Loveable Losers

The title for this inspirational piece must seem a little strange.  Why write about losers?  I would agree that winning seems preferable.  I done both in my life and I do prefer winning.  It is more fun.  I got the title from the two words embedded in the middle of a quaint article.  It is in one of the online resources I routinely read simply because there is usually interesting stuff there.  I was not disappointed.

The resource is actually a national Catholic magazine that I read online.  So you can imagine that I was a little surprised when I read the headline, “What I learned about life playing center for the Cubs.”  The Chicago Cubs, I wondered.  Indeed, as the first sentence revealed.  The author, Michael Leach, says, “When I was a kid in the 1950s, all I wanted to be was center fielder for the Chicago Cubs.”  I was right---it was about the Cubs!  But I did not recognize Leach’s name, even though we have to be approximately the same age.  I don’t know all major league baseball players since the 60s, but the Cubs are close enough to Indiana, I was a little surprised I had never heard from him.

As I read further, I realized why I don’t know Michael Leach.  He talks about growing up in the vicinity of Wrigley Field, the home of the Cubs.  As he narrates his growing up years, baseball was learned in the alley three blocks from the field.  He confesses he barely made the Pony League team, so I knew he probably was not pro caliber talent.  There would be another angle to the title.

He claims his father took him to his first Cubs’ game when he was one week old.  It doesn’t matter.  Playing for the Cubs became his dream.  I know about the Cubs.  When Leach says, “It wasn't winning that drew us -- that was not going to happen much,” he was correct.  The next sentence gives the real reason.  “It was hanging out on this day with nice people under the sun with a lake breeze cooling our faces…”  As a theologian I said, “ah, it was community.”  

It was in the context that he uses the words, “lovable losers.”  The team was not going to win the pennant, but because of the community, the ambience, etc., it was fun to be part of the “lovable losers.”  A new thought began to creep into my mind.  You don’t have to win to have fun.  And losers are not necessarily despicable, sorry slobs!  Of course, I knew this; but the Cubs’ story is a nice reminder to all of us ordinary people.

Leach’s narrative gets more focus when he treks with his seventeen-year old friend to watch a Cubs’ game.  After the game concluded, a few players hung around to practice a bit more.  The two teenagers approached Dutch Leonard and asked if they could go onto the field and chase balls that were hit.  At first Dutch nixed the idea, but with pleading he relented in the way an old-school guy would. “What the hell. Go ahead. Be careful.”  Leach trotted out to center field.

He didn’t catch one ball.  And he nearly wiped out Moe Drabowsky in the process.  (I have heard of Moe!).  And then, Leach concludes.  It sounds a bit spiritual, even though he might not mean it that way.  “My soul learned a lesson in humility that day. Being a star isn't happiness.”  The key is not winning.  The key is remembering “the joy of just playing.”  That can be a recipe for the good life.  We don’t have to be winners to know joy.

I like very much the last line of Leach’s piece.  He says, “Baseball, like life, sets you free only when you play it for fun.”  Leach sets us up very nicely for seeing baseball as an analogy for life.  And I want to push it even further and talk about the spiritual life.  A couple important issues emerge from this last quotation.  Leach talks about a life that is free.  Freedom is a tricky idea.  I am sure everyone I know feels free.  None of us are in jail.  But we can be free from jail and in bondage at the same time.  Workaholics are trapped.  Our contemporary culture provides all sorts of ways that trap us.  Many of my younger friends are trapped by social media.  We are not as free as we think.

The second significant piece Leach talks about is having fun.  I think he is correct when he posits that no one who is trapped truly is having fun.  This is true even for those of us trapped by Facebook, Twitter, etc.  When we are trapped, we have to do it.  When we are free, we can do it.  Finally, it is fun only when we have the freedom to say no.

I think this applies to the spiritual life.  If we are spiritual because we have to do it (for whatever reason), then we are not free and it won’t be fun.  I’m some might suggest that being spiritual is not supposed to be fun.  Of course, it is not fun all the time---any more than being at a baseball game all day and night would be fun.  But if it is not fun some of the time, then I think we need to consider what kind of spiritual way are we walking.

Part of the fun in the spiritual life is community.  Being spiritual is not necessarily a long, lonely journey so that we can have fun later (maybe only after we are dead!).  That is not my spiritual path.  I want to play center field and have fun before I’m dead!

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