The good news is that we are going to have Major League Baseball this year. The owners and players finally figured out how to divvy up a gazillion dollars so as to make everyone involved at least a little bit happy. I'm pretty sure most folks could find a measure of joy in a job guaranteeing a starting salary of $700,000 per year. And, I suspect we'd be thrilled to own a company that can afford such a minimum while also paying people in excess of $25 million. All for playing a game.
Really, I'm very happy about it. I'm a Braves fan, which means I want to see the hometown team defend their World Series title and earn themselves another championship ring. I can't wait to look up the box scores and about July, to start figuring out the magic number for the Braves. Let's just skip Spring Training and jump right to the real games.
My happiness is tempered, however, by the fact that I fear they let themselves get focused on the piles of cash and overlooked the real issues. I won't burden you with statistics and numbers here, but baseball has several problems looming that I believe threaten the game. In short, the games are way too long, way too slow, and, quite honestly, way too boring.
Major League games routinely last over three hours, often stretching beyond three and a half and even reaching four. That's for a regular nine inning game, not one that goes to extra innings. It's gotten so bad that I literally heard last year that a former player suggested the powers that be may need to consider making the games only last seven innings.
Why do games last so long? Television, with its incessant commercials, is one reason. Throw in instant replay reviews for close plays and you're adding even more minutes. Managers trading out pitchers is another. Pitchers and batters fidgeting and wiggling, scratching and pawing the dirt between every pitch tacks on seconds. Have you noticed how many batters have to adjust their batting gloves after every pitch? Even when they didn't swing the bat? Time, time, time - it all adds up.
And that leads to another problem - the pace of a game is about like watching grass grow. It drags and drags and drags.
Then, something exciting happens and half the fans celebrate and the other sink in sheer agony. WAIT! Everybody take your seats and chill out while somebody somewhere reviews the play from every angle and determines if the guy really did score the run. Do that once and it's a pregnant pause. Do it more often than that and it kills the flow of the game.
And, then, the managers snatch pitchers out even when they're pitching good. The reason? Somebody, likely with about as much baseball talent as me - ZERO - started playing around on a computer and came up with some statistic that says batters have an advantage if they face a pitcher more than twice in a game. So, out goes the pitcher. Plus, they decided the pitchers' arms will fall off if they throw too many pitches. After the fifth or sixth inning, you'll likely watch a new pitcher every inning. Sometimes more, if the hitters start whacking it. Slow and dull, that's what it too often adds up to.
Last year, I watched one entire game - the last game of the World Series. Other than that, I listened on the radio - only for a few minutes at the time - or I checked the score on my phone or computer. I could catch the highlights the day after without having to suffer through the commercials, the reviews, the scratching and fidgeting. I haven't been to a Big League game in several years but, if I do attend one, I'll have my phone fully charged so I can keep myself occupied. I don't want to wind up on the big Jumbotron with a whole stadium watching drool run down my chin.
Here's the point for us believers in Christ - I worry that we in Christ's Church too often do exactly what the folks in charge of Major League Baseball have done. That is, we get caught up in things that are not really essential and don't focus our attention on the main thing, which is being faithful to Christ and offering His message of love, forgiveness, grace, repentance, and salvation to a hurting and dying world.
We can spend hours debating the style of music or what the preacher should wear or whether we call it Sunday school, Church school, or Life Groups. We tweak the schedule, dim the lights, adjust the volume, shorten the sermon, purchase different coffee, and give the preacher a cool title like "Lead Pastor" or "Head Visionary." We add more activities, develop more programs, and keep ourselves really, really busy. And to what avail?
Consider this. Ryan Burge, a noted sociologist who specializes in religious research, contends, "There is no birth cohort that is more religious today than it was 12 years ago." Put another way - we're losing people of all ages and we're not doing a good job of reaching new ones. With all the new churches, all the growth and expansion, all the megachurches and the innovative ministries in homes and coffee shops and tattoo parlors, we're still losing ground. And with all the churchy stuff we do at our nice, established congregations, still the world is tuning us out.
It's sad to think of Major League Baseball losing its way. It's heart-breaking, and tragic, for the Church to do the same. After all, souls are precious to God and eternity is a long, long time.