We’re coming to the end of October. For a baseball fan like myself, this doesn’t designate a merely generic period of days on a calendar. It’s World Series time. It’s the culmination of a whole month of baseball magic, where each pitch is charged with energy, where every player is ready to go the extra mile to make a great play, where every pitching change and lineup switcheroo is loaded with significance.
But it’s also a time when the fans themselves become something of a marvel to behold. Playoff ballgames are always packed, filling the stadium with an electric charge that is palpable. This charge crackles and buzzes from foul pole to foul pole, and spins across the whole diamond, lighting up and enlivening the players on the field. As a fan at a playoff game in Pittsburgh earlier this month remarked in a text message,
“It’s crazy here. It’s as loud as a concert and the place shakes every time something big happens!”
If you’ve ever seen a playoff crowd erupt at a come-from-behind victory, you know it’s a gorgeous sight. (If you haven’t, I recommend a little homework.) Forty-thousand people, all on their feet, arms in the air, jumping, embracing, rejoicing: it’s enough to make a grown man cry.
But it also makes me wonder. What’s going on here? Is this a case of authentic joy or just some primal herd instinct running wild? To the sports fan it seems entirely natural to go crazy when the home team comes up with a victory. But to the outsider, it’s a ridiculous spectacle. They protest: “It’s just a game.”
First off, yes: it is just a game. But, that said, there are two significant things going on in these mere games: things that cut to the heart of our persons, activating our deepest desires and joys and, therefore, eliciting very strong responses.
First, we all know deep down that we’ve been born into a battlefield. No matter how much we may try to turn a blind eye to this reality, we all intuit that we have entered into a conflict that cannot be reduced to mere egotistic competitiveness or inherited survival instincts. Ultimately, we are in the midst of a cosmic battle where the stakes are as high as they come—where angels and demons and the children of men clash.
It’s the part of us that knows this that gets bowled over when we see something like the “Ride of the Rohirrim” in The Lord of the Rings or the “Battle of Stirling Bridge” in Braveheart. And it’s this same part of us that is activated when we see the home team pull out a clutch victory at the eleventh hour. We know it’s just a World Series title—or maybe only a Game 2 win in a Division Series—but somehow it resonates in that part of us that expectantly awaits an ultimate triumph.
Second, integral to our experience of joy is the degree that we can share it with others. Imagine if you were the only fan in the ballpark when Bobby Thomson’s home run won the pennant for the 1951 Giants. Yes, you would be pretty pumped; you’d jump up and down and cheer at the top of your lungs. But pretty soon, you’d notice how quickly your lone voice died in the cavernous stadium and what a small noise your clapping made. So, after smiling at the celebrating team—which would itself be more subdued without the encouragement of a full house—you’d go back home and look for someone to share the news with.
Chris McCandless (commemorated in John Krakaeur’s Into the Wild) wrote that “happiness is nothing if not shared.” Inversely, this translates into, “Happiness is something indeed if shared.” And, as it happens, there’s a whole lot of sharing going on in a full stadium. The tens of thousands of fans are all rejoicing in one single reality. Consequently, there’s a whole lot of happiness. As with all the great things, sharing means multiplying, as with the loaves and the fishes in the Gospels.
So, in the end, we find that a ballpark full of cheering fanatics is not so ridiculous as we may first have thought. A home team victory stirs that part of us which awaits God’s final triumph, and the joy therein is a hundredfold since it is shared a hundredfold.
And, by the grace of God, we will someday share in that Great Day of which all walk-off wins are foretastes, where all will exult in the victory of Christ, sharing in the infinite happiness that is infinitely shared.