Legalism in an Unexpected Place

They say it does not matter how many baseball games you have seen, it is quite common to encounter something that you have never seen before when you are watching a game.  I have seen a lot of baseball games.  I have been to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium, Minute Maid Park, and the Rangers ballpark more times than I can remember.  I have been to Spring Training in both Florida and Arizona.  I have sat through more Little League games than should be allowed.  It is impossible to count how many games I have watched on television on listened to on the radio.  Last night, I saw something I had never seen before.

Jeremy, Noah, and I went to the Ranger game last night.  We sat down the right field line, close to the foul pole.  These are some of my favorite seats – close enough to get a good look at everything but not so close as to be prohibitively expensive.  I remember sitting in this section when they only cost ten or twelve dollars, which barely pays for parking now days.  In fact, I was sitting in this section very late on a September Saturday night in 1996 when the Rangers won the West Division title the very first time.

When we first arrived at Section 11, we were greeted by the usher, which is not unusual at all.  He was an older gentleman; coming from a guy my age you can assume he was pretty old.  Most of the ushers are retired folks who are either supplementing their retirement income or just enjoying summer evenings at the ballpark.  He was very nice, helpful, and a little too bossy, but I didn’t think anything about it.

Apparently the Rangers organization has instituted a policy to prevent fans from sitting in any seat other than the one listed on their ticket.  Let me say up front, I do not have a problem with a fan who wants to move and sit in another location.  Personally, in times past, I have purchased a bleacher ticket for an afternoon game during a season when the Rangers were just playing out the schedule and nobody was attending the game, and then moved over and sat behind home plate.  I always wait to make sure they have not sold the seat to someone else.  If someone wants to sit in an unsold seat next to me, that is fine with me.  I am not a legalist!

The two ushers patrolling our section last night were tenacious.  They checked everyone who came close to our section – no exceptions.  If someone slipped by without notice, they chased them down the stairs to check their tickets.  If they were not in section 11, they were told to leave.  Women, kids, old men, it didn’t matter, they had to leave.  They even expelled a couple of members of the “Mavericks Maniacs” who were at the game.

The amazing thing is that since it was Tuesday night, the stadium was not full.  Our section was especially sparse.  We were on the back row (where they put the wheelchair seats) and there were six or seven completely empty rows of seats in front of us.  The two ushers worked like a tag team, checking out new arrivals and making sure nobody snuck in from another isle.  They have been doing this together for some time.

Along about the third inning, it hit me that it was refreshing to find a legalist somewhere outside the church.  The next time someone tells me they don’t go to church because of all the legalism, I’m going to suggest they should also quit attending Ranger games.

What Section 11 needed last night was a little grace.  The majority of seats in our section were empty, even compared to neighboring sections that were pretty full.  More than enough people to fill up our seats had been chased away.  In the sixth inning, when they tried to start the wave in the left field seats, it died when it reached our section because there were not enough folks to stand and wave their arms.  These two legalistic ushers were impacting the fan experience for the entire stadium.

I overheard one of the ushers tell someone that people like Section 11 because it is situated where it enjoys a breeze.  Sure enough, that is one of the great things about these seats; the wind comes through and cools things down.  But, only for those of us who had Section 11 on our ticket stub.  Everybody else had to sweat in the stagnant air caused by near one hundred degree temperatures.  These two old guys almost got into fisticuffs with another old guy who wanted to sit in Section 11.  I thought they were going to “throw down” for Social Security checks, but cooler heads prevailed.  Perhaps a strong breeze came blowing through at the right time.

We had a great time.  The Rangers won, Noah got to do something fun on a school night, and Jeremy and I had a bunch of laughs about the ushers.  However, it did remind me a lot about what I have seen too often at church.  Empty seats because people are discouraged from coming in by legalistic gatekeepers, a lack of grace shown to those who don’t have the proper credentials to get in, and the frequent distraction caused by those legalists who keep everyone from participating in the real reason for being there.  Both the church and the Rangers could do things better.

I wish I could be as confident about the Rangers winning the World Series as I am about the church prevailing until the end.

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