Long before Joe Montana connected with Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFL Championship game, there was The Catch. On September 29, 1954, Willie Mays made an improbable over-the shoulder snag of a 450-foot shot off the bat of Vic Wertz. It probably saved the game for the New York Giants. If you’re too young to remember the Say Hey Kid’s feat, you can catch it on YouTube. It might be the best picture of connecting Sunday to Monday in a “been there done that” world.
Willie Mays was a 23 year-old thoroughbred when the New York Giants faced the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The score was tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth and the Indians had runners on first and second when Vic Wertz crushed a pitch to deep center field in the cavernous old Polo Grounds. The Indians’ runners took off. That was a mistake.
Mays was playing shallow center but at the crack of the bat made up for lost ground by sprinting toward the center field wall. He wasn’t angling for the carom however; he was aiming for The Catch. Just as the ball appeared to be beyond Mays’ reach, he reached out and cradled it into his glove. Then with a pirouette worthy of ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, Mays spun in midair and slung the ball back to the infield – ensuring that no Indians runners crossed the plate. Whew. It was a high wire act.
It’s a shame that most Christians don’t share the same enthusiasm about evangelism, which is a piece of connecting Sunday to Monday. The truth is “the typical churched believer will die without leading a single person to a faith in Christ,” writes researcher George Barna.1 Evangelism has become unpopular if not downright unappetizing. Part of the problem is Christian “apatheists” – theists who are apathetic about evangelism says atheist Jonathan Rauch. “I have Christian friends who organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with God, but who betray no sign of caring that I am an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual. They are exponents of apatheism.”2
But apatheism pales next to a bigger problem: the way many Christians imagine evangelism. They see evangelists as baseball pitchers, which is wrong-headed on two counts. First, making a pitch reduces evangelism to a presentation rather than a conversation. It’s more like enduring PowerPoint than entertaining counterpoint. Baseball pitchers only know three or four pitches and they’re ready to go. But making a pitch is not the same thing as pitching ideas back and forth.
Second, baseball is played on a level playing field – except for one miniscule mound 10 ½ inches high – the pitcher’s mound. Many Christians assume Christianity enjoys an elevated status in today’s society – so they try to make pitches. But we live in a world where the religious playing field is level and we’ve been tossed off the mound as “been there done that.” “No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear a different language from that spoken in church,” writes Dinesh D’Souza.3
There are occasional instances today where Christians are still invited to make a pitch. But those opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between. The solution is not to take our ball and go home or sit and sulk on the bench. Why don’t we instead get out in the field and gain respect by covering more ground than other faiths? Why don’t we exhibit a better understanding of human nature, just as center fielders know the tendencies of batters? Why not change the picture from being pitchers to center fielders?
The Giants yanked their pitcher after Wertz nearly hit it out of the park. What was his name? And which Giants’ reliever replaced him? I bet you don’t know. Don Liddle was pulled for Marv Grissom. It doesn’t matter if we’re no longer the pitchers – those who play the game remember and respect great players like Willie Mays.
“How lovely are the feet of him who brings good news… who announces salvation,” is how the prophet Isaiah pictured evangelists.4 Baseball wasn’t around in Isaiah’s day but it sounds like he preferred evangelists who were fleet of feet rather than being a sage on the stage. In a “been there done that” world, this might be the best way to make up for lost ground and win more to Christ.
Well, beat the drum and hold the phone – the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.
Oh, put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.5
1 George Barna, Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 2005), p. 32
2 Jonathan Rauch, “Let It Be” The Atlantic Monthly. Boston: May 2003. Vol. 291, Issue 4; p. 34
3 Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007), Preface
4 Isaiah 52:7
5 Lyrics from “Put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play today,” by John C. Fogerty (1985)