Some people are bird watchers, others are celebrity watchers; still others are flora and fauna watchers. I belong to the tribe of sentence watchers. Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. I appreciate fine sentences.
—Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.
Like Stanley Fish, I am a sentence watcher, although an amateur by comparison. I am, too, a sentence maker, however hopelessly clumsy. But most of all, I am a sentence brooder. Sentences stick with me, harass me, cajole me, punish, prod, push and prick me. On occasion, strange clusters of them gang up on me and I am bruised by my inability to make sense of them juxtaposed and just so.
You misunderstand me if you think this a masochistic hobby. For sentences are also my teachers and friends, beacons in bleakness and comfort in the monotony of the night. On my darkest days, I carry either Kierkegaard or Nietzsche in hand. Sometimes a solitary sentence from a novel points me to salvation; sometimes a stanza from a poem or a verse from a song explains an entire universe.
As a boy, I loved Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child,” although I was too young to understand a word of it:
Well, I’m accustomed to a smoother ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep the night
Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say
The cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?
Perhaps I fool myself to think that I understand it now, but that line, “The cross is in the ballpark,” is lit with significance inside of me. It sings to me of the sacredness of play, which is so easily lost after adolescence and so difficult to regain.
Different sports have spoken to me at different times in my life: Baseball, when my afternoons were infinite and I lived for the schoolyard; hockey when my mind was a collision of ideas; football (i.e. soccer) when I was comfortable and elegance was not a luxury. “We grow old to grow young again,” and as a man approaching middle-age, baseball with all its lazy grace calls to me again like a muezzin.
As a child, I stopped playing baseball precisely when I lost faith in myself. I remember vividly chasing down a fly ball, diving for it, and knowing that it was mine to catch, only to hear someone shout, “Catch it!” In that moment, I knew that no one expected me to catch the ball, and so, I missed it, by half an inch, the ball bouncing off the top stitching of my glove. Only now, looking back, do I realize that in that moment of unbelief, I began to doubt the existence of God as well.
What I had not yet learned, and what I still struggle to comprehend, is what Corley Miller so eloquently describes as the philosophy of football manager Arsène Wenger, namely, his belief in “a code of rightness other than success; his Catholic claim that virtue, magic, and beauty might be more important than the trophy case.”
The cross is in the ballpark: And so in search of sacred space, my interest in the great American pastime has been reborn.