I’ve noticed several words that repeatedly turn up on this blog this year. We’ve described the 2021 Braves as disheartening, dispiriting, soul-crushing. You’ll note that these aren’t just words of disappointment; these are words that pertain to the spirit. This team has impacted our souls (or at least mine—shouldn’t speak for the souls of the rest of y’all).
It has also caused me to reflect on Braves fandom as a spiritual practice. “Life is suffering.” That is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
The 2021 edition of the Braves have confirmed that truth. The 2018-2020 seasons were magical; whatever could go right usually did. In 2021 the Universe has given us a powerful reminder that things don’t always go our way. You don’t need me to remind you of all the ways this season has sucked. Yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Mets reiterated many of the elements of this soul-crushing season.
But the great spiritual traditions also affirm that suffering can be good for the soul. Rumi, the Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic, wrote: “Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy. You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” And the founder of Christianity said “Blessed are they that mourn…rejoice when you are persecuted.”
Like the 2021 Braves, sometimes everything goes wrong. Sometimes fortune doesn’t smile and you can’t catch a break. Sometimes when bad things happen it’s your own fault (looking at you, Liberty Media).
How we respond to adversity and suffering is often a better test of character than success. If that is true, perhaps this 2021 season has been given to us for the good of our souls.
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Just as I was about to accept that the 2021 season will continue to discourage and dishearten, the Braves teed off on the Mets tonight. The final score was 20-2. The Braves has 20 hits to the Mets’ 4. Obviously there were many offensive stars, but the brightest of all was Albies. Ozzie had 5 hits, including 2 homers, and he drove in 7. Freeman and Riley had 3 hits apiece, and believe it or not Heredia, Almonte, and Kevan (sic) Smith had 2 hits each. Ronald only had one hit, but it was massive; in his first AB he crushed one nearly across I-285. That one was big in another sense; the Mets had jumped to a 2-0 lead off Fried in the top of the first on a 2 run shot by Alonso—and many of us were thinking, here we go again. RAJ’s blast helped get my spirit back on track, and it set off an offensive explosion.
After giving up 2 runs on 2 hits in the first, Varsity looked sharp, shutting them out through 5 with only one more hit and striking out 7. Chavez, Tomlin, and Santana were all excellent in mop up duty.
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Perhaps tonight’s result should not be surprising. On this very blog today, a couple of commenters reminded us that “Dum spiro spero.” The quote is from Cicero. “While I breathe, I hope.” The statement has been adopted by many in the Christian tradition as a spiritual motto.
(And for some strange reason by the State of South Carolina. It is also the motto of St. Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland. Towels and trinkets from the town of St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, usually bear that motto. Golf is another sport that reminds us that life is suffering. Personally, I gave up hope about golf long ago.)
There is still hope for this Braves team. They are just 4.5 out as we head into July. The bats are waking up and the starting pitching has been quite good. More importantly, the rest of the division is mediocre. Despite the house of horrors that the season has been so far, this team could very well make a run at the division title.
But let’s don’t get too excited about this one victory. Baseball, like life, happens every day. And the best way to deal with life is one day at a time.
The Braves face deGrom on Thursday. I’m not going to worry about that right now, though: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”
Let’s enjoy this one for now. And you never know about tomorrow. Like life, baseball has a way of surprising us.