The summer game: a memoir

When I shed this mortal coil it may surprise St. Peter, on examining my file, to discover that I was once a sportswriter.

Indeed, not a mere sportswriter, but a baseball writer, a craft which, at its best, is to the general run of sportswriting what a Vladimir Ashkenazy concert is to your ten-year old’s piano recital. Not that I did anything approaching the wizardry of such modern masters as Tom Boswell of the Washington Post or columnist George Will. I was, however, a certified baseball correspondent, with a laminated pass that got me everywhere: the pressbox, the locker rooms, the field during batting practice. And if, in retrospect, the clips are not exactly the prose I’d want chiseled on my tombstone, at least, as they say, I took a serious cut at the ball.

Like most good things in life, the whole business was accidental. I was writing about religion, foreign policy, and whatever else struck my fancy for the Seattle Weekly when our baseball guy quit to become the Associated Press stringer in Seattle. The idea quickly struck: why not? So I brashly proposed to the publisher and editor, my friend David Brewster, that I take over the baseball beat in tandem with another friend, John Miller, then a TV news commentator but within two years engaged in an even stranger profession: Congressman. Brewster, a skillful editor and a man happy to try anything once, acquiesced in this madcap scheme, so Miller and I were duly anointed the baseball correspondents of the Seattle Weekly.

The venue for our labors was the late Kingdom: with the sole exception of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, probably the worst place to play baseball ever built. But, hey, it was a real major league ballpark, and I had the run of it. The Seattle Mariners in 1982 were in a “building phase” that bid fair to extend into the indeterminate future, and were nothing like the wonderfully skilled semi-juggernaut they are these days. Still, there was a nice mix of eager youngsters and grizzled retread veterans, and for a few months in mid-season they made a real run.

Thus, among other things, I got to watch Gaylord Perry greaseball his way to his three hundredth career victory; my scorecard for that epic game, duly autographed, bears telltale stains indicative of Gaylord’s fondness for the effects of certain carnal lubricants on the aerodynamic properties of a baseball. During the game (surrounded by media luminaries like the late, great Dick Schaap, a truly lovely man), I tried to adumbrate a moral theory to the effect that what Perry was doing was wrong, but not precisely sinful, to no discernible effect on the media brethren in conclave assembled.

Earl Weaver had announced his retirement for the end of that season so, as a native Baltimorean, I was eager to meet the great man on the Orioles’ last trip to Seattle. The visiting manager’s dressing room in the Kingdome was, at best, ten by ten — and the visiting coaches had to dress there, too. After the game Weaver held court, sitting buck naked behind an army-surplus metal desk, beer can in one hand, chain-smoking Raleighs with the other, and talking baseball. The next day, I told my wife that I now had some idea of what it must have been like to listen to Homer recite the “Iliad.”

The Mariners had several very smart players that year, including Bruce Bochte, a hard-hitting first-baseman who liked to think about the meaning of sport and had serious religious interests. One night in the dugout, during batting practice, I talked with him about what it meant, spiritually, to live so intensely through your body, attuned to its every nuance because it was your livelihood, your craft, and, in a very precise way, your self all rolled up into one. It was, in its way, a preliminary discussion of John Paul II’s theology of the body, which insists that we take being enfleshed creatures with utmost seriousness — unlike our culture, which treats the body as a machine we happen to inhabit and can manipulate at will.

The summer of ‘82: if this be our exile, what shall our fulfillment be?

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash