Grace, Marcy and Peace to you from God, our Father, and from his Son, Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t do it, you are wasting your time on this earth.” — Roberto Clemente, right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team from 1955-1972.
Faith and sports have long been part of my life, each inspiring valuable lessons on living. Each has taught me lessons about love, loss and life. Each has its own rewards and its version of universal truths.
To better understand faith, one need not look no further than common things in life. What better place to start than on the baseball field, a place treasured by so many.
As a youngster I grew up with Bible stories, Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and the lineup of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I participated in Sunday school and church; I listened to Pirate games on the radio, attended Pirate games at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium and studied baseball box scores and statistics. The former came with grace; the latter with the sports pages of the “Pittsburgh Press” and the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.”
While Luther and Bible stories were giving nourishment for my soul, the feats of Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, Bob Friend, Vernon Law, Elroy Face and Roberto Clemente were taking hold of my heart. It’s not easy to know which held more meaning for me as a youth — celebrating my first Holy Communion or attending my first major league baseball game. Both were spiritual experiences.
In the 50s, 60s and 70s I often watched Roberto Clemente play right field in Pittsburgh. And each spring I am reminded of Clemente, Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series, Clemente’s play in both the 1960 and 1971 World Series.
Scripture lays down the great fact that it is impossible to live an isolated life. There is no such thing in this world as a completely detached individual. We cannot disentangle ourselves either from our fellow men and women — or from God.
We cannot isolate ourselves from the past. Our ancestors and their histories dwell within us.
We cannot isolate ourselves from the present. We live in a world which is daily binding us more and more closely together. Nothing we do affects only ourselves.
We cannot isolate ourselves from the future. As we receive life, we hand on life. We are a link in a chain.
This became apparent to me on January 1, 1973 as we sat around the kitchen table listening to the radio and heard the words, “Pirate right fielder, Roberto Clemente, is lost at sea and presumed dead in an airplane crash while en route to deliver food and medical supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.”
As we know from Scripture, to live the good life, it’s not enough to excel in one’s profession. We must also strive to excel as people — to hold others with respect, care, service and love. Jesus spoke to the qualities of greatness, saying, “. . . whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). In John’s gospel, Christ taught his apostles that, “no one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
Clemente was the complete ballplayer, equally skilled in hitting, throwing, catching and running. On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente collected his 3,000th hit — it was the last hit he would ever get.
Of his play he said, “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” This he did, as a ballplayer, and as a person. He was involved in charity work both in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries, often delivering baseball equipment and food.
We are all part of each other. And the common thread that brings all peoples together and gives us hope is the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Submitted by Pastor Janice C. Winters, Retired Lutheran Pastor