My dad went to bed during Game Six. That’s right, the Game Six.
Allow me to pause here so that every Cardinals fan reading this can allow some sweet, sweet oxygen to flow back into their lungs, and so that I can explain to those of you who may not be baseball fans (or even those of you who are but don’t divide the History of Baseball into epochs marked off by Cardinal playoff success) that I am talking about game six of last year’s World Series.
That game will forever be known simply “Game Six” for me and the rest of Cardinal Nation for a few simple and utterly dramatic reasons: because the Cardinals, down three games to two in the World Series, faced elimination not once, but twice. Twice they were down to their last strike before rallying to tie the game. That game will forever be “Game Six” because David Freese, a hometown hero, provided both the first come back and, later, the walk-off home run that won the game. That game will forever be “Game Six” because it provided a surreal capstone to an already improbable season.
How improbable? On August 27, the Cardinals were 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves for the final, Wild Card playoff spot in the National League. Statistical simulations estimated that, on August 27, they had a 1 in 500 chance of even making the playoffs, much less winning it all. Combine that with both last strike comebacks (estimated at an 8.7% chance and 16.1% chance respectively), and I calculate the chances of all three of these moments occurring in the same season as 3 in 100,000.1
All of which is to say, Game Six was the most sublime moment of baseball that I have ever experienced… and my dad missed it.
His reasoning seemed impeccable. He is a man given more to early mornings than late nights. He didn’t need my questionably accurate statistical analysis to see that the Cardinals appeared to be on their way to losing both the game and the series. He felt an understandable aversion to seeing the Texas Rangers celebrate a World Series victory in our home stadium. So he turned off the game after the seventh inning and went to bed. And missed out on the game of a lifetime.
I don’t share this story just because I have baseball on the brain these days, though as my brain reforms from the mush it turns into during the final days of an academic semester I have been turning more and more to baseball. Actually, I tell it because for me this has become a pseudo-morality tale, a short fable that – like all good fables – challenges my priorities and asks me what I want from life.
For one thing, my mind and heart still do a double take when I think about how improbable that playoff run was. St. Louis is a baseball town. It’s the home of Stan “the Man” Musial and Bob Gibson. Born and bred in St. Louis as I am, I’ve been an Cardinal’s fan all my life. So I guess it’s no surprise that I break into big smiles when I remember those fall days packed with playoff games that seemed like pure gift, like every evening as I turned on the game I was just playing with house money.
And the Cardinals’ success seemed so much sweeter because it was so unexpected. And that has put me on a hunt for the unexpected in other areas of my life.
And I start to notice: the cashier who offers a genuine smile as I pass through her line, the letter in the mail from an old friend, and the bee dead on the carpet floor of the library (with the ants already cannibalizing him!). These are the unexpected moments in my life, the ones that become all the sweeter because I wasn’t looking for them.
Seen through this lens, the memory of that game in October helps me remember the gratuity of this world, how from my birth to the present day I have received gift after gift after gift. Received them without the question ever being raised of whether or not I had earned them. God’s logic is one of generosity, and an unexpected generosity at that. I do well to keep my eyes open.
But the wonder of the unexpected is only part of the reason I keep ruminating on what happened in that game. No, I keep returning to it because something deep inside of me is shaken by the fact that my father2 missed it, and missed it because of a decision he made. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I recognize myself in that decision to turn off the game, avoid the avoidable defeat and the accompanying pain; to instead retire from the scene. Seeming myself in my dad’s decision stir some wondering as well, what Game Sixes have I missed out on in my own life?
Like my dad, I have often limited my access to the wonderful through decisions based on my own (reasonable) expectations, decisions (I’m sure all the world would agree) in which the evidence was quite squarely on my side. Often it starts with an idea, an assumption, or – it’s so common, isn’t it? – with fear. It’s this fearful assumption that then becomes the measuring stick with which I measure the world. The only problem is that this measuring stick, being mine, only measures up to the size of my own limited imagination.
Meanwhile, God has plans to give me something gigantic, something improbable and unbelievable – something like Game Six – and I cannot receive it because I am still measuring with my fixed limitations.
This even happens within my religious experience. After all, the danger of growing up in church and living in a society that has been formed by generation after generation of Christian tradition is that certain absolutely wonderful ideas get repeated so often that they become taken for granted and, strangely, limit my experience of God. “God is good, God wants us to act a certain way,” I think, or “God speaks through the Bible, in church on Sundays, to saints and mystics.” These types of ideas, laudable though they may be, become my expectation, become the measuring stick I use3 to measure the size of God.
Game Six has become, for this Cardinal’s fan at least, about more than baseball. Because of it, I find myself daily asking: How can I stay awake? How can I not end up living by so many reasonable assumptions, ordinary routines, and clichéd slogans that I miss the 3 in 100,000, two-strike, come-from-behind victories that God wants to give me everyday?
How can I let myself be caught up in that gratuitous, improbable world of grace?
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- Somebody check my math on this one. It’s been a long time since I learned probability, but I seem to remember that to calculate the chance of a series of probabilities all occurring, you have to multiply them, i.e., .002*.087*.161=.000028. Of course, mixing probabilities between a season long span and single at-bats almost surely compromises any intellectual integrity I might claim. Suffice it to say, it is highly improbable. ↩
- Who I love, and who is really a wonderful guy and loyal Cardinals fan… i.e., please don’t send him hate mail for going to sleep. ↩
- And, of course, other people might have different limiting expectations like “God can’t be limited to a church building” or “I know better than that Church teaching.” ↩