Baseball is like life: It isn’t over until it’s over. No matter how dark the prospects, it isn’t over until our breath leaves us. There is always time for redemption, an unexpected blessing, forgiveness or to just say “I love you.”
Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,
I had to make my way to northern Virginia to work on some business regarding a will that I was made the executor of, a task that I loathe and have put off for longer than is prudent. To put some joy into the trip, I decided to take you two along (just the three of us!) and make it a bit of an adventure.
We began our trip by driving up to Baltimore so that you could attend your first Major League Baseball game. The Orioles were hosting the Los Angeles Angels and I was able to get us some reasonable seats not far from first base. The pitching was pretty terrible, but that made for an exciting game for a new fan: You saw two home runs, two doubles, a triple, an error and some of the best fielding I’ve ever seen in any baseball game. Mary Ellen seemed to enjoy the spectacle immensely; she really got into understanding the stats and even kept a close eye on the bullpen for when a new pitcher started warming up. She also seemed to appreciate that we were out of direct danger from foul balls (she resolved to bring a helmet to her next game). Alexandria was a bit less enthusiastic, but she was a good sport anyhow. By the time you girls are reading this, I doubt very much that she has become a fan.
At any rate, the O’s won. Mary Ellen even got to run the bases at Camden Yards. My jealousy knows no bounds.
It isn’t that I am much of a fan, either. Baseball, though, is a connection to some of my most sacred memories. I used to go to Orioles games with Granny and Pa (Gigi and Pa to you) at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium when I was a kid. We always sat in the same seats along the third base line. Pa would always make a great effort at keeping the line scores in his program like the accountant that he was. Granny would sit stationary, with the exception of the seventh inning stretch, eating peanuts slowly from a paper bag and sipping at a beer. She would do the same thing in front of the television at home; I think baseball was a connection to her past as much as it is a connection for me to mine. I would sit between them, awed by the spectacle of the fans and the grass and the crack of the bat and the hot dogs that would appear magically in my lap.
There were life lessons at those games, too. One game in particular stands out in my memory: An evening game under the lights with the Orioles pitted against the White Sox. The evening began with dinner in the bullpen as a special event for Johns Hopkins University graduates of Pa’s generation. That in itself was an amazing time; I met all the greats whose names will likely mean nothing to you: Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken (the senior), Cal Ripken (the junior) and even Frank Robinson. I got to watch batting practice, chasing down balls that were hit over the bullpen fence (I still have one of those balls). It was a magical experience for a boy.
The game itself didn’t go quite so well. The Orioles remained behind during most of the game and the White Sox hitters were dominating the pitching staff. The stadium began to empty during the seventh inning stretch. At the top of the ninth inning, the score was 6-3. The whole park was quiet and a bit morose. I was getting itchy to leave. I asked Granny if we should follow everyone else’s lead and go ahead and call it a night. She looked at me with a slightly disappointed look, then looked at the people leaving through squinted eyes and said, “It isn’t over until it’s over.”
In the bottom of the ninth inning, there was a faint glimmer of hope. The first two Orioles’ batters struck out, but then one hit a solid single. Then the Sox walked Ripken. Eddie Murray’s powerful swing batted in one run and put runners on first and second. Now it was 6-4. The park was now half empty, but the fans still present were so quiet that you could hear conversations on the field.
Freddie Lynn came up to bat. He swung twice, racking up two strikes. Then, a ball. On what could have been the very last pitch of the game, Lynn hit an opposite-field drive that just barely cleared the left field fence. Memorial Stadium went crazy as if it was packed to capacity and the even the floor vibrated with energy. I began jumping up and down, cheering to the best of my eleven year old ability. That is when I looked to my right at Granny; she was still sitting where she’d been since the seventh inning stretch, holding her ubiquitous bag of peanuts and cup of beer. She turned to her head to look at me, winked, and with a smile on her face she said, “See? I told you it wasn’t over.” Then she went right back to finishing a freshly opened peanut and sipping her beer.
It is never over, girls. No matter how dark the prospects, it isn’t over until our breath leaves us. There is always time for redemption, an unexpected blessing, forgiveness or to just say “I love you.” I wish I could say that I truly understood that for all of the days I’ve spent on this planet. I wish I could say that I truly embrace that fact now. But that is how God works, I think. We find ourselves in all sorts of terrible situations, but when we are alert for God’s grace He has a way of showing us that there is some peace on the other side of the storm.
“See? I told you it wasn’t over,” Granny said.
And so it isn’t. Christ died on the cross and was resurrected to prove that very fact.