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”.
Religions construct buildings to designate sacred spaces and/or provide places of liturgical worship. These structures are given various names; grotto, shrine, chapel, mosque, temple, church. I like the name cathedral because the name connotes something grand. Think; St Patrick’s Cathedral, The Cathedral of Notre Dame or the Air Force Academy Chapel.
The religion of baseball also builds sacred spaces which are called stadiums. The faithful stream to these ‘houses of religious experience’ to share a liturgy with the other members of their ‘denomination’. Jeff, my brother-in-law and I have had an on again off again pilgrimage to join with the other faithful at various stadiums around the country. During the last two summers we were fortunate to visit the two oldest Major League stadiums still in use; Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. The next two blogs will share our experience with the liturgies of the religion of baseball ‘cathedrals’ in Chicago and Boston.
In 2014, during Wrigley’s 100th anniversary Jeff and I hopped on board the train in St. Louis for the leisurely trip north to Chicago for our first ever visit to Historic Wrigley Field. Jeff and I arrived on time at the station for no apparent reason. We didn’t leave the station until 90 minutes after the stated departure time. Because we were late starting we had to use sidings to allow the freight trains to pass us. (Jeff attempting to turn the seat into a sleeper.) Originally, we figured we had plenty of time in Chicago to do some touring and eating. But, as the day continued to drag on we were beginning to wonder if we would arrive in time for the first pitch. (I actually took this video of us sitting in the same spot for a day and a half along the way.) After an inquiry about our arrival time the conductor, with a straight face, assured us we would see the entire game. I don’t want to complain that the train ride from St. Louis to Chicago was long but we both had grown beards by the time we arrived in Union Station.
We checked in to our hotel and caught the train to the stadium. At each stop more devotees of Cub baseball poured through the open doors as we steadily drew near to our destination. John Sexton writes in his book “Baseball as a Road to God”; “…baseball has the capacity to elevate and transform, that it has a power to bring people together in expanding levels of relationship: parent and child, neighbor and friend, community and city, state and the nation. On some majestic summer days, the many who assemble are one.” Jeff and I entered one of those majestic summer days when we stepped out of the train across the street from Wrigley Field. The many on this summer’s eve were one as we flowed down the street together in the shadow of Chicago’s South Side Cathedral. When we stepped off the train we stepped into the liturgy of a Chicago Cub religious experience. The feeling of celebration, of being connected to past joys and future hopes was contagious and the many became one.
Liturgy is a word that means ‘of the people’. Liturgy is the form we follow in our religious experiences. Baseball is bound through time and place to its liturgy. The ‘prelude’ on this evening was the gathering of devoted fans on the streets around the ball park, talking baseball, hunting souvenirs, sharing meals in one of the restaurants, pausing under the iconic sign. All baseball fans know the liturgy of the religion of baseball; The National Anthem, the umpire’s call to worship ‘Play ball’, nine innings divided in half for each team to play defense and offense, four balls and three strikes, three outs, the seventh inning stretch, singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ (written by a guy who had never been to a game) during the seventh inning stretch, the roving concessionaires yelling, ‘beer here’ or ‘peanuts’ or ‘get ye’r hot dogs’! Jeff and I felt right at home because we knew the liturgy of the religion. Jeff, a Red Sox fan and me a Pirates fan became one with the many Cubs fans as we settled in to the familiar ball game liturgy. We cheered with the home team triumphs (We didn’t boo intensely every time Ryan Braun came to bat for the Brewers. The Cubs fans have a special dislike for Ryan’s use of steroids.) and groaned with the disappointments. Jeff and I have a ritual of our own which we incorporate into the liturgy of the game by eating a hot dog and drinking a beer in each stadium (even $7 beers).
On this night the Cubs won which gave Jeff and Me an opportunity to experience a special choral benediction Chicago Cubs style.
The fans waved white flags imprinted with a blue ‘W’ as they sang along with the recording being played over the sound system, “The Cubs Are Going to Win Today”. The chorus goes like this, “Hey Chicago what’da you say, the Cubs are going to win today, go Cubs go, go Cubs go, the Cubs are going to win today.” We were, in that moment, spiritually joined to the Cubs congregation in a communion that brought us together with fans of the past, team saints; Ernie Banks, Ryan Sandberg, Mordecia Brown, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, the long line of ball players and stadium staff, even William “Billy Goat” Sianis and his goat, Murphy.
For that moment the many were one.
See you next time.