The following blog is a discussion about the civil religion of baseball. The spark for these writings is the book “The Faith of 50 Million”.
The definition of the word sacred is: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration. Synonyms: holy, hallowed, blessed, consecrated, sanctified, venerated, revered.
All religions have sacred moments. Some of those moments are corporate and are celebrated and venerated (held in great respect) by the body of the faithful as a whole. Some sacred moments are more individual and held holy in the believer’s heart.
Baseball has many corporate sacred moments: Bobby Thomson’s home run off of Ralph Branca against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 to win the National League Pennant is still known as the shot heard round the world. Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series is still the only perfect game in World Series history.
The ‘Catch’ by Willie Mays in the first game of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians continues to cause moments of reverence.
Of course, Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the ninth inning of game seven of the 1960 World Series is one of baseball’s sacred moments. We could spend much time listing baseball’s corporate sacred moments but this is my blog and I want to share some sacred moments of my own.
As a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, of course, I hold dear Maz’s home run. But, I was not present for that moment. The sacred moment I am about to share with you is one I shared with my brother-in-law, Jeff, in 1991. Only Jeff and I were blessed with this beautiful moment.
Jeff and I had traveled to New York to see the Pirates and Mets play in Shea Stadium. That game was rained out but you will hear more about the adventure in the next blog. We visited Shea the next day to redeem our tickets and decided since we were in New York we might as well see if we could get a look at Yankee Stadium. We arrived in the Bronx and found a place to park and we began to walk around the hallowed walls of Yankee Stadium.
Supplies were being delivered to the stadium near left-center field so we looked through the open doors onto the playing field. The security guard looked at us and said, without any question from us, “Sorry fellows, I can’t let you in.” Then he continued by adding, “You can go to the office down the street and they might let you in.”
Oh boy! Jeff and I headed for the office and stepped inside. We found ourselves standing in a smallish space with a counter in front of a desk to our left and a wooded bench, like a church pew, on our right against the wall. On the bench there was a man who appeared to have been taking a nap. The guy half sat up and inquired, “Are you looking for Willis?” “Huh?” one or both of us replied. “The guy that works at the desk. You looking for him?” “Yeah, we’re looking for him.” we brightly answered. The guy on the bench pointed to a door on the wall opposite the one we had entered and stated, “He is through those doors.”
Of course, Jeff and I went through the doors and entered a hallway which opened onto the playing field. Understand that this was 24 years ago so my memory may be somewhat foggy but this is the way I remember it. Oh, and I’m pretty certain that the statute of limitations has expired. Also, old Yankee Stadium has been replaced by the current Yankee Stadium so I think we are safe from any legal concerns.
There we were behind home plate looking out over the glorious green grass and manicured infield. The sky was blue/gray with a few white cumulus clouds floating along while the sun shone gently on the field. Jeff and I looked at each other. We looked left. We looked right. We were the only people anywhere around. We looked at each other again!!
The next thing you know we were sitting about ten rows behind home plate, the only humans in the place. An eerie feeling wraps itself around you when you are the only one in an empty baseball cathedral. Almost, imperceptibly I began to experience the feeling that we were not alone after all. Sitting there behind home plate in Yankee Stadium I notice the spiritual presence of Yankee ‘saints’. Babe Ruth,
and Casey Stengel.
It isn’t like they were actually sitting with us but I could almost see them around the stadium. Or maybe it is easier to say that the ‘saints’ were everywhere in the stadium. Jeff and I didn’t say much of anything to each other as we sat there absorbing the sacredness of the moment. Here we were sitting in one of the best known cathedrals to the religion of baseball (a file photo) sharing a moment with great Yankee ball players from the past.
A couple of years later in 1993 I was leading a spiritual retreat on Jeju Do, South Korea when I had another spiritual experience. The group I was leading was climbing a mountain to visit an ancient Buddhist shire. I wanted some time to myself so I slipped into a temple alongside the road. I was met by the sweet smell of burning incense and the sound of a monk chanting his prayers. I slipped quietly into a chair against the back wall and allowed the stillness to come over me. Then it happened. I distinctly felt a warm peaceful presence wrap itself around my entire being. In that moment I had no doubt I was being surrounded by the Creator of all things. That life altering sacred moment is one I cherish to this day.
The sacred moment in Yankee Stadium was not even close in magnitude to the experience in South Korea. But, the experience in New York was sacred just the same. I don’t know how long Jeff and I sat in that moment, maybe 20 minutes. Eventually, we returned through the door to the office where the guy laying on the bench asked, “Did you find Willis?” Jeff replied, “No, but we have another meeting to go to. Tell him we will catch him next time.” Then the two of us walked back into our everyday lives once again. Except, we were not the same guys who walked into the baseball cathedral thirty minutes before. The two of us had shared a sacred moment that bound us together in our mutual joy of baseball.
See you next time.