Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
November 8, 2013
When the 2013 Red Sox began their season on April 1, if someone had said that seven months later they would be World Series Champions, it wouldn’t have worked even as a lame April Fools’ joke.
Most media observers and fans, myself included, thought that the best we could hope for with this team was a .500 season. After all, last year’s 69-93 squad was superior on paper to this year’s roster. All-Stars had been replaced by journeymen. Even the former all-stars who remained seemed to have their best days behind them.
And that was before David Ortiz would develop inflammation in his feet and start the season on the disabled list. Before Dustin Pedroia would tear the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb on opening day. Before closer Joel Hanrahan would tear his flexor tendon in his right arm, his replacement, Andrew Bailey, would sustain labrum and capsule damage in his shoulder, and their likely substitute, Andrew Miller, would tear ligaments in his foot, and all be lost for the season. And before Clay Buchholz, their most effective hurler early in the year, would miss half the season with shoulder woes and never really return to form.
And they still won.
Almost as inconceivable as the headline of their winning the World Series despite abysmal expectations were some of the individual storylines.
Who would have ever believed that John Lackey — the most denigated member of the overpaid, underperforming chicken-and-bear crew and all that that represented — would become a hero who regularly drew standing ovations even before he outpitched Cy Young superstars David Price, Scott Verlander, and playoff ace Michael Wacha, not to mention channeled hall-of-famer Randy Johnson in coming out of the bullpen as a reliever in between starts?
Who would have ever deemed possible that Koji Uehara, a 38-year-old middle reliever whom few in Red Sox nation had ever heard of prior to the season — not to mention a former security guard in Japan who dreamed of becoming a teacher but couldn’t pass the college entrance exam, who was essentially the fifth option for the Red Sox at the start of the season to pitch the ninth inning, and who had a 33.75 ERA in the 2011 postseason! — would over the second half of the season become the closer with the most dominant pitching statistics in the history of the game of baseball?
Who would have believed that the adjective “World Series hero” would get used in the same sentence as the names David Ross, Stephen Drew, and Felix Doubront?
Yet it happened.
Was there some Samson-esque quality in their unshaven beards?
Page 7 in the Catholic weekly of the Fall River Diocese is not about to morph into the sports section. But sports are a great metaphor and training ground for the Christian faith and life.
St. Paul, we know, regularly used sports analogies to drive home points about Christian faith and life. He called us to fight the good fight rather than to shadow box, to run so as to win and finish the marathon, to work together as a team and not be intimidated by our opponents, and to punish ourselves in training to win an eternal prize.
And so, following his lead, we can ask what lessons we can learn from the 2013 “Redeem Team” about putting out into the deep as members of Jesus’ true Redeem Team?
There are at least five conspicuous lessons.
First, a focus on character and teamwork. St. Paul told the Corinthians that Jesus drafted foolish and weak nobodies to shame clever and strong somebodies. Unlike past years, the Red Sox didn’t field an all-star team this season. They rather had a bunch of character guys, the whole of whom was much greater than the individual parts. They liked and supported each other. They loved what they were doing. Jesus wants the same type of disciples.
Second, a desire for greatness. I love the story told by many players of meeting newcomer Jonny Gomes on the first day of spring training. Asked how he was doing, he replied, “I’m feeling one day closer to the parade.” Despite the odds, he — and his teammates — weren’t seeking mediocrity, but greatness. So should parishes, dioceses and the whole Church.
Third, hard work and total effort. We should all live our faith the way Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes play baseball.
Fourth, the importance of everyone’s contributions. Throughout the season and especially the post-season, different players were rising to the occasion each night, including those who previously stunk. Role players also did their jobs. The team Christ has assembled similarly needs everyone to use his or her different gifts to fulfill their roles. There are no useless members on the team. Just as much as the Red Sox needed everyone on the roster, if even to pinch run or pitch to one batter, so Christ needs all of us in the baptismal register to step forward and contribute.
Fifth, the need for effective leadership. Bobby Valentine and John Farrell are both brilliant baseball guys and teachers of the game, but their difference in leadership style was even greater than the disparity between their respective win totals. Valentine used sarcastic criticism. Farrell used positive encouragement. Parents, teachers, priests, and bishops all should take note about which motivation was more effective.
The Catholic Church in our part of the country has gone through a very rough season. Many have jumped off the bandwagon and lost hope. To imagine a turnaround to thriving dioceses, bursting parishes, enthusiastic evangelization, and contagious charity seems far-fetched, certainly in the short-term.
But that’s the same pessimism that reigned in Red Sox Nation and across the baseball world on April 1. And we know that the “impossible” happened.
For Christ’s Redeem Team to fulfill his hopes for this season in the life of the Church, there’s a need for spiritual John Lackeys, John Farrells and Jonny Gomes to put on their cleats.
If we do, then we’ll be able to say with confidence that we’re all one day closer, God-willing, to a parade that will lead not from Fenway to the Charles but to the eternal Cooperstown.