Additional "Sac Fly" Articles

 

The Dog Days of Summer
Published: 8/21/2014 11:54:04 AM

 

Baseball season is now deep into the dog days of summer. The season for MLB is long, like really long. Each team plays at least 162 games during the season. The season begins in April and goes through September. Spring training starts in February and goes through March. The playoffs go through the end of October. The teams in the final game of the World Series will have been playing baseball for 9 months and might have played over 200 games in that period of time.
   
For the sake of comparison, NHL teams play 82 games in a season about as long as an MLB season. The NBA season begins near the end of October and teams play 82 regular season games in about 6 months. The NFL season is 17 weeks long and teams play 16 games in that time period. (Weak!) Compared to the other major American sports leagues, MLB teams see at least twice as much competition in a season that takes most of the year.
   
"The dog days of summer” is the colloquial phrase that people use to refer to a period of the season that begins after the All-Star break (in July, near the mid-point of the season) and last roughly through the month of August, at which point begins the final stretch of the regular season to the playoffs.
   
This period of time is called "the dog days of summer” because most players will say that it is the hardest stretch of the season to get through. By this time, the energy remaining from spring training and opening day has all been exhausted. The season is in its second half. By then, teams generally know if they are good or bad, and whether or not they will have a chance to contend for the playoffs come September. Teams generally know the patterns of their players and what needs to happen in order to stay competitive. Systems and regimens are in place to make sure that this happens. During the dog days of summer, teams play 5-7 games a week, mostly in outdoor stadiums, in the heat of the summer. Teams travel all over the country, mostly on red-eye flights that leave at midnight after a game and arrive in the early morning hours before the game against a new team in a new city that afternoon or evening. It is also during the dog days that bad teams unload players and salaries to free themselves up to make trades during the offseason, and good teams buy contracts and make trades to give themselves an edge during the stretch to the postseason. Players might find themselves in San Diego wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey one day only to take a red eye flight to Boston so that they can play the next day wearing a Red Sox jersey. Some people might say that this is the most important time of the regular season. Good teams can separate themselves from the pack of their division, while bad teams can exhaust themselves trying to climb the standings ladder. The dog days of summer are tough times for a baseball player.
   
It is not easy for a fan, either. Any avid fan of a particular team understands what I mean when I say that the St. Louis Cardinals are not just a team, but they are my team. I don’t say "they won the game last night,” I say "we won the game last night.” Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not really on the team. Like baseball players have regimens, so do I: watch pre-game, watch the game, watch the post-game, sleep, wake-up, read the recap, read the commentary, read the preview, watch the pre-game, and so on. For 162 games. So when baseball fans watch games at home during the dog days, we experience the same range of emotions. Every home run your team hits could be the hit that gets your team going. Every home run your pitcher gives up could be the one "that does it” for your pitcher. Every win is hugely important and every loss is one that you just have to forget about so you can go back out there tomorrow and play. It is exhausting.
  
People experience exhaustion in most areas of life, especially in daily living out their faith. God’s call to faithfulness and righteousness is a tall task. It doesn’t take much for one to find oneself in the dog days of the Christian life. Christ’s call to pick up your cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24) is exhausting.
  
St. Paul wrote to an exhausted church in Corinth. Instead of sticking to the regimen of the Christian life, the people in Corinth had given up the fight and yielded to more comfortable ways of living. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul tried to get them back into shape so that they could be competitive again. He told them how to live individually God-pleasing lives, how to live together as a community of believers, and how to engage with the people around them, saying "Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
   
He also gave them this advice: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
   
The wreath that MLB players run for is the World Series trophy. What is the imperishable wreath that we run for? It certainly cannot be forgiveness and eternal life, because these things have been given freely—by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)—not a result of winning any races. Paul instead links this wreath to the health, strength, and growth of the church. The goal of what we do with our lives is that others would know the love and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
   
Mostly, though, I do not think that this task in itself is what is exhausting. Instead, we are wasted by all of the things that try to obstruct us from it. There are many forces that try to impede the growth of the church: daily suffering and struggle (economic hardships), sickness (Ebola outbreaks in Africa), death (genocide of Christians in Iraq), our own sin and faithlessness. These are the things that discourage us, which we have to fight against during the dog days of the Christian life.
   
We are encouraged in our work by two promises that God has made. First, the work that we do is not our own, but it is God working through us, and this work will be (like a guarantee) successfully completed. Through Isaiah, God declared "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) Second, Jesus promised to the church "I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20) which he is through word and sacrament and the fellowship of believers, which is the body of Christ. The Christian life is a team sport, but the competition is rigged and there is no way that we can lose. A World Series championship parade is great, but every Sunday when we gather with the church to rest, celebrate, and receive God’s gifts, we get a little glimpse of the even greater victory celebration to come.

Contributed by Ben Parviz

 

 

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