It is 1988 and the Windhausers are at the Brown’s house to watch game one of the World Series. The Dodgers are losing to the Oakland A’s 3-4. It is the bottom of the ninth. Though hobbled by injuries to both legs, slugger Kirk Gibson makes his way to the batter’s box as a pinch hitter. Who else would you want saving your team but the team leader in home runs (25) and with a batting average of almost .300? Well, presumably one who could run to first, if he got a hit. But the team doesn’t need a hit, they need a home-run, and that is why Tommy Lasorda put his man in, even though he hasn’t played in the game.
Dodger Stadium erupts; fans on their feet, hands waving, some praying. Somewhere, as the panning TV camera shows, a person foists his “John 3:16” high in the air. I had no idea who John was, and I was more than a little confused. The people on whom the game rested at the moment were named Kirk and Dennis.
When the count had reached 3-2 you could feel the tension. Not a word in the living room; all eyes glued to the TV. Gibson ripped the next pitch over the wall and the Dodgers won.
Few sports moments stand out so vividly as this one. Part of the reason is that I was a Dodgers fan at the time. Once the celebration simmered down and we kept replaying the moment between us, there, in the living room, and at school in the days that followed, no one mentioned the fan’s sign in the stands—surely others had noticed it, right? I even forgot about it, although I remembered it as soon as I saw another one, and then another, and then another. What was it doing there? I’d learned it was a Bible reference but not what the actual quote it pointed to.
I assumed–since I’d never read it–that this particular verse spoke to bravery or dedication or belief in one’s self… something inspiring related to sports in general or to baseball specifically. And why was it almost always in the stands of a baseball game over other sports? When I began this project, I couldn’t wait to learn its connection to sports.
The Gospel of John, the last of the Gospels devoted to Jesus’ life/work is chock full of handy (and famous) quotes. One of these is 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Okay, now I’ve heard this a number of times (at least the first half), but why is it invoked during professional sports games?? Perhaps some context for the quote helps:
Jesus mentions this line to Nicodemus, a ruling member of the Pharisees, who were a group that were none too pleased with Jesus (he was a threat to them). Impressed by what he’d heard of Jesus, Nicodemus seeks him out at night—he had to be covert about this—and wants to learn from him. Near the end of their conversation, Jesus utters this famous phrase to explain/support his assertions about God.
So why is this evoked in the context of a game of baseball? Perhaps if the sign is held up at a certain moment it suggests that the person who is able to turn the tide of a game is akin to Jesus? Not sure that comparison should be made. Aside from that, why even bring religion into the sports arena? I’m sure God and/or Jesus have better things to do than pull for the Dodgers, even if it seems that a player is able to pull off a miracle.