In the midst of the difficult parts of life, baseball offers an escape. The green grass, the crack of the bat hitting the ball, the smell of roasted peanuts and hot dogs; it all, for just a moment, makes the world seem right again.
For me, it’ more than just a game because most of the memories I have surrounding baseball are the ones with my dad, like him grabbing me by the shoulder with one of his Popeye arms just as the crowd begins to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Or the sting in my hand after catching one of his “heaters” in the backyard. There were moments I’d be sitting in the stands next to him eating some Cracker Jacks, and I’d look over to see him staring at me, a big smile spreading across his face. He loved being there with me, and when I smiled back, I let him know, “Me too, Dad.”
Now, I look at my son like that, sitting next to me at a ballgame, and all this emotion wells up inside. Baseball is a dad holding his son’s hand as they walk into the stadium, it’s high fives with strangers after a home run, it’s being choked up when someone sings the National Anthem, it’s being together, and because God is so good at speaking our love languages, he likes to use baseball to speak to me.
There’s no better place in March to watch baseball than Arizona, so when my son, David, was old enough, I couldn’t wait to take him there. Our first game was at Cincinnati’s Spring Training home field, and when we walked through the gates, we were immersed in a sea of red. Our purple Colorado Rockies gear definitely stood out, but we didn’t care. David tapped his Rockies hat and looked over at me with a smile. We walked through the gates, and there was that pristine green field. People brushed past us on their way to a beer or maybe, if they were lucky, a signature from a player. The sun was shining, and everyone wore shorts, something Colorado people weren’t used to in March. There were players on the field starting to warm up, stretching and throwing the ball back and forth, and Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” started playing. Wonder snuck up on us both and left us standing there, overwhelmed.
It’s a special thing when an adult and a kid both are struck with wonder at the same time. Usually, an adult will get hit by an amazing view, but the kid is too caught up in a phone to notice. Or a kid will get excited about Santa, but the adults only pretend. This time, wonder gripped us both, and we had to stop right there on that concourse and stare.
“Look David,” I whispered, as if we were experiencing something holy, “There’s Ian Desmond!” I pointed to the field, and David strained his eyes into the bright sun to find one of his favorite Rockies players. He was there, right by home plate, talking to some fans. We stood in the shade under the upper deck, watching him talk, watching Charlie Blackmon run back and forth, getting his legs ready, watching the grounds crew dust off the plates and wrap up the hoses. It was all so beautiful, and we both felt it.
We were so lost in the moment, we barely noticed Ian waving. He had a ball in his hand and was waving it in our direction, but we were 30 rows up in the shade. “Is he waving at us?” David asked, looking at me.
“I don’t think so,” I said, but he kept gesturing. Just to see what would happen, I kept my eyes on Ian but pointed at David. Ian nodded, and I was in shock. “Seriously? All the way up here?” He must have seen David’s Rockies hat in all that red and, could it be, was actually going to throw us the ball. “Oh boy, David!” I shouted, my heart pounding. “Get ready.” I nodded back at Ian. David held out his glove, and after Ian cocked back his arm like the lever-action on a rifle, we watched him hurl that beautiful white baseball into the air.
David reached out over the rail, stretching as far as he could go. The baseball flew toward us. Fans watched it sail through the air, but when it finally landed, it fell right into the mitt of the man in front of us. My heart sank. It felt like an epic tragedy, like something Shakespeare would write, but there was hope.
As the tangled arms and confusion in the crowd dissipated, Ian was shaking his head “no” and pointing. He was pointing at David! The man handed David the baseball like a hot potato, and Ian gave us a thumbs up. I could’ve cried right there, in front of all those people, but I held it together and wrapped my son up in a hug. The rest of the day, David stared at that ball nestled in his glove; it was his treasure, his reminder that out of all the people in the crowd, Ian picked him.
But who really picked who that day? Ian threw the ball, but God gave us the moment. God loves people the same way Ian did. He sees us in the shadows and picks us out of the crowd, not because of anything we’ve done, but because it’s in His nature to love, and then He gives us what we don’t deserve—green grass, a father and son caught up in the wonder of a moment, a baseball from Ian Desmond, and Jesus. That’s grace. He throws us His own kind of baseball, and just like my dad smiling at me eating the Cracker Jacks, you can bet God smiles when we enjoy what He gives.
David left the game that day holding tight to a baseball. He held his head high, not really because of a baseball but because of the story of the one who gave it to him. He was much more than just another face in the crowd. Someone picked David, like someone picked all of us who believe, and his story would never be the same.