sportsmanship

We Interrupt This Family for Baseball Season

Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

On Memorial Day weekend, our family of four participated in six baseball games! Having just returned from a six-week book tour, it was such a refreshing change from discussing our nation’s politics, which is all the media wants to talk about and is more and more well, disgusting.  

A sign outside our home’s front door says, “This family has been interrupted by the baseball season.” Both of our boys play, I coach, and my wife Joy Carroll is the Little League Baseball Commissioner — cool job for a Church of England priest!

On Saturday, we played in the Northwest Little League All Star game, which I got to coach with my son Jack on one of the teams. Our team came out on top, and Joy made 100 hotdogs for a celebration after the game. Our last victory cheer was “1, 2, 3, HOTDOGS!” The picture here shows the enthusiasm of the 9- and 10-year-olds I get to coach every single week. It’s what keeps me grounded in real life — amid the politics of this dysfunctional capital city — and it’s what gives me joy. Coaching baseball has also kept me deeply connected to my two sons, as I write about in my new book.

We had just helped save an immigration reform bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee — advocating for 11 million undocumented people who Jesus calls the “strangers” against the special interest politics of both left and right — when I entered the field for our Little League Tigers game on Friday night. It was just what I needed.

Here is a great baseball story that explains why I love Little League Baseball.

The Spirituality of Sports and the Common Good

Baseball runner's foot, Lauren Simmons / Shutterstock.com

Baseball runner's foot, Lauren Simmons / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

In his post “Lattes for the Common Good,” Tripp states that working for the common good starts in mundane places, like a coffee shop. These are the places where we practice neighborliness. Here’s Tripp’s brilliant point:

I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease.

Jim Wallis says something very similar in his book On God’s Side. When it comes to the common good, Wallis states, “I have never seen the real changes we need come from inside politics. Instead, they come from outside social movements” (295).

According to Wallis, for those social movements to make any real change in our politics they must be based on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, On God’s Side begins with a reflection on the Golden Rule. And, as Tripp says, “learning to practice neighborliness” is learning to practice loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

But there is a tension in Wallis’s book that, for me, is unresolved. That tension is clearly seen when Wallis talks about baseball.

'In Our Hearts, We Won Them All'

Photo: Young team, © YanLev / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Young team, © YanLev / Shutterstock.com

I attended a basketball banquet and a girls team gathered together on the stage. Their coach gave a small speech before she introduced each player.  "We didn't win any games this season," she lamented, "but in our hearts we won them all." Wow! What a quote! "In our hearts we won them all." I'll always remember it and hold it in my heart. 

Not long after that banquet, I heard a story on National Public Radio about a high school girls basketball team in Texas that lost a game 100-0. I found an article about the game written by Barry Horn for the Dallas Morning News. Horn wrote, "Later on the 100-0 night, Civello [the losing coach] told his girls the life lesson they could take from their loss: 'I told them someday they will be on top in a similar situation and they should remember how they felt when some people were cheering for a team to score a hundred points and shut us out. Hopefully, my girls all learned a lesson in sportsmanship that will last a lifetime.'" 

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