Dear Friends,

Spring training began this past week as baseball teams reported to Florida – the Grapefruit League – or Arizona – the Cactus League. Pitchers and catchers always show up first. Then the position players arrive, some of them grizzled veterans, some of them rookies hoping to be in the lineup come Opening Day.

I’ve loved baseball since I was a boy. My grandfather Applegate was a huge baseball fan. He spent summers living with us for several years, and he parked himself in front of the TV set in the living room so he could see and hear the games. Although he wasn’t totally blind or deaf, his eyesight and hearing had suffered considerable decline in his old age. One didn’t need to be in the living room to know what was going on with the Yankees. Mel Allen, Red Barber, and Phil Rizzuto’s voices on WPIX could be heard throughout the house.

These days, I rely on the MLB app on my phone, or watch one of the games on MLB.TV to get my baseball fix. A recent email reminded me that I needed to update my credit card so my subscription will renew without interruption.

Here’s a story about spring training and Lent that’s circulated for a long time: Many years ago, a popular Roman Catholic priest was invited to celebrate Mass for a men’s club as they were entering the season of Lent. Like most people, the men thought of the 40-day period as just a time for increased prayer and fasting. The priest changed the thinking of the men that evening as he presented a talk on “Lent, a time of spring training for people of faith.”

“Lent is like spring training in baseball,” the priest said. “We get out of spring training what we put into it. We need to do this yearly to be on God’s team.”

You may not be a baseball fan, or even pay any attention to the sport, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how much eye-hand coordination it takes to hit a sphere that’s only 9-9.25” in circumference traveling at you from 60’ 6” away at 100 mph.

Instead of seeing Lent as a dreary season when we give up things we like for reasons we don’t understand, I’d like to offer another view of Lent – a view from our National Pastime. Lent is the time to ensure that our spiritual life is in top-notch coordination. But in the case of our spiritual lives, it’s not eye-hand coordination; it’s mind, heart and hand coordination.

In place of taking batting practice and fielding ground balls as players do during baseball’s spring training, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the essentials of spiritual spring training. They result in the coordination of mind, heart and hand.

Opening Day will be here before you know it, and so will Easter. Will you be ready when the umpire says, “Play ball”?


Stephen Applegate

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