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Spring is nearly here, and that means that winter is ending. That’s perhaps the best thing spring does: it ends winter. Flowers will bloom, the sun will shine, days will get warmer and soon we will completely forget about the miserable season we all just had to endure.
And, of course, it brings back baseball.
When I think about spring training, I mostly think happy thoughts, but I also think about this depressing quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti…
“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise
Wah-wah. Giamatti, besides being Paul’s dad, was the commissioner of Major League Baseball for nearly the entire 1989 season. His leadership began on Opening Day: April 1. On August 24, he banned Pete Rose from baseball for gambling on the game. And eight days later, on September 1, he died of a heart attack.
Which, after considering the above quote, is either ironic or poetic, depending on your own personal bent.
Regardless, he’s also right.
The season begins in the spring, and anything is possible, but in the end only one team can win the World Series. That means that every fall, 29 of the 30 fan bases finish the season in despair. Whether your team lost in the World Series (Cardinals) or a Championship Series (Dodgers and Tigers) or a Division Series (Athletics, Rays, Pirates, Braves) or a miserable one-game playoff game (Cincinnati and Cleveland) or was eliminated during the regular season – by the time October is over, everyone is in the same situation…
It just wasn’t our year.
And so begins the longest, coldest, saddest time of year: the off season.
Desolation. Despair. Winter.
Something you should know about me: I hate winter. More than anything in the world. Snow skiing would probably be really fun…if it wasn’t winter. Snow would be beautiful…if it wasn’t winter. Stocking caps would be a killer fashion accessory…if their primary purpose wasn’t to keep your ears from freezing off.
Karl Barth believed that hell was a freezing cold desert. Sounds spot on to me.
I mean, winter hits a high point on Christmas Day – which, unfortunately, is only four days into the season – and then it’s a slow depressing decline into a cold and dark, ashy and pale misery until…about yesterday. Side note: this is why Groundhog Day should be celebrated more heartily every year. Shadow or no shadow, we should all be crazy about the idea that winter just might end.
Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Because under the despairing surface of winter, hope is growing. We can’t see it, and we certainly can’t feel it, but it’s slowly collecting as we inch closer to March.
Hope grows in winter.
Spring brings new beginnings. It brings warmer weather and new life. It brings greener pastures – both literally and figuratively. And spring brings baseball. And spring brings hope.
Hope abounds in spring.
Spring brings with it the new possibility that even though last year didn’t turn out exactly as we wanted, maybe this year is our year.
Suddenly, the team that lost 111 games last year (Houston) has a clean slate. And the team that ended the season 34 games out of first place (Miami) is tied for first. Everything is new. Anything is possible, and nothing has been ruined…yet.
Pitchers have a 0.00 ERA.
No errors have been recorded.
No batter has made an out.
Spring brings a new Garden, and it is flawless and unblemished.
Spring is when comments like “Is this their year?” show up on your twitter feed. And not-so-successful slogans like “Our Time” are conjured up in marketing offices somewhere. Spring is the ultimate equalizer, and while you may glance around the league and think, “Yeah, there’s no way we finish any better than 3rd in our division this year,” there is always a piece of you that is speculating. Dreaming. Hoping.
And that hopeful piece of you is asking a small simple question…
What if this is our year? What if the Royals do turn it up another notch and make the playoffs for the first time since 1985? What if the Blue Jays do somehow overcome the checkbooks of the rest of the AL East? What if Rangers do accomplish what they couldn’t in 2010 and 2011? If the Red Sox won the World Series last year after going 63-99 in 2012, maybe the White Sox can turn their 63-99 record around in the same way?
What if this is the year we win it all?
Is it ambitious and unlikely and unrealistic? For about two-thirds of the league, absolutely. But it is not out of the question. In fact, by mid-April, it could suddenly seem very realistic.
The 1981 season was shortened due to a players strike. That season, the Atlanta Braves went 50-56. Not even close to making the playoffs. Then they started the 1982 season on a 13-0 run.
In 1986, the Brewers finished 77-84, then to begin the 1987 season, they also went on a 13-0 run.
In 2003, the Royals were coming off their 7th consecutive season of losing more than 85 games. Just the year before, they had lost exactly 100 games. But then they started 9-0 and continued to climb to a 17-4 record with two days left in April.
But none of those teams won it all.
The Braves got closest of the three: they lost in the NLCS. The Brewers won 91 games but finished 3rd in the AL East. The Royals missed the playoffs too, obviously, but they celebrated a winning season for a change.
But that doesn’t mean their winter wasn’t disappointing.
Giamatti is right, the whole season is designed to break your heart. For some teams, it won’t get any better than Opening Day. For many, it won’t get any better than mid-April. And for a few, it won’t get any better than September.
And yet, today, as Spring Training is beginning, we have hope.
Why would we do that to ourselves? We all know this probably doesn’t end well. Why do we keep asking “what if”?
Because without hope, we are cemented in despair.
Because without hope, we never escape winter.
Because without hope, life is hell.
“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness.” – Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope
Because without hope, baseball feels like this…
To use theological terms, hope anticipates new creation. Hope is heaven on earth. Hope celebrates redemption and restoration and resurrection.
Hope roots for the underdog. #gorelish
Hope is why the Lorax is worth reading. #unless
Hope is why we haven’t given up on D’Angelo. #notjamesriver
Hope is why the Cubs continue to play the game of baseball. #stevebartman
Hope is why we spend so much of our life searching for meaning and answers to questions we can’t figure out. Hope is why we don’t just shrug our shoulders when things like hurricanes and tornados and tsunamis leave cities in splintered ruins or underwater.
Without hope we never move past these things. Hope gives us reason to live and thrive.
When we talk about hope, we’re talking about trusting that God is for us, and that he mourns with us, and that is working things out for our good.
When we live in hope, we are compelled to be actively involved in our world, participating in the restorative work of our Creator. We pick up the splinters and rebuild the homes and feed the hungry and comfort the widow and visit the incarcerated and clothe the naked. (Matthew 25)
“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.” – Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World
I wonder how Pete Rose feels about hope.
I do know that when Pete played the game, one of his mottos was “never be satisfied”. Always want more and always expect to get it. Play harder, work harder, run harder. Be aggressive and never stop.
When Bart Giamatti banned Pete from baseball, he banned him for life. But I still have hope that Pete’s ban will be lifted in my lifetime…maybe in his lifetime too. But most importantly, I hope Pete himself has hope.
And Giamatti, while his quote is correct, doesn’t tell the whole story. The story never ends with despair. Because hope always redeems, rebirths and resurrects.
Baseball always comes back in spring.
And hope always grows in winter.