The Church Of Baseball – By David Larson
When I was a student at NYU I took a class called “Baseball as a road to God,” taught by the president of the university, John Sexton. I recall thinking that it must be good to be king, getting to teach classes with titles like that.
I had to write an essay to even get into the class because there were only about a dozen students admitted, and there were plenty of kids who wished to get in the good graces of the president, who used to be the dean of the law school. A letter of recommendation from John Sexton pretty much meant an entry into anywhere one wanted to go.
But I wasn’t interested in law school. I just loved baseball. Like many other kids, I grew up worshipping at the altar of baseball, collecting cards, memorizing stats of my favorite players, reading books about the old greats like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays. Although I stopped paying much attention to it after the strike of ’94, feeling disillusioned and heartbroken, I still carried a love for the game itself. There was a purity to it – its circularity, its history, its myths and legends. Furthermore, I always loved that the eventual goal, was “home.”
Before our first day of class we had to read two books, one about baseball, the other about theology, and write a paper – with no prompt or specifications. The lack of structure made the law kids nervous, but it made plenty of sense to me, so I ran with it.
While flipping through pages in the two books I noticed the numbers three and four quite a bit. From the Vatican with its Trinity, to some obscure tribe in Papua New Guinea, there appeared to be a lot of significance attached to the numbers three and four. In baseball, there are three strikes and three outs, four bases and four balls.
That felt like a stretch to me, so I dug further. What about the number nine? Nine players, nine innings. Baseball is a game of threes, fours and nines.
I looked into it. At the time, there were nine planets in the solar system (I obstinately refuse to let Pluto go); also, a woman is pregnant nine months and a cat has nine lives. There are nine muses in Greek mythology, nine Telchines, or sea beasts, in Norse Mythology. Nine levels of hell in Mayan lore. Nines existed across the latitudes and longitudes of the world, in cultures that had never been in contact.
Still, I felt that this could all very easily be coincidental. I needed more for it to be a compelling connection. So I crunched the numbers: 3x4x9 = 108.
As it turns out, there are 108 Taoist Heavens, 108 beads on a Catholic Rosary and 108 beads on a Buddhist Mala. Also, 108 is said to be the number that somehow unlocks the Zodiac calendar. The kicker, though, is this: there are 108 stitches on a baseball.
This goes nicely in tandem with baseball in the abstract. For example, although most homerun fences are around 400 feet at center field, there is no rule saying that it has to be. All parks are different. The homerun fence could be a mile away if its builder so chose. And although games are slated for nine innings, there is no time limit. In theory, a game could go on forever.
But there are also strict rules and regulations in baseball; it’s not all approximations. The bases are exactly 90 feet apart, the pitcher’s rubber is 60 ft. 6 in. from home plate. The grass is carefully manicured to precisely one inch. These are all constants, like that of gravity. And it’s this constant nature, in combination with the boundlessness of space/time that so aptly makes baseball an allegory for the cosmos. The numerology aspect of it fits in nicely with the abstract. And there are few things one can get 50 million Americans, not to mention the Japanese, to agree on. They all love baseball.
So, a baseball stadium could be The Cathedral of Segovia. Peanuts and cracker jacks and beer are the body and blood of Christ. The ushers are altar boys and the home plate umpire is the the priest. He yell’s “Play ball!” and the players enact a kind of loose ritual in a never-ending search for home.
And it’s good.
Well, it’s just an idea. Numerology and metaphor are fairly pliable concepts; it’s easy to make them mean something if you want to believe in it. Kind of like religion. Whatever the case, I like the Church of Baseball more than any of the rest. I only wish L. Ron Hubbard wrote about baseball instead of dianetics. I think we’d all like Tom Cruise a little more if he was a die-hard baseball fan instead of a raving Scientologist.
But whatever, I got an A on that paper.
So, the season has begun and this believer is soon to bust out his hymnal for a spirited rendition of the old classic:
Take me out to the ball game.
About the author:
David Larson grew up in Eugene, Oregon and studied Spanish and Arabic at New York University. He currently tends bar in New Orleans and, sometimes, he writes.
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