Boy, do I miss baseball right now. I never realized, until it was gone, how much I liked having a major league season unfolding in the background of my daily life. What I mean is that I'm not one who rushes home to turn on the Braves and I can't remember the last time I sat through an entire game on TV. Most seasons, I average going to the ballpark maybe once, if at all. But I'm always aware of what the hometown team is doing.
When I'm driving, I love to tune in on the radio. There's something really neat about riding along on a bright summer day, the window of the truck rolled down and a hot breeze blowing into the cab, and listening to the leisurely pace of a ball game. Or, when leaving a late meeting at the church, to catch an inning or so before getting home, just to see if they're winning or losing that night.
Now, the powers that be are in serious discussions about how to bring it back. It sounds like we'll be watching games played in front of no fans by players who aren't allowed to sit close to each other and who won't even be showering in the clubhouse. On the road, they're encouraged to eat in their hotel rooms, not in restaurants, and they'll have their temperatures checked several times each day. And they shouldn't even think about fighting when they get mad, or about fist bumping or high-fiving when they're happy.
There'll be plenty of debates and negotiations between the owners and the players over these provisions, and many more. Much will center on money and I'm sure they'll squabble over how much testing and over player health issues. That's all worth fighting for, but if I were a player, I know where I'd draw my line in the sand.
Spitting. That's right, good, old-fashioned spitting. As in, you can't spit when you're sitting in the dugout and you're not supposed to spit sunflower seeds anywhere. I'm guessing they'll discourage spitting anywhere and anytime. Which leads me to a question.
How, exactly, do you play baseball if you can't spit? I was a mediocre second baseman for our church softball team, but I was second to none when it came to spitting. As a kid, it only took watching a couple of Braves games to learn that spitting is an indispensable part of the game. So, I perfected my technique, sometimes propelling a spew a few feet in front of me and other times spitting at my feet and then rubbing my spittle into the dusty infield dirt. We couldn't chew tobacco - it was church ball, after all - but a heaping wad of bubble gum stimulates the salivary glands to a satisfactory level of production.
Watching my sons play Little League, I quickly learned that nothing had changed from my boyhood. You put on a baseball uniform and the spit is going to start flowing. Every boy on every team they played on was a spitter first, and a pitcher, hitter, or fielder a distant second.
It crosses cultures as well. Watch a big league game. Doesn't matter from where they hail, they are going to spit. A lot. It's baseball. I'll bet the sophisticates that play for the Harvard team spit just like country boys from Middle Georgia once they step on the field.
And now they're taking it away, or at least greatly restricting it. Which begs a serious question. What is really essential for baseball? And an even more serious one, What is really essential for church?
I ask that because, in the coming weeks, we'll be taking steps toward gathering for in-person worship. We'll be required to sit apart from one another, to avoid shaking hands and hugging, to most likely wear face masks, and perhaps to even refrain from singing. We won't have Sunday school, at least for a few weeks, and there may not be a nursery for a while. It'll be different, that's for sure.
But, what's essential? Before I answer that, which won't take long, I'll make one observation. The trick is going to be to gracefully focus on what we can do, rather than on what we can't. A baseball player won't be able to high-five but no one can take away the joy of running those bases. So, I may not get to shake your hand, but I can see your face and I can hear your voice. For that, I will be grateful.
So, what's essential? Pretty simple, really. J-E-S-U-S. That's it. He's the One who said, "Where two or more gather in my name, there I am with them." He didn't mention anything about distance, or handshaking, or face masks. It's all about Him.