On September 12, I made the 90 minute drive up to Cleveland with my cousin Dave to watch the Cleveland Indians play the Detroit Tigers. Dave and I had talked about seeing an Indians game sometime this season, and, given that the end of the regular season is approaching, time was running out for us to follow through on this agreement. It just so happens that the Indians were in the midst of a 19-game winning streak, so we had the chance to see them go for number 20, which would tie the record for the longest winning streak in American League history.
I hadn’t been to a baseball game in years. I went to several games while I was growing up, as my Dad was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though I can’t say I completely lost interest in the sport, as I got older, I wasn’t nearly as invested as I was when I was a boy. It’s only within the last year that I’ve really started to appreciate the complexity of baseball. That the Indians are playing well certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Given this, some may call me a fair weather fan. Such an accusation may be somewhat warranted, though I’ve long considered myself a fan of Cleveland sports in general.
As we stood in line to get into the park, the Indians came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning. Their leadoff hitter, Francisco Lindor, hit a homerun. Though we were outside of the park, we heard the commotion and knew what happened. The game was off to a good start.
We reached out seats by the start of the second inning. Although they weren’t the best seats in the stadium, we had a pretty good view of all of the action. I commented to Dave at least twice that I liked our seats.
Because it had been so long since I’d been to a game, I almost forgot the excitement that goes along with seeing live baseball. I’ve often heard people say that they find baseball on TV to be boring but enjoy going to games. Though I’ve learned to appreciate watching on TV, there still isn’t quite anything like watching a game in person. Again, the fact that the Indians are a good team in the midst of an historic winning streak does help.
All this is to say that I was excited.
In both the second and third innings, the Indians loaded the bases, but they did so without scoring any runs. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that first baseman Carlos Santana scored from third base on a wild pitch, making the score 2-0.
Meanwhile, Indians pitcher Corey Kluber was pitching a great game. The team had two relief pitchers up in the bullpen during the seventh and eighth innings, but in both of these innings, Kluber got three outs without giving up a run.
As the game reached the ninth inning, Dave commented that there wasn’t anyone up in the bullpen. I wondered if Kluber was going to come out for the ninth. Given his pitch count of 102 pitches up to that point, I didn’t really think he would.
Sure enough, as the players took the field for the last inning, Kluber walked out of the dugout to the pitcher’s mound. The place went crazy. Personally, I was more excited at that moment than I had been all game. He was going for a complete game shutout for 20 wins in a row. To quote Brad Pitt’s character in ‘Moneyball’, “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” (Coincidentally, the 2002 Oakland Athletics, the team featured in that film, are the same team that set the 20-game winning streak that the Indians were trying to match.)
Fly ball. One out. Great play on a grounder by second baseman José Ramírez. Two outs. Now the crowd is on their feet. Kluber gets to two strikes.
Then, a double. Uh oh.
Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters on the Tigers, is now up to bat and represents the tying run. First pitch, a called strike. Second pitch, a ball in the dirt. Third pitch, he makes contact. A ground ball to third base. A throw to first.
With that, the Indians tie the American League record for longest winning streak at 20 games.
As one can see from all of the detail I put into this description of the game, and especially the last inning, I was (and am) excited. It’s not every day that your favorite team ties the record for the longest winning streak. The Indians are a very good team. Plus, with the Cavs making the NBA Finals three years in a row and winning a championship in 2016, and the Browns looking like they’re on their way up, it’s a good time to be a fan of Cleveland sports.
Yet I say all of this with the realization in mind that, in the grand scheme, none of this really means anything. Yes, I was excited about the game. Yes, I would love to see the Indians win the World Series this year, especially after getting so close last year. I do hope the Browns win a few games this year and continue to improve. I do hope that the Cavs win another championship and that LeBron James finishes his career in Cleveland.
But it doesn’t matter.
One may ask how I could spill so much digital ink writing about sports while immediately following these words with an admission that they don’t matter. The answer, I think, comes down to perspective.
I am a sports fan, but I watch the games, look up the stats, and follow the sports’ news while keeping in mind that there are much bigger issues in the world. Even though sports are a sacred cow of sorts in American culture, ultimately these events have an embarrassingly small impact on the course of human history. There are those who are genuinely passionate about their teams, devoting a lot of time, money, and energy to supporting them. While I appreciate their passion and occasionally share in it, I also think a frequent look at the bigger picture is necessary.
To those who are passionate, I say this: watch, follow, and enjoy, but do so with eyes open to the world. Appreciate the beauty of sport and our ability as humans to use our bodies to accomplish amazing feats of strength and ability, but know that such acts are not so important that they overshadow the other aspects of our humanity, both good and bad. Joy. Pain. Suffering. Love. Hate. Sacrifice. These can and do exist within athletics, but they certainly exist outside as well. See them within sport, but don’t lose sight of them in the world at large.
There is also the opposite viewpoint, one that says that sports merely contribute to a narrative of ‘bread and circuses’ in American society. I’ve wondered myself if there isn’t something to this idea.
Again, though, I see keeping an appropriate perspective is important. To be so focused on sports at the expense of an awareness of other goings-on is not good. However, viewing sports, or any kind of entertainment, in moderation can be a good thing. Enjoyment of these ‘good things’ is part of what makes the human experience special. For a biblical understanding, Ecclesiastes says, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecc. 5:19 ESV).
In all of this discussion, I think Houston Texans linebacker JJ Watt provides a good example. At the time of this writing, he has raised $31 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Yes, he is paid a lot of money to play a game. I imagine he enjoys his job. All the while, it seems like he sees that bigger picture. He understands what’s important, and as such, he is using his celebrity, and the influence it brings, to help those impacted by this disaster.
This is not some diatribe against professional sports or a condemnation of those who like and follow them. Personally, I find them to be a welcome distraction from some of the stresses of daily life. I’ll continue to take pleasure in watching and following sports. I’ll keep watching the Indians and the other Cleveland teams. Maybe I’ll get to a game every now and then. Yet I pray I do so with a mindset that keeps sports, and other forms of entertainment, in their proper place in my life.
A pilgrimage is an intensely personal journey, but it is not one that a pilgrim undertakes alone. I don’t want to ‘talk’ into a vacuum. I want to hear other voices, too. What I’m trying to say is, I want feedback! Have I spoken something to you? Is there something you think I should know? Do you have a question about something I said? Please leave a comment below or contact me at Pilgrim.Brett@gmail.com.
Also, follow me on the Pilgrim Shelter Facebook page to stay up to date on any new releases and for information about future posts. Thanks for reading!