Why I Go To Church and Baseball Games

DiamondbacksLogo.gifAs I sat amongst roughly 49,000 other fans last night at Chase Field watching the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks thoroughly dominate the Milwaukee Brewers 8-1 to force their playoff series to a Game Four, it occurred to me that there are two places where praying publicly is tolerated or even expected -- church and your local sporting stadium ("oh please, oh please, turn the double play").

I'm not sure there's a direct connection, but those are the two places where you can expect to hear group singing on a regular basis.

In the Christian church, regardless of whether you're singing Ralph Vaughan Williams or some modern praise song, there will likely be at least a couple points where your vocal participation is encouraged. And every sporting event will start out with the national anthem (two, at most hockey games), with sing-song chants (or actual songs) used to varying degrees in different stadia and sports.

I have long sung the praises (so to speak) of singing in groups. Bill Harley suggests that "singing is an expression and fostering of community." In that regard, it's not that surprising that religion and sports -- two realms in which community is an essential component of participation and enjoyment -- still turn to communal singing as ways of bringing and keeping its attendees in the fold. Singing those centuries-old hymns that I may never have heard before but sound so familiar anyway -- that's one of the things I most enjoy about church.

And sports? I suspect that one of the reasons I have little taste for pro basketball (and to a lesser extent pro football and hockey) is that after the national anthem, the crowd is mostly silent, relentlessly pummeled by a sound system cranked up to loud volumes in order to generate a simulacrum of energy. College sports (at least when and where I went to school) generally had more crowd participation, at least in certain sections, as the cheers and songs were crowd-driven -- between the fight songs and the bands playing the same dozen or so popular songs game in, game out, I did a fair amount of singing on fall Saturday afternoons and winter Wednesday evenings.

Two of my favorite sports -- baseball and soccer -- may just be the biggest encouragers of song and chant in the sporting world. Soccer matches around the globe have songs and chants echoing through the stands for the entire game. And in baseball, besides the chants which seem every bit as important to some kids' rhythmic development as patty-cake ("here we go, D-Backs, here we go!") and which occur more often, it seems, than at other professional sporting events, we have at least one other song where it's exepcted that everyone sings. Even better, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is sung across Major League Baseball, so even if you're visiting another stadium you're guaranteed to be able to sing it. (And now you often get "God Bless America" thrown into the mix, a song which, regardless of your take on God's blessing of America, does have a pretty cool melodic line and is quite fun to sing.)

I'm not going to suggest that you take your kids to church -- no way am I stepping into that discussion -- but I am going to suggest that you take your kids to a baseball game for their musical development. I don't know if Bill Harley would agree, but I'm willing to bet he's a baseball fan...