Baseball for Sabbatarians

With the completion of the 2018 season, an old article from the Nicotine Theological Journal (October 2007) on fans, pennant races, and keeping the Lord’s Day holy (and an excuse for an image of Mr. Utley):

NTJ Diarist: Day of Stress and Worry

It seems a distant memory now. But the last Lord’s Day of the 2007 Major League Baseball season created great conflict for the NTJ’s editors. Each of us grew up rooting for either the Mets or the Phillies. We are also committed to sanctifying the Sabbath. Consequently, the prospects of the Eastern Division’s title being settled on a day reserved for rest and worship generated considerable soul searching and much distraction by earthly and perishable things.

What follows is a confession of the editors’ unsuccessful efforts to keep September 30th holy. (The Phillies’ fan’s account is in bold for the victor’s emphasis.)

September 29, 4:35 pm: I was prepared to give up on the Metropolitans the night before. As their home losing streak extended to five games, they surrendered first place at last to the Phillies. Still I followed this afternoon’s game on the Internet, and, remarkably, John Maine came within a few outs of the first no-hitter in Mets history. The 13-0 shellacking of the hapless Marlins, combined with the Phillies loss, virtually wiped clean weeks of futility. We were tied again, and the Mets had their mojo back.

6:45 pm: I have a bad feeling of foreboding as I go out for the annual progressive supper on our block in Philadelphia. Could it be that the Phillies’ rise to first place yesterday is only setting us up for an even more depressing defeat tomorrow, the perfect way to cap a season in which they achieved 10,000 losses? The team looked bad today in their 4-2 loss to Washington. Thankfully, the neighbors bring lots of wine and don’t talk much about sports. Avoidance mixed with a buzz is bliss.

September 30, 8:30 am: Does God hear the prayers of the not-so-righteous? I am hoping and praying for discipline to concentrate on today’s services and sermons. But I can’t help think how great it will be if the Phillies actually surpass the Mets and win the division. I am also hoping that the season ends today. A playoff game tomorrow will be agonizing.

10:30 am: A sermon on Christ the resurrected King prompts my mind to drift. Is it impious to employ the resurrection as a metaphor for this horrible month? Will the Mets’ September humiliation yield to their October exaltation? That’s an inviting way to frame the narrative, and it pleases me to imagine how it will silence the obnoxious swagger of Phillies fans.

11:40 am: The pastor is preaching from the Beatitudes and I am doing my best not to think about the game this afternoon. But the notion that those who mourn are blessed gives me a perfect retort to gloating Mets fans should they win. The mourning Phillies fans would seem to qualify as those deserving of the Lord’s blessing. Even so, such a benediction doesn’t bring needed consolation.

2:30 pm: Before an afternoon nap I need to return an email about an ecclesiastical matter, surely a work of necessity. The problem is that I must get to my webmail via my homepage, which is the web page of Sports Illustrated. I am careful to pass over it quickly with barely a glance. All I remember seeing is a reference to the “Miracle Mets.” Oh yeah. 1969 . . . 1986 . . . and now, 2007.

3:05 pm: It suddenly dawns on me: did not refer to the “Miracle Mets.” It said something like, “Mets need a Miracle at Shea.” Hmm. That’s a strange way to overstate the challenge. All we need today is the ordinary providence of Beltran’s bat, Glavine’s arm, and Reyes’ speed. So why the miracle talk?

3:20 pm: Overcome with confusion, I go back to, which now features a photo of a forlorn Tom Glavine. I read where the Marlins scored seven runs off the future Hall-of-Famer in the first inning. SEVEN: the number of fullness and completeness and, well, Sabbath. It’s over. There will be no miracle today. I sense no impulse to check the Phillies score.

4:20 pm: My wife and I are out on our Sabbath stroll through the neighborhood and I am searching for signs of the outcome of the game at Citizens Bank Park. I am worried. I see no little pennants mounted on cars to show allegiance to the victors. I also hear no shouts or honking of horns. The town is way too quiet. I am preparing to find another team for which to root – too bad the Eagles only play on the Lord’s Day.

5:25 pm: I am tempted to check the score at one of the baseball websites so that I can concentrate better during the evening service. I resist temptation.

6:40 pm: Godliness, the seminary intern instructs the flock in the evening sermon, is manifested in obedience to God’s command. I suppose that includes the fourth commandment. I fall under conviction and take at least a measure of comfort in considering that I will not face a trial like this next week. Not with the way the Jets are playing.

7:10 pm: I stand with the pastor at the back door to greet exiting worshipers. While talking to the pastor I learn that one of the families in the church was celebrating the Phillies’ win in such a lively manner that the pastor and his wife heard the revelry from a few doors down the street. I am stunned. The Phillies have at least tied for the division.

8:15 pm: I begin to pack for a trip, oddly enough, to Philadelphia. I cringe at the satisfaction my friends will enact. I flee, where I have in the past, to the Psalms: “You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us – a laughing stock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.”

8:45 pm: I finally give in to temptation and check the Internet for scores. I justify this by observing that the sun is officially and Pharisaically down. There I read the staggering news that the Mets also lost. I can barely believe the results. The Phillies were 7 games out with two weeks to go. They did not merely make the playoffs as the wild card team, but won the division outright. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


Make My Joy Complete?

After last night’s Phillies’ 1-0 victory over the Braves — their tenth in-a-row — it is hard not to feel down-right gleeful as a Phillies fan. Not only have the Phils seemed to work out many kinks from an injury ridden season and a poor first half, but they are doing this without Jimmy Rollins who was 2007 MVP of the National League. (Does Phil’s GM Reuben Amaro get enough credit for acquiring Wilson Valdez, even while receiving accolades for picking up Roy Oswald to make up for the indiscretion of giving up Cliff Lee?)

The problem with my joy is that it comes with knowledge of friends’ grief. Back in 2008 when the Phils won it all, they owed part of their success to the Met’s failure. Granted, the Metropolitans’ September ’08 performance was not as bad as 2007 when the Phils came from 7 1/2 games back to win the division (and then get crushed by the Rockies in the first round). But the Mets did have a 3 1/2 game lead in 2008 with three weeks to go. Normally, a Philadelphia fan gets a huge kick from seeing the home team win and any New York team lose — yes, Philadelphia does not always wear its inferiority complex with aplomb — who does? But in this case, my sidekick at Old Life is a Mets fan. So I couldn’t celebrate as heartily as I wanted because I could well imagine some of John Muether’s pain. By the way, one way I have found to like Mets fans — it is very hard, after all — is to remember that these are New Yorkers who decided not to root for the Yankees. That makes their value go way up.

This year the Metropolitans have not been a factor since the All-Star game, so my mirth could find outlets even in the company of Mr. Muether. But now comes my empathy for a friend who is a fairly strong Braves fan. He will remain nameless, but knowing his own hopes for the Braves and how the Phils may have seriously hurt Atlanta’s chance to make the playoffs, my step today has been a little heavier than it would be if say the Phils had just swept Blue Jays. (Does Canada even deserve a baseball franchise? Why not Canadian baseball with only 2 outs per inning and bases 100 meters apart?)

It may be a stretch, but I find an analogy here in the realm of debates about 2k. The opponents appear to be very quick and ready to celebrate apparent contradictions, failure to answer questions, and departures from Reformed worthies. The spirit that informs anti-modern 2k proponents is one of a Philadelphia fan after an Eagles defeat of the New York Football Giants — strident and ungracious. I am not one to play the 1 Cor. 13 card. Sometimes debate gets personal and feelings get hurt. It comes with the territory and certainly the blogosphere encourages bluster. But I cannot figure out why anti-2k folks feel the urge not only to win but to subject the other side to humiliation.

Of course, they haven’t won any more than another Phillies pennant will somehow make up for the losingest franchise in professional sports history.