It happens every spring. The boys of summer return to their immaculately manicured cathedrals and people like me wax on about the splendors of the game. It doesn't matter that baseball slipped from its position as America's Game years ago. And if it's sunshine you want along with your hot dogs lathered with mustard, you have to wait for the Rays to play an away game. But nothing has replaced the game itself for its mystical qualities and sense of timelessness.
I watched an interview earlier this week with John Sexton, president of New York University, who also teaches a course at the school called “Baseball as a Road to God.” As you might imagine, it is the most popular course at NYU. Sexton, a Catholic with a doctorate in religion, also grew up in Brooklyn in the days of the Dodgers and wears Jackie Robinson's number, 42, on his academic robes. He admitted in the interview that there are no real parallels to religion and baseball and that despite all the metaphors in the game, his course is really less about either sport or religion and more about understanding ourselves. I like that. We're living in a culture where we don't take time for ourselves. It's not, as long as we're on metaphors here, that we don't take the time to stop and smell the roses. We don't even notice the rose garden. The magic of baseball is its encapsulated timelessness. You go to a game — or even if you watch it on the couch at home — and it is its own world, with dozens of subtleties and strategies that are going on at the same time. Yeah, the game is important, but it is a long season and is less about the score than the play. It's a game where stealing is a good thing and where you can even be rewarded for a sacrifice. I think my favorite times at the ball park were at the long-gone Al Lopez Field near today's Raymond James Stadium, watching the Reds in spring training. If you sat out in the bleachers in the sun, it wouldn't be long before you'd hear the sing-song voice of the guy selling ice cream. “Freeze your teeth and give your tongue a sleigh ride.” Even if you didn't want ice cream, you knew everything was all right with the world because that world was inside the aging stadium on a Florida spring day and nothing was going to disturb it. That's what Sexton is trying to do, get us to take a little time and become sensitive to the world around us. You probably don't have to go to a ballgame to find that inner peace or to become more attuned to the people and the complexities all around, but it helps. Actually, I'd rather walk a few blocks down the street from our house to the Little League diamonds, buy a bag of peanuts and sit in the bleachers. f you watch the kids long enough, or listen to their parents and coaches, you can get a feel for their own lives away from video games and smartphones. You can learn things, even about yourself, when you pay a little attention to the real world away from the electric tethers that control so much of our lives.