Last Friday, I went to a baseball game on Fireworks Night. I loved the game, and the fireworks were great—but, to my surprise, it’s what happened between the game and the fireworks that I loved even more.
This year, because of a crazy family schedule and traveling on the 4th of July, I didn’t see firework to celebrate our Independence Day. When I found out that the Friday game included fireworks afterwards, I was thrilled. I’d get to see fireworks this year after all.
During the eight inning, I breathed in a contented sigh. Even though my team was getting clobbered 11-5, my entire family sat laughing and talking around me. I’d eaten a baked pretzel with cheese—my customary ball-park fare—and the weather was a perfect eighty-five degrees. And in less than two innings, I’d be resting my head against the back of the seat, gazing up at brilliant displays of bursting, crackling color, and thinking to myself that, yeah, life was good.
That’s when I heard the announcement about where kids should line up if they want to run the bases after the game.
Run the bases? Ug. Now I’d have to sit through that tedium before I’d see any fireworks. I sighed, peered around the stadium, and squelched my irritation by reminding myself that we were at Jimmy John’s Field, home of the United Shore Professional Baseball League and with a seating capacity of 4,500. We were not at Comerica Park watching the Tigers and surrounded by 41,300 fans.
How many kids could there be in a stadium with only 4,500 seats?
I stopped pouting. Running the bases would take three, five minutes tops. I’d been waiting all year to see fireworks—I could twiddling my thumbs for another five minutes.
After my poor Utica Unicorns failed to score in the top of the ninth inning, I watched blue-shirted ushers walk onto the field and lead the throng of waiting base sprinters and their camera-wielding parent out from a door beside the first-base dugout. As the line serpentined down the baseline, I felt my mouth open. Where had all these kids come from? Had they opened the field to the entire four-foot-and-under population of Auburn Hills?
I leaned around my son and his girlfriend and gaped at my husband. “Do you see that?” I asked as I stabbed a finger at the line, the back of which disappeared under the stands. “I can’t even see the end. This is going to take forever!”
I slumped down in my seat, stretched out my thumbs—they’d be twiddling for way longer than five minutes—and accepted the fact that the ensuing dashes around the bags would bore me out of my mind.
But instead, I found myself captivated.
By the time the first child rounded third base, I was sitting straight up in my seat, thumbs forgotten. Whether the child was twelve or two, they all ran the bases as hard as they could go, with legs and arms pumping. Boys racing each other, girls with long hair flying—all grinning from ear to ear and, and, perhaps, imagining that they were in the big leagues, had just hit a bullet to the wall, and now needed to make it home before the center fielder threw them out.
I have to admit, though, that the little ones were my favorite. I loved how they ran their hearts out with such tiny strides that I wondered if they’d ever make it to home plate. How they’d fall in the dirt, get back up, and keep right on running. How they didn’t slow down or become discouraged despite the fact that older children continually sped past them.
As these children ran around the bases, I also began noticing something else. On each and every face, regardless of age, I saw the same emotion—pure, unabandoned joy. These kids were having the time of their lives. Just good, clean, old-fashioned fun, with the added bonus of involving no electronics whatsoever (except, of course, their camera-wielding parents). Something our children need more of these days.
I also began watching the area behind home plate, where myriad parents and grandparents clumped in milling bunches. I began to worry that some of the children who crossed the plate would not be able to locate their families in the growing crowd. And yet, without exception, when each child tore across that final white pentagon, an adult emerged from the chaos, greeted them with a hug or a high-five, and gathered them close.
After the last diminutive base runner left the field, the fireworks that followed seemed like a celebration. A celebration of a race well run.
And it occurred to me. Our Christian pilgrimage here on earth is like running those bases. Our big-league God doesn’t intend for us to wander around in random circles on the field of life. Instead, he has a path for us, marked out by the leading of the Holy Spirit instead of a line of chalk. And when we follow his path, from first to second to third, without straying outside the baseline of God’s will, we can run with pure, unabandoned joy. Yes, we sometimes fall on our faces. Yes, at times we feel our legs and arms pumping, and yet we seem to cover little ground. But when we round third base and are finally in the homestretch of our lives, we can lift our hands in praise and exaltation when we finally cross home.
And there, our big God will be meet us with open arms, and maybe a high-five or two, before he gather us to himself forever. And the heavenly celebration that follows will far exceed even the most breathtaking fireworks display.
So. Ready to play ball?