It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yeah, I sang that out loud as I typed it. I can’t help it, I’m too excited. After a long, cold, dreadful winter… baseball is back!
Here’s a confession that won’t surprise anyone who knows me even a little bit: I love the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, it’s borderline obsessive. I’ve been a fan my whole life, ever since good grades in elementary school meant free Cardinal baseball tickets.
How do I love them? Let me count the ways…
- I made it to 20 games last season (including games 3 and 5 of the World Series). And I went 14-6, which means I am good luck – so if you’re ever in town and you have extra tickets, you now know who to call.
- Although this season is still pretty new, I’m already 3-2 for the 5 games that I’ve attended.
- I convinced my family to flee the country for Cardinals baseball. Our 2010 family vacation to Canada wasn’t as much about Niagara Falls as it was about watching our Cardinals take 2 out of 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
- I’ve gotten up at 3am to get in line for Opening Day tickets the past three years.
- I’ve waited out hours-long, freezing cold rain delays.
- I don’t even want to know how much cash I’ve dropped on merchandise, tickets, or ballpark food…
- I even named my car (which is, obviously, Cardinal red) Tony, after our former manager and Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa.
…And let’s not forget the time I literally got weak in the knees over my Cardinals. It was approximately 3:32 p.m. on the afternoon of March 28, 2011, when my favorite player, pitcher Adam Wainwright, walked past me at a local mall (not that I kept track of the date or anything…).
But as much as I love the St. Louis Cardinals… I love the Lord more.
WIRED TO WORSHIP
I’m such a huge Cardinals fan because, well, it’s how I was created. It’s part of how we were all created, actually, written into our very souls. We all have this innate desire to worship, given to us by God to lead to us to worship Him. But because we’re human, and have free will (not to mention original sin), we’re all really good at worshiping other things.
It’s so important to look carefully at where we’re sending our worship (our passions, hobbies, self-image, etc.) so that we can reorient our adoration when we get off track and spend it on Him. The Catechism says that worshiping God “sets man free from turning in on himself from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (CCC 2097). And when I look at how (and how much) I love the Cardinals, I can see a lot of areas where I need to grow in my relationship with God.
My faith has always been a part of my family, given to me by my parents at my Baptism. But how am I doing in returning the favor? Do I talk about my faith with my family and friends? Do I share with them about what God is doing in my life? Do we pray together?
What about my time? Will I stay up late or get up early to talk to God? Do I drop other plans to spend time with Him at Mass or in Adoration? Will I make sacrifices to grow in my relationship with Him? Have I spent as much time with the Scriptures as I have on espn.com? Have I committed anywhere near as much of my money to His Church or to charity as I have to tickets and jerseys?
Look, there’s nothing wrong with being passionate about Cardinal baseball (or whatever it is that you love as much as I love my Redbirds). Our interests and hobbies help us to be well-rounded people, not to mention the ways they build community and create fun. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, yo. C.S. Lewis even said that joy is the serious business of Heaven. Thank God for all the great experiences we have in our lives. They can and should lead us to praise Him.
But the start of each new season is also a great reminder to check myself. If we’re ever wondering what we really worship, all we need to do is look at what gets most of our time, money, and attention. And if our priorities are ever out of whack, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is always available for a fresh start.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
I will remember the night of October 27th, 2011 until the day I die. I was in Busch Stadium for Game 6 of the World Series, Cardinals vs. Texas Rangers, with the Cardinals down in the Series, 3 games to 2. We were facing elimination and the horrifying possibility that the other guys might become champs in our house.
We were down by two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, and down to our last strike… when somehow, miraculously, hometown hero David Freese tied the game and sent us into extra innings. Texas immediately regained the lead, and all hope seemed lost once more, but right fielder Lance Berkman tied it up again.
And then, in the bottom of the 11th, a solo homerun from Freese sent us screaming with joy toward Game 7 and led us on to our 11th World Championship.
I don’t know that I’ll ever have the words to accurately describe what it felt like in that stadium when Freese connected with that final pitch. Everyone lost their minds, screaming and crying and jumping up and down, hugging strangers and snapping pictures and saying over and over again, “I can’t believe it!” We couldn’t stop smiling or cheering or high-fiving one another, and even though the game had taken four and half hours, no one wanted to leave.
I know that Busch Stadium, on that night, was a preview of Heaven. After such a gut-wrenching battle, going back and forth, falling behind (twice), being down to our last strike (twice), and ending with victory? I’ve never seen anything else like it. My heart was racing, my legs went numb, I felt a little light-headed and lost my voice screaming. Fireworks erupted and confetti filled the sky. And it didn’t matter that I was surrounded by strangers. There were no strangers in Busch Stadium that night, because everyone was caught up in this greater joy.The air was electric.
Yes, I love the St. Louis Cardinals. But as much as I love Cardinal baseball, I love the Lord more. And if that night was even a small taste of the joy and celebration and love of Heaven… then there’s nothing in this world that could keep me from it.