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Lessons from a Baseball Team

Many of you may not be sports fans, but this post is not about sports. It’s not even about my favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, who – even as you non-baseball fans might know – won the 2015 World Series.

Though I’ve been a Royals fan since the team’s inception in 1969, I wasn’t so much impressed by their recent World Series victory as I was by the way they won: Exhibiting qualities that I seek and that I believe are sorely needed by skeptics searching for God.

Some would describe me as a pessimist. I think of myself as a realist. Had I been a member of the Royals team in the deciding game of the World Series against the New York Mets on Nov. 1 – having been shut out for eight innings by the Mets’ excellent pitching and losing 2-0 – I would have said, “Time to go home, boys. Games over. We have two more opportunities to win the series in Kansas City.”

That’s not how the Royals think. It’s a cliché, but they really never give up. And with a combination of errors by the opposing team and solid hitting on their part, they won the game, 7-2, in 12 innings.

It wasn’t a fluke. It was their eighth comeback in post-season play and the sixth time they had overcome a deficit of at least two runs. This post-season, they scored 51 runs in the eighth inning or later.

How unusual is that? No other team in major league history has come close. The closest were the 2002 Los Angeles Angels with 36, according to ESPN.

This is the spot in a sports story where a writer inserts a quote from a player or manager, but as I wrote at the outset, this is not a sports story. This is about life, skeptics’ search for God and what we can learn from a baseball team.

The first is perseverance, which, according to the dictionary, means persisting in an enterprise or undertaking “in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.” Those three apparent obstacles are not lacking in today’s world. Perhaps they never were.

We skeptics are especially vulnerable to succumbing to them because we question everything and everybody, including ourselves. Questioning is what humans do to one extent or another, and our search for God will never be successful without a dogged determination to continue searching with openness and patience despite not having all the answers.

Another lesson from the Royals is the sense of community and solidarity with others. I can only imagine the rivalry and jealousy that can occur on a major-league baseball team. Egos, salaries and fame are enormous. How easily can those egos be bruised and hostilities emerge?

Undoubtedly, the Royals were not dispensed from such problems, but the commentators and players have consistently remarked on the team’s sense of community, on their solidarity. This extended to the Royals’ fans, with whom the team appears to have a passionate love affair.

The search for God requires thoughtfulness and self-examination, but not isolation. We are in this search together, and the more we can relate to others and help each other, the more successful it will be.

Confidence is another obvious trait of the Royals and everybody who wants to succeed at anything. It’s not a lack of humility. I’ve written before about Christian humility, promoting the idea that for Christians, humility is not wimpiness but another form of honesty. It’s a matter of assessing yourself accurately, neither exaggerating nor minimizing your talent or qualities, and knowing what you’re capable of.

In a skeptic’s search for God, confidence is related to trust in God, which is hard to develop. True, it may be a goal of the search for God but it also must accompany it, even if incrementally.

Finally, I believe the search for God must be joyful. One of the characteristics of the Royals that is so noticeable is the unquenchable fun with which they play. Catcher Salvador Perez, named the World Series’ most valuable player, epitomizes it. After every winning game, Perez never failed to dump a barrel of water on the heads of players being interviewed by the media.

It’s a reminder that despite the fact that many players are being paid the equivalent of the salary of the CEO of a medium-sized company, it’s still a game, played by grown kids. The baseball season is long. The players go through periods of victory and defeat. They get tired, injured and banged around, no one more so than catchers like Perez. But I believe most are in it for the fun.

Considering the payoff, people searching for God should be equally joyful. I can’t help thinking about Pope Francis, whose first official document as pope wasn’t about sin or repentance but about the “Joy of the Gospel.”

Timothy Eagan, a contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages, earlier this year wrote this about the pope:

“Last year, he was asked about his secret to happiness. He said, slow down. Take time off. Live and let live. Don’t proselytize. Work for peace. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity. Don’t hold on to negative feelings. Move calmly through life. Enjoy art, books and playfulness.”

If he knew more about baseball, the pope would be a Royals fan.

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