I’m starting to get it. The spirituality of baseball. The miraculous has happened: the Cubs have won the World Series.
Consider me an acolyte of this liturgy. It’s taken me a long time to warm up to it. I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, i.e., a Cubs fan by birth. I never quite got the game, but I learned both to hope for the unimaginable and to guard my heart against the usual.
I guess I’m cynical that way.
And then we got into the postseason. Then into the conference championship. Then there were only four more wins between us and history.
In fellowship we watched on the edge of our seats, tearing the hems of our garments, when at the eleventh hour failure suddenly seemed possible.
And then, the heavens opened. The powers that be called for an interruption to the conflict. We waited, catching our breath. We reflected on what victory would mean. We prepared for the possibility of defeat, of facing the next day with our messianic hopes crushed.
Was it something divine that guided our brave, tired warriors’ arms? Zobrist the Constant. Montero, spiting the odds. (Don’t bet against Montero.) Bryant. Rizzo. Suddenly it was over and we were hearing words no living person has ever heard.
Their struggle is a whole city’s reprieve from the grave. Their victory vindicates a century’s hope. It reinscribes the future not as “next year” but as “anytime.”
Reasoning with Myself
My left brain tells me it’s a lot about psychology. Baseball, more than any other sport, is a perfect storm of intermittent reinforcement. Most sports have constant action, constant movement, progression up or down a field. Baseball mostly has a guy throwing a ball either well or poorly and another guy mostly not hitting the ball. When the guy does hit it, maybe 90% of the time someone catches or throws him out.
It’s a game where mostly nothing happens. It’s structured on disappointment.
Until something does happen. Until disappointment becomes a single base, then a runner on third, then a scoring run. Hope is rekindled. Why? Because So-and-so was throwing against My Boy? Because I was drinking a Chicago beer? Because my friend’s wife hasn’t washed her Cubs jersey since the series started?
The drama of the game depends on rare, seemingly random moments of excitement drawn out over long spans of time. That’s well-known as the best recipe for reinforcing behavior, and it contributes, I think, to so much of the superstition around it.
Despite Myself My right brain doesn’t care about the intermittent reinforcement schedule. Doesn’t care about how little relationship there is between me and anything to do with the Cubs outside of geography.
I still got caught up in the drama. I still cheered for Ross’s home run, for just about anything Zobrist did, for Rizzo tagging Lindor as he raced back to first. I still felt that mystical participation for which there is no philosophical justification.
Because it really is spiritual. Not that the Cubs have effected anything beyond a social salvation, but because we’re spiritual creatures seeking fellowship. Seeking hope. Seeking the concrete emblems of the drama we feel, deep down, belongs to our lives together.