America needs baseball.
I know, a few guys hitting and throwing a ball will hardly solve the world’s problems. Bare minimum rosters and empty stadiums are a shell of the experience, but there’s something to the stage and heroes that makes us strive for more. They help us dream and bring us hope for tomorrow.
While Wade was playing professional baseball in the Detroit organization, it was common for fans to ask, “Who’s your Tiger?” Meaning, who is your favorite player? With whom do you most identify or admire? I believe it’s human nature for us to want to relate to larger than life characters.
I remember an electrified night at the ballpark with Wade at third base. I sat in my chairback, the rhythm of pitches and innings and walkout songs so familiar. I couldn’t help but watch the young family in front of me. Dad wore a Cabrera jersey, studied the roster, and commented on the players’ hometowns or height. Mama Bear passed out ketchup packets and napkins as three little boys juggled hotdogs and nachos with one hand in a ball glove.
“See that player?” The mother leaned over to her youngest boy and pointed to Number 22.
What would she say about Wade? Note his impressive accolades? Comment on his small town beginnings? Did she like the way he wore his socks? Could she know we just got engaged?
“Don’t ever do that.” The mom patted her boy’s ballcap. “Such a bad habit.”
The little boy jumped up to inspect the situation. What on earth was Wade doing? A quick jerk of my head and everyone’s around me caught him chewing on his dusty glove as he trotted in from the field. He winked at me as his head ducked into the dugout.
While I couldn’t help but agree with the lady, I get it. Baseball—or even athletics—isn’t for everyone. Maybe the Royal Family is more your cup of tea. Maybe you’re interested in architecture, astronauts, and/or zealous for zombie films. The point is, sold out concerts and ballgames, bestselling biographies and memoirs, they tell me something: we all long to connect and be inspired by greatness.
Sports, the arts, scientific discoveries, and so much more, these achievements unify humanity and give us hope. “Who’s your Tiger?” says something about you. Do you admire the flashy shortstop? Align yourself with the gritty catcher? Love that easy-going first basemen? We love to belong, to have a team, a family, a champion. Yet unfortunately, too often we feel excluded, isolated, unworthy, or inferior. We tear others down and find flaws in what or who never even claimed perfection. In attempts to safeguard ourselves, we become vulnerable to the highly contagious condition: hardened hearts. I can’t help but think that’s why divisions become so great…and I mean more than Yankees verses Boston. Somewhere we lose focus on (or never learn) what’s most important: loving God and loving people. We forget that the achievements of man are gifts granted by God.
America needs baseball. Give us a little scratch and spit and team-spirit to balance the sanitized scale. But it needs more than that. It needs to aspire to better things, Heavenly things. Bare minimum church services and socially distanced seating might seem like a shell of the experience, but there’s something to just being together as a faith community that makes us strive for more. Proclaiming the Word of God, participating in the sacraments, being in the presence of the Lord, these moments help us dream and bring us lasting hope.
Jesus is for everyone. He’s more than “your Tiger”—He’s the Lion and the Lamb, the Prince of Peace, our King, the Great Physician, the Alpha and Omega. He’s so much bigger than our political, doctrinal, and social divisions. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Yes, America needs Jesus.
*As originally published in the Messenger-Inquirer and Kentucky Today.