As I type, Corey Seager is up to bat for the Dodgers. He's a NC boy from Steele Creek, down below Charlotte. I'll never forget, as a fourteen-year-old kid with big dreams, feeling on top of the world as our Senior League All Star team dominated the district tourney and headed to Steele Creek to play in the State Championship. Most unforgettable was the feeling of "the zone." Somehow, I had found favor with the baseball gods; for every appearance at the plate was something good and certain. The baseball was as big as a balloon and seemed just as slow.
We made the journey from Rutherford County to Steele Creek, and we felt like big league'rs! None of us ever had the chance before to travel and play ball, staying in hotel rooms and even celebrating our first win over the previous year's State champs with a team meal at that well-known owl restaurant with casually dressed waitresses and great wings. Our battlefield for the Senior League NC State Tournament was a pristine, perfectly groomed field. (I bet Seager played on that field.) We were used to an all-dirt infield, roughly stitched to a possibly-cut, mangy outfield, sparsely clad in grass clots that oft seemed relieved at the scratching of our metal cleats. As an outfielder on Rutherfordton's team, a good portion of success depended on knowing where the sinkholes were and learning the yard's temperament and tendencies to throw seemingly smooth ground balls at your face at the last second. And the distinguishing feature: a seven-foot-tall chain link fence, short in distance but deceiving, that was always willing to offer up a painful chest bump to the unmindful chaser of hard-hit fly balls.
All we could do was "oh" and "ah" at this field--no, this arena; no, rather, this diamond temple to the unseen pantheon (who would later display their apparent disfavor). I could see such wonder even in the eyes of our wise fifteen-year-old veteran teammates. Gone were the sinkholes and grass clots, the seven-foot chain link monster, unsure of its exact dimensions. Here before us was a geometric wonder, a perfect radius-plus-pi pouring symmetrically out of a right-angled point at plate's origin, which evidently was the cornerstone--the capstone--which served as an all-seeing eye of power; and, unlike anything a rag-tag bunch of Rutherfortonians had ever witnessed, a whole subdivision of well-to-do worshipers had built homes in this temple's vicinity in hopes of gladly offering up their firstborns for a chance at fame.
For the life of me, I still can't figure out what I had rejected; but that cornerstone became a stumbling block and prophecy eerily played out:
He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against...he will become a rock one stumbles over--a trap and snare for inhabitants...And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
Man, stumble we did. Our team lost the next two games in a row to end our 1994 summer season. My hitting streak morphed into a string of consecutive strikeouts. What was once a haply, slow-floating balloon became like some mystic particle produced in a smashing inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Each plate appearance felt like I was trying to hit a BB with a coat hanger. I had lost favor with the baseball gods.
True: I can still write of that period as if it never passed. Yet it has been 22 years...holy smokes...22 years...that's unbelievable! The heartbreak readily available at the speed of memory, though, doesn't stave off my love of the game. Rather, it fuels my fascination. It drives me to set a new lineup each day on Yahoo's Daily Fantasy Baseball format. And I usually lose because the game is that unpredictable. I watch the numbers, rack my brain over stats, and constantly watch for some key, code, or algorithm that will somehow grab hold of the chaos. But numbers are nothing more than an observation of what happened. In this sport of spontaneity, we're tempted to posit that indeed there's more than the forces of physics acting on the ball, as well as the skill of players, and allow for the possibility of angels and daemons at work in those moments worthy of Sportscenter's "Plays of the Week." Maybe one could tweak Melville's words, substituting "baseball" for "the great sperm whale":
If hereafter any highly cultured, poetic nation shall lure back to their birthright, back to the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; in the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove's high seat, the great sperm whale shall lord it.
Melville, Moby-Dick, "The Prairie,"
So maybe that's the lesson. What if it never was about whether one wins or loses? Shoot, it's probably not even about how one plays the game. The point is that WE ARE PLAYING THE GAME. Baseball may be nothing more than a practice--a discipline--through which one becomes mindful of the art form that is a human life lived. Regardless of how many innocent toddlers fall into exhibits or how many beautiful Silver Back Gorillas are sniped, this life--human life--means something to God. It means so much that we believe God in Jesus Christ demonstrated it to perfection.
Well, I've typed too long. The game's long over. I missed it. But there'll be another game tomorrow.