Jesus loves softball. We love softball. Jesus loves us.
Team Tiger Beat took the field one unseasonably warm day at Whittier Narrows for the annual softball tournament sponsored by Los Angeles’ hippest, most progressive church.
We expected God to smile on us more than everybody else. Yes, we are all His flock, but can’t He show favor to the best and the brightest? Most of the team is doing the acting thing – we collectively feature appearances on “E.R.,” “Las Vegas,” “Veronica Mars,” “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” a tour-de-force performance in Jamie Lynn Spears’ “Zoey 101” and commercials for Cici’s Pizza, Circuit City, Old Navy and Tic Tacs.
We are marvelous and very humble. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for practice.
We play five 25-minute games. Our first opponents are a consortium of massive, vaguely Eastern European-looking gentlemen. Russian Orthodox? Meet Non-Denominational.
They bring a selection of their own bats. They mutter things to each other that could be, horrifyingly, strategy. Goliath? Call us David.
Oh. And they don’t have a pitcher. They ask to use ours. We agree. That’s called Charity. We lose 5-0. Our own pitcher smokes us. Nasty.
“That’s OK, guys, that’s OK. Skill wins the first game, but heart wins the rest. And we’ve got heart!” says John, our spiritual leader.
The second game tests our Fortitude. The next team is much older and stars a pitcher in military fatigues who throws a mean slow pitch fastball. And he pitches before we’re ready to hit. This, I have been told, is cheating.
“What a swine!” Justin says in the dugout.
“Je-sus CHRIST!” Scott responds.
This game ends poorly; we lose 10-0. We form the handshake line at the end to show that there are no hard feelings.
“D-bag,” Scott says under his breath.
Game the third is all about Patience. We have an umpire for the game – he may have been living in the nearby Port-O-Potty and was enticed by the smell of Gatorade and happiness – and he’s calling it close.
We can’t buy a strike from this guy, and we walk the bases full before they blast one over the heads of our outfielders. When we are up to bat, however, we’d much rather swing away rather than wait for a good pitch. Patience is for the weak.
“Alright, who didn’t go to Church this week?” asks Kevin in our post-loss chat.
“Alright, did ANYONE go to Church this week?” he asks again.
“That’s why we’re losing! God is against us!”
But in the next game, it’s the third inning, and we’re clinging to a 1-0 lead. We are starting to believe: This is our time. Faith.
But our opponents have uniforms. And skill. God is great, but there’s only so much you can do against skill-filled uniforms if you’re without a few plagues o’er the land in your pocket. It’s only a matter of time before our Faith loses out to a three-run triple that puts the game out of reach.
“God! Damn this game!” I yell.
We run to the next diamond to sit in on the shady side. If we’re going down, we’re sure as hell not going to burn before we get there.
Our fifth and final game lacks Devotion. We’re 0-4, with no hope of the championship or the redemption of our softball souls.
We play a highly organized, predominantly Latino team with an impressively mustachioed coach and elaborate team signals. At this point, we’re watching them win.
They really seem to be enjoying themselves on this beautiful day. I bet they’ll go back to their friends and families and say how relaxing and reinvigorating it was to spend a lovely afternoon in the company of such fine people.
This, they will say, is the spirit of togetherness. I think the score is 20-0 before we’re mercifully released from our torment.
After the games conclude, as we drink Capri Suns and massage our aching muscles, we are treated to an impromptu sermon from one of the frequent churchgoers. He tells a long-winded parable about being shot in a paintball game and the importance of having proper expectations.
The world is tough, he says, and not everything is going to work out your way. Trust in God, and you will find your path.
I think he’s right. Our expectations for God might have been a tad high. But He surely could have done better than 0-5.
That’s OK. The real messages here are Forgiveness and Hope. Breathe deep. Look up. I find my path back to my car, picking grass out of my hair, thinking of the catch I almost made.