Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s as a kid that loved baseball meant picking a Major-League team far away to root for and follow. Most of my baseball buddies and I chose one of the three fabled New York teams. Each had a great centerfielder: Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and Duke Snider of the Dodgers. It was the golden era for baseball in New York, especially for the Yankees, who seemed to win every year. As a classic baseball song said it years later, “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke….” I chose Duke Snider and the Flatbush based Bums, the loveable losers, whose battle cry was, Wait till next year!
Then, in 1958, the unbelievable happened. The Dodgers moved to LA. I guess that helped me believe in prayer and a loving God. While Brooklyn wept, LA rejoiced. I would get to see Duke Snider, #4, he of the prematurely graying temples and towering home runs, play in my town.
About the same time, a technological miracle was unfolding: the transistor radio. It didn’t need to be plugged into a wall socket. It was lightweight and smaller than any radios we had ever known. And most had ear pieces (not called earbuds back then) which you could put in one ear and listen privately. These radios would revolutionize how people listened to baseball games and other sporting events. As transistor radios got smaller, people would take them to games and listen to Vin Scully, the Dodgers legendary announcer and the poet laureate of baseball broadcasting, as they watched the game in person. When Vin said something funny, thousands of people laughed at the same time.
I saved up my paper route money to buy one. My parents took me to Fedco, which was the Costco of that day. I looked at all the transistor radios and held them before making my choice. When it was bedtime and the Dodgers were playing, I could put the transistor radio next to me in bed, easily hidden from sight, pop in the ear piece, and listen to Vin Scully. In my imagination, I was at the game. I could see the contours of the playing field and where the players were positioned. I could smell the hot dogs, popcorn, and spilled beer. If the Dodgers were losing, I would root silently, so as not to alert my parents to what I was doing. (I wonder if they knew all along what I was doing.)
And I would think, if I were really at the game rooting at the top of my lungs for Duke Snider to get the big hit that would bring victory, would Duke hear me? How could he resist getting the big hit if he heard me rooting him on? Would my one voice somehow add to the persuasive force of the crowd? Surely every voice mattered. The more the better. Surely Duke wouldn’t let all of us down. He wouldn’t let me down, would he?
Now I live in a different part of the country. I have adopted an east coast team, though I still keep an eye on the Dodgers. Duke Snider is dead, though enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Transistor radios have been replaced by information technologies we couldn’t have imagined back then. Baseball is still a frustratingly wonderful game. I still love following the game.
And I think about the nature of prayer. Make no mistake, my rooting for Duke to get the game winning hit was a rather pure form of prayer, though not always addressed to God. At least, not directly. My view of prayer has been changing gradually over the years. Now it is less asking God for what I want, though that still creeps in. Especially when I am praying for healing and sustaining grace for friends with serious health challenges. I don’t bother praying for good parking places. Or for my team to win a big game. There is too much serious trouble in the world than for me to be praying for trivial matters for my own convenience. I am trying to see prayer more and more as entering into the life and work of God. Like a kid rooting for Duke Snider to get the big hit, I want to be another voice in the crowd praising God and entering into the life and work of God. I want to enter into the wondrous relationship of God the Trinity. I want to be a part of the movement of transforming love that Jesus is leading. I pray not so much to change God’s mind, but to seek to align my mind with God’s mind, my will with God’s will.
I have my forms of prayer, mainly following the pattern of what we call the Lord’s Prayer, and my personal customs and habits, which help me to be more disciplined. Forms and practices help my wandering mind to focus better. But, more and more, I am seeing prayer as entering into the life and will of God—great and glorious mystery—humbly and gratefully. Every day. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven….