Baseball Comes Through Hearing

By Bob Hiller


Some time back my wife and I decided to cancel cable. With the coming of Netflix, Hulu, etc. we are able to access the shows we like, avoid endless channels of nonsense, and save money doing it. There are only two instances where this has been problematic for me: first, when inconsiderate people post Walking Dead spoilers on Facebook (please be nice, Netflix is a season behind). And, second, when the cable stations are carrying sporting events I’d like to watch. This year, TBS and Fox Sports carried the Major League Baseball playoffs, so I couldn’t watch. Sure, I could have gone down to the bar to watch the games, but I have a hard time justifying three to six hours a day, every day, away from work and family to drink beer and watch baseball. Well…I have a hard time justifying it to them, anyhow…

The lack of television, however, has not stopped me from enjoying the post-season. This year, instead of taking in the playoffs with my eyes, I took it in with my ears by listening to the post-season entirely on the radio. And, I have to tell you, I enjoyed it immensely! In fact, I don’t recall enjoying a post-season nearly as much as I have this year. Now, that could be because the games have been fantastic, the storylines compelling, and the competition intense. But, that is often true of playoff baseball. No, I credit my deep pleasure for this post season directly to the radio.

Calling a game is truly an art. Two men sit in a booth and deliver what is hidden from your sight directly into your ears. The play-by-play man describes the action on the field while his partner, the color commentator, usually an expert on the game, adds insight delivering human interest stories, explanations of strategy, and, at times, personal opinion. It is rare to find anyone who can do both of these well, though the Dodgers have a classic in Vin Scully who has been calling games since 1950 when the boys in blue still played in Brooklyn! If you’ve never heard him call a game, you must get your internet radio tuned in next year as 2016 is likely to be his final season. Listening to Scully is like listening to your favorite grandfather tell glorious stories of how life used to be. There is a familiar warmth to the man’s voice that sounds like summer. But I digress.

Vin Scully

As a preacher, I have been struck by the power of hearing while listening to the playoffs. I am constantly told that I need to use more media and more visuals, even videos, in my sermons. After all, I am told, we are living in a “visual” culture where folks have been trained by the television to take in information through their eyes. Their attention spans are shorter and their hunger for visual distraction is stronger. So, preaching is expected to cater to the culture of visual entertainment. It needs to be less of a lecture. Oh, is there anything more terrifying to a preacher than the accusation of “lecturing?”

But, when I listen to Vin Scully, or any good announcer for that matter, I don’t get the impression that I am being lectured. Rather, I am receiving a story. A picture is being painted for my ears. The radio announcer is taking something I cannot see and delivering the reality to me. And, in so doing, He is bringing me into the game. He is making the game a part of my experience. He proclaiming the game to me…perhaps even for me.

Listening to the playoffs has done a great deal to help dispel the myth of the “visual culture” for me. Sure, there are visual learners out there. But not everyone is that way. In fact, the rise in popularity of podcasts on iTunes would suggest there is still a desire for the auditory form of learning.

Faith comes by hearing

From baseball on the radio, preachers could learn that they need not fear the tyranny of the visual. Faith, after all, comes through hearing. Sight is the stuff of idolatry when it comes to faith. Even the water, bread, and wine must receive a Word before they are sacraments. We need to stop associating preaching with lecturing. I am interested in saving the word “preaching” from the damning reputation of being mere lecture. Preachers are delivering an unseen reality, namely the work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. They are not merely describing a pastime event nor sharing some colorful theological opinions for your consideration, but delivering the reality of the forgiveness of sins straight into your ear-balls, as Dr. Rosenbladt used to say. They are making the work of Jesus your reality, giving Jesus to you, preaching Him for you.

In a marvelous essay, A. Bartlett Giamatti says of listening to baseball during summer work, “The real activity was done with the radio–not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television–and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.” On Sunday, in the sermon, the real activity is done in the Word. You cannot see it, you may not even feel it, but you’ll hear it in your ears. Just listen to this: You’re old Adam is dead with Christ, and you have been raised to a new life! Nothing to see here, and thank God for that!