Saturday, September 13, 2008

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

The weather is starting to turn a bit. Some colors other than green are appearing on the leaves. There can be just a bit of a bite, well maybe just a nibble, in the air at night. On our trip to Maine two weeks ago, we actually found ourselves wearing long pants and fleece jackets as we walked down Congress Street in Portland early one evening on Labor Day weekend. But summer didn't feel over because our destination was Hadlock Field, home of the Portland SeaDogs, and we were going to watch baseball.

Never much of a church-going person, baseball might be the closest thing to an organized religion in my life – the "Church of Baseball" if I may steal a phrase from Annie Savoy. I look forward to it all winter then soak it in throughout the spring, summer, and fall and then immediately return to waiting for it start again. I love it. Not in a stat freak or trivia sort of way – but in "a good game of baseball is a thing of beauty to watch" sort of way. I love to play it, I love to watch it, and there's no other game that transports me in the same way.

Football is fun – an entertainment on Sundays broken up by commercials and punctuated by groans and shouts as the players smash into one another (there's a reason military phrases lend themselves to football and it might be the only sport that can lead my mother to scream "take his head off" as happened during last year's Super Bowl). But baseball, well that's a sport that lends itself to a cool late August evening watching the players who dream of making the big leagues on that broad swath of green. And for me, my favorite place to watch a game isn't Fenway or even in a truly fantastic newer stadium like Camden Yards in Baltimore. Sure, the major league game is fun and the skill level on display can take your breath away but baseball is an intimate game and it's hard to feel that intimacy, to be transported when you're in a modern cathedral.

And that's what major league stadiums are – cathedrals where 45,000 people come to cheer and sob and celebrate. They can be awe-inspiring – watch Dennis Quaid's face when he enters The Ballpark at Arlington at the conclusion of The Rookie and in his face you'll see the reflection of every kid when they come up the walkways from the concourses and see that brilliant green field and the lights and the crowds for the very first time. But it's so big and so overwhelming that you can get lost in it, that the game can almost get lost in it as you sit and cheer and worship with the masses.

The view from the outfield bleachers at Fenway

For some, that's the joy of baseball and I can appreciate it the same way I can appreciate Westminster Abbey in London. But when it comes right down to it, I'm drawn instead to the smaller, plainer, more humble churches that dot the New England landscape and to smaller ballparks when I really want to lose myself in the game and the atmosphere.

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