The Immortality of Joy

"If God had not wanted us to experience the joy of eternity on earth, He would not have given us baseball.

In the Big Inning – If God had not wanted us to experience the joy of eternity on earth, He would not have given us baseball.

The other night, during the Hot Stove League Banquet in Sugar Land, fellow SABR member Jim Kruez asked the discussion panel for recollections of their biggest memories in baseball. The answers came roaring back as graphic tales of the joy that flows from winning something dramatic and worthwhile. Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti, for example, recalled the conclusion of Game Seven in the 1987 World Series and the celebration that followed immediately with his Minnesota Twins teammates as they mobbed each other and rolled around in a pile on the infield in the moments that came upon them as the aftermath of their home victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sensory memories of smiling faces, hugs, caps and gloves flying through the air, the quick sightings of teammates running toward you as you lay in the pile with your left cheek pressed firmly to the ground, the roar of the crowd, celebratory teammate yells, a quick instance of replay in the mind of how the last out was made ~ all of these things were implied in the few actual words that remained as Gaetti’s report the other night.

Gaetti’s sensory impressions had been augmented over time with thoughts about what that moment meant. It meant that Gary Gaetti and the 1987 Twins had attained what all big league teams pursue, but only the few attain. They had lived to experience the joy of the moment that is the soulfully unforgettable reward that belongs only to the winners of the World Series.

That moment of joy is nothing less than a personal experience with the attainment of humanity’s universal wish – to know sweet joy forever in a place called Heaven,Valhalla, eternity, or the peaceful garden of our own back yards.

And baseball, perhaps more strongly than any other sport, has laid out for its crusaders a path to joyful victory that is more loaded with pot holes and road dangers than any other. It helps to have talent, but often that ultimate success depends more on the chemistry of how well the parts fit together as a winning team over the grueling path of  a 162-game season. Then there’s the luck of how the ball bounces and the presence or absence of key injuries to irreplaceable personnel. And then there’s the occasional improbability that the 1914 Braves, the 1951 Giants, or the 1969 Mets will come along and destroy the teams that “should have” won with a bag of one-season magic that produces its own special brand of joy in the moment that the entire baseball world remembers forever.

Bobby Thomson of the 1951 New York Giants, of course, is the poster boy for that truth. His three-run homer for a 5-4 playoff win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th of the final playoff game for the 1951 National League pennant is remembered today, of course, as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World!”

As for the losing 1951 Dodgers and the tortured soul of Ralph Blanca, the man who served up the historic home run to Thomson that afternoon at the Polo Grounds, their Brooklyn baseball culture already understood  from other arguably not-quite-so-painful years that “wait until next year” was the next usual step.

One step up from the agony of “wait until next year” found its voice in the Broadway musical and later 1955 movie we recall today as “Damn Yankees.” The show featured the longstanding frustrations of the Washington Senators, but the creators may just as well have been depicting the even more success-arid record of the St. Louis Browns – or even the “near miss” losers of 1951 and other seasons, the Brooklyn Dodgers:

“You gotta’ have hope! ~ Mustn’t sit around and mope!

Nothing’s half as bad as it may appear! ~ Wait’ll next year!

And hope!”

~ excerpt from the “Damn Yankees” (1955) musical and song, “Heart”.

Joy in the moment is really joy forever. It never leaves us, but we may abandon it, as we often do its identical twin, love, by erroneously devoting our energies through the human ego to matters that really don’t matter ~ or by blaming life for our disappointments.

Never abandon the sweetness of joy ~ and always remember – even when joy seems far away – it is still both attainable and recoverable – even if it means we have to rearrange our travel itineraries. In that plan, dear friends – “we gotta have hope!”

Thank you, Gary Gaetti, for your reminder!

















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