Friday, October 5, 2012

Resisting the Fall and the End of Baseball

Okay, I have to admit it.  I really despise this time of year.  This week marked the end of baseball season (that is, if you're a Royals fan).  I truly hate the end of baseball season.  I love everything about baseball--the sounds, the sights, the smells (yes, I'm aware I'm quoting the movie, "Field of Dreams"--it happens to be in my top three for favorite movies)!   I just love the overall game itself.  Growing up, my hometown's main baseball diamond was right behind our house.  Even as a young girl, I used to walk or bike through the small field between my yard and the ballpark, and watch random games for fun.  I even played softball on that field.  I could see my mom through our kitchen window, or see her outside mowing and watering flowers, and would wave reassuringly at her.  When it was time for me to come home (which was usually when the street lights came on), I'd hop on my bike and take the clearly marked path home, which I had personally carved into that grassy field from my frequent journeys to the ballpark.  I have a lot of great memories of that ball field--memories of Big League Chew bubblegum (which I still purchase and chew at games to this day), riding my bike to and from games through the grassy field, playing endless games of catch with my neighbor friend, Christie, and coming home with filthy dirty feet to a warm bubble bath, courtesy of Mom (my mother always thought I was dirtier than I actually was because my knees would get so tan, they'd look dirty)!  I remember falling asleep to the warm, comforting glow of those ball park lights shining through our windows all summer long.  Baseball always brought summer fun, easy times, and this great feeling of escape for me, even as a young girl.

I have "grown-up" reasons for loving baseball, too.  Baseball is such a slow-paced, relaxing sport, and I appreciate the passive nature of it.  I also respect the diversity and larger skill requirements placed on every player in the game. The fact that it isn't just a running, throwing, and catching sport (like most other sports), makes it unique in my opinion.  The players have to be able to hit, they have to be able to slide, they have to be able to read lots of pitches and hits, they have to be able to cover other players and other player's positions at times, AND they have to be able to run, throw and catch.  Since I am a summertime person and sunshine lover, the fact that it is a summer sport also helps it rank high with me.  I love that my husband, Matt, and I can crack jokes and visit easily throughout the game and we don't miss out on anything doing so.  We also don't leave the game feeling like we've had to scream at each other just to converse at all.  I also value that 9 out of 10 baseball fans are typically easy-going, polite people (I've never sat next to anyone whose saliva was constantly spraying me due to their profane yelling, as I've had happen twice in a row now at Chiefs games--not sure I'm ever going back to Arrowhead stadium again).  I love that it is an outside sport.  Being able to sit outdoors on a nice evening helps it rank high with me, as well.   Baseball games typically last about three hours, so you get a lot of bang for your buck, which is another great perk (and I'm all about getting the most value for my money). You might even get to stay longer if the game goes into extra innings.  I could go on and on about why I love this sport (and I will)!

Matt and I attended the last Royals game of the season this past Wednesday night.  The Tigers beat the Royals 1-0, so the season ended with a non-climactic conclusion (and obviously, the overall game wasn't even an, "edge-of-your-seat-er").  But it was still a great evening.  I love watching how excited my husband gets when the Royals are up to bat.  He is like a little boy in a candy store.  His face lights up and he looks 20 years younger just being at the ballpark.  He adores this sport and was a pitcher on his own baseball team growing up.  His dad was even his coach for a while.  Matt has many great baseball memories in his life, as well.  He and his dad attended Game 7 in the 1985 World Series, which is one of the most memorable moments of his life.  We share this love of baseball together, and it is just one of the many great ties that bind us in our marriage.  As die hard Royals fans, (and being "all-weather" fans versus "fair-weather" fans), Matt and I know how to have a great time at the ballpark regardless of the game's outcome.  Wednesday night, I saw a mural somewhere at the stadium that I had never seen before then.  It had a quote on it by Humphrey Bogart which said, "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at The Ritz."  I had to chuckle.  As the wife of a congressional beef lobbyist, I'm not sure I would agree because I love a great steak in a nice restaurant, and I want to encourage people to spend their hard-earned dough eating high-quality, healthy, lean beef when they can.  But I know exactly what Mr. Bogart is talking about.  There aren't many things better than a ballpark frank eaten on a warm summer night, loaded with mustard and jalapenos (I am a quarter Mexican, you know), while watching the best game ever invented.  Besides, if you eat the right kind, hot dogs are typically made from beef, too.  So it's all good.

I think I would even go so far as to say that baseball feels spiritual to me--I guess it feels like life.  Every person on a team has to work together with others for success, just as in life, where we are on many different teams with various responsibilities and roles for those specific teams.  But each member has to work individually for personal goals, as well.  When you're up to bat, it's just you and the opposition.  Your team can't help you that much with your own batting record, just as in real life.  There are times when you strike out, and times when you get a free walk.  Sometimes you get a decent hit but no scored run for it, and you're left feeling like your hit was wasted to a degree.  At times, you're lucky enough to get a home run--some people even get a grand slam.  Overall, you're just happy to get a run or an RBI--it feels good to help out the team and others.  There are times when you get nabbed while just trying to run the bases of life, and times when you're able to steal a base and cheat your opponent (or "cheat death," as we all typically have the good fortune of doing at times, thanks be to God and His grace to us).  There are moments when you're thrown curve balls in life, and times when you're thrown hard, fast, "didn't-see-that-one-coming" balls.  Sometimes YOU get hit (crazy, wild pitchers)!   There are pitchers in life and there are catchers--some people do all the throwing and get most of the credit (or blame) for the game's outcome, and some people call the shots, catch most of the fouls, and take all the pitches.  Some folks are designated hitters--it seems all they do is take hits in life.  Some people swing so hard and try so hard they break their own bat (or another "b" word..."back!" I was thinking, "BACK")!  Some of us are way out in left field (daydreaming, perhaps), and others of us are busy with the tedious work at first base.  We all make errors (or mistakes) from time to time.  Some people's errors hurt the team a little, and some may even cost the team the game.  Most of us want to make as few errors as possible.  Sometimes we have to linger at certain bases (or stages) in our lives, and sometimes we breeze right through them.  Some people's lives are like that--they are quick and cut short.  I could go on and on making my little parallels between baseball and life (okay, I guess I have)!  You can make these parallels for other sports, but in my view, they just aren't as poetic as they are for baseball.   But we all typically do have the same goals in life as those found in America's favorite past-time.  We all want to score some runs for our "teams," (i.e., our marriages, families, friendships, workplaces, ministries, etc.), we all want to leave our game with positive, personal records (or legacies), and we all want to "get home" safely with a "win" (or have a good conclusion to our lives).  As I said in Tuesday's post, we're all homeward bound. 

Besides being sad to see baseball season end, I despise this time of year for many other reasons--the chill in the air, the leaves falling, and everything preparing to go "dormant," to name just a few.  It all makes me feel a little down.  I appreciate the beauty of the changing colors, the tastes of fall (i.e., pumpkin spice lattes) and warm, sunny autumn days when I can run and golf without sweating like a pig.  But overall, I hate the realization that winter is approaching and everything appears to be dying.  With the shorter days and the earlier darkness, my energy and motivation seem to magically wane a little, too.  The yearly mental battle of trying to keep my body from succumbing to the lie that I'm tired at 7PM, has begun.  I miss summer already--it feels like a dear friend has just moved away.  It was so cold each morning this past week that my throat was sore and dry after I ran. The wind made my ears hurt and my eyes and nose water profusely.   I had to go back to carrying tissue with me so I could blow my nose repeatedly (fun times).  The cloudy, damp chills of fall (and winter) do not agree with me mentally or physically.  My mind has begun to say, "Well, crud, here we go again--winter is coming!"  And my body says, "NOOOO!"

I guess if life is like baseball, then this is the season where I need to rest and refuel, as the players do after the season's end.  I know realistically that it doesn't have to be the dramatic, "end" of life's enjoyments that my mind lures me to believe happens every fall.  Just as the trees and plants begin to prepare to rest and rejuvenate for a few months, those of us who view this time of year as, "less than desirable," can take this time to rest and refuel, as well.  We can resist the notion that winter is a cold, harsh, dismal time of year by realizing it is an opportunity for us to "cozy up" to those we love, enjoy the best of the season's offerings, and spend more time preparing our hearts for what should be the biggest and best celebration of our year--the birth of Christ.  There are blessings in fall and winter to which I personally need to cling in order to have a positive perspective in the months ahead when I am tempted to become a little downcast in spirit.  If we never had cold, dark days, we wouldn't appreciate the sunny ones (well, sometimes I think I actually would, but you get the point).   Since I don't live in sunny Florida, I must embrace the season's best and get over the fact that my beloved "dog days of summer" are over for this year.  I have to stop "resisting the fall" as I do every year like clockwork.  As I said in Tuesday's post, God will be faithful to deliver us through the cold, harsh, dark times in our lives.  He will be faithful to bring out the sunshine again.

Speaking of dark times in life, I lost my precious neighbor and friend, Martha, yesterday.  She has battled cancer for several years now.  She picked the perfect season to go home to be with her Lord, in my view.  I hope to pass in fall when my time comes, as well.  There's something so fitting about it--leaving at a time when things are preparing to lie dormant and in rest.  (Plus, I plan to get out of here as soon as baseball season ends and before winter hits)!  But seriously, Martha can now go prepare to celebrate the Lord's birthday with Him in person (and in the right way, without all the shopping and endless, ridiculous stress we've added to it)!  I just spoke with her two weeks ago and though she wasn't feeling well, none of us thought the end was this close.  She called to ask me to take her to her doctor appointment because she didn't want to put the burden on her daughter to do it again.  I have never told her, "no," for any request she has ever had of me, and I did that day because I had three appointments myself.  Oh, how I wish I had known it would be the last time I would speak with her.  Those stupid appointments would have all been cancelled!  I never got to officially say goodbye.  Being a non-complainer, Martha didn't express how badly she really was feeling, and it seemed as if I'd have many more times to say, "Yes" to her.  I was so very wrong.  Upon that appointment, the doctors realized she had worsened significantly and rushed her into surgery to remove a huge blockage in her colon.  Her cancer had spread so badly they knew the end was very near.  She never left the ICU and was not able to have visitors these past two weeks.  They kept her sedated and helped her ease out of this life into the next.  I tell myself that it was for the best that her daughter ended up taking her that day because of the news they received--it was good that a family member was there for that.  But my heart is broken about it, and that I didn't get to hug her and say goodbye.  At least we had many talks about her home-going over the past couple of years.  In one conversation, Martha even assured me that if she left the earth and went to heaven before me (as she expected to do), she would go meet my friend, Michelle, and hug her for me!  She knew my heartache with that personal loss, and was such a source of strength for me through it.  Now I'm suffering the loss of her, and she isn't here to comfort me in it.  But God is, and I praise Him that she went quickly and peacefully.  I praise Him that she knew Him and didn't have to, "resist her fall," at all when the end came.  Much like my aforementioned friend, Michelle, (who coincidentally also died of a several year battle with cancer, died on the 4th of the month as Martha did, and was also a spiritual pillar in my life), Martha went home to be with her Lord, leaving a legacy of having the lifelong love of her husband and a totally committed life to Christ.  She knew who she was and where she was going.  What a great way to go.  She earned a lot of runs for her various teams in life, left one heck of a personal record, and arrived safely at home with a big, big "win."  I know there is no need for ballpark lights in heaven, because Martha is experiencing the light of Christ and all its glory.   Bless you, dear friend and neighbor.  Please tell God I want to be your neighbor again in heaven, thank Him for me for putting you on my team, and don't forget to give Michelle a big hug for me!  Rest in peace and see you soon.