This column was written Sept. 30 as the baseball season ended. The tragic events of Oct. 1, however, made it trivial. But perhaps by now, as the World Series begins, it might be pondered on this Oct. 24. The pain and sorrow of Las Vegas remain, but our life goes on.
The renowned poet Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It is our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us! You can look it up!” (Annie Savoy – “Bull Durham” 1988). For sure, Annie was a paladin of baseball. She belonged to the “religion of baseball.” She said she tried all other religions, but they just didn’t work for her. She even gave Jesus a try, but he made her feel guilty. Annie was a real baseball evangelist.
Like Annie, I too am an ardent fan of baseball. I don’t, however, belong to the religion of baseball. For some 80-plus years, I’ve followed Jesus (as best I could). But I do agree with Whitman: Baseball is our game, the American game. As the regular season ended on Sept. 30, I felt a shade of sadness. As I viewed the final out, and the celebration of the four soon-to-be-free-agent ballplayers, my soul sagged. From all projections, the Royals will split up. The lure of major monies possible for truly stellar players means the Royals’ wonderful nucleus will probably disband. And that makes me sad. The basic nine are exceptional! Hosmer at first, Merrifield at second, Moustaches at third and Escobar at shortstop is a great infield. Gordon in left, Cain in center and Cabrera in right is an unequaled outfield. Finally, with Perez as the hinge pin catcher, this is a team to be celebrated. And more than just nine great players, these guys were a real team. They played together, played with each other and played for each other; they had a heart that beat in unison. I so wish that they would take another season to prove their mettle on the field. I grieve the demise of such a very special group of athletes. To my wife and me, they seem like friends.
Now for the rest of the baseball news. First, I must admit I’m not much of a football fan. I simply don’t like violence on the battlefield, on city streets or on the playing field. It can and often does cause great injury, damage or even death. In the NFL, some “hard hit” concussions have resulted in brain injuries lasting a lifetime. I see no point in risking such a possibly terminal injury to take a little orange prolate spheroid over a white chalk line. My Sunday afternoons can be better spent than viewing the weekly celebration of violence.
It appears, however, that like Annie Savoy’s religion of baseball, football is now the religion of many Americans. For sure, the Sunday afternoon rituals are filling the stands more than Sunday morning celebrations are filling the pews. Yet the great furor over one football player kneeling during the pregame ceremonies of flag display and national anthem surely indicates that this was a religious offense. From the uproar, to some fanatic believers, Colin Kaepernick desecrated holy ground or trashed sacred symbols. I love my country; being an American is a grace I’ve enjoyed for 84 years. But I don’t worship America! I admire and celebrate its greatness, but America has a number of ongoing failures against which Kaepernick and those who followed his lead are seeking redress. After 230 years, the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and to which we regularly pledge allegiance, “liberty and justice for all,” have not been fully realized. America is surely the “home of the brave,” but it is not yet the “land of the free” for all citizens. The ongoing racism and bigotry among the American populace are apparent to anyone with eyes willing to see, and courage willing to face, the truth. To spotlight those ongoing grievances, Kaepernick expressed his patriotic duty and acted out the Second Amendment of the Constitution by publically and freely speaking his mind and heart. He demonstrated his frustration as many of us have done in recent years. He affronted the establishment. He knelt during the national anthem, refusing to stand in homage to symbols of the land that have often failed its own principles and promises. His demonstration was peaceful, powerful and profound. It was far superior to past demonstrations that so often caused personal injury, property damage and violence. Kaepernick peacefully and silently rocked the self-satisfied, the self-preoccupied and self-righteous spectators of the religion of football. In reaction, even the president of the United States had to condemn him with insulting expletives. The president disgraced himself and his office and shamelessly embarrassed the nation. Again he demonstrated that his vision is distorted and his emotions childish. I obviously support and applaud Kaepernick and those patriots who join him. May the days ahead bring more liberty and justice to every American and, hopefully, help us realize that even in demonstrating for redress of longstanding grievances, we truly are the “home of the brave,” striving to be “the land of the free.”
Father Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest living in McPherson.