Thursday, August 1, 2013

Faith in Baseball? Tougher with A-Rod and PEDs

I believe in God. I am a follower of Jesus. I am a Christian whose faith is a big part of her life. I have had moments when I felt so close to God in my faith journey. And I have felt very far away. In those situations, it was me who moved away from God. I know God has never left me alone and is a consistent source of comfort and strength for me. That consistency has been important for me. And I learned about faith and consistency in an odd way.

I am a longtime fan of baseball. I love watching little kids playing t-ball in the park. I love watching multiple types of players – strong hitters, defensive players, and powerful pitchers. I love sitting in the stands and hearing the roar of the crowd, watching the hotdogs and peanuts being sold by creative vendors, smelling the grass, and listening to the sound of the bat hitting a ball and the crowd responding.

I love the statistics and the day in and day out expectancy of the lineup cards and rotation of the pitchers. The first time I walked in a Major League Baseball stadium, I knew God was a baseball fan – the consistency of numbers, the green of the grass, the crystal blue sky, and the love of the game from the players – it felt like home for me. And it made me feel closer to God during a time in my life when I was really feeling lost and was experiencing a crisis of faith.

I was unsure of my life and the direction it was taking. I had moved away from God in many ways and needed some kind of assurance. And I found baseball again. One of the things I love about baseball is that there are so many known quantities in baseball. The diamond is the exact same size in every major league ballpark. The bases are 90 feet apart from one another around the diamond. The pitcher’s mound is 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate. There are 137 feet from first base to third plate – and the same from home plate to second base. It is consistent.

Baseball is a yearlong passion with numbers for me. I have a countdown clock every winter for the beginning of Spring Training. I watch the box scores daily and catch games as often as I can. I sweat out the April and May hitting slumps and the dog days of summer when my team has tons of injuries to deal with. I live for October and the playoffs. Numbers make all the difference. I have faith in them.

Batting averages and pitch counts are determined by facts, formulas and math. Statistics for on base percentage and earned run averages help the fan know how a player is doing. The way numbers are created is basically the same as it always has been. You can compare – to some extent – the batting average of Miguel Cabrera or Chris “Crash” Davis with Cal Ripken or Hank Aaron. You can compare fielding percentages of a current player with a Hall of Famer. You can trust it. You can have faith in the numbers, I thought.

I took a pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY a few years ago and felt as if I was in heaven. I saw some of the displays of the great players of all time and nearly melted in their presence. It was stunning to be in that place. But it also made me wonder about the men and women in that place. They are all human and all did everything they could to make it in the game. Some made mistakes and some presumably took short cuts.

I am a faithful person and I want to pass on my faith to my son. I want to transmit what is important to me to my son as well. He played baseball when he was younger but did not get bit by the bug. He does love to go to baseball games and had a huge Derek Jeter fathead poster in his room for years. He has favorite players and so do I.

Faith in God - despite being rocky at times - is an important part of my journey. I was raised in the church and in a home that was clearly faith-based. I had tough times, but I still have faith. Faith in baseball, however, is getting harder and harder. Faith is defined in as a system of faith, belief that is not based on proof, and confidence and trust in a person or thing.

That last one touched me lately as I hear more and more about the continued issue in baseball with performance-enhancing drugs. PEDs are a huge issue in sports. Basically every professional sport in the nation, colleges and universities engaged in the NCAA, Olympic sports, and even some high school teams utilize drug testing on a regular basis to ferret out the abuses of PEDs.

The effect of PEDs on players and fans is that we cannot trust them anymore. I don’t have faith in many of the numbers anymore. I watched with others during the homerun onslaught between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa and knew it was due to juicing and was so disappointed and disgusted.

I watched as Ryan Braun,  the 2011 National League MVP from the Milwaukee Brewers, accepted his punishment for PED usage and was suspended 65 games – effectively ending his season. Again, my faith in baseball was strained.

And now we are faced with the suspensions and possible bans coming down on some big name players. Multiple names have been linked to a PED distributor called Biogenesis. Alex Rodriquez, A-Rod, a polarizing player to say the least, is facing a possible ban from baseball or a multi-year suspension according to many sources. Other players will probably have their seasons ended due to punishments to be handed down from Major League Baseball. And they all deserve it. They broke the rules and broke the fan’s trust.

So my faith in baseball is rocked.  My trust and confidence in the humans who play this game – and make millions of dollars for hitting, catching, throwing and pitching a baseball – has lessened.

But my faith in people has kind of always been an issue. I have what I call a high doctrine of humanity. That means I expect the best out of people. I expect people to do the right things. I expect them to carry out what they say they will do. Having a high doctrine of humanity means I often get disappointed. But I still expect the best.

Baseball has often been a redeeming thing in my life. But no one is perfect and humans are humans. They make mistakes. I expect better but they sometimes do bad things. The stakes are high in major league sports. Players have a limited life span for making money and getting endorsements to set them up for life financially. Making short cuts happens all the time.

I don’t want that to be part of the legacy that I pass on to my son. I want him to have my high doctrine of humanity. I want him to have my love of baseball. And I want him to have faith in the world. But I also want him to know that having faith in people will sometimes let him down.

I will keep on watching baseball. And I will keep on having faith in things bigger than I am – including my faith and trust in God. I will keep on going to the cathedrals of baseball and sit in awe because it was baseball that brought me back to faith. But I also will not completely trust the numbers when they are out of the norm. And that makes me sad – for my son and for baseball.

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