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God and Baseball

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It's always sad when the baseball season comes to a close. During the
long winter months that loom ahead, we won't get to see a single
baseball player point to the sky after a successful at-bat or pitch.


The point-to-the-sky motion quickly has become baseball's signature
celebratory gesture, sort of the national pastime's version of the
dance in the end zone. Barry Bonds is often credited with popularizing
point-to-the-sky and bringing it into wide use. Each one of Bond's
historic home runs, including numbers 715 (passing Babe Ruth) and 756
(passing Hank Aaron), featured the slugger pointing two index fingers
to the sky as he touched home plate, a visual shout out to the Great
Baseball Fan in the Sky.


Following Bonds, many other players have adopted the gesture as their
own. David Ortiz points to the Big Papi in the sky after every home
run. Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, and Preston Wilson all point to
the sky after every dinger. The Rockies' Matt Holliday goes with the
two-fingered point after big hits. Reliever Francisco Rodriguez points
to the sky after every save. The A's Nick Swisher points to the sky
after every hit, although Swisher says it's a tribute to his deceased
grandmother, not a high five to the Fan Upstairs. It used to be just
home runs that got the finger treatment, but now it's being extended
to weak dribblers up the third base line.


On one level, the point-to-the-sky gesture can be seen as a legitimate
way of giving thanks to an unseen Creator who has endowed the baseball
player with special gifts. The pro athlete's gifts are special indeed;
they enable grown men to play a kid's game and become millionaires. If
that doesn't deserve thanks, nothing does.


But the God invoked by ballplayers when they point to the sky is quite
a peculiar Deity, one whose preferences, desires, and team loyalties
seem to track very closely with those of the player doing the
pointing. The God that Barry Bonds points to doesn't worry about all
the steroid talk -- He just digs the long ball. David Ortiz's Big Papi
apparently doesn't care much for American League pitchers in general
or the Yankees and Rockies in particular. Reliever Francisco
Rodriguez's God doesn't think the save is a cheap stat; it's a great
stat! God knows the save should be more generously rewarded than it
already is, and with His help, Rodriguez will someday get the contract
he deserves.


We tend to fashion God in our own image and likeness. That's long been
the case; the Kings of the Middle Ages pictured God as a King ruling
over His subjects. But the Baseball God, the one baseball players
point to -- seems awfully single-minded about success. Isn't the God that
helps a player hit a mammoth home run the same God that helps him
strike out the next time up on three nasty sliders? Why aren't there
any baseball players who point to the sky after they whiff on three
pitches, or pop out to the mound, or ground into a rally-killing
double play? How about pointing after a successful sacrifice? Surely,
God has a special place in His heart for the sacrifice.


But then the Baseball God -- the one the players point to -- is all about
winning. The past World Series provided further proof: David Ortiz's
God was unstoppable. Practically omnipotent.

You can look it up. Or just point straight up.