Today is Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.
I have been at least a casual baseball fan for much of my life (and by “casual,” I mean that I’ve always been at least nominally a Red Sox fan), but I really fell in love with the game about ten years ago, when I moved to Boston. There are a number of aspects of baseball that appeal to me. I love the history of the game; it is humbling to know that some MLB franchises have been playing since the Gilded Age. I love the liturgy of the game; there is something very comforting about the unnecessarily detailed rules that are a central part of the game, like this unnecessary and beautiful ritual: whenever a pitching change is made, the manager walks all the way out to the mound, takes the ball from the pitcher, and hands it to the reliever. I love the pace of the game; baseball is the athletic equivalent of Sabbath: it encourages us to slow down in the midst of our busy lives and experience the wonder of life.
The main reason I love baseball as much as a I do, however, is how well the sport embraces failure. There are 162 games in the Major League Baseball season. The Boston Red Sox, who were the World Series champions last year, won 97 of these 162 regular season games. In spite of the fact that they lost 65 games, they were crowned as the best team in baseball. Even more dramatic is the fact that Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in history, had a single-season batting average of .406. This means that in his best season, Teddy Ballgame himself was unsuccessful at the plate almost 60 percent of the time. The best hitters playing today tend to have batting averages around .300, which means that they fail 70 percent of the time. Baseball players and fans know how to deal with failure. And this shapes the way that baseball fans look at the world, especially on Opening Day. Every team begins the season with a mathematically equal chance of going to the playoffs, and even fans of historically bad teams hold on to this hope. In spite of past failures, we always know that there is a possibility for redemption. For baseball fans, the past does not dictate the future; instead, the future is shaped by boundless possibility.
I think the same can be said of the Christian life. At its best, the Church is deeply aware of the reality of human failure, of the fact that sin is part of the human condition. At the same time, the Christian community is also deeply aware that in spite of our human failings, there is always a possibility for transformation. Paul tells us that Christ reconciled us to God while we were yet sinners. God was aware of our human frailty, and held out the hope of redemption in spite of our inability to recognize God’s love. We must remember that in the Church, the past does not dictate the future; instead, our future is shaped by the boundless possibilities available to us when we ground our life in God.