Baltimore was the host of history yesterday. Never, in nearly 150 years of professional baseball in America, has a regular season baseball game between two Major League teams been closed to the public. I estimated the crowd inside Camden Yard to have been exactly zero fans in the stands, breaking Baltimore’s old record-low attendance of 655 on August 17, 1972, also against the White Sox. There were fans behind the stadium gates in left-field and a small group gathered on the balcony of the Baltimore Hilton yesterday who could somewhat see the action, but their reaction as the home team won was muffled and faint as far as the players were concerned. The game was played this way because of the ongoing Baltimore riots, for the safety of fans and players. The latter, when interviewed, talked about how eery and bizarre it was to play a game in front of no fans.
While we could chase the political and cultural rabbits stirred by the fact of those teams playing that game yesterday, let’s think about the players. How hard is it to concentrate when you are on the field and can hear the sportswriters typing or the two scouts in the stands talking? What’s it like to have success at the plate or on the mound and the appreciation be the deafening silence of the empty seats? These guys make a whole lot of money, but, as Chris Davis said after the game, “When you’re rounding the bases, and the only cheers you hear were from outside the stadium, it’s a weird feeling. I’ll take any home run I can get at any time I can get it, but it’s definitely more fun when there are fans in the stands” (info via Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun online, 4/30/15, and baseball-almanac.com). I think any of us could imagine how surreal and distracting that would be.
We are not running the Christian race to glorify self, for earthly accolades and recognition. In fact, Jesus condemns such an approach to religion in Matthew six. Yet, God knows how we are made, that we thrive on encouragement. He tells wavering saints in Hebrews about the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1). He mentions the crowd in the midst of the metaphor of running the race. While we cannot hear or see those referenced there, we can be audible and visible support for each other—strengthening weak hands, feeble knees, and heal others (12:12-13). We must cheer each other on and “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11). The world will not applaud us for standing up for what’s right and living the way God instructs. But, we have each other. It’s not the size of the crowd, but the vociferousness of the cheering, that will make the difference. Let’s be fans of one another, today and every day.