Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church. Our daily radio devotionals this month are sports-related. Today, let's talk baseball again. Baseball has always been my favourite sport. I'm holding in my hand a regulation-sized baseball. I love the feel of a baseball; it's all slick and shiny white, with the raised red stitching.
In sports like football or soccer, the ball is filled with air. But baseballs are solid, dense. If I were to dig out a saw and cut through the centre of my baseball, we would find that at the very centre, the core of the baseball is made with cork. Then around the cork come a couple layers of rubber. This rubber and cork core is then surrounded by yarn. Each baseball has hundreds of yards of yarn, wrapped around and around the centre. There may even be different colours of yarn, to show where the different layers are, with each layer using a different thickness of yarn.
The top layer of wound yarn is then covered with a glue, and the white leather cow-hide cover comes on the very top. The balls used in the major leagues are hand-stitched, with exactly 216 of these red stitches holding the two strips of leather together. And voilà! A baseball!
The way baseballs are made in North America, they are white and shiny, and kind of slick, a little slippery. That can make them a little harder to hang onto and throw them accurately. So before each game in the big leagues, the shiny new baseballs are rubbed down with some dirt and mud. Not a lot, but enough to reduce the slickness, and let the players get a better grip for throwing the ball.
For years, it was the job of the umpires to rub the dirt and mud by hand onto the balls. The umps never really cared for that dirty job, so they negotiated it out of their contract. Now, the job of rubbing down the balls before a game falls to one of the attendants at each stadium. But it made sense, since the umpire decides how long a ball is kept in play. Watch a game and you will often see the home-plate ump take the ball from the catcher and look it over. If he decides it's still OK, he throws it back to the pitcher, but if he thinks it's too scuffed, he tosses it away and gives the pitcher a new one. When a ball is too scuffed, it gives the pitcher an advantage, because its movement becomes more unpredictable, making the ball harder for the batter to hit.
Legend has it that, once the stadium attendants took over the job, the great Randy Johnson would slip an extra $250 to the attendant at his home stadium, if they would rub extra dirt and mud on days he was pitching. He wanted more movement, he wanted the ball to be harder to hit. Not that he needed the help! Johnson was a great pitcher, a 10-time all-star who won 5 Cy Young awards as the best pitcher in the league, and who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to the World Series title in 2001. He had a no-hitter and a perfect game in his career, and will surely enter the Hall of Fame one day.
A nice, new, clean, shiny white baseball is perfect, a thing of beauty. But the best players, like Randy Johnson, know how to make use of any little blemish and imperfection, ding and scuff on a ball.
It's kind of like our lives, isn't it? Over the course of living, we get lots of dings and scuffs. Some are small, some are large. Things like times of hurt or failure, of disappointment or pain. The good news, thought, is that God knows how to make use of the emotional, spiritual, even physical dings and scuffs on us. God was with us, God helped us come through those tough times.
And now, if we allow it, God wants to make use of those times of weakness, those times of pain, those hard experiences in our life, when we disappointed someone, even ourselves. God wants to put those bumps to good use. I bet there is someone in your circle of friends and family right now who is facing a similar challenge. Will you reach out to them, with God's help, and bring the love and light of Christ into their lives? If it sounds too hard, remember that “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4v13) Hopefully you were aware of God's presence in your hard times. Now go and share God's love with others, in their time of need. For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steven Page.