“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones…and the only church that truly feeds the soul is the Church of Baseball,” declares connoisseur of the game Annie Savoy in the movie “Bull Durham.” Sandra Marchetti agrees with her thesis, and shares her spiritual love of the sport in her new book, “Aisle 228.” In fact, Marchetti refers to this aisle in which she spent a good deal of her childhood with her father at Wrigley Field as “a front row to Eden.” In the stands along the field, “we pray… / The organ keys strike three, / abide the trinity.” A god-like figure’s voice booms with the play-by-play as parishioners in the stands practice their customs and grapple with their superstitions. The game has nine innings, a pregnancy incubating from conception to birth, a wish to deliver a win and set the field alive.
Religions only endure if they are introduced to the next generation. So, parents bring their kids to games to indoctrinate them early. The author shares with the reader her family’s devotion to the church, and the early connection it set between her father and herself: “I settled in as the third generation,” she writes, noting the sacred space of the baseball stadium welcoming each new crop of kids. Sitting among “white men / with white hair in white / shirts,” the author nods to the elders of a church that until 1947 only let men that looked like them play the sport in the majors. In every church, lookbacks can be cringeworthy. The Mormon Church kept Black members out until 1978. The Catholic Church covered up decades of child abuse by its own priests. Baseball, like other religions, is a living, breathing faith. It evolves, eventually. Not enough, and often by overly measured measures, but it does. Bats have changed from hickory to maple; the height of the mound has seen adjustments; cork has been changed out for rubber in the center of the ball.
Rituals and rules abound, reinforcing its strictures and joys for its adherents. The field is well-kept, and the ritual of keeping it covered between games is observed, much like a holy scroll returning to the ark between Jewish services. Baseball even has its own dietary laws, something akin to Kashrut or Halal. The author romanticizes the practice of eating a hot dog at the ballpark: “My teeth break / the casing, all / vinegar and salt.” Peanuts and Cracker Jack even show up in its hymnal. And the cyclical nature of baseball mirrors religious seasons, the celebration of spring with new life around Easter and Opening Day, dying out as the weather gets cold and the crucifixion approaches. Snow “on the mound / … settles downy as wings,” the author writes, a heavenly winter scene on a final game. Marchetti’s book is a love story to her faith, her father, her fandom, and a field guide to a spiritual journey that is fundamentally American.
By Sandra Marchetti
Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 63 pages
Elizabeth Strauss Friedman is the author of the poetry books The Lost Positive (forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books), The Eggshell Skull Rule (Kelsay Books, 2018) and the prose/poetry chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and her work has appeared in Pleiades, Rust + Moth, The Rumpus, [PANK], and elsewhere. Elizabeth’s work can be found at elizabethstraussfriedman.com.