Additional "Sac Fly" Articles

 

Death, Playoff Elimination, and the Hope of Resurrection
Published: 10/29/2014 3:09:05 PM

 

If you've been reading through these blogs, you’ll know by now that I am an ardent fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. So, obviously, I was pretty excited when they made it into the playoffs once again as the 2014 NL Central champions. And, obviously, I was pretty disappointed when the Cardinals were eliminated in game 5 of the 2014 NLCS by the San Francisco Giants.

This was not our year. The Cardinals had really unreliable offense all season long. This season they hit the least home runs of any other team in the National League, and the second-least in all of baseball. (Interestingly enough, the team that hit the least was the Kansas City Royals, which represented the American League this season in the World Series.) The Cardinals were well below the league average for runs scored per game, and they had a regular season run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) of +16. (For comparison’s sake, the league leading Los Angeles Angels had a differential of +143.)

With offensive stats like this, the pitching that the Cardinals would potentially have to face in the playoffs was terrifying. I was stunned when the Cardinals beat Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers twicein the NLDS. Clayton Kershaw will win the NL Cy Young again this year for the third time in his short career, so it is not insignificant that one of the most unreliable offensive teams was able to take two playoff games from the best pitcher in the league. Ultimately, though, it was not the lack of offense that did the Cardinals in against the Giants; it was their poor defense and the Giants’ ability to capitalize on these opportunities.

Even though I wasn’t convinced that this was our year, every baseball fan whose team is in the playoffs knows that this year could be their year. When this turned out not to be the case in 2014 for the Cardinals, I was bummed. My heart broke when Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off HR from Michael Wacha to clinch the series, and to clinch the Giants’ third World Series appearance in five years. The Cardinals should be intheir third World Series appearance in five years. Alas…

One thing about baseball, is that there is always next season. The Cardinals didn’t win it all this year, but in February 2015 the players will report to Jupiter, FL for spring training and they will already have their eyes set on October. All of those players who watched their hopes fade when that ball from Ishikawa sailed over the right-field wall will return in 2015 knowing that their past failures have no bearing on their future. Michael Wacha will know that the HR he gave up can’t make them lose again. The defense will know that the mistakes they committed can’t hurt them anymore. The offense will know that there are plenty of runs to be scored and homers to be smashed. In baseball, the end is not the end.

As I watched game 5 of the World Series between the Giants and the Royals, terrible news broke for Cardinal Nation. Oscar Tavares, the offensively promising and quick outfielding rookie who debuted in the majors in May 2014, was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. It is hard to overstate the level of expectation that the franchise had for this young 22-year-old player. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 2008 and began playing in the minors in 2009 at the age of 17. By 2011 he had made it to the Cardinals single-A affiliate. In 5+ minor league seasons, he batted .320, hit 53 home runs, and had 324 RBIs. Before the beginning of the 2014 regular season, he was ranked as the #3 overall minor league prospect by Baseball America, MLB.com, and by BaseballProspectus.com. In his one season as a major-leaguer he played in only 80 games and had only 248 plate appearances, but his 2014 regular seasons stats did not reflect the promise of his minor league success. He batted only .239, had only 22 RBI, and he hit only 3 home runs. By all accounts, during next season he would come into his own offensively, and if he could get enough playing time then he would fulfill every desire that the team could have of him. He did have an exciting moment in game 2 of the NLCS when he hit a pinch-hithome run to tie the game in the 7thinning. The Cardinals went on to win that game home, tying the best of 5 series at one game apiece. However, with a runner is scoring position and two outs in the top of the ninth of the then tied game 5 of the best-of-seven series, Oscar Taveras grounded out to the pitcher as a pinch hitter. The Giants won the game in the bottom of the inning and eliminated St. Louis. Tavares was the last batter for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014. Unlike the rest of the team, who will all arrive for the beginning of the season with a clean slate and high hopes, Oscar Taveras’s major league career ended when he and his girlfriend died outside of his home town of Puerto Plata, DR on October 26, 2014.

My original theme for this post was that the perpetual hope for next season is an interesting comparison to the Christian hope for resurrection. However, as I reflect now on the death of Oscar Tavares, I wonder how trivial this might have been. I mean, I do think that there are some interesting similarities between the "death” most teams experience at the end of the season and the death that all people will endure, between the "resurrection” of the new season and the eternal resurrection of the dead. But the hope of baseball resurrection, really, is at best a pale shadow of the hope of resurrection of the dead and the entrance into eternal life of the faithful.

What kind of resurrection will the Cardinals enjoy next spring? Sure, the failures and misplays of 2014 will not directly affect their standing in the 2015 season. But ultimately they will face months of hard work through spring training, 162 regular season games, and whatever postseason they will qualify for. The terms of their new life next season will be no different from the life that ended in failure this season: if they want to win then they will have to be good enough, and if aren’t good enough then they will lose. There will still be the threat of their own failures with no reprieve from the pressures of performance. And the potential joy of championship will always be held in tension with the doom of accountability to the team, the media, the fan base, and themselves. We could say that the teams whose seasons ended in athletic death can find relief in the hope of competitive resurrection, but in reality these things are nothing like true death and resurrection.

Consider for a moment the poor man Lazarus who died in poverty, hunger, and suffering (Luke 16:19-31). What if the resurrection that Lazarus hoped for was simply another opportunity to endure through the same life a second time, with some possibility of doing it better? What if, for Lazarus, resurrection meant that he would be born again into poverty, and hunger, and suffering, but with the chance to do it better than he did the first time? Maybe it would mean that he would be more intentional about finding a more merciful man outside of whose gate he would beg. Or maybe it would mean that he could, if he were lucky, find some bandages for his wounds so that they would be shielded from the pestering tongues of the dogs who similarly hoped to feed off of the rich man’s scraps. What kind of a hope is that? That’s not hope. That’s continued torment. That cosmic rendition of the movieGroundhog Day isn’t mercy, joy, and rest; it’s a sequel to anguish. Resurrection cannot simply mean a second chance at the same thing. If it did, it wouldn’t sound that desirable, anyhow.

Instead, consider the true resurrection that Lazarus experienced, and the resurrection that Christians hope for and expectantly await. Lazarus was carried into eternity where he received the fulfillment of God’s promises, and he enjoyed comfort and rest with Abraham and the angels of the Lord. Instead of rising from the dead to renewed opportunity for either suffering or achievement, Lazarus received every happiness that was denied him in his earthly life. And this wasn’t because his long-suffering returned reward, or because his humility had earned praise. Everything that he enjoyed through faith had already been promised to him long before he was born, through Moses and the prophets, because of God’s mercy, compassion, and love.

One of my favorite hymns is "The Church’s One Foundation.” (LSB#644) After the first two verses elaborate on the opening line—"The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord”—the third, fourth, and fifth verses wonderfully describe the hope of Christian resurrection amidst the hardship of the Christian life.

"Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed

by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.

Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘how long?’

And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war

she waits the consummation of peace forevermore

till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,

and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One,

and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.

O blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord, save us by your grace

that we, like saints before us, may see you face to face.”

I did not know Oscar Tavares, and I have no idea if he had faith in Christ. But I am certain that if he did, he isn't bothered by a lack-luster major league career, or lamenting the baseball resurrection that he will not experience in 2015. November 1stis All Saints Day, when we thank God for the life of the saints who have gone before us and now await before the throne of Christ our arrival to that blessed heav’nly chorus. I’m bummed that the Cardinals lost in 2014, and I mourn the death of Oscar and pray for the families touched by this tragedy. More so, I thank God for the gift of faith, the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus Christ, and for the life to come.


Contributed by Ben Parviz

 

 

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