The Greatest Game
One of my all-time favorite movie lines was uttered by the voice’James Earl Jones. I mean, come on; this guy makes reading the alphabet sound good. The movie: The Sandlot.
As Scotty Smalls and a couple of the other kids are welcomed into the home of the owner of The Beast (a very big and slobbering dog), they are immediately struck by what can best be described as a baseball museum. James Earl Jones’who plays a long-retired star of the Negro League whose career was suddenly and tragically ended by a fastball to the temple, resulting in blindness’smiles gleefully as the kids ooh and aww over the priceless memorabilia. Once he has the kids’ attention, Jones starts to talk about his career. During the conversation he says these unforgettable words: Baseball is life. And I was good at it.
I love baseball. I grew up going to Pittsburgh Pirate games with my dad, at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. I grew up collecting the baseball cards of my favorite players: Roberto Clement, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Gene Alley, Steve Blass, Bob Moose, and Richie Hebner (who once visited me during a stay at Children’s Hospital).
Both of the classic ballparks where I spent more than a few summer evenings are long gone’baseball having given way to corporate sponsorship and doing everything and anything to fill the seats. Oh, I’m unashamedly a purist, but I’m not bitter. Even with corporate America’s and baseball owners’ gaudy extravagances and unrelenting appeals to the lowest common denominators of man’s lust for entertainment and idolatry of athletic superheroes; baseball is still the most beautiful game ever invented by man.
Another one of my all-time favorite movie scenes is the last scene of Field of Dreams’the scene during which Ray Kinsella asks his father, the long-deceased and mystically appearing John Kinsella, Hey, Dad? Wanna have a catch? I cannot watch the scene without tears rolling down my cheeks. Neither can my wife, Mahria.
The seen rushes my mind back to the many days when I played catch with my dad. My dad and I would go to the little league field in the dead of the Pennsylvania winter and literally shovel the snow off home plate and the pitcher’s mound, so I could get a head start on the upcoming season. Our best times, our best conversations, our most tender moments came while standing 50′ apart, with gloves in our hand, and a baseball being tossed between us. When the eventual seasons came, times during which my dad and I could not see eye-to-eye on just about anything, we had baseball.Ai?? Oh, how I love this game.
One of my favorite players of this generation (I’m old enough to say that now) is Derek Jeter. He’s not the greatest hitter who ever lived. He’s not the greatest fielder who ever lived. Oh, he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. There’s no doubt about that. Jeter is a multiple Gold Glove award winner, a multiple Silver Slugger Award winner, and a multiple World Series champion. He has the longest tenure as captain of the New York Yankees in the history of the team. That’s no small accomplishment considering the legendary Yankees team captains of eras gone by. But there have been better players than Jeter in every facet of the game.
What impresses me the most about Derek Jeter is his consistency, work ethic, and loyalty to his team and to the Yankees fans. Derek Jeter has spent his entire 20-year career with one team. In today’s major leagues, Jeter is an anomaly, a throw-back. He’s old school.
Today, Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season would be his last. One more Spring Training and another 162 games and it’s over’the end of an era.
Jeter will make his final tour of the ballparks he has called home for most of his adult life. At each stop he will be showered with praise, gifts, and well-wishes. He will humbly thank the fans and do his very best to take it all in stride. And then it will be over.
I have no idea what Jeter’s future plans are for his life after playing baseball. Maybe he’ll remain close to the game as a coach or manager. Maybe he’ll serve in the Yankees front office. Maybe he’ll serve as an ambassador of the game, as all Hall-of-Famers are expected to do. Or maybe he will step away from baseball altogether. But whatever the still-chronologically-young Jeter decides to do with his future, playing baseball will be in his past.
Is That All There Is?
The entire Internet is whirling with reports of Derek Jeter’s retirement announcement. It is a major story in the sports world and beyond. Quotes from Jeter’s announcement, from every online news source I follow, fill my Twitter feed. I’ve read many of them, but the one that struck me the most is the quote posted by ESPN Sports Center, with the above photo:
Ai??I have achieved almost every personal and professional goal I have set. I have gotten the very most out of my life playing baseball, and I have absolutely no regrets.
I have no doubt Derek Jeter believes every word he said. And I can understand where he’s coming from. Baseball is responsible for almost everything he has and everything he is. As a result of his exceptional talent as a baseball player, Jeter has received fame, fortune, respect, and admiration. He is probably one of the most sought after bachelors on the planet. If he is careful with his money, he is financially set for life, and so will be his family if he ever chooses to start one. People will talk about him long after he dies. Five years after his retirement from baseball, he will be enshrined and immortalized in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame (if I had a bucket list, visiting this historic place would be on it).
In many ways, I’m thankful to Derek Jeter for what he has brought to and accomplished playing the greatest game. And again, I respect him for the before-mentioned reasons. As a baseball fan, my hat is off to him. I hope Jeter lives a long, healthy, and fruitful life away from the grass and brick dust’a happy life outside the chalk lines.
At the same time, my heart breaks for Derek Jeter. Today, he has no regrets. And maybe he will have no regrets through the tears the last time he tips his cap to the crowd. But one day every trophy will rust. The pages of every record book will fade and yellow. The next generation will not think of him nearly as much as they will think of the temporal heroes of their day. The wealth he has amassed over the last 20 years will either be spent or left to others to keep or spend.
I know little about Derek Jeter’s spiritual beliefs, which is to say I know what I’ve read on the Internet. As best as I can tell, Derek Jeter faith persuasion is Roman Catholicism He was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and attended Catholic schools in his youth. One of the scholarships he provides to young students is The Derek Jeter/St. Peter Claver Catholic School Scholarship Whether or not Derek Jeter presently considers himself a practicing Roman Catholic, I do not know. I don’t know if Jeter considers himself today a Christian or a Catholic, or if he even understands the differences between the two terms.
Whatever the case may be, the day will come, as it comes for every person, when Derek Jeter will be old, worn, tired, and weak. That is, if his life is not tragically cut short by disease or a fatal accident. The day will come, as it comes for most people, when Jeter will look back at everything he accomplished, personally and professionally, and likely ask himself, Is that all there is?
King Solomon, the historic figure whose life is chronicled in the Bible, is known as the wisest and richest king Israel ever had, and likely the wisest and richest king the world has ever seen. He was born a son of David’heir to the greatest king who ever lived, a man God referred to as a man after His own heart. Solomon was blessed by God in every conceivable way’spiritually, politically, culturally, intellectually, monetarily, relationally. You name it, and Solomon had it. He had it all.
Most of the Bible’s wisdom literature was written by Solomon. And he also wrote one of the most sorrowful books in the Bible’Ecclesiastes. While Solomon was blessed with more than the human mind can comprehend, he would eventually allow it all to go to his head and he would turn his back on God.
Later in life, Solomon would come to his senses. He came to realize that every earthly thing he amassed, every plaudit received from man, all of it was nothing more than vanity. In the end, it was all worthless. Eternally speaking, it meant nothing.
Solomon would likely agree with me. The one thing I have never seen, the one thing you will never likely see, is a hearse transporting a dead body to a cemetery while pulling a U-Haul trailer. You will never see a hearse towing all of the deceased’s worldly possessions in a failed attempt to help the dead man take it all with him.
Solomon ended the Book of Ecclesiastes with these words:
Ai??The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14).
My hope for Derek Jeter is that he will not find ultimate contentment in all he has accomplished in this life. I hope he comes to realize what he does in this life is not all there is. I pray that the Lord will allow Derek to understand that his chief end, his whole duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. I hope he realizes this before it’s too late. For just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
God will not, as many people believe, weigh the good and the evil in Derek’s life and judge on the side of the heavier weight, which everyone always assumes is the good and not the bad (Proverbs 21:2). No, God will bring every deed into judgment, whether good in the eyes of man or evil in the eyes of God. Since God sees the good works of man as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and since God sees every act of a man that is not done by faith in Jesus Christ and for His glory as sin (Romans 14:23b), Derek will not receive yet another trophy or entrance into heaven when he stands before God, especially if he is counting on his own perceived goodness or success in life to garner him forgiveness and absolution.
Like me, Derek has sinned during his life. Like me, Derek has sinned more times than he can count. I can make such an assertion because the Word of God says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). And, because God is good, holy, righteous, and just He must punish sin. The punishment God ascribes for sin is eternity in hell (Matthew 25:45-46; Revelation 21:8).
Is that all there is? No.
While the Bible makes it clear that the wages of sin, what we all earn for our sins against God, is eternity in hell, the same verse finishes with these words: but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b).
This same God’again, for there is only one God’who is angry with the wicked every day, whose wrath abides upon the ungodly, who will judge the world in righteousness, is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. And He showed His great love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ’fully God and fully Man, yet without sin.
Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God’in thought, word, and deed’a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross. Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution.
Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange’a great exchange’God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.
Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.
And why would God allow His one and only Son to die a sinner’s death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners rightly deserve for their sins against God, so that sinners could be forgiven and saved? For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
What God commands of Derek Jeter, and you, the reader, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent’turn from your sin and turn toward God’and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
I hope someone shares this with Derek Jeter. I hope he comes to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. After all, this life is not all there is.