Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Helen is not a great sports fan, but she is kind enough to sit in the living room, ordering stuff on her computer, while I watch the Reds. In the process, she has become a great fan of Billy Hamilton, the Reds’ centerfielder, who covers the entire outfield, and sometimes the stands, with his speed, and hits singles and steals bases and creates havoc until the opposition just gives up. Billy plays “small ball.”

In “long ball,” each batter tries to hit a home run, or at least hit the ball as far as possible. In “small ball,” a batter gets on base in a small way—a single, a walk, hit by a pitch. Then he steals second base. The next batter “sacrifices” him to third with a bunt. The next batter hits a fly ball long enough for the man on third to score after the catch, another sacrifice. Or some similar sequence. Many small acts, including sacrifices of self, add up to one run. It’s “small ball.”

George Plimpton talked about “small ball” in a different way. He theorized that in sports writing, the smaller the ball, the better the writing. Thus golf produced the best writing, followed by tennis, and then baseball. What then? Croquet? Hai Alai? Water polo? Football must surely be in a class by itself; there just aren’t many sports with a non-round ball.

Faith is much like this, I think. Billy Graham and his ilk, including the apostle, Paul, are long-ballers. Home run experiences that change the whole game.

I can appreciate the long-ball approach, but I’m a small-ball guy myself--a little sacrifice here, another there, a stolen base while Satan isn’t looking… after a while you’ve reached home.

We are in a long-ball era. In the major leagues, for the first time in history, more at-bat appearances end in home runs or strike outs than any other result. It’s all or nothing.

It’s the same in politics. And religion. My way or the highway in politics, mega church or no church in religion.

I remind myself—small ball is still okay, and it may well end up winning the game.

John Robert McFarland

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