In the bottom of the twelfth inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Carlton Fisk hit a towering fly ball that would be a home run if it stayed fair. It hung in the air, he said later, for what felt like five minutes. Having left the batter’s box and taken a few steps toward first base, he stopped—not just to see where the ball would go but to “help it” get there, to the air space that in his view was on the correct side of the left-field foul pole.
One of the most famous images in baseball history is of Fisk bouncing up and down as he holds his arms out to motion the ball this way, this way, this way, toward himself, away from foul territory. In the end, the ball obeys him, barely. Fenway Park erupts. The Red Sox are going to Game 7.
Fisk’s effort to influence the flight of the ball he’d just smacked into the night air has always struck me as the purest, most spontaneous expression of the instinct to pray. Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t godly prayer. But it could have been. It would have been if only he had addressed his gesture to God.
From their bleacher seats and from their couches and barstools across the globe, spectators routinely jump up and yell instructions to the ball or to a TV screen. Most of us are not attempting to practice telekinesis. Or to pray in the Judeo-Christian sense. But we are praying in the “I’m spiritual but not religious” sense of sending a message to the universe.
Beware of sending messages to the universe. Those who play for the other team, as it were, are within their rights to answer you. I don’t mean that baseball is the devil’s workshop. It’s his playing field, where, as he sees it, the stakes are high and he can compete with God for your prayers.
In my experience, most people who pray at church and shout at the ballpark recoil from the suggestion that the two passions should ever meet. It would feel somehow wrong to them to pray to God for their team to win. They compartmentalize the hard, competitive nature of sports as “extra ecclesiam,” forgetting that the Church, in its role as Church Militant, has a duty to take the battle to the spiritual enemy and confront him on his home turf, which is anywhere prayer of some kind is common and most of it is not addressed to God.
If you can’t bring yourself to ask God for something that you want, isn’t that a sign you shouldn’t want it in the first place? But maybe asking God for what you want is precisely what you should be doing when instead you’re sending out thoughts and prayers to all the wrong places.
Say your baseball prayers to God or not at all.
Photo: © Jacek Kozyra \ photoXpress