In his new book, New York University president and author John Sexton argues that baseball is a transcendent sport.Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical,” legendary baseball player and pundit Yogi Berra once famously said. And so long as fuzzy math is in play, John Sexton, author of Baseball As a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (Gotham, $28), might add that America’s favorite pastime is also 100 percent spiritual. Based on the New York University president’s wildly popular course of the same name, Baseball explores the surprising amount of common ground between the game and a religious experience: sacred places and times, faith and doubt, blessings and curses, and more. It’s a must-read for the baseball faithful.
American Way: How does baseball transcend the game itself to take on a deeper meaning?
John Sexton: The sport has the unique capacity to heighten sensitivity. The deeper you go into the game, the more you come to realize the importance of what appears to be the small things: a single pitch, a single swing, a single play. Of course, that transmutes very quickly into an awareness of small things in nature or the small moments between human beings. Baseball, in causing you to appreciate the apparently small, actually puts you on a path toward recognizing the magnificent.
AW: It seems notable that the book is titled A Road to God, not The Road to God.
JS: Quite deliberately, and there’s no claim made that it’s a road for everyone. The claim here is that baseball has a power that is like religion. If the word God gives you trouble, don’t use it — we’re talking about the ultimate meaning of life here, whatever you want to label it. There is a useful skill to be learned in the close study of baseball, at least for many of us. It teaches us this skill of living slow, as I say in the book.
AW: With opening day upon us, what’s your perfect day at the ballpark?
JS: A day game. The temperature is in the 70s. It’s a sunny day. It’s two good teams, two good pitchers, a low-scoring game, and I’m there with people I love. If it’s really going to be the perfect day, I catch my very first baseball, which I’ve never done before. I actually catch the ball and take it home. That would be perfect.