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The Dominator 2011: Verlander voted AL MVP

2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander

For the first time in 25 years a starting pitcher was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was named the American League MVP today in as convincing manner as he pitched during the season.

The last time a starting pitcher won this honor was in 1986 when a young up and coming Roger Clemens won it as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  The last time a pitcher won the ward was in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won it as a closer for the Oakland Athletics.  It was the first time since 1984 that a pitcher won the MVP as well as the Cy Young award.  In winning both in the same season Verlander joined Brooklyn Dodgers’ great Don Newcombe who won them in 1956, Los Angeles Dodgers’ legend Sandy Koufax who did it in 1963, St. Louis Cardinals’ great Bob Gibson and Detroit’s Denny McLain who led pitchers in both leagues in 1968, Oakland’s Vida Blue in 1971, Rollie Fingers who won it as a relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981 and Detroit’s Willie Hernandez who did so in 1984.

It is unusual that a pitcher wins the MVP. Part of the equation is that starting pitchers are not every day players and even like relief pitchers who may appear several times a week.  Because of this a starting pitcher must be absolutely dominating in all aspects of his game and do so in such a way that their team’s success is in large part attributable to their play.  This was the case with Verlander who dominated pitching this year.

Verlander’s accomplishments speak for themselves.  He went 25-4 in 34 starts, had a ERA of 2.40, held opposing teams to a .192 team batting average, struck out 250 batters while walking just 57 men.  His Walks/Hits inning pitched WHIP was a tiny 0.92.  He led every competitive category for pitching in the American League and  for that matter led all pitchers in wins and strikeouts during the season.  To top things off Verlander also had a no-hitter against Toronto coming a walk from a perfect game and he won 12 consecutive games leading the Tigers to their first division title since 1987.

The was no player in baseball that was as valuable to their team or as dominant as Verlander this year.  That may be a hard sell for those that believe that pitchers should not be considered for the MVP since they are not every day players but the numbers support Verlander’s selection as the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player.  His competition among American League position players could make no such claim, while excellent ballplayers none was such a standout that they had any real chance of winning.

Congratulations on a job well done!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“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.” George Will

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He 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 dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the 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 Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the 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 would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost 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 in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as 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. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. 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 batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in 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.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis, natural disasters and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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Tim Lincecum Fans 14, Two Hits Braves Giants Win Opener 1-0

The Freak: Tim Lincecum fans 14 Braves in 2 hit shutout (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tim Lincecum recovered from the worst month of his career in August but was lights out in September something that he continued on Thursday night in game one of the Giants-Braves NLDS series. The two-time Cy Young winner made his playoff debut at AT&T Park and shut down Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves in a big way.  Braves batters were doing the Tomahawk Chop all night into empty air against Lincecum who threw at pitch after pitch resulting in strikeout after strikeout, 14 K’s to be exact. This was the most thrown by a pitcher in his playoff debut and third in playoff history, only Bob Gibson with 17 and Roger Clemons with 15 have more.

Lincecum was dominating; he allowed a gap double to Omar Infante to lead off the first inning and a gap double to Brian McCann in the 7th.  He gave up just one walk as he sent down batter after batter. The Giants scored one run and it proved to be enough.  The run came after Giants catcher Buster Posey singled and stole 2nd. That call however was blown, replay showed Posey to be out but the umpire did not have the best angle to make the call and Brooks Conrad’s tag was up around Posey’s chest making it probably more difficult for the umpire than the camera. The Braves did not argue the call so the questions about it did not come until the break between innings.  Manager Bobby Cox did not have a good view and after the game said that since he saw no reaction from his infielder assumed that Posey was safe.

Buster Posey scores the winning run in the Giants 1-0 victory over the Braves (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Even so the base would have been meaningless had Infante not missed a ground ball that most Third Baseman would have handled. That grounder became a RBI single for Cody Ross.  It was not called an error but was a play that could have been made, instead it was the game.

Atlanta Starter Derek Lowe performed well but came up short getting the loss pitching 5.1 innings allowing 4 hits, striking out 6 and walking 4 in the outing.

On the positive side for the Brave Bobby Cox did not add to his MLB record of games that he has been tossed from. Had gone and gotten himself thrown out we would have seen three managers tossed in the playoffs.

The game was quintessential Giants’ baseball as once again a starting pitcher shut down an opposing team while the offense provided just enough juice to get the win.  Tomorrow Matt Cain goes up against Tommy Hansen in game two.  Somehow I think that the Giants win Friday to take a 2-0 series lead into Atlanta.

The first two days of the NLCS and ALCS have seen more games in which a team was held to two hits or less, Lincecum allowed two, Halladay had his no-hitter and Cliff Lee had a one-hitter.  Bottom line: 27 innings, 3 pitchers, 3 hits and no runs. That sports fans is impressive. This really is the year of the pitcher.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The World Series: Cliff Lee was Amazing and the Yankees come back, the Influenza Outbreak, a Visit Home, and Honors to the Fallen by the President

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

large_2aj-burnett415A. J. Burnett dominated the Phillies in Game 2

Last night we were treated to one of the best pitching performances in the history of the World Series.  Phillies start Cliff Lee who has had an incredible playoff run.  In four games he has pitched 33.1 innings, winning 3 games, two of which were complete games.  In those games he pitched 30 strikeouts and on 3 walks and only given up 2 earned runs.  His ERA through game one of the World Series is a minuscule 0.54.  Last night was a fantastic demonstration of pitching as Lee controlled the game from start to finish defeating his former teammate C.C. Sabathia who was good but not good enough giving up 2 solo home runs to Chase Utley before being pulled after the 7th.  One can compare his performance against the best hitting team in the Majors to the greats Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Don Larson.  I remember seeing Gibson’s game back in 1968 on TV and I am forever amazed at his intensity as hit mowed down batter after batter.  On the other hand Lee was the epitome of the “just another day at work” that was so evidenced in his lackadaisical catch of a pop up to the pitcher’s mound and his quick behind the back grab of a pitch hit behind him.

Honestly I was surprised but not disappointed.  I do not have a dog in the fight so to speak since the Giants, Orioles, A’s or Angels are not in the series.  However I appreciate a great performance even when it cuts down my well thought out statistic based prediction. Lee was until last night a career 4-4 against the Yankees but had, again until last night a whopping 5.02 against them.  I predicted that it would be a close game but that I thought it would be Lee who gave up the key hits or have mistakes committed behind him which would in turn bring on the bullpen which the Yankees would demolish.  Instead it was 180 degrees out as Sabathia gave up the key hits and the Yankee bullpen melted down.  To top it off the Yankees were completely baffled and shut down by Lee almost being shut out save a Jimmy Rollins throw into the bullpen which allowed Derek Jeter to score the Yankees only run of the game with one out in the bottom of the 9th. I’m watching another pitcher’s duel tonight, at least through 7 innings between Pedro “I’m the most influential player to play in Yankee Stadium” and A.J. Burnett. Burnett dominated the Phillies big guns and Pedro has like Sabathia last night given up 2 solo home runs to Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui and was pulled with 2 on and no out in the bottom of the 7th.  Mariano Rivera came on to get a six out save and the Yankees won 3-1.  The amazing thing to me is the dominance of pitching so far.  The fact that Ryan Howard stuck out 4 times tonight and Alex Rodriguez 3 times last night shows just how dominant the pitchers have been. Both were having an amazing playoff run and at least the first two games have had their fires extinguished.

mariano-riveraMariano Rivera got a 6 out Save

The first two games give me some hope. I would prefer a 7 game series that is a well played drama filled classic for the ages.  That is my hope anyway as they are the best teams in baseball and it would be fitting for the series to live up to that status.

I just got over a bout with a stomach bug yesterday, on Monday I was doubled over in pain and the stuff lingered a couple of days.  Turns out that this is going around and a lot of folks are going down with it as well as Influenza A, B and H1N1, the Swine Flu.  I personally know several people who have been hammered by the Swine flu and am seeing a lot more influenza related cases in our ICU including a number of young people on ventilators.  A cursory look around the news shows a lot of kids getting sick and so far at least 100 schools being closed due to influenza outbreaks and it is only October.  Look for a long and difficult flu season. This may not be as bad as 1918 but anyone is a fool to make light of it or efforts to keep people from getting it.  I think such people are damned fools who jeopardize their lives as well as the lives of their families, friends and co-workers, from what I see in my little corner of the world this will not be fun.

Speaking of not fun I am going home to go assist my mom and brother with some of my dad’s affairs. He remains in the nursing home and continues his slow downward trend defying the doctors who said that he would be dead months ago.  The emotional cost on my mom, brother and to a lesser extent I because I don’t have to deal with this up close every day has been exacting. It is painful.  I received a e-mail from an old friend this week who described what his family went through as his dad wasted away in mind and body before their eyes.  I will be glad to see everyone and will spend as much time with dad as I can, hopefully I will have him with me for at least a few minutes.  I am not looking forward to having to go through belongings or some of the administrative or banking tasks that will need to be done.

APTOPIX Obama Fallen SoldiersPresident Obama Honoring the Fallen at Dover

Late last night President Obama did something that earned my admiration.  I know some will see his action as cynical or opportunistic but as a career officer and Iraq Veteran who has served under five Presidents I saw it differently.  I think it is the first time that a President has greeted and rendered honors to the fallen at Dover in my career.  I could be wrong but I don’t think that any of the President’s that I have served under have ever met an aircraft bearing 18 fallen Americans.  He didn’t have to do it, but it is my opinion that any wartime leader who has not experienced the enormity of the loss of Americans that he has sent into combat has not fully assumed the mantle of leadership.  Part of that mantle is to be there in the times of suffering. One source close to the President told ABC News reporter Jake Tapper that  meeting with the families at Dover and seeing the return of the fallen was was “one of the most profound experiences of Mr. Obama’s young presidency.”

It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day, not only our troops but their families as well,” Obama said later Thursday, hours after his return to the White House. “The burden that both our troops and their families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts, and it is something that I think about each and every day.”

I do appreciate all that President Bush did in visiting the wounded and caring for the families of the fallen, there is no disrespect intended by me toward the former President as he had to make many tough and often unpopular decisions during his presidency including the surge in Iraq that along with the Anbar Awakening that helped turn the course of events in that unfortunate land.  He took heavy criticism from the Left and parts of the Right for that decision as well as scaling back efforts in Afghanistan. I do hope and pray that the President’s decision, whatever it ends up being will bear success and help the security of the region and peace to Afghanistan and I certainly do not want him to be like Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam and commit us deeper into to a war without counting the cost ahead of time.  That is a tall order, but for the sake of our troops is something that we should be able to pray will happen.  To quote one commentator: “No matter what your political views are or your position on the wars, we should never forget those making the ultimate sacrifice.”  Thank you Mr. President for remembering these men,  Ten men were lost in the crash of an MH-47, 7 Army Soldiers and 3 DEA agents and 8 soldiers killed when an IED destroyed their Stryker Light Armored Vehicle.  I close with their names:

Killed:

1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington

Staff Sgt. Luis M. Gonzalez, 27, of South Ozone Park, N.Y.

Sgt. Fernando Delarosa, 24, of Alamo, Texas.

Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, Ind.

Sgt. Issac B. Jackson, 27, of Plattsburg, Mo.

Sgt. Patrick O. Williamson, 24, of Broussard, La.

Spc. Jared D. Stanker, 22, of Evergreen Park, Ill.

Pfc. Christopher I. Walz, 25, of Vancouver, Wash.

From the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia

Chief Warrant Officer Michael P. Montgomery, 36, of Savannah, Ga.

Chief Warrant Officer Niall Lyons, 40, of Spokane, Wash.

Staff Sgt. Shawn H. McNabb, 24, of Terrell, Texas.

Sgt. Josue E. Hernandez Chavez, 23, of Reno, Nev.

Sgt. Nikolas A. Mueller, 26, of Little Chute, Wisc.

From the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Sgt. 1st Class David E. Metzger, of San Diego Ca

Staff Sgt. Keith R. Bishop, 28, of Medford, N.Y.

From the Drug Enforcement Agency

Special Agent Forrest N. Leamon, Woodbridge Va.

Special Agent Chad L. Michael, Quantico Va

Special Agent Michael E. Weston, Washington DC

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon them

May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen

american-flag-2a

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My Life and Baseball: How Padre Steve Makes Some Sense of the World

harbor park opening dayThe Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

I went to Harbor Park last week just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  Tomorrow after work, though the weather is not predicted to be very good I plan on doing the same. There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102, row B, seat 2 and 3 that help me even when there is not game going on.  I walked around the diamond, the weather was gorgeous and it was so peaceful, even as the head groundskeeper aerated the field in preparation for the winter.  I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark.  Tonight as I sit watching game one of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and the Phillies my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

grainger stadiumGranger Stadium Kinston NC

“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.” George Will

Baseball is part of my life and I think this goes back to my childhood when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and weather we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  Granny as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Me and Lefty PhillipsCalifornia Angels Manager Lefty Phillips and Young Padre Steve 1970

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they game regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to find it again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray.   Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

jim_spencer_autographMY Favorite Angel Jim Spencer as a Yankee

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers who put the playoff and World’s Series games as many 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 Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer that the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.

halicki no hitterEd Halicki No Hitter

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  That was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest.  My entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer was a runner up, netting me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announce my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

Me and last last picMy Dad and Me May 2009

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not go away, though we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting as I got to see playoff games and a no-hitter.  We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to Paul Blair the 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 would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

1972 Oak Park AL RamsMy Championship Season

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune, unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of junk they were tossed out.  This year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in other venues and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of minor league games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretical 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 batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

042Elliott the Usher

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace.  For the first time I bought a season ticket to my local minor league team the Norfolk Tides.  Section 102, row B seat 2 and 3 and was able to watch the game from the same place game after game.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.

122Moon Over Harbor Park

My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s Disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I visited him we had a few minutes where he was with it we talked baseball and I gave him a new Giants t-shirt and hat.  I plan on going back next month sometime to spend some time with him.  Maybe we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lushest baseball field imaginable.

The season there is over, but God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in 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.”

044Jeff Fiorentino hits a 3 run shot at Harbor Park

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that can be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Everybody has a Pitch Count…Good Managers Know When You’ve Reached It

Everybody has a pitch count, be they a baseball pitcher or a military, police or critical care health provider.  At some point one can push themselves so hard that they can injure themselves or if not that start making mental mistakes that cost games for a pitcher or lives to people in military, public safety or critical care medicine.  In baseball managers have to make sure that their pitchers don’t wear themselves down.  It is very easy for a pitcher, especially a hard thrower to wear out early from overuse causing injury.  At times hard throwers, or for that matter any pitcher can over pitch.  They can try to do too much.  At first this may not be noticeable, maybe they lose a little bit off of their fastball or their curve ball may not be as sharp.  The pitcher may shake it off and tell his coaches and trainers that nothing is wrong.  They do this for a couple of reasons.  First, they are competitors; they want to do the job that they have to do.  Second, they don’t want to admit that something is wrong with them be it a possible physical injury or maybe even a mental issue which is keeping them from getting good control of their pitches.  Of course the physical wear and tear on pitcher is brutal.  The physical punishment of throwing a baseball 80-100 mph on the arm, especially the elbow and shoulder is brutal.   The amount of torque applied to these joints is severe.  If a pitcher is using incorrect technique or has thrown too many pitches the effects can be devastating to his career.

While I am not a pitcher, when I played I was a utility infielder and catcher, I do think that everyone has something to learn about life and work from managers, pitchers and knowing when a pitcher is suffering from overuse injuries or has lost his physical or mental edge.  The manager has to know when the pitcher has reached his pitch count and when it is time to pull him even if the pitcher wants to stay in the game.  The same is true with anyone who serves in military, police or intensive medical professions such as EMS, Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care units. This became apparent to me over the past year and a quarter since I returned from Iraq.  I am now 49 years old. I stay in pretty good shape and physically can still outperform many younger people in such things as push-ups, sit-ups and running.  I pretty much know my physical limitations especially coming back from Iraq with some physical and emotional scars.  I work in ICUs and if my life as a chaplain was limited to simply doing that work on the floor I could do it forever.  I thrive in the environment and actually am more at ease on an ICU or in an ER than I am on general patient floors or doing administrative tasks.  However, those are also part of my life.  So I have to achieve a balance.  I am usually pretty good at knowing when it is time to tell my manager, in this case our director of pastoral care that I am not doing well.  Yet, sometimes even when I know I’m not doing well I won’t stop.  I will push myself to the point of physical and emotional collapse.  I hit this point last week following a month of family illness, end of life planning for my dad, a medical emergency with Judy and several very demanding weeks at work where I put in a huge amount of hours because the job had to get done.  I hate to leave something undone or have to leave something for someone else to do.  I don’t like to be taken out of a game.  My first Navy tour after 17 ½ years in the Army I was my Division Chaplain’s relief pitcher.  I ended up taking several battalions because their chaplains either got in trouble or were pulled for another assignment.  Likewise I was given the task of working with young guys who had run into some kind of trouble to see if they could be salvaged.

A good manager has to recognize when his pitcher is having problems before he gets in trouble.  Until the advent of relief pitchers that were primarily relief pitchers and not washed up former starters, they generally pitched deep into a game.  As such many racked up huge numbers of wins, strike outs and complete games.  In fact most of the top ten are guys that pitched when it was almost unheard of to bring in a reliever.  Thus there are men like Cy Young who won 511 games, Walter Johnson with 473 wins and Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Matthewson who won 373 each.  Young played 22 years and had a record of 511 wins and 316 losses.  He pitched 7356 innings. He played in 906 games, started 815 games and had 749 complete games.  No wonder the award for best pitcher is named after him.  Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson started 482 games and completed 255 of them. In 1969 he won 20 games, 13 of which were shut outs. Gibson once reportedly said:  “I used to get tired in the seventh inning too. And the manager would come to the mound and ask me if I wanted to come out. Then I would look over at the bullpen and see who was warming up. Then I would say, ‘No, I’m going to stay in.”

As baseball moved forward teams began to have more depth on their pitching staffs. Rotations were developed where pitchers pitched every 4th game, and frequently in our era every 5th game.  Additionally since the 1970s the specialist relief pitcher has become a key part of the game.  While there were relievers prior to that, the relief pitcher as a specialist did not really get off the ground until Rollie Fingers of the Oakland A’s won salary arbitration against A’s owner Charlie Finely. At that point pitchers who could come into a game on no notice in certain situations became more and more a trend.  Now it is standard for a team to have long, middle and short relief specialist as well as “Closers.”

In a sense while some people may not like it, it is not a bad thing for the game.  One only has to look at how many pitchers had abbreviated careers o of overuse injuries including Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean who are both in the Hall of Fame.  If you look you can find others. This was especially true before the advent of “Tommy John surgery” when pitchers with a torn rotator cuff faced the end of their careers. As such teams became much more aware of how many pitches a starting pitcher and even relievers should throw in a game.  The pitch count was developed.  For a healthy starting pitcher in the middle of a season this is usually around 100 pitches.  Relief pitcher counts will vary.  While pitch counts are not necessarily the Gospel, there is a point in every pitcher’s career where he hits his own pitch count limit, be it in a game or a career. As Whitey Ford said:  “Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to…Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”

So you may be asking what does something arcane like the mechanics, kinetics and injuries have to do with life.  As you know the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball.   This has application to those in high stress jobs where they are called on to put their lives on the line for others or deal with danger, death or tragedy in an environment where just one mistake can be fatal or where a word, gesture or throw away comment can harm someone else.  The managers, supervisors or commanders of people who do such work have to be cognizant of the effects of this on their people.

I am luck, the Deity Herself has surrounded me with a number of people who can look at me and tell me to sit down even when I want to continue to keep pushing.  Last Friday was one of those days.  It was the culminating point of a nearly a month of personal and professional stress, lack of sleep and the lingering effects of my PTSD and chronic pain which flare up when I have exceeded my personal pitch count.  My boss was away last week.  However we remained in communication.  I was scheduled for weekend duty, which for me I remain in house because I am not able for the most part to meet the response time for a emergency call.  When my boss came back he must have checked in with several folks who k now me to see how they thought I was doing.  Friday afternoon after I got home I got a call from the acting department head who told me to stay at home that my boss was going to pull my duty for me.  I really needed this.  However, I told him that I still could come in if needed and was told to stay home and take care of myself.

With a manager like that I will be able to keep playing my game longer.  I may have occasional rough outings but I will do fine.  The lesson is that everybody has their own personal “pitch count” even if they do not throw a baseball.  Like my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

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Filed under Baseball, ER's and Trauma, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD