old brooklyn, fandom and the absence of christian commitment


In my line of work for The Man, I am brought into regular contact with people from all walks of life. Most of them leave me with a significant deficit with regard to my faith in humanity. Occasionally, I’ll get a talker, someone who uses an issue with their banking information as reason to launch into unrelated parts of their life. My job as a financial services advisor sometimes then more closely resembles that of a therapist, bartender or Miss Cleo (though I don’t need to fake a Caribbean accent to tell someone to pay a bill.) The talkers usually try the patience of even the most battle-tested advisor. On rare occasion, though, it isn’t an exercise in long-suffering.

I was putting in overtime on a Sunday when an older gentleman called in having issues with his account. I assisted him with what was a fairly routine matter, but noticed that part of his account looked familiar. So I risked unleashing a talker, asking if this part of his portfolio was related to the last year the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series. The gentleman, who was struggling to hear through the business portion of our call, suddenly shot to life. “You’re too young to know something like that!”, he exclaimed.

From there, I discovered firsthand just how loyal native, long-time Brooklynites are to their long-lost–stolen, some might say–team. When Frank McCourt’s financial troubles forced him to sell the Los Angeles [with apologies to the East Coast] Dodgers, there were some baseball nostalgists and other cultural purists who tried [unseriously] floating the idea of reclaiming the team from the Pacific time zone. After all, the Nets were coming to Brooklyn, so why not bring the prodigal team home? Those who are old enough to remember not only that there was a team in Brooklyn, but the fact that the Dodgers moniker was shorthand for ‘Trolley Dodgers’ and, well, there aren’t any trolleys in LA, still mourn the loss of their beloved Bums. (LA, on the other hand, has lots of those.) They don’t even root for the Dodgers anymore; as far as some are concerned, the Dodgers stopped existing in 1958. (EDITORIAL ASIDE: This is unlike when the Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup in 1996 and Quebec went up in flames celebrating as though they were still Les Nordiques–I suppose I can understand, it was the very next year after relocation–and more akin to the fact that, in Minnesota, Norm Green still sucks and the Stars still hated. North Stars, loved; Stars, hated. I digress.)

In any case, our conversation wandered throughout baseball, the gentleman recalled vividly going to Ebbets Field, Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ’round the world and his upstairs New York Baseball Giants neighbors forcing him to take the back alley to school every day that winter, the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium (though he hated and still hates the Yankees, and has little to no affinity for the Mets) and watching Mays, Snider, Robinson, Mantle and the rest of the talent that poured out of baseball in those years. I mentioned how I shared his lack of love for the Yankees as a native Wisconsinite who knows that Yankees manager Casey Stengel once referred to Milwaukee as ‘Bushville’ (he liked that) and the Braves then proceeded to stick it to the mighty Yanks in ’57 (he really liked that) and then proceeded to remember watching Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews when the Braves were still in Boston.

For an hour, we talked baseball’s golden age, not as a client and company agent, but as friends. He lucidly and clearly recalled things I’ve long envied: championships, watching athletic greatness and sports history unfurl in real time. He clearly communicated a love, passion and commitment to the game and his team that few could ever begin to rival, and remembered things as though they had happened an hour ago. This young, Scandinavian-American chump working an entry-level financial job and this old Brooklyn Jew, talking baseball–he was still well in tune with the game today, heaping praise on the Brewers’ Ryan Braun–and enjoying each other’s company. I couldn’t have a conversation that enjoyable with my own grandfather or with senior members of my old church, for that matter.

Christians could stand to learn something from old Dodgers fans.

If we’re interested in the naked truth, we’re not a very principled bunch. We’re not committed to our team the way old Dodger, Nordique, Green Bay Packer, Minnesota North Stars fans are. We like the game for whatever reason, but most of us couldn’t tell someone a thing about its history, the figures and their contributions, ideas on how its played. Instead, it’s more like we’ve been longtime season ticket holders but have never actually watched the game on the field. Instead, we go to the columnists, the talking heads, the radio hosts and the blogs for information about the game. We have more fans of Mark Driscoll than of Mars Hill or their insipid notions of church. Most sports fans hate the Yankees and their big bankroll ethos, but we’ll gladly find the closest megachurch and act like we’ve always been there, a part of the faceless masses who get together every Sunday to get together every Sunday.

The fact is that, when we’re faced with serious questions about our game, we don’t have a response. We don’t think about the game we play, we get by on grace alone and hope that some pat answer about the time we came to Christ is good enough to at least divert the conversation. The truth is that we’re on the bandwagon, we’re trained to get on that bandwagon young and to keep our butts in it until that bandwagon gets us home, a lifetime of pathetic, uninspired slavery to an ecclesiastical routine. We couldn’t tell you about Karl Barth or Thomas a Kempis (well, I could, but I also prepaid for the opportunity to never use that educational experience for future gainful employment with my first 32 children.) The language of our shared religious commitment is lost on us completely, deferring to the supposed experts: ministers and pop writers who are usually no more insightful than the idiot on local (or national) sports talk radio, while ignoring the real experts who can translate dork stats into meaningful interpretation of the game.

The fact that someone could, in two minutes, rattle off at least 10% of the current membership of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but an Evangelical Christian can’t properly explain the core theological principles that provide the grounding for our religious commitment is embarrassing. We’ve tried to use a similar corollary, ‘if you can cheer and shout and yell for your team, you should be able to do that in church, too!’, but that’s garbage. We grow up with a passion for the game which leads us to understand it, which develops commitment to and eventual love for the game. In church, we are taught that we’re supposed to be emotionally passionate for Christ, but skeptical of, if not hostile to, theology and further religious education. Such a system does not lend itself to lifelong commitment, rather to a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, or continuing to feed the fact that, at young adulthood, men and women alike are leaving the church in droves.

The harder we preach for more fire and more revival, like signing big money free agents rather than sustaining a commitment to building the farm system from within, the more moribund the franchise becomes. My Milwaukee Brewers spent 20 years in the crapper because they drafted poorly (Anthony Williamson, anyone?) and made horrible decisions investing in free agents (Jeffrey Hammonds?!?) So we fail to properly educate and equip our young talent, while making huge religious commitments to the Beth Moores and John Pipers of the church world.

Truth be told, we’re the Cubs: horrible at drafting, horrible with signing free agents and have had a century of futility to show for it. Our motto could even be the same: wait ’til next year.

In reality, what we could use are a few old Brooklyn Jews: people steeped in the game who can vividly recall and instill the greatness of the past into the present with the intent of inspiring the future to something greater than what we have now. That way when we need to talk to the future, they can enjoy hearing something worth remembering from us, if for no other reason than there honestly aren’t many old people in our churches worth listening to right now, and all the talent is being destroyed in the minors or given away. And we can’t exactly draw crowds with Donald Miller bobblehead night, either.

I suppose the only question left is how much longer before ownership is going to pack up shop?

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