Moses and Baseball

wrigley-field

Not many of us get to named most valuable player of the game that takes a ball club to the World Series — of a ball club that hasn’t been to the World Series in 71 years and hasn’t won a World Series in over 100.  But way to go John Lester and Javier Baez.  Two great players and a great team!  And what a journey!  Baez started the series as raw talent but no fixed position.  He played second base in the first game of the NLCS series and then he made a homerun in that game.  “In this six-game NLCS, Baez hit .318 with four doubles, five RBIs and two stolen bases. His three-hit game in Game 5 helped the Cubs to a win that gave them a series edge coming home for Game 6. With 13 hits in the team’s 10 playoff games, Baez, 23, has already climbed to third on the franchise list for most hits in a single postseason.”[1]  And let’s not forget the defensive play!

And then there’s John Lester.  A seasoned player who won World Series in Boston.  “Lester allowed two runs over 13 innings while striking out the same number of batters (nine) that he allowed hits to. His performances helped the Cubs to wins in Games 1 and 5. Chicago never trailed in either of his NLCS starts.”[2]

Not many of us will have flags with our numbers hanging at Wrigley field.  Few of us are so great on a such a large scale that they’ll need to retire our numbers – or our desks, or computers, or buses or whatever it is we do. Let’s admit, we are not 10 – Ron Santo, third baseman, 14 – Ernie Banks, Short stop and first baseman, 23 – Ryne Sandberg, second baseman, 26 – Billy Williams, Left fielder, 31 – Ferguson Jenkins, Pitcher, 31 – Greg Maddux, pitcher.  And 42 – Jackie Robinson, who actually played for the Dodgers and was the first African American ball player in the previously all white major league of baseball.  We do will be renown for the contributions we make.

Few of our contributions will be talked about in history books like the mercy of Mother Teresa, the prophetic witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., the bravery of Harriet Tubman or the philanthropy of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.   Many of us just hope to get through life without being Steve Bartman (can I say his name?)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that our contributions make any difference whatsoever.  Whether it’s time volunteering helping kids do math or working on getting the roof at church fixed, or teaching Sunday school, or helping out at the PTA, or serving food at a homeless shelter, or giving money to the church or to another organization, it can sometimes feel like we’re not even stemming the tide of suffering.

I wonder if that’s how these two Hebrew midwives felt when they refused Pharaoh’s order and let the babies live.  They were up against an unbeatable foe. David against Goliath.  Leymah Gbowee and her Christian and Muslim sisters who went up against the Liberian ruthless president and rebel warlords, demanding peace.  Susan B. Anthony, dying before she saw the 19th amendment passed and the United States. And some seasons, The Cubs against, well anybody.  Pharaoh was a powerful king willing to do anything to maintain his power. The King is afraid – he is afraid that if a war broke out between Egypt and their enemies the Israelites would side with the enemy, fight against Egypt and escape from the land.  He is ultimately afraid that they will leave, robbing him of a labor source.  It is an economic issue. He’s basically willing to cut off his nose to spite his face.

In order to keep the Israelites in line, Pharaoh puts cruel overseers over them, forcing them to make bricks to prove Egypt’s power throughout the world.  The Egyptians looked at the Israelites with disgust and dread.  The slave force enhanced the power of Egypt and was what they feared resented and hated.  They depended on it for their prosperity and they despised it.

Still the Israelites flourished.

And so then Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill the boy babies upon their births.  I’ve often wondered why Pharaoh went to the midwives.  What hubris on his part, and disregard of them. He thought so much of himself and so little of these women that he thought he could get them to go against everything they believed in.  He didn’t take them seriously.

I came across the story recently of a teenaged girl who was allowed, as a joke, to pitch at an exhibition baseball game in Chattanooga, TN.  She struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.  It was only after she walked Tony Lazzeri she was taken out of the game by the manager.[3]

There is no way the midwives can win, but the Hebrew midwives persist.  They contribute what they can.  They let the boy babies live.  And then they lie about it.  What they had to contribute was their midwifery ability, their skill, the trust they had built up in their community, and their deceitfulness.

They went up against a powerful enemy, gave what they had and God made it enough.

So Pharaoh steps up the genocide and commands the whole kingdom to throw the baby boys in the river Nile.  But the story continues.  An Israelite man and an Israelite woman have a baby.  And this mother decides to do all she can though to save her son.  She can’t possibly think that what she has to offer is enough. Only papyrus basket lined with pitch.  That’s not a lot against a king and all his armies.  But she offers it nonetheless and sets her babe in the river.

Where Pharaoh’s daughter will see the basket and pull the babe out of the water and save him. Pharaoh’s daughter takes the basket from the river, knowing it was one of the Hebrew’s children.  It was a small act.  It probably didn’t even make her break a sweat.  It was almost reflexive.  That unlikeliest of contributions saved the man who would be called Moses and lead his people to freedom.

You never know where your contribution could lead.  In May, 2008 Anthony Rizzo was a new prospect for the Boston Red Sox.  He had been a sixth draft pick in 2007, but in May he was a scared 18-year-old.  he’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Theo Epstein, the Red Sox manager assured Anthony and his dad that the Red Sox would stand by them, that they were family.  And then he called over John Lester, who two previously ago had been diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma.  He knew what the Rizzo’s were facing.  he showed them around the club house, the lockers and training room.  Anthony’s dad is full of questions.  How sick did you get?  When did you come back to training? Was it hard to return? How did your parents handle it?  Lester told Anthony what helped him get through his own battle with cancer – he thought of it just like any other competition. “It was like me going against a team, he tells Rizzo. Lester didn’t want to know the survival rate, didn’t want to know anything other than what he needed to do to win.

I saw this just like I’d gotten hurt, he says to Rizzo. Now what do I do to get better? Then I did it.

“It was everything I needed to hear,” Rizzo says today. “I was thinking the same thing: ‘I have to do whatever it takes to get this out of me.’ He beat his cancer; I knew I could too.”[4]

Rizzo ends up being traded to San Diego where he makes into the majors and then he’s traded again to the Cubs where Theo Epstein is the president of baseball operations.  Rizzo gets into the All Star game and Lester is there too.  Rizzo extends a hand and says, “I don’t know if you remember me…”  And then, knowing that Lester was going to be a free agent, Rizzo says something that ended up being a huge contribution for the Cubs.  He said, “Chicago is a good place, Rizzo tells Lester. The Cubs are a great organization. We could use you.”

You may not look the part of someone with a lot to contribute.  Your contributions may seem minor, but it could be the one that makes all the difference.  Remember the words of Woodie Held, an undistinguished major league player: “don’t forget to swing hard, in case you hit the ball.”

[1] Cubs Website (because I don’t know what I’m talking about)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman and Andre Bernard p.474

[4] http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17659023/cancer-survivors-contenders-anthony-rizzo-jon-lester-bond-goes-deeper-cubs