Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go to Red Sox Fantasy Camp to help catch in the Pros vs. Campers game. The whole thing was a lot cooler than I thought it would be. There were twelve teams that were coached by former Red Sox greats as they competed all week to make playoffs, and ultimately try to win the camp World Series. The Red Sox did a great job making the camper’s experience as close to the real thing as they could. They had lockers in the clubhouse filled with authentic uniforms with their names on them, they were treated like big leaguers by the clubhouse and training staff, they played on the Red Sox spring training fields and even had champagne baths after playoff wins and rings if they won the championship. Everything was “big league” except one thing…the level of play.
That’s where the Pros vs. the Campers game came in. Each team got to play against the pros in a three inning game. Hitters got to try to hit “Oil Can” Boyd, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, and Scott Williamson. Pitchers got to pitch to Trot Nixon, Dante Bichette, and Troy O’Leary. For three innings they got to see the difference between their fantasy and the real thing. As I caught, we didn’t really have signs. Every pitch was a fastball away because no one could catch up to a real fastball and nobody wanted to drill a camper. If a guy wanted to throw something different, he’d just give me a glove signal since none of the campers knew what it meant (not that it would help them if they did).
In one particular inning, former closer and flame-thrower, Scott Williamson was throwing hard enough to throw by campers but nowhere near as hard as he was capable. So a camper started to talk trash to him. “Quit throwing this sissy stuff. Give me the real thing!” That was all it took to piss off Willy. Luckily, the next pitch was caught on camera and you can see it above. You can see Willy’s body torqued around after reaching back and really letting one go. You can see the cloud of dirt popping off my glove in ways that only happen in movies. But the best of all is the look on the camper’s face. After seeing “sissy stuff” all week, he got his first glance at the real thing and his face shows it.
The fact is, just because you dress like a big leaguer and get treated like a big leaguer doesn’t mean you’re a big leaguer. Not just anyone can become a big leaguer. There’s more to it than that. Even though the campers paid a hefty price financially to play in the fantasy camp, it pales in comparison to the price the pros paid in sweat to be big leaguers. Because of this difference, the value of a Fantasy Camp World Series ring will forever pale in comparison to the ’04 World Series rings that some of the pros had.
I believe the church has done the same for grace. We’ve cheapened grace by saying that we don’t need to change the way we live because Christ already paid for our sin in advance. We don't care what our sin cost because the forgiveness is free. Because of this cheap grace, we have many “Christians” who adhere to the lowest common denominator of occasional church attendance and never come close to freedom from the sin that separated us from God in the first place or the life abundant that Christ died for us to have! We’ve become okay with being Fantasy Camp Christians.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Deep down, we all want the real thing. In the coming weeks, we’re going to look at costly grace and what that looks like in the everyday life of the baseball player and coach. We’re going to look at grace that delivers the real thing.