even if we are the victim and we ourselves did nothing wrong. Its about letting go of our own stuff before all the negativity tears us down in a hole too deep to get out of.

The Church, like baseball, and baseball, like the Church, has a past. History and public melt-downs go hand in hand. For those who love the Church and for those who love baseball it’s a never-ending saga of the human condition and the human effort to clean it up. There’s always the ideal vision of who we are and the never-ending work of getting to the Promised Land. Part of the never-ending work involves the long-time process of forgiveness. Its about the already and the not yet-having already been redeemed and the process of becoming unredeemed.

The real stars are the ones who try to play right every day and who grind it out when they can’t quite make it or live up to the ideal. They understand that part of getting to the Promised Land is working at forgiveness even when you don’t feel like it.

Sr. Marla Gipson

Sr. Marla Gipson C.PP.S is a Sister of the Precious Blood. She currently lives in Minster, Ohio with a local community of Sisters where she ministers part-time as a Pastoral Associate at St. Augustine Church. She also ministers part-time as a Religious Education Consultant for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the northern area regional Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and serves as one of the many Course Instructors for catechist certification. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Ohio State University and an M.A. in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.