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“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” 

E. M. ForsterHowards End

As we age, the sources of adolescent anguish and euphoria are, one by one, domesticated or abandoned, to make way for the peaceful drudgery of middle life. Fewer grand vistas, fewer pits of despair. Frankly, it’s a relief. Routine––marriage, work, and eventually kids––is its own gentle succor for the long journey.

The extended moderation of my own life was disrupted on a recent weeknight at Fenway Park, at the top of the ninth inning, when the third baseman for the Boston Red Sox tossed me a ball.

I am not a solipsist––he tossed me the baseball. The infield had finished its game of catch around the bases after a strikeout, and when the ball reached Rafael Devers’s glove, I stood up and called out his name. He looked at me, raised his arm, and threw the baseball directly toward my seat. 

The baseball found its parabolic curve, becoming momentarily Plato’s “moving image of eternity” as it sailed suspended in time through the night sky from one point to another. Hopeful hands reached out to try to stop the ball in its path, but the third baseman’s throw was true to its mark. My hands were open, the ball found a new home, and I sat down.

There are fans who have spent numberless nail-bitten hours in ballparks but have never received the ultimate consolation prize. For my own part, I had subjected myself many times to the slow, terrestrial rhythms of this game which, as Bart Giamatti put it, is “designed to break your heart.” Those hours of tribulation had taught me that baseballs were not for the likes of the long-suffering fan—rather, they belonged to small, wide-eyed children and any adults with sufficient thumos to trample their neighbors’ heads.

By some estimates, about 120 baseballs are used up over the course of a standard nine-inning game. Some of these are home runs, some are fouls, but most are simply discarded into the stands to supply pitchers with a fresh, unsullied ball. 

Writers have noted the game’s metaphysical perfection, its capacity to stretch time and replicate the seasons of life. But baseball is also miraculous at the granular level. The game contains great tragedies and triumphs, yes, but its most fundamental act, the throwing of a ball, is beautiful too.

When I caught the ball, the clouds did not part, the hand of God did not descend and tickle me under the chin, no angelic trumpets blared. Yet I felt surrounded by a warmth I can only call divine. It was the feeling of recognition. I had called out to the gods of baseball and the gods—just this once—had answered. In this moment of connection and acknowledgment I lived in fragments no longer: all the years of cheering, of clenching my hat in frustration, of applauding incredible catches and lucky hits and stolen bases—all this expended emotion was reciprocated in the form of a small round leather ball, tossed over a line in the ground.

Playing catch is an endless conversation: We throw something out in the hopes that it will be caught and returned. Baseball’s magic is that it takes this conversation and spins it out kaleidoscopically, creating an endless variety of throws and catches among its nine players. That this high-stakes game is built upon something so simple as a game of catch is a reality that millions of fans overlook. The ball is thrown, the ball is caught, and thrown again, and caught again. Perhaps all miracles are commonplace at first. The two women who found the stone removed and Christ's tomb empty must have felt a similar shock as the ordinary became extraordinary.

This morning I sit at my desk, looking at my prize on the shelf beside me. In the light of day, its luster has faded slightly, and I already feel the immediacy of this event slipping away, back into the vast reservoir of happy memories. Still, the ball will serve as a reminder of a day when I was startled by joy, when the ordinary lid of the universe was lifted to reveal the smiling face of God. And what did he create us for, if not to wonder at all his works, both great and small? 

Finnegan Schick writes from Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Image by Rick Berry licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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