Why Not? Solidarity, the Baltimore Orioles and Baseball!

August 2016

This blog was written by guest-blogger, Ted Miles.

On August 20, Catholic Relief Services and Baltimore’s beloved baseball team, the Orioles, will join together to fight hunger through a CRS Helping Hands event. As exciting as this is, my first reaction to this news was “How odd!” Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my reaction became that of the 1989 Orioles team that defied odds in their run for the pennant: “Why not?” See, I grew up watching, learning and soaking in the “Oriole Way,” as we affectionately call it here in Baltimore. Beyond my family life and faith communities, the Orioles – and baseball in general – instilled valuable life lessons and a vision of what I would later came to understand as community and solidarity.

[Solidarity] is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. (On Social Concern, #38)

The Oriole Way was something special. It wasn’t so much about winning; it was the way the Orioles went about winning. The Orioles shaped the mind of this impressionable young boy who loved baseball with the mechanics and fundamentals of team play, the quick turn of a ball that required an infield to work in unison, the eagerness to share – not hoard – the spotlight. A different hero every night epitomized a dynamic that would later inspire a beloved team song, “Oriole Magic.” Success for this team extended beyond the 25-man roster into a farm system that was the envy of major league baseball.

The Oriole Way, however, extended beyond the team. In Baltimore, both players and fans knew they were part of something special together. A tangible sense of community grew from a love affair between this quirky city of down-to-earth, passionate fans and its baseball team. Where else would you see a taxi driver lead the O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer that is a mainstay 40 years later? While I know others are appalled, Marylanders shout out “O” in the singing of our national anthem with communal pride, if not a glimmer of collective mischievousness. Most impressive, however, is the collective community service of the Baltimore Orioles themselves, their wives, the Orioles Advocates, the Ripken Foundation, the Baltimore Orioles Charitable Fund, and more that witness a persevering determination to celebrate community and a depth of commitment to a much greater good than merely winning on the field. All this indicative of the Oriole Way!

We are all one family in the world. Building a community that empowers everyone to attain their full potential through each of us respecting each other’s dignity, rights and responsibilities makes the world a better place to live. –Saint John Paul II

While partial to the Baltimore Orioles, nonetheless, I admit that I share something remarkable with committed baseball fans across the country: a conviction that the sport has power to join people in new and often profound ways of relating, whether that be parent and child, friend and neighbor, community and city, state and nation.

I hold my own family as an example. Baseball is in my family’s blood, and though this clumsy wannabe athlete never personally played little league, I relished the family time shared at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and grew to appreciate the subtle nuances of this beautiful game, thanks in large part to explanations shared by my far-more athletic and talented siblings. Baseball bridged conversations in our family and often helped us find common ground beyond baseball.

Isn’t this true on a national level, too? Baseball brings us together, challenges our differences, and helps us see a potential of truly being one. Though not the game itself, witness these examples through the sport:

  • Each year on April 15 – the date Jackie Robinson formally broke the segregation barrier in 1947 when he played his first major league game – every major league player, coach, and umpire wears Robinson’s now-retired number, 42, in honor of and in solidarity with all whose courageous efforts on and off the field shape a more just society. On that same date, in ballparks across the country, the Jackie Robinson Foundation awards educational scholarships to minority students.
  • In 1973, Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American and Caribbean inducted into the hall of fame. Clemente’s legacy extends far beyond the field of baseball. A Puerto Rican, he was known for his passionate ethnic pride with which he bore a remarkable responsibility to give back to and serve so generously the people of Latin America. Today, baseball honors his life through the Roberto Clemente Award given annually to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship and community involvement.
  • On September 6, 1995, I witnessed firsthand Cal Ripken, Jr.’s 2131st consecutive game – a moment of solidarity that still gives me chills. The fifth-inning, 22-minute standing ovation in Camden yards was simultaneously watched in stadiums and television sets across the country. Baltimore had no arrests that evening as the city turned its attention to a working man who simply did his best for the good of a team and a city that he loved. Cal Ripken lives with that same purpose today as his foundation builds little league parks for disenfranchised youth.
  • At Orioles’ games today – and I imagine this is true elsewhere – community heroes are recognized for their inspired, spirited civic and community service.

Is baseball perfect? No; its players, fans and business dimension have their imperfections. Nonetheless, over the years I’ve discovered another dimension in baseball – in the game, its heroes and fans; from the Baltimore Orioles to even the New York Yankees. I’ve discovered a spiritual dimension of baseball that reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ challenge to young Catholics during the 2013 World Youth Day celebrations: “Never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity … Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices.” At its best, baseball bares the religious truth that there is something greater at work in each of us when we put forth our best for the good of the whole, when we gather in community and celebrate together the best of who we are, when we take responsibility for each other. It’s in these moments that we can imagine what God’s spirit is constantly calling us to remember: though many, we are one!

Why not, then? Why shouldn’t baseball, the Baltimore Orioles and CRS Helping Hands join together to serve our sisters and brothers around the world. It’s not just the Orioles way or the way of baseball! It’s THE WAY!

Ted Miles works for Catholic Relief Services as the Relationship Manager for Youth and Religious Education and coordinates the agency’s youth outreach in the U.S. He is also a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles and baseball!

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