Hierophany in the Upper Deck

In his recent book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, John Sexton, President of NYU, discusses the importance of hierophany in both religion and baseball. Sexton sites the work of Mircea Eliade, a University of Chicago professor, scholar and authority on Ancient and World Religion. Hierophany, Eliade explains, is common to all religion, “an event in which one sensorily experiences a manifestation of the divine.” A hierophany cannot be described or explained in words alone, a moment of transcendence and truth.

I had one yesterday in the upper deck of Wrigley Field. I was attending a Thursday afternoon game between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox, the cross-town rivalry here in the city, as the guest of my grandson, Cameron. Cam’s parents gave him several sets of Cubs’ tickets as a present for his recent graduation from Juniata College.

It was a marvelous afternoon in every way. The weather was pleasant, the crowd – equally divided between Cubs and Sox fans – seemed unusually happy and pleasant. Wayne Messmer sang the National Anthem with his unique and powerful fervor. Jake Peavy was on the mound for the White Sox. Travis Wood was the Cubs’ starting pitcher. It was a perfect afternoon.

The hierophany occurred in the 4th inning. The Cubs had a slim 2-1 lead. During the bottom of the 4th, Peavy gave up a couple of hits, and hit Darwin Barney, loading the bases and bringing Travis Wood, the pitcher, to the plate with no outs. It seemed to me a perfect situation for a “suicide squeeze”, one of the most exciting plays in all of sports. A runner on third base sprints toward home as soon as pitcher begins to throw the ball and the hitter lays down a bunt.. When executed perfectly a run scores easily as the bunted ball is fielded and thrown to first base. The hitter has “sacrificed” himself for the sake of the run that has just scored.

I have loved the squeeze play ever since I was caught in one as a 17 year old, enthusiastic but not very talented, baseball player. In a scoreless tie with our Junior Federation rivals, Fifth Ward, I somehow managed to hit a triple, a truly unusual and unexpected phenomenon. There was one out. Our manager, coaching third base, put on the sign for a squeeze play. With my heart in my throat I broke for home. The hitter, Al Sax, whose name I will never forget, attempted a bunt but instead popped the ball weakly to the pitcher. I was already sliding into home and was an easy double play victim. Our 11th Ward team didn’t get another hit and lost 1-0. Ever since I have loved seeing an exquisitely executed squeeze and always lament that Major League managers don’t use it more.

Back to Wrigley Field, Upper Deck. This was a perfect situation for a suicide squeeze play, bases loaded, no out, pitcher at bat. So, with the full authority of my age and personal experience, I announced to Cameron that Travis Wood ought to bunt. It’s the perfect, classic situation for a squeeze.  Besides, I continued, he’s a pitcher and will surely hit into a double play. The words were barely out of my mouth, when Travis Wood drilled Peavy’s first pitch into the left field bleachers, a grand slam home run, the first by a Cubs pitcher in 41 years.

It was a memorable moment of mystery, transcendence and truth.

Cam and I high-fived  and I said, sheepishly, “I guess that’s why I’m not a manager.”


  1. Larry McCracken says:

    Glad to see the Cubs are still providing fodder for you in retirement. I was watching from home and the Cubs’ announcers where talking about how no one from the home team had yet hit a grand slam in 2013…when boom!

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