The Buddhism of Baseball, an essay by Alle C. Hall at

The Buddhism of Baseball

The Buddhism of Baseball

written by: Alle C. Hall


I have since learned that being a Seattle Mariners fan is not in conflict with being a New York Mets fan. With the exception of the ’95 season, Seattle’s boys of summer so rarely threaten other teams, you can follow them, too. They are kind of the Buddhism of baseball. At the time of our first date, however, I had attended but a single pro game. Football. The autumn night smelled of hotdogs and beer and the rowdy crowd leapt to their feet with great huzzah, as if they personally had accomplished something. Perhaps someone named the Steelers won. On our first date, that being a Mets fan meant you could not under any circumstances like the Yankees was more than a not-sporty mind such as mine could comprehend.
However, as a still-not-sporty 31-year-old, I agreed to go with Cliff to a Mariners’ home game. I enjoyed the nachos with the plastic cheese and the breaks for commercials, where an assortment of well-trimmed video clips made baseball look exciting, nay, action-packed. Griffey whapping one out of the park. This was before he was traded to the Reds. A pre-Madonna-schtupping A-Rod was at short, leaping, sliding, tagging out. The raw power of strong men moving gracefully.
Cliff and I have since had a son.
A sporty son.
I am as confused as if I had birthed a Republican. When our boy was infant, we took him to Water Babies. The teacher tossed a beach ball into the circle for the babies to grab or kick or focus on long enough to stop howling at the cold and the water and the splashing and the noise. My child wanted the ball. By twenty months, he could kick a soccer ball while running. He could hit the wiffle ball we called a baseball—though when he pitched and I hit, he still ran the bases. Toward his first birthday, people started to comment that he had “an arm.” I replied, “Isn’t that weird? Where does he get it?” Cliff would mildly comment that a parent other than me had been throwing with him since he could hold a ball. But when he dove for that beach ball—dove again and again, dove with the single-minded need to get what he wanted, the thing he loved, I saw myself.
This is where our tale takes a serious turn. I know that in progressive circles, talking about God can raises neck hair. Do keep in mind that my Judaism is infused with Eastern elements. I am sufficiently down.
Like most small children, beyond my parents, I had few external points of reference. Unfortunately, mine were remarkably bad parents. This was back in the day. We didn’t have terms like dysfunction. We had bad parents. We didn’t call it child abuse. We called it—oh, who knows what we called it. No one talked about it.
As I was too small to flee, I went deep inside—so deep, I didn’t know I had gone there; I felt myself to be four or five years old and body-less, floating, which means I was being abused, abused so badly that my choices were die or find a reason to live.
I met a light. The light said, “You can get out. You have to.”
Returning to the agreed-upon reality: as soon as I was financially able, I was gone. After a few years of defragging, I sought God in Eastern faiths and diets, in politics and no faith, sex, no sex, jobs, countries, and cultures. It was moderately successful, as existences go, lacking love, lacking direction, lacking much in the way of true friendship even, for I didn’t know how to love or be loved.
I kept diving. I wanted the ball.
By the time I dove smack back into Judaism, I understood that I could find God through a variety of paths—or no path, just God. Whereas once upon a time, you wouldn’t have caught me dead at services, when my child was one year old and it was also and again the Days of Awe, I took him to services.
Holding my first child at our first High Holy Days together with havana shireem, songs of praise, sifting through the amber autumn morning, baby weight warm and powdery against my chest and belly. It was motherhood. It was the icicle breaking—a crash, matriculation. Same life, new life. The jump to catch the one that should have been knocked out of the park; what they should have given me, what I found instead. It was love. It was God.
I have faith. I am an abuse survivor and a parent. There aren’t the statistics to support me having a child, not without faith.
You have faith. Let’s talk about those Mariners’ former right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. He stepped to the plate with the tight focus of haiku, swung the bat in a circle then up, adjusted his jersey, and drew the bat to his shoulder, and you believed in him. You didn’t write him off because last week, he didn’t bat in the winning run. You know: a single anywhere in the park he wants to put it. Those clips again: on the Mariners’ homepage, under the ’05 highlights, there is an Ichiro clip I let my son watch over and over. The ball is flying toward the wall slightly faster than Ichiro appears to be running. It’s headed over the fence. Number 51 turns his back on the ball, which you are not supposed to do, flings himself at the wall, scampers up, balances on its narrow top, and makes the catch.
Ichiro is not God. Ichiro is a majestic power outside ourselves that we are a part of yet remain in awe of. He is one reason I say men love and want and need baseball for the same reason I love, want, and need God.

In Judaism’s central prayer, the Sh’ma, God declares, “Listen, Israel. God is God, God is One.”

Sh’ma Yisrael
Adonai Eloheinu
Adonai Echad

Traditionally, Jews die with Sh’ma on their lips. I hope to. Traditionally, we say Sh’ma as we fall asleep, should we die before we wake. I said a bedtime Sh’ma with my son for the whole of his young life. Around sixteen months of age, he started saying Sh’ma as I carried him to his crib or as he felt himself falling asleep in the car. To the bunnies in Goodnight, Moon, and as a substitute for the Hebrew in the blessings he did not yet know.
In learning to love, how much I am loved is far less important than how much I get to love. Shortly after watching the climb-the-wall highlight, instead of Sh’ma Yisrael, our boy said, “Sh’ma, Ichiro.’

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