We are only 10 days away from the start of baseball season. We are coming into one of my favorite seasons of the year…Springtime, March Madness, hockey playoffs, basketball playoffs and the start of the baseball season. Oh yeah, and Easter too. So I am getting my mind into “baseball mode” and thinking about the upcoming year and all the hope and promise of the Met’s getting to the World Series. By the time we go on the church retreat in October those dreams are usually dashed but in April all things are possible.
People who know me know that I do not like the New York Yankees, to put it mildly. But I actually started out as a Yankee fan and in particular a big Mickey Mantle fan. Like all kids my age, I wanted to be the Mick. Every kid in Pee-Wee League and every other level wanted number 7. It was the most distinctive and famous number of that time. My brother cried because he didn’t get number 7.
In the 1960’s major league baseball teams started putting the names of the players on the back of the uniform. Originally the numbers were assigned to where the player would bat in the order (That changed over time). Number 1 went to the first hitter, number 2 to the second hitter and so on through the nine players in the order. At one time there were no names or numbers but the numbers were introduced as a way of identification and also became a means to make money for the owners. Spectators had to purchase a scorecard to know the name of the player associated with the number. Over time people did not need to know the players name if they knew the players number. The Yankees have some of the most famous numbers in baseball history. People did not need a scorecard or the names of the back of the jersey to know who the player was:
#1 – Billy Martin
#2 – Derek Jeter
#3 – Babe Ruth
#4 – Lou Gehrig
#5 – Joe Dimaggio
#6 – Joe Torre
#7 – Mickey Mantle
# 8 – Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey
#9 – Roger Maris
Having both the name and number on the back of the jersey is a bit redundant but every major league baseball team does it, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees. The Red Sox and Giants do have their names on their “away uniform.” The Yankees are the only team that does not have names on either their “home” or “away” uniforms. They are a team of tradition but they also believe that an individual player is not more important than the team. What is most important is the name on the front of the uniform, not the name on the back of it. Team over individuality. If a player does outstanding work or fulfills their responsibility they will be recognized without drawing any additional attention to themselves.
As Christians we don’t wear uniforms to church or have our names splattered on the back of our shirts so that people recognize us. But we can learn an important lesson from the Yankees (I can’t believe I am actually writing this). Individual recognition and applause is not what is most important. We certainly appreciate it when we are appreciated and are glad to be recognized for anything positive we contribute to the work of God. But individual accolades cannot be what motivate us. What motivates us is the “team name” on the front of the jersey and by that I don’t mean the name of the church we attend. I mean the name Christian, which means “little Christ.” Identity as a servant of Christ. We are on ‘Team Jesus” and our desire is that when people see us they would see Jesus. We represent something far more important than ourselves. So when people see how we act, when they experience our attitudes, when they watch our reactions they are to see something beyond us. Jesus came as a servant and we are to represent His Kingdom of love and service. The Apostle Paul writes;
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. ” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
I am not against name tags or picture boards or any number of ways we use to identify one another. But wouldn’t it be great if people knew us for more than just our name? We live for Christ and the furtherance of His kingdom. As John the Baptist said: “He must increase but must decrease.” (John 3:30)
What do you think? How does it make you feel?