That’s Baseball and That’s Grace
|March 7, 2013||Filled under Grace-Filled People|
Opening day of baseball is one of my favorite days of the year, and it’s only three weeks away!
I can remember sneaking a pocket transistor radio with the cord of one of those old, bulky plastic earplugs strung up under my shirt (my kingdom for an iPod back then), into school so that I wouldn’t miss Detroit’s infamous announcer, Ernie Harwell, call the first Tiger game of the year.
When the Hall of Fame broadcaster passed away in 2010, a poem that he wrote back in 1955 was replayed over and over on several sports and regular news stations. Ernie – and I’m not being disrespectful by mentioning him only by his first name since, being from Michigan, we all just knew who you were talking about when you said “Ernie” – was fond of telling the following:
“I sat down and wrote a little definition of baseball to express my feelings about this greatest game of all. And I know that a lot of things have changed since then…but my feelings about the game are still the same as they were back then and I think that maybe yours are too.”
He then recited the following poem, simply entitled, “That’s Baseball”:
Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his 714 home runs.
There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.
Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.
Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.
Baseball is just a game, as simple as a ball and bat, yet as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.
Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World’s Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying., “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front”, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.
Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball!
Because we are nearing the opening of baseball season once again, and I miss that golden Hall of Fame voice, I am proud to honor Ernie with a poem I wrote called, “That’s Grace,” its prose based on Ernie’s own immortal soliloquy. I believe Ernie would approve, because when he found out he was diagnosed with an inoperable form of cancer he was quoted as saying, “Whatever happens, I’m ready for it. I have a great faith in God and Jesus.”
So for Ernie and all who knew and loved him, “That’s Grace” is for you:
Grace is the sun rising to announce a new day, the smell of coffee wafting through the air. An elderly man folds his hands in prayer before stepping out of bed. That’s grace. And so is the giggle of a child being tickled awake by his father.
There’s a man in Cleveland who can’t remember how to tie his shoes, but can tell his grand-kids stories of his military service. That’s grace. So is the Baseball Hall of Famer who comes to mind when a writer needs some inspiration.
Grace is a powerful example of hope amongst heartache, faith within reach. A series of wonders. Every utterance a prayer. Every instance, every gift given is accepted and revered, or denounced as coincidence. And then becomes a memory.
In grace we are all equally portioned. The only race that matters is the human race. The Bible is the rulebook. Color merely something to help extol the wonders of diversity.
Grace is the new believer. His experience no bigger than one memorized scripture passage as he begins his journey of faith. It’s a pastor too, a committed disciple that prays for wisdom as he tries, yet again, to corral a flock of lost sheep. Grace is given the moniker of “religious nonsense” but we freely exclaim, “Thank God,” for some reason.
Grace is the tear in the new mother’s eye. The astonished face of a first-time father, a proud grandfather’s hand in his own.
Grace is nothing short of a favor, as free and uninhibited as a home run baseball, yet as complex as you wish to characterize it. A gift, an invitation and sometimes even a release.
Why the fairytale of George Bailey realizing his life does matter after all. And then running through the streets as if he had never seen so much beauty and value in the world. That’s grace. So is the hope exclaimed by the Katrina survivor saying, “God will see us through this.”
Grace is messy first drafts, cherished photos recovered from a fire, a happy ending, “Honey, I’m Home”, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Grace is a timid little tomboy from Michigan growing up a writer and praising the Lord for showing her the way to tell stories from the heart. This is a gift for the world. Forever a gift for the world, this grace!
God Bless America! Play ball!