Daily Archives: September 10, 2009

Crash Davis, Billy Chapel and Padre Steve: Being old but still part of the Game

tim_robbins_kevin_costner_bull_durham_001Nuke and Crash

I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game. The main characters in each of the films touch me each in different way although both are players at the end of their careers on is a career journeyman in the minor leagues who “played 21 days in the show” and the other a future Hall of Famer at the close of a final season filled with disappointment.

The character of Crash Davis strikes a particular chord in me.  Crash is a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league home runs, 227 to be exact. He also played by the way “21 days in the show. “   He is a consummate professional, loves the game and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience.  His dealings with Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLooche played by Tim Robbins are case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from his AAA contract to a single “A” team in order to help the team develop the young bonus baby.  He’s not happy with the job, he’s proud, and threatens to leave the team, only to ask the manage what time batting practice is. He takes the new assignment on with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team.  It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as he still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of a games if it helps motivate his team and let’s his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.  The thing that Crash has the hardest time in dealing with his young charge is that he feels that “Nuke” doesn’t respect the game.

The comparison fits for me in more than one way. In a sense my life has been like a journeyman ball player.  I started my military career in the Army just over 28 years ago.  I come from a different generation of military than many people that I currently serve among.  I am “old school” just as the guys who were the old soldiers were when I was a young enlisted man and Second Lieutenant. My career has been quite diverse and I have not always done the same job on the same team or at the same level.  I think this is the mark of a true journeyman.  To beat the nearly dead horse of the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.  When I graduated from seminary I became a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain.  I did not go on active duty. Back then the reserves were kind of like the minor leagues. Being a Reserve component Chaplain while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.  When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to AAA ball.  When I got mobilized it was like getting called up during the regular season by the Major League team.  When that time ended and I returned to the reserves it was like being sent back to the minors.  I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career was destined to end in the minor leagues.  That all changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I reduced in rank and came in with no time in grade meaning that I was starting from scratch with a new slate.  Now all of my experience was still there, but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded between from the a team in one league to another in mid season, or while playing in the minors gets scouted by a different major league team than the one that is affiliated with his minor league club.  His slate is clear, it is a new start.

It also fits because of the internal part of me that desires excellence of me and those that I work with.  I do not like it when I feel that people do not respect “the game.”  By game of course I mean their vocation and calling as well as their attitude toward the organization in which they serve. Despite being a Priest and Chaplain I have little tolerance for such attitudes especially if the offender is a clergyman or women of some sort or another who often have better education, preparation and natural ability than me, people who have vast potential but don’t respect the gifts that they have been given especially if they had someone else pay for it….bonus babies like “Nuke” LaLoosh.  I was not a bonus baby, to use another baseball term when I joined the Army and went into ROTC as a non-scholarship student I was like a undrafted free agent signed for the league minimum.  This is how Crash feels about “Nuke.”  I love this exchange between Crash and Nuke:

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I got a what?
Crash Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.
Crash Davis: Christ, you don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well, how would you know? YOU been in the majors?
Crash Davis: Yeah, I’ve been in the majors.

I’ve been blessed, I got a chance to go back and live my dream serving as an active duty Navy Chaplain.  I’ve gotten to serve on ship and with the Marines and EOD.  I’ve traveled the world and I’ve gone to war.  I’m not the same as I was as when I started.  I have issues, possibly more than The National Geographic. I have streaks where I am hot and when I am not, I have my slumps and I am dinged up physically and wish someone would make it legal for me to take HGH or some other thing to help my body over these minor yet nagging injuries.

Looking at Billy Chapel, the central character in For the Love of the Game I also find some connection, not quite the same as Crash Davis, but definitely a connection.  Billy has played the game a long time for the same team, 19 years. He came back from what should have been a career ending injury.  He is starting in what for his team is a meaningless last game of the season against the playoff bound Yankees in New York.  The story focuses on this last game, Billy’s relationships with current and former teammates as well as his long term relationship with the team’s owner who is selling the team.  The new management wants to deal Billy to another team in the off season and is asking him if he wants to continue in baseball.  While the game is going on, Chapel knowing this is the end spends a lot of time reflecting on his life, things that have gone well and things that he regrets, especially in his relationship with a woman he loves but has messed it up.  As he does this he tries to maintain his focus on the game.

The first thing that hits me is the relationship.  I have done a lot but at the same time have missed a lot of time with with Judy.  from 1996-2001 we spent most of 40 of 60 months apart. We have only spent about 11 of our wedding anniversaries together.  So many times she has missed high points of my career.  Chapel’s words to Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston after his perfect game strike a chord with me, I don’t ever think that I have said that I didn’t need Judy, but I spent a lot of my life not needing anybody, so she probably thought at times that I didn’t need her. Thus Chapel’s words to Jane do get me and when I first saw the movie put tears in my eyes:

“I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you’ve risked everything put everything out there. And I’ve done that. I did it my entire life. I did it with the game. But I never did it with you, I never gave you that. And I’m sorry. I know I’m on really thin ice but, when you said I didn’t need you… well last night should’ve been the biggest night of my life, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t because you weren’t there. So I just wanted to tell you, not to change your mind or keep you from going, but just so you know, that I know, that I do need you. “

The second thing that really gets me is where the owner tells him that he is selling the team and tells Chapel that “the game stinks.”  I’ve seen a lot of people throughout my career with that kind of attitude about the Church, the military, their vocation and life in general that I want to scream.  Chapel’s words back to him echo how I feel about so much of life.

“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.” After all these years I still love the game, my vocation, my service as a chaplain in the military and the young people that I get to work with.

for the love of the gameFor the Love of the Game

Since coming back from Iraq there have been plenty of times that I have felt like I had nothing left to give but when I was really struggling I made my transfer to Portsmouth where I ran into a number of guys who were like Chapel’s catcher Gus and let me know that they were not only with me but were going to take care of me:

Billy Chapel: I don’t know if I have anything left.
Gus Sinski: You just throw whatever you got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now!

Finally there is the announcer, the legendary Vin Scully calling the game and realizing something special is going on:

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”

Now I don’t think that I am quite as far down the road career wise as Billy Chapel in the movie, but I do know that I am closer to the end of my military career than I was even a couple of years ago, but the thought that I could be on the last few years does cross my mind a lot.

I guess that there are three major things that I want to accomplish before the end of my military career, the first is to take care of all of the people that God gives me and puts in my life.  Second is to help coach the young men and women that I meet along the way, especially clergy and chaplains by any of my ICU colleagues and friends, especially when they hit difficult patches.  In one scene Chapel talks to a young player who made a boneheaded play against the “Green Monster” in Boston.  “There’s a bunch of cameras out there right now waiting to make a joke of this, Mick. So you can either stop, give them the sound bite, do the dance. Or you can hold your head up and walk by, and the next time we’re in Boston, we’ll go out there and work the wall together. Don’t help them make a joke out of you.” When I see young guys get in trouble or make mistakes I want to help them get back on theirThat is how I feel about the young chaplains and medical professionals that come into my life.

What is funny is that I am probably older than most if not many of our young guys parents.   I’ve been in the military since before many of younger guys were born, as well as their parents.  In a sense I’m a Crash Davis kind of guy as well as a Billy Chapel kind of guy.   I want to finish well and have my last season be my best.

I love both films and characters and find a new connection every time I watch them. I hope we can all find something or someone to help connect us to the people taht are closest to us and to what we do in life.  Somehow in Her grace the Deity Herself allows me to find this in baseball and somehow relate it to the rest of my life.  After all, it is for the Love of the Game.

Peace, Steve+

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