Category Archives: Baseball

The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball I know that God still cares. Every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams, the last player to hit for .400 said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  That is true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

When I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

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The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, faith, movies, Political Commentary, Religion

The MLB All Star Game: My Midsummer Nights Dream

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“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”  Saul Steinberg

Those that have followed my writing on this site for any length of time know that perhaps more than any other thing on earth that the game of Baseball is an important part of my life and spirituality.

Baseball, unlike most sports is very much a game with a calendar that is almost liturgical in its make up. It is also a game where those who “have gone before” are as much a part of the present as a part of history. It is a game that people like me ascribe an almost mystical or religious significance.

I have grown up with baseball. My dad ingrained it in me, my mom came to my little league games when my dad was in Vietnam and even my paternal grandmother had a baseball game on whenever one was on.

I like to say that God speaks to me through Baseball, and I do think that I am right about this, much more so than Scripture which I never know if I am interpreting correctly, especially because so many learned people tell me that I’m a heretic. So I guess I have to let God speak to me in other ways, like Baseball.

The All Star Game is part of my “Church Calendar.” it is a moment in the summer where the game and I pause. I pause to reflect on life and remember so many things about the specific All Star Games, my dad and life.

All Star games in any sport are problematic. Most have no meaning. The NFL Pro-Bowl is such bad football that it has almost no relationship to the game as it is played every Sunday. The NBA and NHL games are better, but again because of the nature of those games little resemble their regular season or playoff games. Added to this as that none of those games have any bearing on what happens in the sport where the Baseball All Star Game matters, it determines home field advantage in the World Series.

I fell in love with the All Star Game in 1970, the game that Pete Rose ended in extra innings when he ran over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to win the game for the National League. Likewise I remember the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park when Ted Williams was honored and the All Century Team was named. I found it interesting that Pete Rose, arguably the best hitter in the history of the game who was banned from baseball for life by A Bartlett Giamatti for betting on the game was included on that team. I agreed with the selection then and in light of the fact that so many other men of sometimes questionable morals and character are in the Hall of Fame think that the ban on Rose should be lifted and that he be voted into the Hall of Fame.

The All Star Game is a celebration of the game, its history and players, not just the ones playing in the current year. I am interested in this game in some ways because I have seen quite a few players at some level of their minor league careers in the South Atlantic, Carolina, Southern, Eastern, International or Pacific Coast Leagues. For me it is really cool to see men that I watched when they were in the minors now playing in the All Star Game. For those that don’t follow the minor leagues it provides a certain amount of perspective because most players in the minors never make the majors and even many of those who do don’t stay there. It is a hard life and for most the money is not that great, thus I do not begrudge the salaries that they make when they get to the majors. It takes a tremendous amount of talent, hard work, determination and sometimes luck to make it in the majors, to stay there and to become an All Star. Those that do it consistently year after year are amazing.

I appreciate their work, because in my calling and career as a Priest, Chaplain and military officer I am a journeyman. I’ve been around a long time, in a sense been up and down in the majors and minors in a number of different positions. I have had some good seasons so to speak, but I have also had plenty of bad ones and spent a lot of time in the military and church versions of the minor leagues. I think it gives me a manner of perspective when appreciating the hard work and excellence needed to be an All Star. If I was ever to be honored in such a way I would have to say something like John Kruk said back in 1993 when he was elected to the All Star Team “It’s amazing that fans want to see me play. What is our society coming to?”

Tonight’s game will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis, the home of the Minnesota Twins. It will be the last for Yankee great Derek Jeter who has announced his retirement from the game. So anyway, that’s all for now. Tomorrow I will be traveling to see the AAA All Star Game between the All Stars of the Pacific Coast League and the International League.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Musings after a Rain Out: No Time to Hate…Too Much to Lose

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“Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.” Benjamin Franklin

I was planning to go to a baseball game tonight, but as Nuke Laloosh said in Bull Durham “A good friend of mine used to say, ‘This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.’ Think about that for a while.” Tonight it rained and gave me a chance to muse a bit since I am immersed in writing another chapter of my Gettysburg tome.

I was really looking forward to the game, the Norfolk Tides, my home team, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles was to play the Durham Bulls at Harbor Park. I hope I can get a game in over the next couple of days, but it looks like the rainy and stormy weather might continue the next couple of nights.

I have been thinking…

Over the past decade or so we have become a very contentious and contemptuous society. Transfixed by the cable news cycle and addicted to the hate being spewed by the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and dare I say Preachers we have drank the chalice of the bile of bitterness dry and plead for more.

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Amazingly enough our pleas for more mirth are answered by the politicians, pundits and preachers who offer it to us asking us to give them “just three hours a day” an amount of time I dare say that most cannot give to their loved ones or to their God.

So we charge our glasses with yet another round of mirth, and plunge into the abyss of hatred necessitated by those that we give those hours to. If they’re not for us they’re against us they say even though “they” are our neighbors and often our friends or families. Somehow that doesn’t work for me.

I cannot imagine those that risked their lives to found this country ever dreamed that this day would come but I think that they understood human nature all too well.  Benjamin Franklin wryly noted “Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.” 

I think that old Ben Franklin accurately sums up our current problem. We refuse to learn from each other believing the lie that only those that we agree with have anything of value to say.  We refuse to govern our passions and allow them to run roughshod over our better instincts, and we are incredibly discontent as a people. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves in this predicament?

Although I cannot say that my data is scientific I can say from what I hear wherever I go is that the constant flow of acrimony is wearing them down, but maybe that is what the Unholy Trinity wants.  I guess that they have figured out that if you beat people down enough they will simply give in to despair and they will have their way, after all the only use must of us are to them are as pawns which they sacrifice when the need suits them.

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I think that is why I am so leery of the politicians, pundits and preachers that use fear, hatred and covetousness to promote their agenda.  The dirty secret that the Unholy Trinity wants people to drink from their cup of bitterness.  But they don’t tell those that drink from that cup and join them, is that as soon as they become inconvenient they become disposable.  My “social conservative” Christian friends will learn the hard lesson of this just as conservative Christians who initially supported the Nazi Party in Hitler’s Germany discovered.  Once they no longer need your vote you become disposable, that is simply a fact. The realization of this will will be a hard lesson for Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics and others who thought that were indispensable to the conservative movement. The sad thing is that the only indispensable things are money, those who donate it and a reliable media mouthpiece.

Speaking of votes….who really needs them? Our votes are now so much chaff because those that seek them are actually more interested in serving the needs of the special interests, lobbyists and corporations that provide the big bucks to their campaigns, and their friends on the Supreme Court.  I cannot believe for one moment that this is what our founders envisioned but we can’t see it.  But others do as one German journalist wrote:

“The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite…. One can no longer depend on politics in America. The reliance of Congress members on donations from the rich has become too great. Nor will there be any revolutionary storming of the Bastille in America. Popular anger may boil over, but the elites have succeeded in both controlling the masses and channeling their passions.”

Some conservatatives would like to think that the Tea Party would be a force of change. It certainly has energy but while many Tea Party members believe that they are revolutionary, they are simply being used, and will be discarded when they become inconvenient. The Koch brothers and other big money operatives and their reliable mouthpiece of News Corp, its subsidiaries and the host of “talkers” will ensure it.

Those groups are promoting hatred and fear, but I don’t think that we solve our problems by giving into the hatred in which our culture is now drowning thanks to our business-media-religion complex.

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A couple of years ago I read Buck O’Neil’s America and the wonderful human being and baseball great always counseled against allowing hate to consume your life.  I was struck by this today:

“It makes no sense, Hate.

It’s just fear. All it is.

Fear something different.

Something’s gonna get taken from you,

Stolen from you.

Find yourself lost.”

Buck was called to testify in Congress about the Negro League Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame not long after the Congressional inquisition concerning the use of steroids. After his testimony was done the 94 year old great realized that there was something else that he wanted to say but could not remember. While waiting for his car in the Senate office building he saw a television which I can imagine was filled with the news of the day.  He stopped began to talk what it would be like if instead of the virulent hatred, the television was showing the great catch by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.

O’Neil mused:

“If Willie Mays was up there

People would stop making laws.

They would stop running.

They would stop arguing about

Big things

Little things.

No Democrat or Republican,

No black or white

No North or South.

Everybody just stop,

Watch the TV,

Watch Willie Mays make that catch.

That’s baseball man.”

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For the most part I have stopped watching the news. I do read a good amount but I will not allow myself to be turned into an unthinking drone of the Unholy Trinity and their endless attack on all that made this country good. Instead I watch baseball, read, write and even pray on occasion. I think that is one of the reasons that I so love baseball.

Sometimes when I despair about the country and the acrimony that is beginning to define who we are I remember this quote from Field of Dreams: 

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Maybe that is the answer, and hopefully tomorrow or Friday the weather will clear enough to see a ball game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Easter Sunday, Baseball and Interviews

meharborpark“I believe in the Church of Baseball…the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” Annie Savoy Bull Durham

For those that didn’t notice today was Easter Sunday. It is the Sunday where Christians remember and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and others go into diabetic comas because of the amount of candy they ingested even if they don’t believe.

For me it was a simple celebration of Eucharist at my Staff College Chapel with some of our students and their families. Following that a nice breakfast with Judy and then a trip to the ballpark to see the Norfolk Tides play the Durham Bulls.

It has been a busy and eventful week. First it was Holy Week and it was the first week of teaching my Ethics Elective for our current class, finalizing my Gettysburg Staff Ride “Tome” for this class and taking care of the ever bothersome military health and physical fitness requirements. In addition to everything else I made  four trips to medical and dental to get routine exams and paperwork accomplished so I can do my physical fitness test this week. As for a frame of reference even about 10 years ago guys my age didn’t need to do this. However the physical requirements I have to meet at age 54 in the Navy are little different from the ones I had to meet at age 22 in the Army. Of course I still had to do my taxes and other things around the house as contractors were back in on Friday doing the painting in the house. Hopefully by the end of this week most if not all of that is done, but I digress…

The Easter celebration of the Eucharist was really nice, several of our students and family members attending, which for my chapel is like “mega-church” numbers.

Following breakfast, or maybe it was really brunch I went over to Harbor Park where I met a photographer from the Washington Times. A reporter from that newspaper asked a former student of mine who serves as a Public Affairs Officer at the Pentagon if he knew anyone who knew something about PTSD and he referred her to me. The article will run tomorrow from what I am told. They liked the interview and wanted to get some photos of me in my natural environment, Harbor Park in Norfolk, a place which is a refuge to me and has been since I returned from Iraq. There is something healing to me about going to the ballpark. To me baseball is more than a game, it is an important part of my spirituality and my mental health.

The photographer stayed with me about 6 innings before having to return to Washington. It was a nice day. After the game, which the Tides won by a score of 6-3 with Kevin Gausman pitching well against a strong Durham team. The photographer and I had some nice conversations as she shot the story and followed me around the ballpark. What was nice is that I know the people there well enough after so many years of going there that I could just be me, I didn’t have to alter much, just have someone follow me around. Since I do a lot of baseball photography we were able to compare notes and I was able to talk to her about better equipment than I have for sports photography. That being said she did like some of the pictures I showed from past events. Who knows maybe I can do this after I retire from the Navy whenever that is?

Anyway. Tonight has been spent watching the movies Bull Durhamand Kelly’s Heroes. I go back to work tomorrow, yet have one more medical appointment Tuesday and then my Physical Readiness Test on Wednesday. The last won’t be hard.

In the coming couple of weeks you can look forward to more articles about Gettysburg as well as some other topics that I am doing some reading, reflection and research on.

Again, Happy Easter,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, PTSD

A Watershed Moment: Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights in America

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“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

April 15th 2014 was the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jim Crow was very alive and well when Jackie stepped onto the field that day and no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from those days there are still some in this country who want to go back to that kind of society. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military, a move which infuriated many in the South.  Likewise it occurred a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the Brown vs Board of Education decision.  It came a full 17 years before Congress passed the Voters Rights.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field it was a watershed moment in Civil Rights for African Americans and paved the way for a change in American society that has continued since his Major League debut. Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights and even simple human decencies like where they could use a rest room, sit on a bus or what hotel they could stay in.

In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks were allowed to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.”

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a MVP and played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and   Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegregate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined a African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

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I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, 67 years later Jackie Robinson looms large not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.

His number “42” is now retired from baseball. The last player to wear it was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Rivera had been granted an exemption to wear it until he retired. At least the last Major League ball player to honor the number was a class act who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

Robinson said something that still resonates with me: “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” It is something that I take into account every day of my life.

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson.  Thank you and God bless.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, civil rights, History

Baseball and My Spiritual Journey

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Note: I have been working hard this week with contractors in the house making repairs to the damage caused when our water heater blew out on February 3rd. Thankfully, despite being so tired I have been able to make a couple of baseball games at Harbor Park here in Norfolk. I have been too tired to make it all the way through either game despite the fact that they were good close games. Tonight I only made it to the top of the 7th inning. At the time the Tides were up 2-1 but had blown a number of opportunities to blow the game open. I got home and found they had lost 3-2. Thankfully I am beginning to see the light at the end of the rebuilding and renovation tunnel and it is not the train. Depending how I feel tomorrow I may try to take in part of the final game of this series. Unfortunately I still have much work that needs to be done around the house…but I digress… on to Baseball and my spiritual journey.

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“Baseball is a curious anomaly in American life. It seems to have been ingrained in people in their childhood…. Baseball is, after all, a boy’s game, and children are innocent of evil. So even adults who are prejudiced revert to their childhood when they encounter a baseball player and they react with the purity of little children.” Jackie Robinson Baseball Has Done It

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I feel closeness to God at the ballpark that after Iraq is hard for me to find in many other places.  For me there is a mystery, magic about a ballpark that just isn’t there for the other sports.  With the opening of baseball season I am soaking in the pleasantness of the game.  The past two nights I have had the television on with baseball games.  It is so much more peaceful and edifying than the deluge of political talk and reality shows that are the staple of entertainment now days.

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For me the other sports can grab my momentary attention but because of their nature cause them to be merely ordinary and occasionally interesting.  Baseball is another matter, it is more than a game. As George Will said “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” For me baseball is a metaphor for life, a spiritual experience and a game that mirrors life and faith in many ways. For me this goes back to childhood.

As a kid my dad made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching in the back yard or in a park, dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey, basketball and golf, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid dad was a Cincinnati Reds fan and as we moved West he became a solid San Francisco Giants fan.

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My mom went along to many games while we were in Anaheim and she lives and dies with the Giants. My mom was a Navy Wife and back then there were not nearly the support structures that we have today and Navy wives had to be wear many hats.  One of those hats was being my chauffeur and number one fan. When my dad was deployed to Vietnam when we were in Stockton she would take me to my Little League games and shuttle me and my friends to Billy Herbert Field to see the Stockton Ports.

My dad’s mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of West Virginia was a die hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan. I still wonder how a woman from West Virginia became a Dodgers’ fan but she was incredibly independent.  My grandfather was killed in a trucking accident when my dad was a small child leaving Granny a widow with two young boys to raise.
She was a single parent and for a while lived with family as she established herself. It was the late 1930s and she went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most people in West Virginia at that time she was a Republican. This was long before West Virginia ever voted for a Republican either President or statewide office. True to form Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, fierce and independent.  I have to admire her perseverance but as a Giants fan I cannot fathom her being a fan of the Evil Dodgers. Despite having fallen under the spell of the Dark Lords of Chavez Ravine Granny was a real baseball fan. Any time you went to Granny’s house and there was a game on, the television was tuned in to it. When she visited us in Texas in the early 1990s we went to a Texas Rangers game but it was called because of tornadoes and severe thunder storms.

I can say that thanks to my dad, mom and grandmother that I was immersed in baseball from an early age and when we got to a place where dad could take us to ball games on a regular basis he did.

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Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots during their first and only season in that fair city before they went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers.  In the elementary schools of those days many our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on the TV as many of those games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazing Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970. I will never forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run and the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, especially the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer that the Bronx burned.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 20 games there in 1970 and another 25-30 in 1971 as well as a couple at Dodger stadium that year.  We met a lot of the Angel players at community events and before the games. I entered the “My Favorite Angel” contest and my entry was picked as a runner up. This netted me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  I wrote about Jim Spencer a Gold Glove First Baseball who later played for the Yankees.  I still have a hat from that team with numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, and Billy Cowan. It was a magical time for a 10 year old boy.

When we moved to Stockton California dad took us to see the A’s dynasty teams including a number of playoff games.  But he also took us across San Francisco Bay to watch the Giants.  I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In Anaheim, Oakland and San Francisco I got to see some of the greats of the era play in those stadiums, Catfish, Reggie, McCovey, Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew and so many others.

I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball when we moved to Stockton in1971. At the time the Stockton Ports were the Class A California League farm team for the Baltimore Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I became a closet Orioles fan back then and today I have a renewed interest in the Orioles because of their affiliation with the Norfolk Tides.  The retired GM of the Tides, Dave Rosenfield has told me about his young days in the California League and time at Billy Hebert Field in the 1950s.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game only deepens despite strikes and steroids and other problems that plague the game at the major league level.  I am in awe of the game and the diamond on which it is played.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers, seen a no-hitter, playoff games and met many players. I’ve watched the game in Japan, seen historic moments when deployed to combat zones in and have thrown out the first pitch in a couple of minor league games.

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I am enchanted with the nearly spiritual aspects of the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Likewise unlike all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals, the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules, the ceremonial first pitch, players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batters box.

Likewise I am enthralled with the Americanness of the game. Michael Novak wrote:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

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My kitchen and much of my dining room are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them.
Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace. When I was stationed in Norfolk I had season tickets behind home plate at Harbor Park.  At the end of the 2010 season I was transferred to Camp LeJeune and was able to take in a good number of Kinston Indians games but since that team was sold and moved at the end of the 2011 season I didn’t get to see many games in the flesh. Thankfully with my return to the Hampton Roads area I have my season ticket back at Harbor Park and life is coming back into balance.

As I do that I can hear the words of James Earl Jones in the great film Field of Dreams:

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

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In a sense those word say it all to me. In the midst of war, economic crisis and deep political division they are also a prayer of hope of what once was good, and what be again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Home Opener: Images of Opening Night at Harbor Park

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“A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.” — Yogi Berra

It is the day that I have waited for since the last September, baseball returned in the form of Opening Day at Norfolk’s Harbor Park. Major League Opening Day is always great, especially if you live near enough to a Major League club to attend. For many of us we have to wait for Opening Day at one of the Minor League ballparks. In Norfolk our Norfolk Tides are the AAA level affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

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This evening the Tides hosted the Charlotte Knights, the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Tides fell to the Knights by a score of 3-0. Of course wanted the Tides to win but more important for me was the fact that I was back in my refuge with the people that I have gotten to know each season for the last ten years.

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For me there is something amazing about a ball game. In a way Norfolk’s Harbor Park for me is like Hemingway’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place. I fully understand the feelings of the older waiter in that short but poignant story of life, meaning and a place of refuge. As Sharon Olds wrote: “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

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So today with contractors still banging around the house I give you these images from my place of refuge.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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