Sandlot Christmas. Go SMALLS or go home
Dec 25, 2018
Boaz became the Father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Despite being the creator of the universe and all people in it, like us Jesus Christ has a geneology…a lineage of descendants who make up His Family Tree. One of those women is Ruth and the house that Ruth helped to build is also Christ’s.
To appreciate then the solemn significance of Christmas, I want to share with you a different kind of Christmas story that takes place not during winter, not in a cave…not even in a Church…but on a California Sand Lot during summer. A story inspired by another Ruth who is not even a female, another Babe who was not placed in a crib at Bethlehem but a house in the Bronx that he built called Yankee Stadium.
It was in the greatest summer of Scotty Small’s life...when he was taught to play baseball and became Benny’s best friend. And he would get Scotty out of the biggest pickle he’d ever be in.
New to the neighborhood, Smalls would be recruited to play with the Sand Lot boys…only because being short one person they needed a ninth to field a full-team: a socially and athletically awkward kid who not being able to throw a base-ball would instead run it in from the outfield to the pitcher. Who confused the Great Bambino with the great Bambi.
Baseballs were like jewels to these boys…so that when you hit one over the fence, it would go to the place where baseballs die, never to be seen again. That is because behind that fence was a junk yard guarded by a monster canine not so affectionately referred to as the beast. That is until one ball above all balls makes it in there and becoming the property of the beast, must be rescued even at the cost of one’s life.
Having lost a ball, Scotty Smalls would volunteer to use a base-ball sitting like a gem in the crown of a king on the mantle in his step-father’s office. And it would be Scotty Smalls of all people who would hit that precious ball over the fence thus creating the conditions for that biggest pickle ever:
“We gotta get that ball back…you don’t understand that wasn’t my ball!
Listen to me Smalls, this is a matter of life and death: Where did your old man get that ball?
Smalls: I don't know. Some lady gave it to him. She even signed her name on it. Some lady named... Ruth. Baby Ruth.
Squints: it was signed by Babe Ruth!?
Smalls: Yeah, you keep telling me that! Who is she?
The sultan of swat!
The king of crash!
The colossus of clout!
THE GREAT BAMBINO!
Smalls, Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player that ever lived. That ball you just lost to The Beast is worth, well, more than your whole life.”
Having purchased another ball…Benny would forge Babe Ruth’s signature and Smalls tries to put that one back on the mantle stand of glory.
In Keystone cops style…the team is able to outsmart and tame the beast, retrieve all the previous balls lost and meet the owner of the junk-yard who is a blind man who had more pop in his swing back in the day than Babe Ruth, until he lost his sight. When he discovers what the ball is they lost and feels the soggy chewed up and dirty condition of it, he says to Smalls:
“I take it back son…you’re not in trouble…you’re dead where you stand.”
Then as if by magic he produces from his trophy case a ball worth way more than the original ball they lost despite having been signed by Babe Ruth.
This ball is signed by ALL the 1927 Yankees including Babe Ruth, considered the greatest team ever assembled. Redeeming that old chewed up valueless ball for a new one whose value is beyond calculation…an early Christmas gift of both redemption and salvation is given…especially for Scotty Smalls.
More impressive than anything God created in the universe is us. Like that baseball, what initially made it so valuable was not the material it was made of but the signature of the greatest baseball player ever who signed it. What makes us so valuable is not that we exist but the one who created us in His own image and likeness…whose divine signature is written across our entire being.
However, beginning with Adam and Eve and entrusted with so valuable a treasure as divine life, we would find ourselves in the biggest pickle ever…sin. And having sinned we would be catapulted from a garden of Eden into a hideous junk-yard of sin, suffering, dying and death…lost to the graces of God and buried beneath the hatred of that real Ancient Beast called Satan.
But that ball beyond price once put into play becomes the catalyst for overcoming the beast’s mythic power and the catalyst for connecting those terrified boys with a kind and decent man who is able to redeem that drool covered and torn Babe Ruth signed ball for another way more valuable.
And how like the Christ Christmas story who seeing how lost we had become insists…I have to get them back. Christ came pure and clean into this world only to have all our sins let loose upon him…ripping the skin off his flesh during his passion like Benny hitting the covering off of the ball that led to replacing it with the famed Babe Ruth ball.
But having risen from the dead, Jesus would redeem our fallen nature and broken human condition and transform our lost status to being the found sheep of the Good Shepherd who He triumphantly returns home saved from the prison the beast once held us bound in.
This is the beauty of Christmas. More valuable than any house, any ballpark or even any Church There is no greater dwelling…no more sacred structure or home in all the universe than our own body: As Saint Paul reminds us: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were redeemed at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
And how do we maintain this legendary All-star Hall of Fame Temple Status? The word Bethlehem means House of Bread. When Scotty’s step-dad placed that ball ever so delicately upon its stand…we are reminded how the Holy Spirit ever so delicately conceived and placed Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary…the true House of Bread.
But in receiving this same Christ by way of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power during the Consecration…is not this same Christ in all His Bethlehem Charm and Risen power and glory not placed within our bodies and souls through Holy Communion?
Benny once said of Babe Ruth…he was less than a God but more than a man. Because of Christmas we are more than who we once were prior to the fall…and that is because we are now not a little less than God but now like God.
Like the redeemed ball given back to Smalls with all those wonderful names upon it, the sacrifice of Christ by way of the Incarnation has increased our worth infinitely…for written upon the human heart of Christ are the names of all people of all times who He lived, died and rose from the dead for.