Some people tell their life stories through their favorite sports team. Jonah Keri is one such fan.
(For the sake of fairness, I certainly fall into this camp as well for I know exactly where I was in the summer of 1997 when I found out the Cardinals had acquired Mark McGwire, but I have no idea where I was when I was offered my first teaching job.)
Last August I received Keri's history of the Montreal Expos, Up, Up, and Away, as a gift for my solemn profession. (Admittedly not a "normal" gift for a solemn profession, but my vocation story is not "normal.") Keri, a Montreal native and diehard fan of his hometown team, masterfully intertwines stories of politics, board room drama, and the on-field successes and (mostly) failures of his extinct team to tell the tale of a team and (almost as importantly) a fan base that just never could overcome the myriad obstacles and setbacks of being the first Major League Baseball team in Canada.
As a kid, I always loved when the Cardinals went to Montreal or the Expos came to town because by that point -- the mid '90s to early 2000s -- the Expos were so hopelessly bad, the Cardinals were almost always guaranteed a series win or a sweep. It was also a curious experience to watch an MLB game played in front of a crowd roughly the same size as the ones at my freshmen basketball games. By the time I graduated from high school, the Expos were no more.
Oftentimes, a book written by an impassioned fan of a team tends toward terrible story telling. Perspective and poise is lost to emotion and an unwillingness to cope. Yet, Keri, for all of the passion he had (and still has) for his boyhood team, manages to shine a probing spotlight on the utterly ridiculous, naive, myopic, and cavalier attempts of a city, team, and fan base to make big league baseball, America's game, work in a truly foreign town.
For all of the heartbreak and suffering the fans in Montreal suffered from 1969-2004 -- which includes, but its not limited to, making the playoffs once, playing in arguably two of the worst baseball stadiums ever, almost annually trading away or losing their best players to free agency, and, especially toward the end, making due with a miniscule budget -- Keri allows the people involved, especially the players and the fans, to tell the story of the Montreal Expos. This is the strongest part of the book. Baseball is full of characters and wonderful stories waiting to be told. By driving his narrative with personal anecdotes and experiences, the book takes on the form closer a love letter than a tale of woe and loss.
The temptation (which I am certain Keri grappled with) in a book like this is to focus on all of the decisions that led to the dissolution of the franchise and their move to Washington after the 2004 season. Yet, the stories of the successes of the franchise are the ones that time and again are the best told and most interesting. Baseball is a game, after all, and Keri uses this to his advantage to pen a book about a kid's love for his team, even if that kid is now an adult with a family and a job.
Though our worship and adoration and Christ should in no way ever be confused with our care for a sports team, oftentimes we can frame our relationship with Christ as an adult's tale of woe instead of a child's tale of hope because we impersonalize Christ, we make Him distant, and we confuse our failings and shortcomings with His love for us. In other words, we don't let His story inform our lives. Rather, we try to inform His life through ours. The Greatest Story Ever Told is of the God who humbled himself, came down from Heaven, and became one of us.
Christ tells us to be childlike in our faith and our wonder of Him. If we can't treat a game with childlike wonder and awe, how can we expect our relationship with God, a significantly more important relationship, to be different? In other words, don't be afraid to be a kid again.