The Love of the Game
Listen to “The Love of the Game” by Fred Smith
What is it about baseball? I’ve patiently sat through a few games and, honestly, I’ve never understood the attraction. I’ve read books on the game (mostly during the game) and tried my best to capture the excitement George Will feels when he writes, “Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals.” Surely, if someone as acerbic as George Will gets emotional about baseball then I should find some stirring in my own soul. I never have.
My son-in-law Terry loves baseball. He played in college and now coaches. When we go to Kerrville to visit the family, I read the sports page on our way so I will not sound as ignorant about baseball as I really am. Sometimes I’ll say, “How about them Cowboys!” just for fun.
Terry and I traveled together to the Dominican Republic to visit schools in Santiago and microfinance sites near Santo Domingo. It was his first time to the DR and he went with me partly because the country produces some of the finest ballplayers in the sport. We also had the opportunity to visit the community center that former Boston Red Sox star Pedro Martinez and his wife, Carolina, have built for kids there.
The story I am going to tell is not a lesson to be learned or sermon to be preached, nor is it a cure for poverty or a grand strategy. It is a snapshot, a moment that lasted 20 minutes but has stayed with all of us who were there to see it.
We were standing on a dirt road outside a small store started with a microloan when a scuffed-up baseball rolled to a stop next to Terry’s feet. He glanced down and then looked to see where it came from. There was a teenage boy with a glove standing about 60 feet away, which as it turns out is the distance between a pitcher’s mound and home plate.
One of the women in our group picked up the ball, handed it to Terry and said, “Throw it back.” He did and that’s when the magic began.
Terry was handed a worn glove. They started with a few slow pitches but soon began throwing harder. Taking cues from each other in the language of the sport, Terry started signaling for different pitches: sliders, curve balls, fast balls and change-ups. The kid knew exactly what to do without a word being exchanged ̶ just signs.
The whole group was mesmerized. There was a brief suspension of everything else we had come to do and learn. There was nothing charitable about it. No one said a word about how gracious Terry was or how blessed the kid was for the attention. We were watching two people in love with a sport. I was seeing for the first time why people love baseball. How could I have missed that?
C.S Lewis wrote about this kind of love: phileo. It is that love between people when sharing a deep common interest but it’s not being in love with each other. “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too?’” It’s a discovery and a surprise.
I can’t think of a better way to describe what we watched that afternoon. It was a delight to see two amateurs, which literally means “those who do it for the love of it.” What drew them together was their love of the game.
On the last evening of the trip, our group took some time to talk about what had been our high points of the week. You already know what mine was but, surprisingly, it was not just me. Others felt the same.
Someone said, “The moment when Terry threw the ball back and then put on the glove was the perfect picture of what we want to do here. We want to be amateurs who share a mutual love for the game – the game of building something together.”
Years ago Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, pulled me up short when I told him I loved Habitat’s mission of building houses. He said, “That’s not our mission. That’s our means. Our mission is building partnerships with God’s people and we use houses to do that.”
Terry understood this instinctively because he not only loves baseball but is also a great coach. He saw a kid with a gift and by simply playing his natural part pulled all of us into the game.
Art by Edward Laning
This is an excerpt from “Where The Light Divides”