How can you not be romantic about baseball? – Billy Beane
Last Saturday, my family had the opportunity to attend a baseball game at Fenway Park. For many years, I worked in a research lab across the street from Fenway, so taking the subway into the city brought back memories. You could not have asked for a more beautiful September afternoon to enjoy a baseball game.
Sitting in a good seat directly behind home plate, I quickly understood why baseball earned the appellation “America’s pastime”. As the vendors came through the stands with hotdogs, lemonade, hot chocolate, and cotton candy, I felt like I was having a picnic with all the other fans. People passed money and napkins down the rows, helping each other. The entire stadium participated in “the wave”, standing with arms thrown in the air just long enough to create a ripple effect. Everyone enjoyed a party in the stands for many innings as the two teams scored runs.
The Ninth Inning
The atmosphere changed a bit in the final inning. At the bottom of the eighth inning, the Boston Red Sox tied the Baltimore Orioles, 6-6. Everyone focused on the field during the ninth inning, especially me. When the Baltimore Orioles failed to score in the top of the ninth, I grew excited at the possibility of my home team winning this game. What a perfect ending to a perfect day!
Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the ninth inning ended with the tie still standing. Now the Red Sox had to keep the Baltimore Orioles from scoring in yet another inning. While I grew a little nervous for the Red Sox, I felt I just received a bonus. I would have the chance to enjoy the game longer. In the top of the tenth inning, one player grounded out to third, one flied out to right, and the last player grounded out to second. Relief washed over me! Time to win the game in the bottom of the tenth.
Only Runs Count
The shadow of the stadium grew long across the field, and many fans seated around me headed for home. In baseball and in life, not everyone sticks around when the game goes into extra innings. When one player singled to the left, then advanced to second when another player walked, I thought the Red Sox would win the game. After all, they finally got on base, something the other team failed to do. But in baseball, only runs count. The next player struck out swinging, and all the hard work was for nothing.
The Green Monster at Fenway Park runs out of room after ten innings, so the entire scoreboard was reset. Inning number eleven would be recorded as inning number one. Even more fans left the stadium. Would the Red Sox be able to keep the Orioles from scoring in yet another inning? The first two Orioles players struck out, and the third grounded out to second. Hope swelled in my heart! However, the Red Sox did not even get on base in the bottom of the eleventh.
Waiting to Win
The Baltimore Orioles, who have been almost unbeatable this season when a game goes into extra innings, were simply waiting for their opportunity to win. Opportunity knocked in the top of the twelfth inning, and the Orioles answered with three runs. The Red Sox could not return the answer in the bottom of the twelfth. I left Fenway disappointed for the loss, but inspired by observing what it takes to win in the twelfth inning.
In life and in our journeys of faith, sometimes the game goes into extra innings. We experience delays and unexpected outcomes. Extra innings can breed doubt. Not all our fans will stand with us, although watching the faithful ones keep cheering delivers great joy. Winning in extra innings requires perseverance and quiet confidence to wait for the right opportunity. Winning in our spiritual lives requires living with unanswered questions, trusting when we cannot understand, and finishing the journey we started. Only runs count. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
* The Boston Red Sox won the game the following day at the top of the ninth inning.