Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Church of Baseball

"I believe in the church of baseball." - Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

Today is the 47th anniversary of my first visit to a cathedral.  When I walked in and saw the green grass of Candlestick Park I thought I was in heaven.  It seemed make believe.  The opening hymn was the National Anthem.  The pews were called "Lower Reserved Seats" and the only offering that was passed were hot dogs and dollar bills to the next person down the row.  The liturgy lasted nine innings and God was everywhere.  Especially in the person of the man playing centerfield for the San Francisco Giants, Willie Mays.

I fell in love with baseball, Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants in 1965.   Every day I would close the door to my room, turn on the radio and listen to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons describe in deep, rich, baritone voices each pitch and swing of every  game. I would put on my official Giants plastic batting helmet, pretend I was Willie Mays,and swing at every pitch that flew through my radio. When the Giants were in the field I would put on my glove and I would run after every fly ball and dive for every ground ball pretending my bed was the field.

I did not realize it at the time but I have come to know that my baseball stadium bedroom was a sanctuary for me from the reality of my seven year old life. In the summer of 1965 my mother and father were fighting with increasing frequency and in September, as Willie Mays hit his 50th home run and the Giants fought the hated Los Angeles Dodgers for first place, my mom and dad divorced.  If one definition for God is a place to find comfort and joy, baseball and Willie Mays, was one of my first experiences with God.

We lived in a duplex and Mr. and Mrs. Shields lived in the front unit.  They invited me to play cards and watch the baseball game of the week with them on Saturday morning (my family wasn't much into baseball.)  Although they were Dodger fans, I forgave them for it, and looked forward to their company.  One day they asked me if I would like to see the Giants play the Dodgers at Candlestick Park.  Would I?!  My parents said yes and we took the hour long bus ride from San Jose to the closet thing I knew of the Promised Land.  

I remember most of that day, in part, because it was the best, most unbelievable game I have ever been to.  You can check out the box score here. (Box scores continue to be the only scripture I read every day.)  Sandy Koufax pitched against Juan Marichal.  The Giants and Dodgers really didn't like each other in those days and the Dodgers catcher John Roseboro threw a ball that nicked Marichal in the ear.  All hell broke loose.  Marichal hit Roseboro in the head with his bat, players streamed onto the field and I watched in awe.  Koufax got rattled, walked two batters, and Willie hit a three-run homer to win the game 3-2.  The Giants extended their lead over the Dodgers but when Marichal was suspended the Dodgers overtook them (again) and the Giants finished in second place.

What does any of this have to do with calltrepreneurship?  Willie Mays was a calltrepreneur.  He played with a passion and skill that few - if any - have ever shown.  He created new standards for baseball, some of which will never be met.  And he was a leader, a role model on the field. I didn't realize it on August 22, 1965 but Mays was more than a superstar player, he was a peacemaker as well.  The Boston Herald wrote after the game,  "Except for the majestic presence of Willie May, several players could have been maimed.  Willie was out of the dugout in a flash to help disarm Marichal...this could be the year Mays wins the MVP award and the Nobel Peace Prize, too."

Willie won the MVP award that year; he didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize.  But he did win a seven year old's heart, and maybe even helped saved his life along the way.  I believe in the church of baseball and the practice of calltrepreneurship wherever it may be found.

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