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FIRST-PERSON: At least one good Cubs memory

CHICAGO (BP)–From my right-field, upper-deck vantage point at “the friendly confines” at Clark and Addison, I enjoyed a Kerry Wood shutout on Sept. 17 — and a flicker of hope that this might be the year the Cubs won the pennant.

Alas, it wasn’t.

Still, there are many consolations. One of mine was the joy I took in conversation with a visitor that day. I was seated next to a lady from England and her American friend, who once stayed with her in the UK. It was the Brit’s first baseball game, though she had glimpsed one or two on television back home. She loved it, and she eagerly absorbed as much info as her friend and I could give.

The American lady did a pretty good job in spelling out the fundamentals of balls and strikes, though she called the field, “the outfield” (as in, “There are nine players in the outfield”). She was from Indianapolis and wasn’t up on Wrigley Field lore, so I got to explain such things as the across-the-street sign with “Eamus Catuli” (“Let’s go, Cubs” in Latin) and “AC145869” (“Year of the Cubs” plus the number of years since the last division title, last pennant, and last world series championship).

Things were going well until I noted (while the ball was still in the air) that a pop-up to the shortstop would be an out, whether or not he dropped it. (We’d already told her that a caught fly meant an out, so we had some explaining to do.) The reason was simple: The batter had fallen prey to the Infield Fly Rule:

“The batter is out when … An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases … (Major League Baseball, Official Rules, 6.05L)

“An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out…. When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.” (MLB Official Rules, 2.00, ‘Definition of Terms.’)

Huh? What in the world could that mean? And what’s the point of it? Well, actually there is a deep wisdom here.

Imagine runners on first and second with no outs. If the batter hits a fly, the runners are more or less in limbo until they see whether the ball will be caught in the air. If it is, they have to tag up before they run. This works fine if the ball is hit to the outfield, for the runners have a fighting chance to tag and advance if it’s caught — or to simply advance if it isn’t, thus leaving first base open for the lucky batter. Either way, the outfielder must give it his best, and then fire the ball back to the infield to stop unfortunate things from developing.

But without the Infield Fly Rule, a cagey infielder could gum up the works. Once again, imagine runners at first and second with no outs. This time, a sky-high fly goes to the shortstop. The batter is roaring down toward first, but the runner on first is paralyzed (as is the one on second), assuming the fly will be caught. When the shortstop purposely bobbles the ball, he has the makings of an easy double play (and perhaps a triple play). The runners have little hope of making it on to third and second. It’s a trap. It would give unfair advantage to the defenders, and like the spitball, it is forbidden.

Now let me connect this to a sermon I was preparing in the stands. (Yes, that was my study for a few hours.) The text was Ephesians 5:22-33, the one about the complementary roles of husband and wife. You may recall that we Southern Baptists caught a lot of heat for amending the Baptist Faith and Message to include an article on the family, one in which we repeated the Apostle Paul’s instruction that the wife submit her husband (who, in turn, was obliged to love her sacrificially). To the modern ear, this sounds crazy. Why not just say that the sharpest and holiest spouse gets to be the head of the house? Why not make it a meritocracy?

As with the Infield Fly Rule, there is a deeper wisdom, God’s wisdom. And even if pastors cannot plumb it fully, they can faithfully present the plain teaching of Scripture to their congregations.

Vague, transient spirituality is very popular today. Many feel that all religions come to pretty much the same thing and that thoughtful people can sort out the basics for themselves, whatever their religious (or irreligious) orientation. Some belong to the “church of nature.” They say they feel closer to God out biking or fishing than in following a preacher as he works through a text on Sunday morning. Well, the heavens may declare the glory of God, but they do not declare the counsel of God. You need Bible study for that.

The world just doesn’t get the Bible’s teaching on the family. They throw bats from the dugout, kick dirt and get in the umpire’s face. But the church stands its ground, confident that they’ve read the rulebook carefully — and that its author is perfect in all His counsel.
Mark Coppenger, at [email protected], is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. His commentaries appear monthly in the Illinois Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Mark Coppenger