Finding God In: Playoff Baseball

Outside of the fan bases in Boston and St. Louis, you may not realize that baseball is still being played. Yes, even in the month when the sun sets at dinner time and the occasional snow showers fly, teams are still fighting for the title of World Series champions. In the four-week quest for the title of champion, individual plays and players are placed in the spotlight like no other time of year.

Just last night, in the first game of the World Series, two such events came under scrutiny. In the first inning of the game, the umpire called a player out even though the ball had clearly been dropped. All of the umpires had to converge in order to correct the call before the excitable fans in Boston corrected them. After the game, several people who watched the game drew attention to the possibility of a foreign substance in the glove of the pitcher for Boston – a clear violation. Everything receives extra attention and it becomes time to be known as a hero or a scapegoat.

Just over two weeks ago there was a critical moment for a player named Juan Uribe. If you follow baseball as I do, you already know that name. But short of the die-hard fans, Uribe is relatively unknown. He’s made a fine career for himself by playing his role on several teams, but his career is altogether average by professional baseball standards. He’s never been the best player on his team and he’s never been asked to shoulder the weight of any team’s success. In the two seasons prior to this one, you could have fairly asserted that his career was coming to a close. He had enough experience to be valuable, but his production barely merited a place on the team.

His professional approach remained a credit to Uribe and helped to justify his position on the team. Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Uribe took on a role of mentor to those who needed it and his production began to increase as well. However, there were several players in the lineup who drew much more attention, and rightly so. Thus it came as no surprise that Uribe, in a critical position of a playoff game, was asked to bunt. For those of you who are less familiar with baseball, Uribe was asked to sacrifice himself. He did not need to get a hit, he just needed to knock the ball a few feet in front of him to advance another runner. If he could do that much, someone else would pick up the critical piece of hitting the ball in order to bring the base runner home to score.

There was only one problem: Uribe was failing. Twice he bunted the ball into foul territory. If he continued this approach and fouled off the baseball again, he would be out and the base runner would not advance. He had four chances to make it work, but none of them had gone according to plan. Now what? Well, the smart play would be to allow Uribe the freedom to swing. The team could not risk the chance of Uribe recording an out attempting to bunt. He would have to swing.

He did.

Uribe sent the ball soaring into the outfield, over the fence not to be caught – a home run! Instead of sacrificing himself, Uribe had given his team the lead. The lead held up and the Los Angeles Dodgers advanced to the next round of the playoffs. Uribe was a hero in spite of his failed attempts, in spite of his past mistakes, and in spite of his previous anonymity.

As Christ followers, we are often content to bunt. We cloak ourselves in the mantle of humility and say, “Someone else will do it.” It’s not that we are not called to humility, but far too often we have simply relabeled our doubts as “humility.” We, like the pre-restored Peter, are caught up in our past failures and mistakes. Even as we, like Peter, have a conversation with the risen Christ, we wonder why he challenges our love for him.

Maybe it’s because he has bigger plans for us. The risen Christ told Peter that he would be the rock upon which Christ would build his church. Think about that. Jesus decided to take Peter, the Jesus-denying apostle, and make him the foundation for the church. Bear in mind that there had been no “church” before this. Jesus took off the bunt sign and was letting Peter swing.

2,000 years later, all over the world, the Church remains. I would like to encourage you to stop looking at your past failures. I would like to ask you to stop expecting someone else to do it. I would like to ask you to believe, even if it seems unlikely, that Christ has big plans for you in his Kingdom. The reason he may ask you about your love for him is not just to hear where you stand, but so that he can remind you where he stands.

He loves you, and he wants you to dare to be used.

Swing away.