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Baseball: A Signal of Transcendence?

The New York Times reports today on its front page of a course offered at New York University by that venerable institution's President, Dr. John Sexton. The course is entitled, "Baseball as a Road to God."Here is a profile of the professor-president:

As the president of N.Y.U., Dr. Sexton could certainly teach any course he wanted. And as the former dean of its law school and clerk to a chief justice of the United States, he might have been expected to hold forth on jurisprudence. However, as a child of Brooklyn, as a scholar whose academic robe bears the number 42 in homage to Jackie Robinson, and as a practicing Catholic with a doctoral degree in religion, Dr. Sexton has for more than a dozen years chosen baseball and God as his professorial focus.

And, as they say in the pastoral fields of academe, here are the course's objectives and desired outcomes:

The real idea of the course, he put it in an interview, is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseballs not the road to God. For most of us, it isnt a road to God. But its a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being.

However, leave it to the Times to inject a discordant note into this otherwise bucolic baseball idyll:

Dr. Sextons own baseball career peaked as an all-star catcher in the Bnai Brith Little League in the Rockaways Billy Ryan and I broke the religion line, we were the first two goyim and included being in a third-floor classroom in high school when a teenage Joe Torre broke the window with a home run from an adjacent ballfield. Over the passing decades, Dr. Sexton adapted to the Dodgers departure from Brooklyn by joining his son in rooting for the Yankees. Whether such a transfer of devotion constitutes heresy is a question, perhaps, for the magisterium.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Glad to see the author mentions the great Robert N. Bellah, author of Religion in Human Evolution. great book -- about baseball -- is Calico Joe, by Robert Grisham. Just gulped it down the other evening.

If New York is anything like Chicago, I don't think raising such a question to the level of heresy is discordant. This is serious stuff. I say this as a White Sox fan that emigrated to the North Side of Chicago.However, I do think the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should get on this ASAP. The guy is a notable Catholic and it sounds like he's engaging in one of those exploratory thought processes with which the LCWR likes to dally. He clearly deserves a correction.

They say football might be more popular now but that does not feel right. While I enjoy football it cannot compare to baseball. Spring without baseball is apostasy not to mention depression. This is why baseball officials got on their knees after the strike (a baseball strike is heresy) and catered to fans. Players, whereas previously, they generally ignored fans, easily and eagerly gave signatures. Even a Yankee fan could smile as the hated Red Sox old timers filled Fenway Park on its hundredth anniversary. At least for Americans, on the eighth day God created baseball. The open air, the green fields, Springtime! Hope, good will and romance are in the air. Everybody looks beautiful. Is it or is it not a taste of heaven?

A great novel, with a theological bent, with baseball as a major part is David James Duncan's The Brothers K. I heartily recommend it.

I was an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan as a child, but they always seemed models not so much of transcendence as of patience in adversity. Well, until 1955, the glorious Year of Redemption, when led by Blessed Johnny Podres, dem Bums finally made it all the way to the top of the mountain.I suppose I really should make the Y, the R, and the first B in the last sentence lowercase, lest anyone accuse me of Profane Analogy by Capitalization Error (PACE). But emboldened, or perhaps disemmeekened, by thoughts of Ebbets Field and of Pee Wee, Gil, Jackie, Billy, Roy, Duke, and all of them, I say, "Bring it on!"

Well, Dr. Sexton's Yankees (and mine) were transcendent today in coming back late in the game from a 9-0 deficit to beat their arch rival, the Red Sox, 15-9. And the 21st perfect game in major league history was pitched today by White Sox pitcher Philip Humber. Jeanne Follman and Grant Gallicho are no doubt experiencing the "specialness of and ...being" that Dr. Sexton believes baseball can induce. ;)

If God exists, how could He allow the Red Sox to go down to ignominious defeat on Fenway's 100th birthday? Perhaps this is where we must resort to Original Sin for an explanation.I agree with Bill Mazella that God created baseball. But I also firmly believe that he meant there to be only two major leagues, each with only eight teams, and that the World Series was to be decided within the triangle formed by Boston, Washington, and St. Louis. That's the way it was when I was growing up, rooting for my two 8th place teams in Philadelphia. And that's the way Tradition teaches that the game should be played.

Nicholas,Tradition also teaches that the "October Classic" should end in, well, October!

For the Red Sox, that would of course be the Original Sin of trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The fans thought it was expiated a few years ago when their team won the Series. But no, there is no baptism for that enormity.

Thank goodness! Like so many, I suppose, I figured baseball was created in order for aging fellows like myself to find little loss of masculinity from the occassional nap while avidly "participating" in a remarkable sport. Way too difficult with football, basketball or hocky. Now I know it has an even grander purpose!

My favourite memories are sitting with my grandfather at his country home in the evening where he loved to listen to the baseball game on the radio. A calm presence comes over me every time I hear the announcer on tv or radio say something like, "bottom of the sixth, runners on seventh, a ball and a strike, And here's the pitch....ball 3..." Then some running commentary on the players stats or background.It is a calming meditative sport to watch which is probably why I usually nap if it is on in the afternoon and I happen to be watching (but that is an homage to my grandfather too :))

Gentlemen, I agree that there is something exceedingly pleasant about drifting off to sleep on a Sunday afternoon with the ball game on the radio.

Should the October classic end in October? Perhaps those who direct the game are secret believers i climate change, and look forward to what might become the "Christmas classic," as the deciding game will be played on December 25th, before a shirt-sleeved crowd at Yankee Stadium (that locus will presumably never change).

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