Opening day

Cubs_Flickr_verndogsThe communion of saints lurks around every corner. This afternoon in my dining room, the 1941 Boston Red Sox starring Ted Williams—some say baseball’s best hitter—are playing the ’41 Cincinnati Reds. My son and my husband, the respective managers, are locked in battle across the Sherco board baseball game that my husband’s been playing since he was 13.

Ted Williams is long dead, of course, as are many (if not all) of the players who hit, pitch, and steal bases on our dining room table. Yet they live on. This paradox is no problem for Catholics. We thrive on contradictions, mysteries; we accept the presence of the dead among the living.

Resurrection surrounds us. On our vacation to Pittsburgh last summer, we set out to find the site where the slugger Josh Gibson played for the Negro League Pittsburgh Crawfords back in the days before African Americans stormed into the majors behind Jackie Robinson in 1947. Gibson, legend has it, hit more home runs than Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron.

As we leave the old park—now a little league field with Gibson painted on the dugout—we encounter a strapping young man who asks us about our visit. Believe it or not, he says that he is Josh Gibson’s great-grandson. Sean Gibson runs a nonprofit that matches at-risk grade-schoolers with college students to tutor and mentor them. Oh, and he runs the Josh Gibson Little League at the park where his great-grandfather once played.

My husband and I started schooling our children in baseball long before they went to actual school. My son, who played baseball through high school, can tell you endless facts about the game in the 1920s. He made it his mission to singlehandedly resurrect the name of George Sisler, first baseman for the 1920s St. Louis Browns, a fearsome hitter my son discovered by playing the aforementioned board game. My daughter played in a coed league (baseball, not softball, she’d want me to add) till she was 17 and the only girl. Chicago’s Wrigley Field is one of her favorite places in the world.

Baseball excels in teaching Catholic virtues, especially the big three: faith, hope, and love. It actually has an official term called a “sacrifice.” It never ducks the big existential questions. Baseball (especially for Chicago Cubs fans) breeds loyalty and fortitude in the face of disappointments and temptations to give up. It offers moments of fervent prayer and invitations to ponder competing visions of God’s will.

“Never teach children morals,” says theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “teach them how to play baseball. That’s how you learn moral authority.” What makes the game work as a school for virtues, however, is who teaches it to you: a dad who spends hours playing catch with his daughter, focusing on the positive; a mom who invests the hours needed to teach her son how to watch a baseball game, how to recognize the selfless or selfish choices of players, how to spot the cocky rookie who won’t heed the manager and will soon be on his way to the minors—all lessons about life.

The new baseball season is upon us. And in the dining room, Ted Williams just popped up to second base, dashing his team’s hopes for a big inning. Stay tuned.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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Photo: ©Flickr/verndogs