Okay, I am a baseball fan. I guess it started in Little League when I was ten years old. During the summer, I spent long hot afternoons shagging worn out baseballs wrapped with black electric tape and slugging with cracked bats that were held together by wood screws. On Saturdays, I tuned in to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese for the game of the week.
A few weeks ago I returned to my hometown to play in a softball game with my classmates from ’65. We are all in our mid-sixties, some are already on Medicare. I played first base and the old adrenaline showed up. We even turned a double play, which is not as difficult as it used to be since it takes so long for the runner to reach first. You can drop the ball, kick it and even roll it to first base and have a chance of getting the batter out.
When Josh Hamilton hit thirty-five home-runs in the home-run derby a couple years ago, my mother claimed him as family: “Maybe a long lost cousin,” she said, since her mother’s maiden name was Hamilton. My mother was a baseball fan. She almost never missed a televised Rangers game, even when they were on the west coast and played until 2 AM. When her vision started to fail, she chose to have cataract surgery so she could watch the game. Last year, before she died at 89, she cheered them through their first World Series.
So, I’ve been glued to the World Series this week pulling for the Rangers. I like watching them, not just for the baseball, but for the personal stories. Everyone, I guess, knows Josh Hamilton’s story, a top drafted player who hit the skids due to drugs and alcohol, then, through a faith experience with Christ and his grandmother’s love, made a comeback to major league stardom. In a way, Hamilton represents everyone who struggles with addictions and weaknesses. He says his last relapse started with the thought, “Maybe I can just drink one.” Of course, that is the way our sins always start. He learned something along the way as a follower of Jesus that has made the difference. He immediately confessed it where it needed to be confessed, to his family and to his employers
I like the way Hamilton’s teammates responded. Ian Kinsler said, “We don’t need an apology. That’s his battle. We’re here to be his friend and love him as a teammate.” It sounds a lot like the way Jesus wants His churches to work. I suppose it was the way Peter’ s friends responded when he told them about denying Jesus at the trial.
Not long ago, I picked up Mickey Mantle’s autobiography at a used books store in Terrell. According to Mantle, he always struggled with excessive drinking. Mantle did not grow up in church. He attended prayer meetings convened by his teammate Bobby Richardson for a while, but never learned “church speak.” He concludes his story by saying, “I guess we are all on the same team now … it’s even like Casey [Stengel] is running it. I might not know what he is saying all the time, but if he tells me to bunt, I’m going to bunt. If he tells me to swing away, I’m going for the fences.” The Christian life is a lot like that. We just need to listen to God like The Mick listened to Casey.