My earliest lessons in eschatology came while sitting on the third base line of Angel stadium in Anaheim, California. I sat in the same seat for nearly every home game of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, waiting for the mystery that lay behind each pitch.
Sportswriter Peter Panacy has said, “Baseball fans, typically, have to know and understand much more than the casual fan. They have to be more patient too.” The sport refuses to provide the constant stream of entertainment people have grown accustomed to. It wants to leave you in suspense. Excitement hides in the tension between what is happening and what will.
Christians live in a similar tension—the already but not yet pastors and theologians talk about. Christ’s kingdom came with his first arrival, and we look forward to the fullness of that kingdom coming with his return. Turns out, Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part—in life as it is in baseball.
Learning to Read the Subtleties
Every moment of every ball game holds the potential for something exciting. I jumped to my feet with the rest of the crowd when Jeff DaVanon surprisingly soared a ball over the right field fence, becoming only the fourth player in the team’s history to hit the cycle—a single, double, triple, and home run in one game. I bit my nails before Troy Percival threw the final strike in the top of the ninth to join the elite “300 Save Club” after closing yet another game.
These high-action moments come to mind because they were unusual. Most games, like most days, move rather slowly. One might even dismiss them as boring—a common adjective used for America’s pastime these days. Scoreless innings and routine plays feel too mundane for those who don’t know how to pay attention to all that’s happening on the field. The secret joy of baseball comes only when you accept the beauty of waiting and learn to read the subtleties.
I discovered this in June 2004 when the Milwaukee Brewers came to Anaheim for a bit of interleague play. The night was cool, as it often is in southern California. I always came to the games with my friend’s family who had season tickets. We had done our routine trip to Wienerschnitzel before arriving at the ballpark half an hour early. I likely ate my chili dog in the car before we took our seats and watched the home team warm up.
We left after 15 scoreless innings. I got home just in time to watch Brewer’s center fielder Scott Podsenik hit an RBI double off the right field wall in the top of the 17th. 1-0 Brewers was the final score with a total of 13 hits between the two teams.
Ramon Ortiz delivered a specific pitch to Podsednik, and Podsednik timed his swing perfectly to drive in the only run. Craig Counsell got a good jump off of first base, allowing him to charge all the way home to score. Had Ortiz made a different choice or Podsednik swung half a second later or Counsell hesitated, maybe the game would’ve turned out differently. Baseball is made up of these little moments that lead to and create the memorable moments. The play that changes everything always comes—the teams do not tie. They keep playing until it’s over, making subtle moves along the way.
DaVanon’s cycle came in the midst of the Angels dominating the Kansas City Royals 21 to 6, but a multitude of little moments made the cycle possible. DaVanon would have been robbed of his triple had the diving left fielder been one foot closer to the catch. Everything would have shifted. Subtlety breeds excitement, even when we fail to see it.
Living With Hope for the End
There’s no such thing as nothingness in baseball, or in the unfolding of God’s history. But just like baseball fans, Christians, too, can miss the excitement of a life with Christ that’s happening in the subtle moments. In the day to day monotony, it can feel like nothing is happening. Healing doesn’t come. People still die. The world has yet to be made new. Christ started the game with his first advent, but what has he done recently?
Perhaps this subtlety is why it’s tempting to flock to prophetic visions of the end. Every election year comes with fresh predictions of a new antichrist. It’s easy to jump to the excitement. We miss the subtle beauty of a curveball when all we want is the thrill of a big hit.
Kevin Vanhoozer has explained that abiding “in the doctrine of Christ is to remember that the reign of God has come into the world, unexpectedly, in Jesus’ person and work, and to let this headline news color and shape one’s everyday experience.” Most experiences don’t seem that exciting though. How can God reign in them? “Life,” proclaims the poet John Berryman, “is boring.” He speaks for those who haven’t learned to study the subtleties.
Christ’s return will undoubtedly fill the earth with excitement, but he’s filling it now, too, in subtle ways. He moves in our laundry rooms and morning commutes, in conversations over dinner and every Zoom meeting we have. He has not left us unattended until the end. He works today.
One day, he’ll be less subtle. There will be no tie. He plays until the day he comes in victory. The world will witness the final culmination of his kingdom, and the scoreless innings will cease. Our team will be victorious. We could wait another 1,000 innings, and it may, at times, seem that the scoreboard favors our opponent. Pain causes questions, but our victory is on his way.
How long, O Lord?
Just a little longer.
Until then, we can find excitement everywhere if we only learn to see it.
Cover image by Austin Valleskey.