Baseball in the spring is full of hope. As the weather has, at long last, turned warmer, and a new season has begun, millions of fans of every team look forward with excitement and anticipation. While the players have not yet reached their mid-season form, the early games show a glimpse of the joy to come. Will the Red Sox repeat as champions, or will teams who finished in last place last year battle for the World Series title? The spring, and the prospect of a new chance for every team to taste the glory of victory, lead many to proclaim, at the start of each new baseball season, that “hope springs eternal.”
The phrase originates in a poem from eighteenth-century British satirist Alexander Pope:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
This longing in the recesses of the human soul for a “life to come” tugs at something deeper than the thrill of victory, but Pope’s phrase has been associated with baseball ever since 1888, when Ernest Lawrence Thayer quoted it in his iconic poem, “Casey at the Bat”:
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
They’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
With their team down by two runs in their last at-bat, with two outs and nobody on base, and two weak hitters due to come to the plate before their hometown hero, the die-hard fans know that while the odds seem insurmountable, they are yet not impossible. Their hopes are, of course, dashed, as the man in whom they placed their trust, Casey, strikes out when a single would have tied the game. This hope, unrealized on the baseball diamond, does, however, point to something more.
For Holy Week also always coincides with the springtime, and this year’s later occurrence is fitting for a year that saw a longer, harsher winter. The appearance of new life, as flowers bloom, birds return with their songs, and the last of the snow melts, signals, along with the rebirth of America’s pastime, the new life longed for in the depths of our hearts, made possible by the events we commemorate this week.
In these days between Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his crucifixion on Good Friday, we can reflect on this prediction of his:
Then he took the Twelve aside and said to them,“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon; and after they have scourged him they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise.” But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said (Luke 18:31-34).
When things look bleakest, whether for our baseball team, for society, or even for the Apostles, who could not yet understand the promise of the life of the world to come, let us look to our Savior, much mightier than Casey, and trust in him who triumphed over the extreme agony of his most bitter Passion and death and opened the door to eternal happiness. Despite the torments and insults that Jesus underwent, and which caused all the Apostles but one to flee, and in spite of the many hardships we suffer in body, mind, and spirit in this life, Jesus gives us something to hope for when all earthly hope is lost. We may experience the Passion now, but we know that the Resurrection is sure to follow.
For as St. Paul reminds us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18). Even the century-long suffering of the Cubs fan pales in comparison to eternity in the company of God. So as we follow Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended in glory, and as we await our own resurrection, let us remember that this glory is the realization of all our greatest hopes.
Image: Statue and Plaque Dedicated to Casey at the Bat in Holliston, MA