Last night I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came upon an update from a page I follow, the Navin Field Grounds Crew. The page is run by a group of volunteers who give their time to maintain a baseball field at the site of Tiger Stadium (originally called Navin Field), the Detroit Tigers’ baseball park from 1912 to 1999. Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park opened on the same day in 1912, but Tiger Stadium met an early demise when the Tigers moved to Comerica Park in 2000; the city demolished the stadium several years later, but the grass field remains. The Navin Field Grounds Crew cuts the grass, chalks the foul lines, and always leaves out a ball and bat for any visitors who might come hoping to play.
The post from the Navin Field Grounds Crew was a picture of Detroit Tigers slugger Willie Horton visiting the old field, standing once again in the batter’s box where over 15 years as a Tiger he hit 262 home runs, drove in 886 runs, and was an all-star four times. Browsing through the rest of the Navin Field Grounds Crew posts I found pictures of Tigers greats, commemorations of dead baseball heroes on their birthdays, and an invitation to the Tiger faithful to come out to old Tiger Stadium and watch a video of Game 5 of the 1984 World Series on a big screen. Though the beloved stadium is gone, this group of people refuses to let the memory of the place die, preserving its history while also making sure its life continues: high school teams without their own fields use it to practice, learning baseball on the hallowed ground of Detroit’s greatest players.
I’ve visited the site of old Tiger Stadium several times with my family, but I myself am from Chicago, a city with a storied baseball history of its own. I grew up rooting for the Cubbies through good years and bad, adopting the superstitions of my parents, and praying each spring that the Cubs would finally field a team good enough to get them to the World Series, a feat they haven’t managed since 1945. (They haven’t won the Series since 1908.)
As a Catholic, it’s hard for me not to see the parallels between baseball and my faith. Catholicism is a religion of tradition. It elevates as models certain men and women who have done a great job of living Christ’s message in the world. Every young Yankee who comes up to the Majors knows he walks in the shadow of Babe Ruth; every Red Sox player knows he carries on the tradition of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Might not the Hall of Fame be baseball’s Communion of Saints?
Baseball is a humble, earthly attempt to live out the virtues that Christianity calls us to: it requires commitment, teamwork, hustle and hard work. It embodies the key Christian concept of sacrifice—there’s a baseball term called a “sacrifice” where a player bunts the ball knowing he’ll be out just to advance his teammate on the bases. Baseball allows for sin—“errors”—but provides ample opportunity for redemption. No one’s stardom is assured—remember Adam Dunn’s descent into obscurity—just as Christianity warns us to beware of pride and reminds us that we’re all in need of mercy. But baseball also raises people from the ashes, resurrecting their formerly futile efforts and giving them the strength and the chance once again to be heroes.
Baseball requires faith, belief, and hope from fans even when all seems lost. As a Cubs fan, I can attest to this last. Following the Chicago Cubs is no casual fandom; while I’m only 20 years old, my father has sat through many a game throughout his 58 years in anguish as his team lost its chance at greatness. His Cubs fan father died without ever seeing the World Championship come to Chicago. The 107-year drought is cause for group depression among Cubs faithful, but true fans’ belief never wavers, their love of the Cubs never fades. I take this love as a testament to the power of God in our lives; as God gives us grace and perseverance for the tough times in life, so God gives Cub fans the strength to come back year after year, cheering on their team through the good and the bad. My faith in the Cubs reinforces my faith in God.
So the next time you’re on Facebook, consider looking up the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Their belief is a particularly unique one: that their beloved ballpark has not died in vain, that even in death it has the power to bring new life to those who stand upon it, just as Christ’s death brings new life to us all.