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Let’s Play Two: Rest in Peace Ernie Banks

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Banks being welcomed into Heaven by Harry Carey and Ron Santo 

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!” Ernie Banks

We lost yet another pioneer of baseball and civil rights, Ernie Banks, the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs passed away at the age of 83.

ernie-banks

Banks was the quintessential “Happy Warrior.” His positive and upbeat view of life and baseball made him the most popular player in Cubs history and earned him the nicknames “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine.” His happiness was legendary. His team mate and fellow Cubs’ great, Billy Williams was asked if Banks was really as happy as he appeared and Williams said:

“I always say, ‘That was Ernie. He was that way every day.’ He’s the most positive guy I ever met. He loved playing the game. Maybe it came from playing in the Negro Leagues, where they had so much fun with the game. I just know that Ernie loved being at the ballpark. He was as genuine as they get.”

He began playing ball in high school in Dallas, Texas, but it was softball as his school did not have a baseball team. He ended up being signed by Cool Papa Bell and played for the legendary Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, a time that was interrupted by two years of service in the Army. He returned to Kansas City and was scouted by the Cubs who brought him to the team in September 1953. I knew one of his teammates from the Monarchs, Carl Long who passed away just a week and a half ago. Like Banks, Long was an amazingly upbeat and positive man, beloved by his adopted one town of Kinston North Carolina.

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Banks with Kansas City

When he came into professional baseball prejudice was still a big factor, even unconscious racism can be seen in the scouting report in the line of “nationality.” It lists Banks, not as simply “American,” but “Negro American.” The fact is that the Cubs were not the last to sign an African American, that dubious distinction went to the Boston Red Sox, who owner Tom Yawkey who refused to integrate the team until 1959, twelve years after Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson and six years after Banks reported to the Cubs.

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Ernie Banks’ Scouting Report 

Race mattered. Banks grew up in Dallas Texas, then a hotbed of racial hatred, segregation and discrimination. He played in the Negro Leagues, and he served his country in an era when though Truman had desegregated the military, prejudice was still rife. But he overcame by his joy, between his attitude, the love that he spread to people, many little white boys, steeped in the prejudice of their parents, society and upbringing wanted to be Ernie Banks. He helped show white America that we could be one.

Yes, there is still far too much racism and prejudice in this country, but men like Ernie Bank, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Carl Long and so many others helped a lot of young boys learn just how wrong the racial attitudes and prejudice they had been taught was wrong, and should not be part of America.

Banks hit 512 home runs in a Major League Baseball career that lasted from 1953 until his retirement in 1971. The fourteen time All-Star was the first National League player to win the Most Valuable Player award consecutively when he did it in 1958 and 1959. He played 717 consecutive games at shortstop before a knee injury forced him to move to first base. He held the record for most home runs in a season as a short stop for decades, hitting 30 or more in six seasons at the position. His 277 home runs as a shortstop were the most for any player at the position until Cal Ripken passed him. Ripken retired with 345 playing at the position.

Despite his accomplishments he is one of the greats who never played in the post-season, or the World Series, which was his dream. But despite that he never lost his enthusiasm for the game. The story of how he got his legendary tag line “Let’s play two” is fascinating. He told the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Dean:

“It was about 105 degrees in Chicago, and that’s a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, ‘Beautiful day. Let’s play two!’ And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me.”

Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, a fellow Chicagoan, in 2013.

barack-obama-ernie-banks

But he was a man of wisdom as well. He once said something that probably all of us, including me at times, can learn from: “You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.”

With that I wish you a wonderful Sunday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Triumph of Durability: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig and the “Unbreakable” Record

“Whether your name is (Lou) Gehrig or (Cal) Ripken, (Joe) DiMaggio or (Jackie) Robinson, or that of some youngster who picks up his bat or puts on his glove, you are challenged by the game of baseball to do your very best day in and day out. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.” Cal Ripken Jr. 

Before the Orioles and Yankees began their game tonight the Orioles honored Cal Ripken Jr. on the anniversary of the night in 1995 when he broke the record that most thought would never be broken. On September 6th 1995 Ripken played his 2131st consecutive game, eclipsing the record of the legendary Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehrig. Ripken’s consecutive game streak finally ended and 2632 games on September 20th 1998 when he took himself out before a game against the Yankees.

The record is likely to remain for many years as it would take any current player at least 16 years playing every game of the 162 game season to break it. However records are made to be broken and in 1939 no one thought that anyone would break the record set by baseball’s Iron Horse, the great Lou Gehrig.

On April 30th 1939 Lou Gehrig played his final game after playing in 2130 consecutive games. That day he went hitless against the Washington Senators and was obviously struggling. The team travelled to Detroit to begin a series against the Tigers and on May 2nd the Iron Man benched himself.  He had played every day since coming up as a pinch hitter on June 1st 1925 and at the age of 36 Gehrig had still had a respectable year in 1938, even though he felt that something was wrong with him during the last half of the season.

It was a shock to Americans and the baseball world. Gehrig remained with the team but his wife Eleanor contacted Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic. He was examined by Mayo and endured 6 days of arduous medical tests before he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Eleanor instructed the physicians to withhold the full devastating impacts of the disease and while he knew that his playing days were over he thought that he might “need a cane in 10 or 15 years.”

However Gehrig knew that his days were numbered and on the 21st the Yankees announced his retirement. July 4th was proclaimed Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day by the Yankees and a ceremony was held between games of a double header against the Senators that day. His teammates and former teammates gathered with a crowd of over 61,000 fans while numerous dignitaries spoke in his honor. His number was retired and when the the speeches and presentations were complete Big Lou spoke.

The speech is one that will not be forgotten. I remember reading it as a kid when I read a biography about Gehrig in 3rd Grade. I would later see the video of the speech and when I watch it today I am filled with awe and deep emotions, sometimes I even cry. That speech by a dying man is not one of pity but of gratefulness despite the adversity that Gehrig faced.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SKyfGK9brs

Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech 

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. 

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Gehrig kept as active as his condition permitted, serving as a Parole Commissioner for the City of New York until he resigned about a month before his death due to his now greatly deteriorating health. On June 2nd 1941, 16 years to the day that he replaced Wally Pip at 1st Base in the Yankees starting lineup the Iron Horse died at his home. Mayor LaGuardia ordered the flags be lowered to half-staff in the city.

For 56 years Gehrig’s record remained unbroken, but 17 years ago tonight the unbreakable record was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. at Camden Yards against the California Angels.

Ripken’s record of 2632 games will probably not be broken in the next couple of decades if at all. Ripken’s record, as well as Gehrig’s before him are rare. Only seven players in the history of Major League Baseball have played in more than 1000 consecutive games.  The two men forever linked by their extraordinary abilities and durability to withstand the brutal grind of the long and arduous baseball season need to remembered in this day when durability, consistency and stamina are not as appreciated by our society. Now it seems that many are more enamored with flash, glitter and the quick fame or infamy of men and women whose only claim to fame is their ignorance, arrogance and lack of talent.

It is also a night to remember that both Gehrig and Ripken also gave credit to their families, coaches and teammates. In an age when some want to say that they did it all by themselves Gehrig’s words about those that helped him are timeless. I know I know that I haven’t gotten where I am all by myself. I guess that is why I really appreciate both of these men.

Tonight is a night to reflect on long term excellence and to remember both Cal Ripken Jr and Lou Gehrig.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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Pinning on the Gold Bars: 28 Years Later

On June 19th 1983 I was sworn in as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army at the University of California Los Angeles.  I was a history major in college and had actually completed my degree the year prior and played around with Masters level classes as I took my last year of ROTC. I was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and would report for active duty 22 days later at Fort Sam Houston Texas where I would complete the Army Medical Department Officer Basic Course for Medical Service Corps officers, go on to Fort Know Kentucky for the Junior Officer’s Maintenance Course and then in January 1984 head to Germany where I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company Ambulance in a little Kasserne on the Nahe River called Neubrücke.  The rest is history.

Looking back at what the world was like in 1983 is rather interesting. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and George Herbert Walker Bush his Vice President. Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was Speaker of the House.  The internet and the TCP/IP was beginning to take flight as a program of the Department of Defense, Sally Ride had just become the first female Astronaut and the United States sent the Marines into Lebanon as part as a peacekeeping force.  The Soviets were deeply embroiled in Afghanistan while Jedi returned, destroyed the new Death Star, killed the Emperor and Darth Vader while redeeming Anakin Skywalker.

The Cold War was reaching its zenith as the United States using its great economic power built up its military and developed technologies that the Soviets went broke trying to keep up with.

We still wore Olive Green fatigues; the BDUs were just being introduced and the Army still worn Greens sans jaunty Black Beret.

The Billboard Top Singles were led by Michael Jackson who released Billie Jean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBIfLxi5dLo, Culture Club with Karma Chameleon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmcA9LIIXWw, Irene Cara joined in with Flashdance What a Feeling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILWSp0m9G2U, David Bowie came out with Let’s Dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyVjdQXNs9sand the Police had Every Breath You Take http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOGaugKpzs.

The Baltimore Orioles won the 1983 World Series taking down the Philadelphia Phillies in 5 games, Rick Dempsey was the MVP hitting .385 in the series and having a .923 slugging percentage. Dempsey who played across 4 decades as a catcher only hit .233 for his career.  Cal Ripken Jr. made the final putout of the series which was the last that the Orioles have won since then.  In the NFL the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Larry Nelson edged out Tom Watson in the PGA U.S. Open while Jimmy Conners won the U.S Open Men’s Singles championship.

Terrorism, nuclear crises, political scandals and Tsunami in Japan were all part in the news.  AIDS was rearing its ugly head and by 1987 I was working with AIDS patients and dealing with personnel policy for HIV infected Soldiers.

Since that day I can only quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead that my life and career has been “a long strange trip.” I continue to serve in the military only having switched services to the Navy and going from being in the Medical Service Corps where I was a platoon leader, company XO and company commander as well as Brigade Adjutant to being a Chaplain.

Back in 1983 I had no intention of going into the ministry but somehow the Deity somehow worked that out much to my surprise.

Finally a mere six days after being commissioned I would marry the love of my life Judy Keiser and well somehow she has put up with me 28 years and hasn’t killed me yet, not that she didn’t want to a few times. Now we deal with a geographic separation due to my assignment after missing far more wedding anniversaries and birthdays than we have been together in our 28 year marriage.

Anyway, the future is still to be written and this long strange trip promises to go on. As Captain Kirk said in Star Trek VI “People think the future means the end of history, well, we haven’t run out of history just yet.” I don’t think that I have either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11: A Baseball Fantasy

Since Baseball season is upon us, at least spring training is here I have decided to re-post a series of articles that I started last summer. They are kind of a spiritual fantasy involving faith and baseball with Jesus and his “team” intervening in my life. It’s kind of like my personal Field of Dreams story. The first few have been posted before but I am doing a bit of editing to each and plan to continue the story throughout the spring and summer.


One of my customs on my way to work is to stop by my local 7-11 for a cup of French Vanilla Coffee with 3 French Vanilla coffee creamers, course brown sugar and a packet of Splenda when I pick up my garden salad which I consume for lunch at work.  It is always a nice break for me on the way to work to smell the fresh coffee and take the time to prepare my cup of coffee exactly the way that I like it, which by the way before Iraq was not like this.  Back before Iraq I always drank it black with no cream or sugar but alas all good things…right?  Anyway as I was saying on this particular day I went to my neighborhood 7-11 to get my coffee and my salad the usual blue collar crowd was getting their coffee as I walked in with my orange and black trimmed retro-Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Junior jersey and home black and orange billed cap with the traditional Oriole on the front.  I am a stickler for tradition and though every major league team have caps that little resemble the on the field caps in various colors and designs I refuse to wear any but the authentic head gear, preferably a New Era Wool 59/50 fitted cap or the 39/30 batting practice cap.  This kind of sets me apart from most customers who if they wear baseball gear wear the non-regulation stuff of winning teams like the Yankees or Red Sox but I digress.

On this particular morning there was a man that walked in as I was preparing my cup of coffee a man walked up beside me.  He was about 5’ 8” and looked like that he was from Lebanon or somewhere else in to Middle East.  I say Lebanon because I have known many Lebanese my mind went that way.  I noticed that his hands were rough hewn and had some very nasty looking scars in them and he wore a pair of sports sandals much like the kind that I wear from which I could see some scars on either foot.  He was wearing what appeared to be a retro “Cooperstown Classic” California Angels “CA” cap with the red bill and halo as well as a late 1960s or early 1970s Angel’s jersey which appeared to be game worn with the number “7” sewn on the back.

As I put my first creamer into my coffee he turned and looked at me and asked “Orioles fan?” Now I frequently get comments about whatever baseball apparel that I wear, especially the Orioles and the comments general reflect a certain pity due to the sad state of the franchise and especially the performance this year.  I said “Yes sir, one of the faithful.”

He chuckled and said, “Someone has to remain faithful to the Orioles, God love ‘em, they have been a great franchise and all of great teams the Hall of Famers that they have produced.” He shook his head “You just keep being faithful, they’re just going through some pretty hard times right now….by the way, I’m a baseball fan too, would you guess an Angels’ fan?”

“We’ll sir that goes without saying; I don’t think that I have seen a game worn 1970s Angels’ jersey since my dad used to take us to the “Big A” to see them as kids.  We went to games down there all the time; it’s where I really came to love the game of baseball.”

“Yes my friend there is something special about baseball, it’s really good when dads get their kids involved in the game.” He paused.  “Oh the jersey, this jersey does date me a little; I’ve always been an Angels’ fan, even before they were in Anaheim.”

“So you were a Los Angeles Angels fan too?”

“We’ll yeah, in a way, but even before that considering that I created them.”

I was tearing the foil top off of the third creamer when he said that and I kind of lost control of the container and spilled in on the stainless steel counter.  As I stood there feeling quite inept he said, “Sorry man, my fault I’ll get that” and as my wondering eyes stared in disbelief he waved his rough hewn and scarred hand gently about a foot off of the counter and to my amazement the white creamer disappeared from the countertop revealing a perfectly clean and shiny surface as the little blue cup that it was in sailed into the trash receptacle’s round hole in the top of the counter.

He continued to talk as he poured a cup of 7-11 “Heavenly Blend” coffee into a 24 ounce cup, and another 24 ounce cup and yet another 24 ounce cup handing them to other customers as he did so and miraculously the coffee pot remained full as he kept pouring until all the customers and counter staff each had a cup of coffee. “So anyway like I was saying back when I created the Angels baseball was different, no steroids, players stayed with a team forever unless perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.  If it wasn’t then you never knew what might happen.”

I stood by dumbly looking at this diminutive man with the scarred hands and feet pouring out cup after cup of coffee from the bottomless pot of coffee and I was I was quite impressed with his performance and said: “Sir that is impressive I’ve never seen the pot remain full like that before though being poured out into many cups, 24 ounce cups at that.”

He chuckled and said “Steve, I tell you what it’s all in the wrist, all in the wrist.” His eyes sparkled in amusement at my dismay as I stammered “But how did you know my name?”

“But I should since you know me.”

“I know you?” I asked. “Have we served together in the military?”

“No not that, kind of like Church work, you kind of work for me even though you’re in the Navy.”

“How did you know I was in the Navy?”

“Well duh… Steve, this is Norfolk, what else is here?” Looking at me with a amused but slightly more serious glance he said “Hey, I helped get you in the Navy when the Army told you to pound sand about going onto active duty.”

“You weren’t my recruiter, or the Chaplain that interviewed me and you are way too short to be my old bishop.”

“Think higher and bigger Steve, let your mind open up a little bit.” He paused “Like you did notice my hands and feet didn’t you?”

“Well yeah…but I really haven’t woken up until I get that first cup of coffee in me and well a lot of people have scars on their hands….” And then it hit me.  “Oh, my God, you’re Jesus.”

“Of course I am and yes I am your God, so you’re right there too…it took you a little bit now you’re cooking with gas.”

“But this is like 7-11?”

“Yeah I know, I like the coffee and the people are pretty down to earth, they tend to appreciate when someone does something nice for them, even if it is God.”

“We’ll I come here for the same reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve learned something.” He paused, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Finish foo-fooling your coffee and come with me; I want you to meet some of my friends.”  He turned and said to May the Filipina behind the counter “May, how much do I owe you for everything?”

“Mr. Jesus sir that is $84.35 with tax” said the short and slightly heavy set lady at the cash register.

“May, put it on the card” said the Lord.

“You got it Mr. Jesus” said the cheery Filipina at the register and without any transaction that my failing eyes could see the cashier rang up Jesus and miraculously the bill was paid in full. Since this Padre Steve believes in miracles but is not necessarily seeing them at 7-11 in as many varied forms as the rather unbiblical, or shall I say rather earthy and dare I say contemporary looking Lord was performing in my humble neighborhood 7-11.

“You know her?”

“Of course I do Steve, I know my people and I love them, didn’t you read that in your Bible somewhere?”

Well…uh…yes I think I have….somewhere in the Gospels, I am never good at quoting chapter and verse.”

“Unless it is the latest Tides box score, right?” The look got me, it was like the look when I would say the same thing to Judy. Crap.

“Jesus, that’s really not fair, you do that too I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but you can’t get away from it and you’re a Priest; or do I have to remind you?”

“I guess.”

“That’s better, thank you, let’s meet my friends.”

I walked out the door and a number of guys who also looked a tad on the Lebanese or Arabic side of the house were gathered around an extended Chevy suburban.  I looked at the vehicle and asked Jesus “this belongs to you?”

The Lord drew the brim of his cap back revealing a bit of his forehead shook his head and said “Steve, Steve, I own everything, but this belongs to Peter over there, he has a thing for them.” A burley man with a pony-tail, curly flowing beard a tattoo of a fish on his forearm and a New York Yankees cap waved at me and said “Dude, where does Jesus know you from, you and that loser Orioles gear that you have on.” A number of others in Yankee caps laughed and slapped the big man on the back.

“Peter, remember the first shall be last, one day what comes around goes around, don’t forget the CBS years in New York.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that boss, that sucked, we didn’t win anything back then.”  The men around in Yankees caps also stopped laughing and looked down.

“Anyway, Steve, meet the boys, you’ve already met Peter, but this is James and his brother John” both wore Oakland Athletics caps and matching Kelly green T-shirts, “they call them the sons of thunder because of their hitting ability, some call them the Bash brothers but don’t tell Canseco and McGuire, I think they have a patent on that.”

I extended my hand “nice to meet you” and the brothers greeted me in a cheery manner.

“Over here is Old James, some people call him the elder and he’s not got much left in the legs but is a good DH.” He paused and looked across the way where on the other side of the hood of the suburban two other guys stood, one had a Red Sox hat, another a Reds cap and one a Nationals hat.  “Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, this is Steve, he’s a brother.”

One of the young men a bit on the thin side wearing the Nationals hat called out “Brother! Jesus how can you say that? Can anything good come out of Baltimore?”

“Nat, knock it off until Strasburg and Storen win you a pennant you ain’t got room to talk.” He looked to the front of the store where a number of others talked among themselves eating breakfast burritos and drinking coffee.  “Hey guys come and introduce you to Steve; he’s a Navy Chaplain and a Priest.”

“Priest huh? I doubt that he’s got an Orioles jersey on” called out a smallish man in a Cubs hat.

“Steve forgive him, he doubts everyone.” Looking at the Cubs fan he said “Thomas must you, haven’t we had this talk already?” He then introduced the others.  One was a man without a ball cap that was wearing a sports jacket and had a briefcase. “This is Matthew, our tax attorney, used to work for the IRS, glad to have him in the front office, not everyone needs to be on the field do they buddy?” Jesus pointed at another one of the men and said “this over here is Simon the Zealot.” Simon wore a Tigers cap and Jesus looked at me and said “he’s pretty fanatical plays hard every day, a lot like Ty Cobb.”  Another was beside these men, a man in a Cardinals cap, rather quiet and reserved looked up and said hello to me. Jesus said “that’s Thaddeus, he’s a Rays fan, forgot his cap today.”

I looked at Jesus and said “don’t you have twelve guys on the road squad?”

Jesus wiped his brow as the sun began to heat up the porch of the 7-11 and said “oh yeah, let me show you some pictures they aren’t here today.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of a shifty looking man wearing a Dodgers’ cap and matching jersey, game worn.  “This is Judas, he used to handle the money on road trips, got us into a bunch of trouble and wouldn’t you know it took money to double cross the boss. I really loved him but knew that he would try something, in fact last spring we were out here and had a light breakfast over at Krispy Kreme.”

“The one on Virginia Beach Boulevard?” I asked.

“Jesus replied “that’s the one partner, love them when they have the hot original glazed don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and Jesus continued. “You see I trusted Judas with a lot but the guy was greedy. He tried to say that I was doin’ ‘roids to get on the good side of some the worldly management type in the Jerusalem Lions organization, he wanted to get a good job and turned me in to do it.  It wasn’t right, didn’t do nothing but you know about the plans of the Big Guy.”

“God the Father.”

“Well, yeh who do you think that I listen too?” Anyway before he took the 30 grand for his effort he dunked his donut in my coffee and took off when he knew that I knew. Of course they arrested me and didn’t even put the case to a real judge but a bunch of legislators, lawyers and preachers.  Well, the poor guy felt badly when they convicted me and hanged his self from the Ebbets Field foul pole when they wouldn’t take the money back or let me go.  It was sad my friend, just sad.”

“But you did get a draft pick for him didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Matthias was one of the picks, he actually made the starting team, the guys liked him and choose him while I was away and of course there’s the other player that I picked up, took him right off the other team like the Yankees did Johnny Damon a few years back.”

“Is that Paul?” I asked as I looked at the picture of an elegant looking man in a Padres’ uniform.

“Sure the heck is buddy, and that guy was a find, not much of a sense of humor but a trooper on the road sometimes hard to work with but one of the best eyes for a pitch, especially after the scales came off that you could imagine, great judge of talent even though Barnabas, another All-Star mind you had a falling out with him.  Heck he even wrote a lot of the rule book. He calls him as he sees them; he even called Peter on the carpet at a big shindig. Didn’t he Pete?”

Peter mumbled something under his breath and looked away.

“You gotta love guys like Pete, heck I even gave him a set of keys, he’s not perfect but I trust him” Jesus said as he looked me in the eye.

“So with all of these all stars why do you want someone like me?”

“Steve, come on how long have you known me now? Most of your life isn’t it?”

I looked down and said, “Yeah Lord, it’s been a long time.”

“Have I given up on you partner?”

“No.”

“When you were going through all those hard times and wondered where I was when you came back from Iraq and got all agnostic. Did I give up on you?”

“No Lord.”

“Stop with the Lord stuff, I get that all the time back at the ranch, since you say that God speaks to you through baseball, you can consider this a little encouragement and you can call me ‘Skip’ if you want but lay off the Lord thing once in a while, I’m pretty secure in who I am.”

“Okay Skip.” I looked up at him and like a good manager talking to a no name journeyman he put his hand on my shoulder and said “don’t forget just who you are playing for, do well but know that you belong on my team. I have some plans for you.”

I’ve been a Priest and chaplain for what seems like forever but I felt like a rookie pitcher on the mound getting the talk from the manager to make sure that I had my stuff together. Maybe I needed it. I looked at my watch.

“Oh Lord, I mean Skip I’ve got to get to work, I’m going to be late as it is.”

Jesus smiled at me, waved his hand and the sun went back a little way to the east and I looked at my watch and the time was nearly a hour earlier than it was just a few seconds before.

“Thanks Skip, that really helps.”  I stuttered in true thanksgiving as I knew that no one would believe this story in a million years.

“Steve you take care, do good, I’ll keep checking on you. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your butt down on the grounders and stay in front of the ball. Take care of the rookies and make sure that the veterans in their declining years get the recognition that they deserve and don’t forget their families, they matter too.  Keep spreading the good news too, so much bad news around the earth even I had to turn off all the Cable News channels, even the one that says that they are fair and balanced, so much negativity it makes your head swim.”

I began to walk to my car and Jesus said, your coffee is probably cold by now so go get a refill on me and don’t worry about the time I just opened the HOV to all traffic, the Downtown tunnel is clear and there’s a glitch in the State Troopers radar systems.

I offered my profuse thanks, especially for the help in the traffic and as I took off the lid to my refill mug I noticed that it was full of fresh hot coffee just the way I liked it.  Jesus and the boys got into the extra large Suburban with Peter behind the wheel Thomas loaded a couple of equipment bags in the back of the truck and as they pulled out I shouted out “just where are you guys going now?” Jesus rolled down his window and said “Dyersville Iowa, I hear they have a special baseball field there and some great players too.”

“Skip, I think that you’ll like it there, I’ve played catch there with Judy.”

“Thanks Steve and take care, I’ll get you a T-Shirt.” With that Peter put the truck in gear and they exited the parking lot onto the street leading to I-264 and as they rolled down the road the Suburban disappeared in a vapor trail and they were gone.

I got into my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V put the coffee in the cup holder and closed the door. I said a quick prayer of thanks and turned the key.  “What a deal, it’s not every day that you meet Jesus in 7-11.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, christian life, faith, Religion

29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Military, Tour in Iraq, US Navy