Little else can bring as much excitement to rabid baseball fans than a day at the ball park. The home team has a new pitcher set to take the mound, and the opposing team has an unbeaten record. The sun is out, the peanuts are salty, and the hotdogs are smothered in spicy mustard. It is baseball season, and the big game is about to start.
As the summer wanes, nostalgia sets in, and I am inclined to reflect back on all those great days of summer camp as a kid. All those activities, all those new friends, all the excitement, and of course, the times playing out on the baseball field. That is the field upon which this reflection begins.
The young campers march down the dusty path to the chants of some newly made up camp song. The tune might be to Happy Birthday, or Mary Had A Little Lamb, or maybe some more modern song familiar to all the kids. Their counselor leads the way toward that days first activity at the baseball diamond. All the kids have their matching tee-shirts, colored to their dorm, a few are capped with their own favorite baseball hat. Most, however, have never really played much ball.
As they arrive at the field, they dig through the plywood box containing all the donated gloves and bats, from which they outfit themselves for the upcoming game. The counselor explains why the glove that looks like it is inflated with air belongs to the catcher. All the kids look up to their counselor–he seems to be able to do everything well–they trust anything he says.
The other team arrives. They look like they belong to some other summer camp, one with much older and bigger kids. They too have their matching shirts, but their chant song seems somewhat aggressive. A few spit in the dirt, imitating what they may have seen by players in the big leagues.
The umpire calls the teams out to home plate, tells both sides to shake hands, and explains the rules. The first team is given the right as Home team and can call the flip of the coin. They call heads, the coin lands tails up. The Away team elects to bat first–that is the typical choice for kids who seem to always prefer to bat than to stand out in the grassy field. The Home team looks worried. The Away team takes turns spitting on home plate.
The counselor tells each kid where to go. A few need added instruction on where to stand. He then models the stance he wants all of them to take, with legs spread, knees bent, backs leaning forward, and arms at the ready. They all follow his lead. He then steps up to the mound and picks up the game ball.
The Away team has an undefeated record, and as is their usual method, they send up their best player. Intimidation has worked well so far, and it is always good to undermine the morale of the other team by starting off with points on the board. He looks big and not very happy.
The infield players start to step back a bit. Their counselor encourages them to stand their ground. The batter spits on his hands and rubs the grip of his bat. It doesn’t seem like a helpful action, but the Away team prides itself on making an impression. The umpire yells, “Play ball!”
All eyes are on the counselor. He eyes the catcher, who knows nothing of signals, and who wonders why he opened his big mouth and asked about the inflated glove. The counselor winks at him and cracks a smile. The catcher shyly flushes and puts his gloved hand forward. The game is on.
The counselor winds up. The batter digs in. The pitch is flung toward home plate and begins to curve wildly. The batter grits his teeth and swings for the distant trees. Smack. The ball lands in the catcher’s glove. “Strike one!”
More spit on the ground. A few unrepeatable words. The Away dugout shouts out claims of belief in their star player. He is not accustomed to whiffing the ball and his anger is visible as he glares at the counselor on the pitcher’s mound.
Once again, the wind up. This time the pitch sinks almost to the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust, before rising again to knee level. The catcher closes his eyes–besides, he can’t even see the ball anyway. The batter unloads a perfect swing. Tick, Smack. The bat glances the ball, but not enough to prevent it landing in the catchers glove. The Ump lets the technicality of the ticked ball pass with “Strike Two!”
The Away team is eerily silent. The batter is dumbfounded. The Home team has finally gotten control over their shaking knees. The umpire calls for the batter to step up to the plate. Then a growl is heard from the Away dugout.
The batter is called back, and the Away counselor steps forward as a Pinch Hitter. No more of this kids game. It is time for the big boys to play ball. Sadly, summer camps are not immune from such prideful displays, any more than in real life.
The counselor rises on the mound. The Pinch Hitter kicks dust at the catcher and makes him stumble backward. Even the umpire steps back, as the batter begins to hawk a massive loogie–but then appears to swallow it.
The Home team begins to reconsider why they came to camp in the first place. The batter’s hat shadows his face, so that only two glowing coals give off any form of light. He growls again; the umpire concedes and meekly suggests “play ball?”
For the third time, the counselor winds up and delivers. A floater. A seemingly random, dancing, shifting, slow delivery. The military sergeant, turned Mr. World, turned summer camp counselor, begins to swing his over sized bat. The apparent friction generated from the speed of swing, seems to cause the bat to glow, and even rage with uncontrolled fire. All the little campers on the Home team shut their eyes and pray for it all to end.
The ball enters Hell itself. It seems like days pass; perhaps even three days. Then the ball miraculously blows right through the flames, glowing bright white, and Smack into the catchers glove.
The force jolts the catcher back into reality before the others. Without taking his eyes of the ball, he gently lifts his gloved hand up for the umpire to see. The white sight fills the umpire with renewed confidence, and he yells, like he had never yelled before: “STRIKE THREE…YOU’RRRRE OUTTTA HERRRRE!”
For many, Baseball was invented for story telling. The Bible is preserved to speak Truth. The one can be used to point to the other, so long as the Word is caught and gently lifted up for all to see it just as it is.
Here is what our Lord has to say about the counselor, his Home team, and what the game plan is for confronting the Away team:
“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: [3 strikes]
in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (Jn 16:7-16; NIV’84).