Photo by Joey Bui/The Gazelle

Sexton presents book at DTC

Photo by Joey Bui/The Gazelle NYU President John Sexton sat with his new book “Baseball as a Road to God” in his lap, took a swig of Diet Coke and ...

Apr 27, 2013

Photo by Joey Bui/The Gazelle
NYU President John Sexton sat with his new book “Baseball as a Road to God” in his lap, took a swig of Diet Coke and beamed at the audience of his students and colleagues. The laid-back atmosphere of the book-signing event, which took place at the Downtown Campus on Monday, April 25, felt more like a discussion among friends.
As Sexton waited for the audience to take their seats, Associate Dean of Humanities Cyrus Patell called out, “John, how many bottles of Coke are you drinking a day?”
NYUNY University Professor and Dean Emerita Catharine Stimpson and sophomore Mastewal Taddese sat on stage with Sexton to facilitate discussion about the book. Stimpson and Taddese outlined the structure of the discussion before Sexton interceded.
"Before I get to your question, let me tell you a story," Sexton said, characteristically beginning with a story.
Sexton's book “How Free Are We?” co-authored with Nat Brandt, was published in 1986. Years after, his wife Lisa found two copies of the book selling on eBay. The unsigned copy was selling for four U.S. dollars and the second copy, signed by Sexton, was selling for one U.S. dollar.
"So if you want to get a signed copy, remember that it will lose value," Sexton joked.
Taddese asked Sexton to briefly explain baseball to audience members less familiar with the sport. Sexton chuckled before launching into an eight-minute introduction about Baseball 1.0. By the end of the event, Sexton was touching upon Baseball 4.0, the most sophisticated level of baseball appreciation.
More solemnly, Sexton explained that his high school mentor Charlie is at the heart of “Baseball as a Road to God.” To the NYUAD community, Charlie is a well-known figure.
"You all know about Charlie, I'm not gonna go into that," said Sexton.
According to Sexton, “Baseball as a Road to God” is an example of Charlie's paradoxical and oxymoronic teaching.
"It was pure Charlie,” he said. “Think strange — any opportunity to have students think of something to see the world differently.”
Sexton did not aim to inculcate his readers, but wanted to respond to what he saw as a lack of spirituality in our time.
"I lament the lack of spirituality in modernity in some places,” he explained. “I wanted to invite students to think about the religious dimension, not to preach to them but just to invite their attention to it, because it is not something that they are usually, in a secular university, invited to attend."
Baseball, often identified as America's favorite sport, is a strong example of an unconventional religious dimension because of its accessibility. Sexton suggests that his students can find spiritual depth in unexpected places, like in the stadium as they follow the movement of a baseball.
"In the tiny is the significant,” he said. “In the end, all the revelation is a kernel of corn. This noticing of the ball, to slow down and live slow, this is the skill to the contentment of life. That's Baseball 4.0.”
Patell asked Sexton why baseball is an especially good road to God, or means for spiritual contemplation, when compared to soccer or hockey.
“The timelessness [of baseball] is critical, playing without a clock,” he said. “The interstitial moments, its slowness, is the vehicle by which you can notice the small. A true fan does not follow the ball. You know where the ball is by watching how the players move, and anticipating where the players will move, there's just so much to notice."
A student asked Sexton about the chapter “Conversion,” in which Sexton describes his conversion from supporting the Dodgers to the Yankees. The question sparked sentiments of sports team loyalty from members of the audience. Fans professed their faiths in teams from the baseball’s New York Mets to hockey’s New York Rangers to soccer’s Manchester United.
After Sexton left at the end of the book signing, audience members stayed back to share their reflections about the book signing or to argue over sports teams.
Stimpson was pleased with the book discussion and said that its loose structure allowed for a happy result.
"We had no anticipation — no anticipation — that our questions would be answered. The point was to let John talk about the book and subjects that he loved," said Stimpson.
Joey Bui is copy editor. Email her at
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