It isn’t the World Cup final, game seven of the World Series, the climax of the Final Four, or the Super Bowl. It is an unheralded game played in Jackson, Tennessee before a crowd of maybe 50-75 people.
There aren’t a lot of rules. The basic idea is baseball. Everybody takes a turn at bat in every inning. Nobody ever gets out. Each runner eventually scores. And yet, there is no score for the game.
You may be wondering why I think such a game is beautiful. It doesn’t sound like a contest that has the drama of sport and competition. Indeed, this game lacks those things.
The infield and front edge of the outfield is full of people. Most of them are not players. In addition to children wearing the brightly colored shirts that function as uniforms, there are a larger number of adults and teens. They are there to help and protect some of the participants. They are also there to be encouragers.
One moment in the game: A little girl is up to bat. She is very small. Her father carries her in his arms. Her tiny legs are crossed below the knee and positioned behind her. She excitedly grips a bat. A helper brings out a tee and places a ball on it. She takes a swing, connects, and then . . . runs to first using her hands and arms to propel her along the base path.
Some children come to the plate in wheelchairs. Others approach in a stilted walking motion. One boy is missing half an arm. A few have no obvious physical difference, but struggle with mental disabilities such as retardation or forms of autism. There is an athletic and smiling man who pitches to each child who has a chance of hitting without a tee. Sometimes, he throws them 10-15 pitches. Often, he creeps in and tosses balls from one knee. He tries to gauge each swing and aim his pitches for the arc along which the bat will travel.
Each child hits and runs, walks, stumbles, or rolls to first base. Each time the crowd roars its approval. Sometimes, there are students from a local Christian college sitting in the bleachers. They have made signs with exhortations and the names of each child on them. When that kid comes to bat, they make him or her feel like an all-star.
If you happen to see the delighted surprise from each player the first time (and every time, really) they get the celebrity treatment, you will feel your heart swell with a great proud and happy fullness. You know that this is how the world should be.
This game, played in the twilight hours in a southern town, is the most beautiful game on earth.