Do you have a high pain threshold? When it comes to physical pain, I must admit, I’m a bit soft. I’m not one of those guys who has visions of himself enduring weeks or months of pain, suffering and hunger on an desolate island after being shipwrecked and left for dead. I’m more like the guy who envisions himself calling on his cell phone for help, waiting about 20 minutes, and then covering himself in bacon grease so the bears will eat him quickly. What about you? Of course, there are many forms of pain, and while my physical pain threshold may not be particularly high, I’m learning live with -- even embrace! -- pain in other areas of life. After all, endurance is a requirement for anyone who wants to live the Overboard Life!
On April 18, 1981, in the New England town of Pawtucket, two baseball teams from the International League began a game at 8:00pm, with no possible knowledge of what was about to transpire. Before the eight hour game was over, every American professional baseball game record for length of game (in hours and innings), for at-bats, for pitches, for walks, strikeouts, put-outs and plate appearances would be broken. Two future hall-of-famers would be present but have no bearing on the final outcome. The game was suspended, at 4:09am, by a phone call from the IL president, and finished, as only baseball can do, two months later on June 23rd (after just 18 minutes of play).
I can’t imagine playing in a baseball game that lasted over eight hours, although I must admit that had I been in attendance, I most likely would have stayed to the end. By most counts, only 19 people (of the original 1,800 in attendance) watched the final at-bat in the bottom of the 32nd inning after the clock struck 4am. Despite the thinning crowd (is 19 a crowd?), the bitter cold wind blowing thru the stadium and the lack of any end in site, both teams played through less-than-stellar early Spring conditions in Rhode Island that night, and finished the marathon baseball game.
While few, if any, understood the significance of the game, years later, they would be grateful for the experience. Pawtucket’s Dave Koza, who had the game-winning hit, would later say, “Nothing I ever do in life will probably compare with this!” And Rochester’s Dallas Williams would later add, “It sank in the next day. Man, we just played 32 innings of baseball. We joked about it. We had smiles on our faces. I was thankful I was a baseball player and on the field that night. As time went by, I appreciated it more.”
The stadium was packed on June 23rd when the two teams met to finish the game. Extra tables were set up for the 150 members of the press who came to see the end of this marathon game. It ended after one inning of play -- just 18 minutes -- and Pawtucket won the game. Koza, the Pawtucket hero, was inundated with fan mail, letters of praise and national recognition for his part in the drama. While he would never play baseball at the Major League level, he will always be remembered for his part in this story. Cal Ripken Jr, one of baseball’s all time great players, and another not-too-shabby infielder named Wade Boggs, would both be enshrined in MLB’s Hall of Fame, and both would be forever connected as players in that marathon game.
But why? Why play baseball for 8 hours? Why endure the cold? Why not just give up and let the other team win? Why not forfeit? Why would an umpire, in attendance with his 9-year-old nephew, keep the game going? Why wouldn’t one of the team managers put an end to this nonsense? In his book, Bottom of the 33rd, Dan Barry suggests this reason: “Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, and possibility.”
I sat on those words for a few minutes, thinking about how they applied to baseball. There is a majesty to baseball, even thought it’s just a game, and there is an honor to its members and history that is different than any other sport. Baseball history binds today’s players to an unwritten duty from the past, and challenges them, through the eras, to do greater than their forefathers. Baseball players tend to be fiercely loyal, and anyone who watches the game knows it is nearly a religion.
As I thought about those words and how they reflected the great American Pastime, I began thinking about how they applied, even more, to life. Why should we endure hardships that stretch our faith? Why should we follow God’s path for our lives, when it’s guaranteed -- 2 Timothy 3:12 -- to have challenges, struggles and trials? Why not quit? Why not give up and take the easy path?
Simply put, to steal from Dan Barry, “Because we are duty bound. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own [spiritual] way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection and possibility.” Think about each of those phrases:
We are duty bound: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NIV). We are bound to God in holy duty, because of the sacrifice of Christ. God’s love compels us to keep pressing on!
We aspire to greater things: “God can do anything you know, more than you could ever imagine, guess or request in your wildest dreams...” (Ephesians 3:20, The Message). The possibilities for our lives are endless, not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is!
We are loyal: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV). We press on because of what is in store for us, in this life and the next. We loyally set aside any earthly gain in order to be faithful in Christ!
We are celebrating communion, and resurrection and possibility: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead, will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11, NIV). The power that resurrected Christ from the dead is the same power that unites all believers in holy communion, and it is celebrated and remembered in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which is the power that removes any barriers from any God-given goal!
Whatever you’re going through, I urge you to press on. Whatever challenges you face, keep moving forward as you follow Christ, out of the comfort of the boat, and out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom. The game you’re in might go extra innings, the wind may start blowing cold and the spectators will disappear long before the challenge is finished, but duty, greatness, loyalty and holy communion call you onward. Answer the call, get out of the boat, and see what God will do.
“Play Ball!” and finish the game, no matter how long it takes.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water.