The Seventh-Inning Stretch

Relief, rest and respect for those who are weary and weighted down

by David Waters

In the big innings, God created the heavens and the earth, light and water, vegetation and livestock, humans—everything you need to play baseball.

Later—in the seventh inning—God took a break. Some call that the Sabbath. In baseball, it’s called the seventh-inning stretch.

The book of Genesis contains two creation stories. The seventh-inning stretch has at least three.

Some believe it began in Cincinnati in 1869 with Harry Wright. He was the first guy to put all of his ballplayers under contract. Naturally, he was trying to make as much money as possible to recoup his expenses. So he became a keen observer of fan behavior.

At one point early in a season, he noticed that “The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches.”

And so team Owner Harry created the seventh-inning stretch.

Others believe it began in New York in 1882. Brother Jasper—a Christian Brother—was the coach of the baseball team at Manhattan College.

During the seventh-inning of a game on a very muggy day, the compassionate Brother Jasper noticed the players and the fans were becoming tense and restless. He called a time-out and told everyone in the bleachers to stand up and unwind.

It worked so well he began calling for a seventh-inning rest period every game.

And so Brother Jasper created the seventh-inning stretch.

Still others believe it began in Washington DC in 1910. On Opening Day that season, in a game between the Senators and Athletics, President William Howard Taft started a tradition by throwing out the first pitch. Then he stayed to watch the game.

By the middle of the seventh-inning, the 300-pound, six-foot-two bear of a man could no longer bear sitting in a small wooden chair. So he stood up to stretch his aching legs. Everyone else in the park, thinking the President was about to leave, rose to show their respect.

A few minutes later Taft returned to his seat, the crowd followed suit, and the seventh-inning stretch was born.

And so President Taft created the seventh-inning stretch.

Who’s right? Who knows? But no matter how it began the purpose was more or less the same:

  • Relief
  • Rest
  • Respect for those who are weary and weighted down.

What a lovely—and odd—tradition.

I don’t remember the first time I took part in that ritual of repose, but I never cease to be amazed—or comforted—by it. Imagine: An entire crowd of people pushing the pause button, stopping the action.

Tens of thousands of people taking time to take a break. Taking time to look around and appreciate where you are and who you are with. Taking time to stand, stretch—and sing a timeless, playful hymn.

“Take me out to the ball game/ Take me out with the crowd/ Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack/ I don’t care if I never get back.”

Talk about passing the peace. Talk about a peaceful way to pass the time.

Baseball has been called America’s pastime, but these days a lot of Americans have a hard time passing the time. The universe is expanding, but here in the digital age, time seems to be contracting.

We do what we can to make, save and manage time, use it and not lose it. Still, we never seem to have enough of it. We feel rushed, pushed, crunched for time. We have trouble finding, taking or giving time.

We all could use a time out—a regular (if not daily then maybe weekly) seventh-inning stretch. If only we could build something like that into the rhythm of our week. If only something like that was built into the very rhythm of creation.

Oh, wait.

As you may recall from the days when you had time to read the Bible:

“By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work,” it says in Genesis 2. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”

That’s the first time the word holy appears in the Bible. In the beginning, time is holy.

In the Ten Commandments, the word holy is applied only once, to the word Sabbath. There is no mention of a sacred place, only sacred time.

As Abraham Heschel and others have pointed out, the Sabbath day was the first cathedral, a portable cathedral in time.

That’s how baseball has always felt to me. Like a cathedral in time.

A baseball game stretches out lazily, leisurely, like a warm summer day. Theoretically, a single baseball game could go on forever. Most last two or three hours. During those two or three hours, on average, there’s about 15 minutes of action.

Imagine. Playing or watching a game in which the participants are spending nearly all of their time simply standing around on a field, waiting.

I find that to be very relaxing. My 18-year-old son calls that boring, especially on TV.

He likes to play baseball. Talk baseball. Think baseball. He doesn’t like to watch it. When he does, he takes full advantage of the empty spaces between pitches—texting or tweeting or web surfing or channel surfing or all of the above.

This article was awarded a 2013 Award of Excellence for Theological Reflection: Short Format – All Media by the Associated Church Press. 

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