Behold, I Make All Things Old: Hope, Simplicity, and Amish Baseball

I’m a Christian, a baseball fan, and someone who absolutely loathes practical jokes. Which makes this April 1 about two-thirds of the way to being a sensational day.

Setting aside the fooling that I’ll hope to avoid, today’s combination of Easter Monday with major league baseball’s opening day underscores what E.J. Dionne (quoting from a new book by John Sexton) has to say in this morning’s column:

Woodrow Wilson throwing out the first pitch of the 1916 season
Pres. Woodrow Wilson engaged in what in 1916 was still a new tradition: throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season – Library of Congress

It can’t be an accident that baseball always starts around the time of both Easter and Passover and, thus, “elicits a sense of renewal.” For the faithful, it means that “the long dark nights of winter are over” and “the slate is clean.” All teams, the exalted and lowly alike, “are tied at zero wins and zero losses.” This, in turn, means that the fervent cry “Wait’ll next year” becomes “prologue, replaced by hope.”

Or as that noted baseball book known as the Apocalypse of St. John puts it, more succinctly and authoritatively, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Of course, if we’re looking for signs, it’s tempting to read something into the fact that the coldest Minnesota Twins home opener in half a century will take place this afternoon (chance of a 15 degree wind chill). It probably bodes poorly for the Twins’ chances this year. We’re at zero wins and zero losses and there’s always hope, but in a week or two we’ll be well into waiting till next year.

Still, as the losses mount for the home nine and the temperature struggles to climb into the forties, I’ll warm myself rereading Kent Russell’s recent New Republic piece on a most unusual and inspiring combination of Christianity and baseball:

A hard breeze combed through the surrounding cornfields, a shush I spun around to appreciate. Then I noticed the backstop. Not just saw it, but realized that all the other Amish schoolhouses I’d driven by—they didn’t have hoops or goals or uprights in their playfields—they had backstops and baseball diamonds. One boy ran barefoot across the grass and positioned his shoes as bases. Then several more joined him, and they side-armed a ball around the horn with terrible mechanics but unflinching competence. A lefty took up a bat, and I took a few steps back, understanding now that the fence I stood behind doubled as the right-field wall.

He was a new teen whose taut physique had him looking like a system of ropes and pulleys. He stroked a ball over my head, laces hissing. When I sneaked back a few minutes later, he was fielding impassively, scooping and throwing with kinesthetic tics I remember having once, when I was little and in love with the game, before coaches smoothed all that out. They made him seem more authentic, more faithful to the form, like warps and bubbles in handblown glass.

The Amish play baseball! I thought. Of course they do.

Of course they do. Anyone whose chosen “way of living argues implicitly that tradition is sacred, that preservation is as important or perhaps more important than progress, that obeying and yielding are virtuous, that the personal reality might not be the supreme” might be perfectly fine with a game that “me and a farmer sent forward in time from 1860 could sit down and enjoy [for] nine innings with few or no expository leanings-over necessary.”

(“Behold, I make all things old,” perhaps?)

Amish children playing baseball
Wikimedia

But even if you’re one of the growing numbers of non-Amish Americans who’s less and less enraptured by the antebellum charms of baseball (“If you want to get into it, you have to be OK with yoking yourself to the game’s considerable weight. It’s like an inheritance, a gift old people want you to accept, maintain, and someday pass on. Which, really, is the last thing any one of us wants when he’s young”), then you should still read Russell’s article, since it’s ultimately a meditation on how the Amish preserve the integrity of the individual and the community in the face of modern fragmentation.

Russell’s not interested in telling a simple story, but ultimately, he’s drawn to the simplicity of a people who seem to know exactly who they are and don’t care how they’re perceived:

This is the attraction, this idea of the Amish. That we might come to Lancaster and encounter what appears to be our past, the simple, rich, idyllic existence back when our freedom from had yet to develop into our freedom to. Here’s what we could have been had we stayed the inevitable.

It’s both condescending and a self- deception, of course, this idea. But in my car, I had to admit: It’s hard to lay off of.

Read the full article here.


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