Thursday, May 31, 2007

superstition and substance

I didn’t write last night because it was after midnight when I finally got home. I went with some friends to Fenway Park to see our beloved Red Sox play the Cleveland Indians. The Sox have been on quite a tear so far this season and had won five games straight. Our new pitching sensation, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or Dice-K as we call him here, was on the mound, the weather for the evening was picture perfect, and there was a blue moon coming up over the stands as darkness fell (you can see it between the lights and the press box if you look hard in my camera phone pic). My friend Doug and I drove into town with the top down on the Wrangler. We left early because Boston traffic is always a dice roll and got to town early enough to hang out in the Sunset Cantina and have a couple of beers. Then we moved on and met Jay and Marc. A good time was had by all, even though we lost.

And it’s all Doug’s fault.

Somewhere around the third or fourth inning, while we were still up 2-0, Doug told us the Sox lost every time he came to a game. Our whole section took it pretty well, until the sixth inning when Dice-K rolled craps and the Indians scored six runs. Doug went down to get a beer as the Sox came to bat and the first three batters hit singles. When he came back to his seat, the bases were loaded with no outs. “Go back downstairs,” we yelled to no avail. The next three batters were retired and we lost the game 8-4.

Baseball is known for its superstitions. When Nomar Garciaparra played here, he had this ritual of tapping his fingers on his arm in three different places before he stepped into the batter’s box. Curt Schilling won’t step on the chalk lines between the dugout and the pitcher’s mound. Watch a game for long and you’ll see any number of players kiss medallions around their necks as they step up to the plate. When the bases loaded up last night, there were several in our section who put on our “rally caps,” turning our caps around or inside out, hoping to foster a change in the situation. Things weren’t going well as they were, so we were going to change what we could to see if that would make a difference. Neither turning our hats around in Section 29 or banning Doug to a beer run appeared to be either necessary or meaningful on the change meter, but it was what we could do.

I’ve been thinking this morning about what we get out of our superstitions. I’m guessing it gives Schilling a sense of preparedness. This is a guy who works hard to get ready for a game. He almost choreographs every pitch before the game begins, keeping copious notes on the hitters he faces. Stepping over the chalk on purpose maybe his way of reminding himself he’s ready. (And maybe not.) Sometimes it provides a sense of community. Whatever happened last night, we had fun together in Section 29. One thing I saw last night makes me think superstition can connect us to history and tradition. There was a father sitting with his little girl in the row behind us last night; she was probably four. He was wearing a glove. We were in seats where his catching a foul ball would have altered the laws of physics as we know them. I’ll bet he has taken a glove to every game he’s seen, regardless of where his seats were.

When we’re all bunched together in Friendly Fenway, our superstitions carry a harmless sentimentality that adds to the lure and luster of baseball on an early summer night. And they’re not true beyond the truth we choose to assign to them. Doug wasn’t the reason we lost; their manager pulled their fading pitcher faster than ours did. (Really, Doug. If I get tickets again, I’ll call. Really.)

Now I’ve got this song in my head:

very superstitious, writing's on the wall,
very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall,
thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass
seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.

when you believe in things that you don't understand,
then you suffer -- superstition ain't the way
If you read this post as I wrote it, you will sit and stare at the words to the chorus for about ten minutes. I think I’d make one change: when you believe in things you don’t understand and you suffer. Anj has an interesting post about a conversation with her sons which includes her saying, “Life is about discomfort, and one of our tasks is to learn to live graciously in the midst of that discomfort.” I’ll bet she knows the song.

I learned Hebrews 11:1 from the King James: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is believing – trusting – what I don’t understand: that God is love and grace is true and I suffer. We all do. Making meaning of what we don’t understand requires more than stepping over cracks, throwing salt over our shoulders, or sending money to televangelists. Superstition ain’t the way. It has no substance.

However fun it might be, superstition is ultimately fueled by guilt: if I do (or don’t do) this, bad things will happen. Doug came back + we lost = Doug should be banned from Fenway. When it comes to nourishing our faith, guilt is nothing but empty calories. (I think I’m mixing metaphors.) The substance of things hoped for lies in the forgiveness and community; the evidence of things not seen is in the way we love one another.

Thank God for all I don’t undestand.



Anonymous said... I know why Youk struck out with the basees loaded...BTW, did Jay show you where our tickets are for the 13th? How bout those Durham bulls! Peace, JB

Anonymous said...

I don't know...I think your friend should be banished anyway! Messin' with the Sox mojo...yikes!


Go Sox!

Anonymous said...

Well-said, knock wood.