The Church of Baseball

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I wouldn’t say I worship the sport, but I do enjoy attending services from time to time. I do tithe.

And I will say this much: Thank God for baseball. It has always transported me to a better place. For that, I feel blessed.

The modern pro stadiums are certainly cathedrals.

San Francisco’s AT&T Park and Denver’s Coors Field (where I attended two games this past weekend) have a similar aesthetic. When you reach the main walkway level, you catch a glimpse of the field and it appears otherworldly.

The perfectly manicured grass (mowed in a beautiful crisscross pattern) almost glows. It’s a field certainly reserved for the gods of Olympus to play on. I can’t imagine how there could ever be a bad hop on those divine infields.

The reverent effect of the stadium and field is intentional. It’s a nod to the history of the game, and though it’s blended with expensive tickets, overpaid athletes and video game blitz of between-inning schtick, I give it a pass.

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Baseball remains our national pastime and such an excellent diversion. The game’s natural rhythm hasn’t been destroyed by the influence of television the way the NFL has.

I “root root root for the home team,” and in this case, it’s the Colorado Rockies because I grew up there.

Even though I’d been following the team since its inception in 1993, I’d never seen a game at Coors Field (what kind of fan am I, really?). Like most of the new generation of baseball stadiums, it’s a beauty.

There’s a pine tree forest behind the center field wall. The scoreboard is a grand spectacle. Its interior includes restaurants and pubs and apparel shops and escalators and luxury suites.

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A group of lifelong friends enjoy a day at the yard.

The players may be millionaires, but they ply their trade amid incredible pressure to perform at the highest level at all times. A bad team means less people at the park and less revenue to feed the entire system of a business that employees hundreds. And that’s all before you begin a discussion about the expectations of so many thousands of fans.

Colorado first baseman Todd Helton might be the team’s first Hall of Famer, but if he doesn’t perform, the heavy scrutiny smacks him in the ear hole just like anyone else.

Still, if you’re going to work a high-stress job, this isn’t a bad one to have. These guys are playing a “game” after all.

As the players jog onto the field to warm up, one can almost feel the aura of confidence they exude. There’s a superstar gleam to their grins and a beautiful flow to their movements. It’s an incredible mix of God-given talent, years of focused practice, mental discipline and luck that has led them to this place. It’s a lucrative position, but also a short window.

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The game requires incredible athleticism — to see Carlos Gonzales’ sliding catch in right field was something to behold. A professional hitter must take a round bat and hit an unpredictable round ball traveling at speeds from 60 to 100 mph. Is the ball going to tail away, curve, drop, flutter or come straight at your head? Some think it’s the toughest thing to accomplish in sports. A great hitter fails seven out of 10 times at the plate.

It’s a game where human error makes the difference. An errant throw could lose the game. An umpire’s call (not instant replay) is the final word and they sometimes get it wrong. The pressure of certain situations can be felt by all 40,000 people attending this church of baseball.

You learn if you can perform in the clutch. You must overcome being the goat. You have to play great defense after you’ve struck out three times.

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Kids of all ages and sizes await a possible autograph prior to the game.

As a player or fan, you have to deal with a considerable amount of disappointment. But just like life, there’s another game and another chance waiting for you the next day.

My earliest memories of the game date back to Grand Mesa Little League in Western Colorado. There was a drive-in movie theater beyond the left-field fence. There was a fun park nearby with rides and miniature golf and cotton candy. The little league concession stand was filled with cheap pizza, hotdogs, popcorn and icy soda drinks.

It was a carnival of sights and sounds and I didn’t know any better than to consume it all voraciously. It was probably the best part of my childhood.

I lean on the game as an adult to get my mind off some of the less attractive aspects of life. To me it’s a positive diversion, and whether it takes place at Coors Field or Redding’s Tiger Field, it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll always want to be taken out to the ballpark and taken away.

And they all said: “Amen.”

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is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com
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