Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page for St Patrick's Anglican Church. This month, our devotionals are inspired by notable moments in the world of sports. I've been watching a lot of baseball this summer. It's my favourite sport, and once I discovered that, for a small fee, I could watch games live over the internet, well it's a little taste of heaven here in Hudson Bay. But I've noticed that there seems to be a rash of lost bats this year. A player swings, and the bat slips from his hands and sails away, sometimes down the line or into the field, and sometimes, more dangerously, into the crowd.
For example, Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays' designated hitter, has a two-handed swing; he keeps both hands on the bat for as much of his follow-through as he can. But recently, he let go too soon with his right hand, and the bat slipped out of his left hand and sailed into the first row of fans at Rogers Centre. Fortunately no one was hurt by the flying lumber!
Another time, Texas Rangers' all-star outfielder Josh Hamilton lost his bat, and it, too, sailed into the crowd. Now, Josh Hamilton is a nice guy, who also is very outspoken about his Christian faith. He regularly and publicly thanks God for helping him through an addiction to alcohol and cocain that almost ruined his career, his marriage and his life. His honesty and super play make him very popular.
So when his bat landed in the crowd, it was amusing to see people pass it around and take turns having their photo taken with the Bat of Josh Hamilton.
That lost bat incident was funny, and Hamilton was a bit sheepish at having let it slip out of his grip. One that was not quite so funny, an awful case of a lost grip was in a Washington Nationals game. The hitter, who shall remain nameless, took the first pitch. It was right on the outside edge of the plate, and the umpire called it “strike 1.” The hitter gave the ump a dirty look, but dug in for the next pitch.
The wind-up, and the pitch. It was a little farther outside. It looked, to me, like a ball. But the ump called it “strike 2.” Well, the batter turned and jawed a bit at the ump, made a gesture. I thought he would be ejected from the game, but he calmed down enough to step back into the batter's box and get ready for the next pitch. But with the count no balls and two strikes, and no longer trusting the ump, he swung wildly at a pitch nowhere near the strike zone. Mid-swing, he let go of the bat, and it sailed up, up, over the foul territory, over the whole first section of the stands, through a door, and finally clattered to a stop out in the concourse of the stadium. Meanwhile, the hitter stalked off to the dugout after striking out. He glared at the ump, but he did not look around for his bat. He had stopped caring.
Losing your grip on the bat is not a new problem. And a solution exists. Players have used a substance called pine tar for decades. It makes the handle of the bats a little more sticky, so they can get a better grip. The bat is less likely to fly out of their hands in a hard swing, and they can therefore relax their grip a little, which in turn gives them even more power when they connect with the ball.
Pro hitters use pine tar to keep from losing their grip on the bat. But that Washington Nationals batter lost his grip on more than just his bat. He lost his grip on his emotions and his passions, and they took over. He stopped caring about others, he was so consumed by his anger at the umpire.
Self-control is one of the marks of growing Christian maturity. As we do spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, weekly worship, and more, our faith grows stronger. It's like pine tar for our lives. A stronger faith leads to practical changes in our lives. It makes us more able to have self-control over our emotions, passions and actions, to catch the hurtful words before we speak them, or to give more of our time or money to God's mission or to others in need. Gal 5:23 calls self-control one of the fruits of the Spirit, a sign of our growing faith. 1 Peter and 1 Thessalonians describe it as being alert and sober-minded, a good description of self-control. May the pine tar of a growing faith help you to keep a grip in the midst of your challenges, and prevent your bat from flying into the crowd, so to speak, and potentially hurting others. For St Patrick's Church, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page.