By LAURA KELLY FANUCCI
FAITH AT HOME
As a mother of five boys, I have spent countless nights at baseball fields, but never have I glimpsed God in the dugout until one recent night.
Can I confess that I was bored by my own son's game? I was bored only because his team was winning and he'd finished pitching, so my attention wandered for a moment, long enough to catch a shout I'd never heard from the sidelines on the next field.
"I love you! I'm so proud of you! You're doing it!"
What shocked me was that such enthusiasm came not from a fellow parent in the bleachers, but a coach hanging on the backstop.
"I love you!" he called again through the chain-link fence, this time to another player stepping up to the plate. "I see you! I'm here for you!"
The dad sitting next to me heard it too. He turned around, startled by the strangeness. Youth sports is now the thorny terrain of adult tantrums and parental outbursts -- not often pure outpourings of love or grace.
But grace it was, ball cap slung backward, sunglasses shading the setting sun, thick arms hanging on the backstop, enthusiasm pouring on every 8-year-old like it was Game 7 of the World Series.
Cynic that I am regarding youth sports, I figured the first inning cheers would fade from heat and exhaustion (if not defeat) as the game went on. Instead, the opposite occurred.
In inning two, the coach hollered to a kid who got tagged out at second, "That was hard! But I'm proud of you. You did a hard thing!"
In inning three, he confirmed an ump's tough call and shouted to his team's opponent on first base, "That was a great hit! Way to go."
In inning four, he lined up his players by batting order on the bench and ran down the row, high-fiving each one, then reeled around and yelled, "No, that's not done; I'm coming back!" and ran right back down the line of stretched-out hands, every kid erupting in laughter.
"Now you need to be there for each other," he cheered. "Be the team we need to be!"
Here's the best part: I couldn't tell which player was his child. It must have been one of them; a father's love had surely brought him there; this truth was clear as the bright blue sky on that warm summer night.
But his child could have been any player on the team – or all of them at once, so wide and embracing was his enthusiasm.
Often, we picture God like an umpire: crouching down whenever we step up to the plate, waiting to call strikes and outs, watching for the least infraction. But ours is a God of justice and mercy. Not simply the judge with the rulebook and the last word, but also love incarnate, calling each of us by name, rejoicing in all we can be.
The word "enthusiasm" means to be inhabited by God, the delightful indwelling when divine love and joy spark to life within us, electric with possibility. I saw enthusiasm personified on the ballfield tonight, and it was contagious.
The dad next to me let out a low whistle of admiration. "Wish I'd had a coach like that when I was a kid." The grandparents to my left nodded too. "We need more of that these days."
"Christ plays in 10,000 places," wrote the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. He might never have meant the Little League dugout; but I caught a glimpse of God tonight on the sidelines. and I will not soon forget such rare and unceasing joy
Laura Kelly Fanucci writes the Faith at Home column for Catholic News Service.