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Padre Steve’s Road Trip

David Thomas rips a 3 run home run in the bottom of the 4th inning

Well friends, countrymen and baseball fans Padre Steve was able to take in one last ball game in Mudville aka Stockton California before flying back tomorrow to the home of the Navy and site of the first landing by English Colonists in the New World, Norfolk and Virginia Beach Virginia.  While I look forward to coming home and being with my wife Judy, the Abbess of the Abbey Normal, I shall miss the lack of humidity here in the “Big Valley” aka the Central Valley of California.

The weather has heated up to the kind of weather that I remember growing up with, 100 degrees plus but low humidity which if you ask me makes all the difference in the world. Even though I have adapted to the mugginess of the East Coast and Mid Atlantic region I am always amazed when I can sit comfortably through a day game with temps in the high 90’s and low 100’s without much effort other than adding copious amounts of 50 weight Banana Boat sun screen to my fragile Northern European genetically engineered skin.

Grant Green gets tied up and struck out while Jermaine Mitchell attempts to run, Mitchell was thrown out at second base

Today I attended the second game of the Stockton Ports series against the Bakersfield Blaze with my old high school classmate and US Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, retired Tony Melendez. It was great to see the game with Tony sharing what was happening in our lives and talking baseball while enjoying Tecate beer and an Alpine Hot Dog.  The game was interesting because it was an 1105 AM start, early by my books but with the heat of the Central Valley not a bad idea as the temperatures only get hotter until about 5 PM when they begin to cool down.  The game was the first Ports game ever televised on the Major League Baseball Network and Comcast Sports Hometown.

Lance Sewell got the Win for the Ports

In preparation for the game I wore my Norfolk Tides road jersey and the orange and black hat which has been worn interchangeably at home and on the road this season.  Additionally I made pilgrimage to Wally World to get some poster board and black and orange Sharpies to make a double sided sign with one side saying “Padre Steve’s Road Trip….Go Tides!” and the other “Steve Loves Judy” only with a heart in it.  I think that I got on TV at the 7th inning stretch so if anyone saw it let me know. Since I was the only person in the park with a sign I figured that I should get on at least once.

Paul Smythe got his 11th save for the Ports

The game was much more of a hitters show today than the pitcher’s duel of the preceding night and was error free.  The Ports had 8 runs on 9 hits with no errors leaving 3 men on base. The Blaze, the affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the California League had 6 runs on 10 hits and no errors leaving 8 runners stranded.  Lance Sewell (2-0 3.12 ERA) pitching 2.1 innings of perfect relief got the win for the Ports and Paul Smyth, (3-2 1.80 ERA) got his 11th save of the campaign.  Kennil Gomez (2-6 6.24 ERA) got the loss for the Blaze.

The Blaze led early scoring 2 in the 2nd inning and 1 in the 3rd inning but the Ports scored 4 in the 4th to take the lead. The Blaze would take the lead again in the 6th inning but surrendered it in the 7th when Ports shortstop Grant Green pounded a two run shot while Jeremy Barfield added a solo blast in the 8th inning.

The hitting was driven by the long ball with each team having three apiece the difference that the Blaze homers were single shots with no runners on base and two of the Ports homers came with men on base, one a three run homer by David Thomas with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 4th inning.

Shipmates: Master Chief Tony Melendez USN Retired and Padre Steve also classmates from Edison High School Class of 1978

After the game I met Pat Filiponne the President and General Manager of the Ports through Tony. Pat knows the Tides Owner Ken Young and General Manager Dave Rosenfield and is also the owner and President of the Del Marva Shorebirds in the Orioles organization.  I was able to take in a light dinner at Arroyo’s Café, a Stockton fixture and tradition for many years and enjoyed some really excellent California Mexican Food.  It was interesting to listen to the men at the bar talking about the state of the city, state and country.  If they are any barometer there is a lot of discontent in the country and anger at politicians of all stripes as well as the corporations they feel they are in cahoots with.

Tomorrow I head home the road trip to help my mother and brother following the death of my father and to honor his memory.  When I get back I still have some leave and the Tides who won in Charlotte this evening defeating the Knights by a score of 12 to 3 will return home to Harbor Park on Thursday to play three at home against their southern division rival Knights and I expect to be there.  So see you there.

Peace,

Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, beer, norfolk tides

Dallas Braden; Perfect Games and Memories of Home in Stockton California

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

On Sunday Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s did what only eighteen men had done in the history of Major League Baseball, he pitched a perfect game.  However there is more to this story than meets the eye and some that touches me personally.

The setting of Braden’s feat was the venerable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the “other” ballpark in the Bay Area.  Sitting in an area just off of the Nimitz Freeway the coliseum and its surrounding parking lots are in one of the most un-picturesque venues in the Bay area.  While one can see the Oakland Hills to the East the Park is just far enough away from San Francisco Bay to lack the ambiance of the San Francisco Giant’s home across the bay AT&T Park which sits on the bay with views of the Bay Bridge and the Skyline of the City of San Francisco.  While the ballpark has been the home of multiple World Series Champion A’s teams, numerous League Championship teams and had its share of Hall of Fame players tread upon its natural grass it has never been considered a great ballpark for either pitchers or hitters.   The fact that it is a multi-use stadium and the home of the Oakland Raiders football team contributes to un- remarkableness as a baseball venue.  All of this said it is a place where magic has occurred before when in 1968, in fact almost 42 years to the day of Braden’s magical win, May 8th 1968 Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.  Like Hunter’s win in 1968 the A’s won the game by a score of 4-0 however Hunter’s win came before the American League adopted the Designated Hitter meaning that Hunter had to hit for himself in the game.  That being said he did hit and I mean that he really did hit.  Hunter went 3-4 including a double and knocked in 3 of the A’s 4 runs.  That was no fluke as Hunter had a .226 lifetime batting average with 6 career home runs and 51 RBIs.

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

With that little bit of trivia said Braden who is not your typical power pitcher that usually pitches perfect games pitched a solid game which was far different than one year ago when he was hit in his pitching hand with a 109 mile an hour line drive off of the bat of Vernon Wells which left the imprint of the seams on his hand.  Braden as I said is not a power pitcher.  He has one of the 10 slowest fastballs in the game topping out at a mere 87 miles an hour.  Normally an 87 mile and hour fastball is a dish served at a perfect temperature for most good hitters and they eat the pitchers that throw them for lunch.  However Braden has a remarkable equalizer, it is not his curve or slider but his change up.  I drive faster than his change up on a typical commute to and from work.  Braden’s change up comes in at a leisurely 72.9 miles and hour.  This pitch is the slowest change up in the league and it baffles batters by making his fast ball seem faster than it is. Batters at the Major League level are not used to this type of ultra-slow deception for a pitcher and it served Braden well but even so coming into the game he had a lifetime record of 18 wins and 23 losses and a 4.49 ERA.  He is not the pitcher that one would put money on to throw a perfect game and I’m sure that Jimmy the Greek, Larry the Latvian, Johnny the Walker and even Pete Rose would have wagered against him pulling this off. Yet he did it against the hottest team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Braden’s biggest notice came earlier in the year where he and Alex Rodriguez had an exchange of rather terse barbs following an incident where Rodriguez ran across the pitcher’s mound during the game.

Braden pitched for 5 or parts of 5 years in the minors for 7 different clubs in the A’s organization, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League, the Stockton Ports of the California League, The Midland Rock Hounds of the Texas League and the Sacramento River cats of the Pacific Coast League.  This year he has stayed in the majors and now after the win has a record of 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 7 starts.

Braden’s story is that of a young man who lost his mother Jodie Atwood in his senior year at Stagg High School in May of 2001.  His parents had separated when he was young and his father was estranged from the family.  His grandmother Peggy Lindsey took over and helped him through that last year of school providing the stability, love and care that he needed to survive his mother’s loss and not fall into the mire of Stockton’s often violent and crime ridden streets.  The story of this young man and the women who raised him is the story of how mother’s day ought to be.  Braden had the love and support of his late mother and grandmother during the turbulent times of his youth and as a result still remains closely connected to his grandmother and his home town.  In fact he commutes the 67 mile trip daily from Stockton to Oakland which means unlike many professionals, athletes, businesspersons, those in other professional fields to include the military that leave their home town and only make occasion visits home is able to keep himself ground in reality.  He does not live in a glamorous town; he plays for a very blue collar city on a very “Green Collar” team.  I think that is one of the stories that some people will miss, not all, Jeff Passan mentioned Braden’s connection to home in his column on Yahoo Baseball.

Downtown Stockton

You see there is something about this story of relationship and connectedness that I think may be uniquely Stocktonian.  You see for the past number of years Stockton has been ranked number one or at least in the top 5 of the nation’s “Misery index.”  This year it dropped to second as it was edged out by Cleveland Ohio, I guess Cleveland does rock. It is routinely in the highest percentage of crime, violent crime and murders in the nation.  In the economic downturn and the real estate crash it was hit particularly hard and for a fair amount of time led the nation in foreclosures, or may still I just haven’t checked.  It is a town that in many ways has experienced for many years and reflects the reality that many other locations in the country are just beginning to know in today’s economy.

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

All this said there is still something that native Stocktonians appreciate about our city, even those of us that have moved away.  We tend to remain in contact with our friends who still remain in town or have moved away.  I currently am in contact with over 100 friends on Facebook alone. My Edison High School Class of 1978 still has well attended reunions and is very well connected to each other and the classes that came before and after us. I look at the Stockton Record website every day. I used to read the obituaries until the Record started charging for them.  When I go home there is a certain familiarity with the city and though it has grown to a rather sizable city it still has a small town feel to me. I can still go to Arroyo’s Café when I go home and see the same people. The same is true with Donut King, Chucks , Manny’s burgers, the Fox Theater and a bunch of other places.  While other cities built huge super-malls Stockton still has Weberstown and Sherwood Mall.  Yes they have changed some over the years but they are still much the same. Yes much has changed but much is still the same in Stockton and I think that it one of the things that makes Dallas Braden’s story so remarkable to me he has not forgotten where he came from.  He still loves and cares for Stockton.  In an age where the really “successful” people move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco Braden didn’t cut himself off from his roots.  Are there others who have done such as this one that comes to mind is Joe Mauer in Minnesota but why leave if they will pay you more money than God gets in a season?

Another interesting thing that stuck me about Dallas Braden was his mother.  She was close to my age and I remember her, I thought it was in Junior High School but I couldn’t find t  find her in the yearbooks, it could have been the church youth group when I was in High School but regardless I am sure that I knew her.  I mentioned this to my mother today and she remembered the name.  Interesting how closely peoples’ lives are linked together.

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

I guess what strikes me the most about this game even more than the game itself which I must say that I am in awe of is the story of a man, Dallas Braden  who despite pitching in the Major Leagues still remembers home and family and stays connected to them.  This is becoming rare in our society and maybe given the state of the nation and how deeply divided we are it is time to return home, maybe not physically but returning to relationships with the people that we grew up with, schools, workplaces, churches and other activities.  Maybe Dallas Braden points us to something that matters more to many of us than the achievements of athletes or entertainers but to where we really need to be connected to one another as Americans, friends and families.  Yes it is wonderful to succeed and all should strive to be the best at what they feel called to be or do, but if that success destroys and alienates people from family, friends and home is ti really success? Maybe it is the pastoral environment of the baseball field that makes this happen for some of us.  Maybe like Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams we can understand that

“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.”

Thank you Dallas Braden for helping to remind us what is important as you play this game of baseball.  I do hope that you do well in your career and that this perfect game is a foretaste of a great career for you.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Healing Community Grieves-Portsmouth Naval Medical Center Experiences Yet another Tragic Death

This week has culminated two months of tragedy at our medical center.  This was another death, and this one was totally senseless.  It followed the unexpected death of Senior Chief Pam Branum while she was deployed on the USNS Comfort doing a humanitarian mission in the Caribbean Sea.  The Comfort was in Panama when she died.  Her death shook our community.  She was loved and respected and her death was unsettling.  Back in April we had lost Ensign Chris Gallagher in a motorcycle crash in Oceanview.  Chris was a fourth year medical student and would have graduated about three weeks after he died.  He was a incredibly sharp and dedicated medical student and would have made a fine physician.  As with Senior Chief he was well liked and respected.  I knew both of them.  I had seen Chris the day before his death in ICU rounds.

This week we lost Hospitalman Third Class Christopher Bailey.  Today in a chapel crowed well beyond it’s maximum capacity we remembered Chris.  It was a moving and emotional service in which his shipmates, friends and even his mother spoke,  I was especially touched by her words about Chris and our healing community.  Chris was a passionate young sailor and dedicated Christian.  He and a friend were looking at his car and discussing their faith when three men came to rob them.  As the men left following the robbery one fired a shot into Chris’s car.  He was hit in the back of the head and died yesterday at Norfolk General.  He donated his organs and seven were used in transplants.  In death he gave live to seven people.  Chris was a Psychiatric Technician.  He worked on our inpatient Psychiatry wards and occasionally in the clinic.  He was loved by those who worked with him.  I work on our SPRINT team which is an interdisciplinary team which goes out to assist in traumatic situations.  As part of that team I work with a lot of really great Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses and Technicians, military and civilian.  Unlike Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum I had only met Chris in passing on duty one evening. So I didn’t know him like the other two, thus this was different than the others for me.

The death of Pan Branum and Chris Gallagher saddened me because I knew them and liked them.  Chris Bailey’s death angered me because it was so senseless.  Chris was killed for 5 dollars and truthfully, and this may seem un-Christian and anti-life I hope the bloody sonofabitch who did this is hunted down and killed.  That asshole snuffed out the life of a good kid and it really pisses me off.  I’m sure this reaction goes back to my youth because back in 1979 I was held up a gunpoint by two men with Judy, who was and her parents in the parking lot of Arroyo’s Café in Stockton California, the original home of the drive-by-shooting.  This was back in the days that Arroyo’s was on South center Street.  Having a gun to your head when you have no place to run sitting in the back seat of a car puts your life in perspective real quick.  When I heard about Chris and what happened to him I imagined what would have happened to me had the robber pulled the trigger on me.  Anyway I am upset about this because I am sick and tired of seeing young people die senseless and needless deaths. Additionally it angers me because it has hurt my friends on my team.  They are hurting; they are grieving and still trying to care for a nearly full inpatient psychiatric unit.  I hate to see my friends hurting.  I try to be there for them but that will not take away the hurt, pain and loss that they have experienced.  They walk tonight in the valley of the shadow of death.

Theologically and personally I wrestle with this.  I have a hard time finding any redeeming purpose or meaning in such a death.  Chris was killed by a criminal gang of thugs for no reason.  I have a hard time saying “well it’s God’s will” or “God works everything for the good.”  God may have a plan and somehow some way there may be something good that comes from this, but I cannot see it right now.  I’m sure that I am not alone in the way that I feel.  I can only imagine the sense of loss, grief and anger of the people that I work with who knew and loved Chris.  My stuff I can put a finger on, being held up at gunpoint thirty years ago, dealing with huge amounts traumatic death in ERs and ICUs as a chaplain and most of all the PTSD that I came home with as a gift from Iraq.

I stayed in the background of this event helping a bit with seating people, hanging out in back to make sure people were okay and after the service looking after my friends Andy and Casey from the SPRINT team.  Casey and I had done a mission at Camp LeJeune a few months back during a particularly gruesome suicide which came into the hospital ER.  Casey transfers soon but in the mean time we have to get together for a beer some evening or take in a ball game.

The only thing that I can say that may be halfway pastoral at this point is to echo German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer who said:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, for the gap — as long as it remains unfilled — preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty, and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

I know that all of Chris’s friends, as well as those of Chris Gallagher and Pan Branum will understand this.  There is nothing that can replace them and it is foolish to try to substitute another person, relationship or activity for them.  There is a hole in our hearts and in the collective soul of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.  This place of healing is hurting and I pray that somehow these things will stop happening.

May God give rest to the soul of Christopher Bailey and all those who sleep in Christ; may his soul, the souls of Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum and all the departed rest in peace and all who grieve for them know the peace of God.

Pray for me a sinner, Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, things I don't get

Last Visit with Dad, Beer with Breakfast and Musings on my Visit to Mudville

Me and last last pic

Dad and Me 15 May 2009 in our matching Giants Apparel

I got to the airport I had a better time checking in that my trip out.  I had time to get breakfast in the Home Turf Sports Bar. As readers of this blog know I do not do travel or airports well since I came back from Iraq.  I used to travel quite frequently and while I can do well I have a lot more anxiety in crowds and lines.  Thankfully Sacramento is not too bad today.  Even so I decided to get breakfast.  Had scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries washed down by a couple of pints of Sam Adams Boston Lager. I find that a good beer takes the edge off of the anxiety and taste a lot better than Xanax.  The first time I did this was in between flights going to and from Bahrain at Heathrow in London.  A pint goes very well with breakfast, which over there included eggs, potatoes, toast, tomatoes and rashers of bacon. Despite this when I got into the crowded line I have a decent anxiety attack.  The flight to Chicago is full and there are a lot of less experienced travelers and families with small children on board. Thankfully none of the kid’s has started screaming….at least yet, may the Deity Herself keep the kiddo’s quiet.  The most miserable fights I have been on have been the ones with the screaming kids.  I really don’t like the beer on aircraft since it is always in cans.  Beer doesn’t taste as good out of a can, even decent beer.  I prefer beer on tap or in a bottle.   However this afternoon I decided I could use a beer.  The crowed flight was beginning to get on my nerves, especially the young gentleman sitting in front of me who kept adjusting, readjusting and bouncing in his seat. He had almost caused me to spill my Diet Coke.  I went back to the aft galley and the flight attendant when he saw my military ID gave me a complimentary beer and thanked me for my service to the country. That was pretty cool, and though it was a brand I might not normally drink, it tasted better than any domestic beer I have ever had on a flight.   Way to go Southwest.

I do not know when I will get back to Mudville.  I assume that it will be sooner rather than later given my dad’s condition which is obviously deteriorating fairly quickly now.  At least we have gotten some of the hard things done.  My brother and I have continued to grow close and continue to find just how much alike that we are.  The only thing that we might disagree on is our taste in beer, that however is nothing to fret over.  I love his family, he’s a great dad.  Somehow all of us will get through this time.

A couple of other high lights of the trip were having a pizza, salad and beer over at my nephew Eric’s pizza parlor.  The place is called appropriately enough Eric’s. He bought it from the previous owner who had hired him as a teenager.  Then it was called Rick’s and it is still a local fixture in Mudville. Eric runs a great place and frequently is recognized as having the best pizza in Mudville.  As a pizza expert I can say that it is some of the best I have ever had.  Truthfully I like what I like better, Eric’s crust is a bit more substantial than mine, I like the really thin, light and soft New York crust.  Eric’s is definitely a New York Pizza and incredibly good, if you go to Mudville he’s on El Dorado Street.  Tell him I sent you.  He also serves Newcastle Ale on tap. That is also a major selling point for me. He has good taste in beer.  Whenever I go there we always have a nice talk.  He’s a good family man and business man.  It is hard to believe that I have known him since he was 8 years old.  I had dinner at Arroyo’s Café one night.  For the unenlightened Arroyo’s has some of the best Mexican food around.  If you are in Mudville it is worth the visit.  The portions are good sized, taste good and the prices are very affordable.  Finally I had a great time with my buddy Rob from elementary school and junior high school.  I hadn’t seen him since 1979 or 1980 and it was good to reminisce as well as catch up on things.

Today also marks a milestone.  It was 13 years ago today that I was ordained as a Deacon.  I’ll write about that experience another time.  Like most things in my life it was not an ordinary day or boring event.  I guess the surprising thing is that I survived 13 years as a Deacon and as a Priest.  Once again the Deity Herself continues to protect this miscreant Priest.  From the moment that the Blessed Sacrament was lifted high out of the Paten by a gust of air from an errant ceiling fan before the horrified eyes of the blue haired ladies at the cathedral where I was ordained, my service as a Deacon and Priest has not been ordinary.

I’ll get back late tonight and head over to Gordon Biersch with Judy for dinner and a couple of Marzen’s.  Tomorrow I’ll try to take it easy and rest.  I look forward to Monday night and the Tides game.  It has been over 10 days since I’ve been to a game.  Thankfully the Tides were out of town for most of this time.

Thank all of you again for your kind words, thoughts and prayers over the past week. They have been most encouraging.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, beer, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, PTSD, travel