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

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

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

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

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

Downtown Stockton

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

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

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

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

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

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

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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An Anti-Christ does Funeral Homes, Walk-Offs, Donuts and Banks and Visits His Dad

Note: To fully understand the reference to me being the Anti-Christ, please see my posts “Saturday Morning Distractions-Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Door” https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/04/04/saturday-morning-distractions-jehovahs-witnesses-at-the-door/ and “So This is What it Feels Like to be the Anti-Christ…Cool.” https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/so-this-is-it-what-it-feels-like-to-be-the-anti-christcool/

While I may be the Anti-Christ to the Witnesses this in no way implies that my dad is the Devil, well again dad was in the Navy, donated a ton of blood and loved his country.  Peace, Steve+

Today started out a bit weird.  Being the Anti-Christ can lead to some interesting situations. The juxtaposition of various events that occur when you are travelling as well as dealing with really serious matters that deal with the end of life get strange.  It’s almost like I am living a Seinfeld episode.  As you know I am out working with my mom and brother to take care of various end-of-life issues, funeral arrangements, financial matters, hospice and the nursing home.

Anyway, yesterday I spent the morning with my dad and then in the afternoon took my mom to De Young Funeral Home in Mudville. This is a trip that she had planned to take with a friend to make pre-arrangements but her friend had the audacity to suddenly die before they could make the trip.  Since then my mom has been putting it off as my brother has not had the time to go with her.  Let’s face it, this is not everyday stuff and can be quite upsetting when you are not in good shape and have to do it for your spouse as well as yourself.  Thankfully I have been through this before working with my wife to make arrangements for her parents.  My mom had no idea all that went into making these arrangements, especially for cremation. Thankfully the De Young people are really good.  The manager there, aptly named Mr. Nice was really good in helping my mom and was fittingly very nice.  My mom was not happy about my father’s desire to be buried at sea.  However, as a retired military wife she is also eligible for this just as if she was being interred with him at a National Cemetery.  When she found out that there was the possibility of burial off the coast of San Diego with my dad, she had a noticeable change of heart.  We were stationed there when I was kid and she always remembers it as one of their best tours in the Navy.  We agreed that when the time comes that they will be buried together at sea from a Navy ship.  It is fitting for a couple who spent 20 of the best years of their life in the Navy to be honored in this manner.  Thankfully as an active duty Navy Chaplain I will be able to arrange the details on the Navy side.  This being accomplished mom and I got dinner and went back to her house.

After resting for a while I went out to the living room where mom was watching the Giants play the Nationals.  It looked bad for the Giants. In the top of the 7th the Nationals took a 7-5 lead.  The Giants for one back in the bottom of the 8th on a Benji Molina home run and held the Nationals in the top of the 9th.  The first two batters went down and the Giants were down to their last out trailing 7-6. The Edgar Rentaria singled up the middle. Emmanuel Burris followed with single putting runners on first and second.  Pablo Sandoval, who in the 7th tripped on the base path trying for a triple came to the plate. I looked at mom and said. “Time for the walk off.”  Mom said “I hope somebody does something.” Somehow I knew going into the inning and even after the second out that Giants would win.  There is something special about this team that the experts don’t see.  I knew they were going to win. The count went to 2 and 2 when Sandoval blasted a shot over the left field wall.  It was the kind of home run that the instant that it was hit that you know is gone.  Sandoval was mobbed by his team mates as he crossed the plate.  Walk offs like that are part of the baseball magic which the Deity Herself has given us.

This morning my mom, Jeff and I went to the bank to take care of administrative issues dealing with the family trust, an adventure that took almost two hours but again was helpful.  A young lady was quite helpful and again though it took time she made it comparatively easy.  Following this I was once again blessed when visiting my dad.  Today it took more work but I was able to keep engaged for about 20 minutes before putting him in bed.  We talked about baseball and the Navy once again; I described the walk-off from last night.  He still does love the Giants.  We talked about the Navy, specifically Navy uniforms.  He was happy to hear that I wore brown shoes with my khakis and that the Navy was possibly going to bring back the Dress Khaki.  This was one of his favorite uniforms.  I was also able to get Judy on the cell phone for him.  He had really taken to her over the past 7 or 8 years following the death of his mother who Judy was quite close to.  He had asked about her on both of my visits and it was good for them to talk, even if only for a couple of minutes.  I do hope that they will see each other again.

So anyway while most of this does not really fit as un-Anti-Christlike, I was reminded once again today that I am the Anti-Christ; or according to the Jehovah’s Witness one of the many such nefarious creatures.  Can you spell “Beast?”  However as I have noted in other posts I have a high rank among the multitude of Anti-Christ’s.  I am first and foremost a Priest and according the Witnesses all Christian ministers are Anti-Christ’s.  Second I am a Navy Officer serving the government which according to the Witnesses is of the Devil.  Finally I am a chaplain in a Naval Medical Center ICU which routinely tanks people up with blood and blood products. I am like Osama Bin Laden or maybe even Hitler to the Witnesses.

I picked up some Donuts for us at the Mudville “Donut King” on Pacific Avenue. Those not from California really don’t understand really good donuts. We have a lot of “mom and pop” donut shops out here.  Donut King I think is the best in Mudville. I have been going to them since I was in high school. If you go down to San Clemente there is “Surfin’ Donuts.”  These are belly busters; there is enough sugar and fat in these things to fully charge the youth of a third world village to the point where they would need to be put on Ritalin. Add some coffee and we’re cooking with gas. These mom and pop stores put all the chain donut shops to shame.  Of course the hot and fresh “Krispy Cremes” are to die for, but all other donuts are also-rans compared to these.  As I came out of the 7-11 near my parent’s house with my 24 ounce French Vanilla coffee with 4 French Vanilla creamers and 4 Spenda’s, a man got out of a Mercedes Benz SUV.  I thought at first that he was a business man stopping in for coffee when he strode up to me and out came the Watchtower. I was momentarily surprised and he said “Would you like to hear the good news about Jehovah?”  I looked at him and said very bluntly, “No thank you, I’m the Anti-Christ” and continued walking to my car.  The look on his face was hysterical; you would have thought that I had hit him upside the head. He was stunned.  As I got into my car I saw him slink back into the passenger side of the Mercedes, a fine automobile, I must say, as the other occupants, a man and two women glared at me.  Obviously they were going to wait for another target, so I drove off.  It is so cool to be the Anti-Christ to these guys.  Some of my former Fundamentalist friends on Facebook probably think similar thoughts but might at least grudgingly admit that I might get to heaven. If they would admit me I might be out in the visitor’s bullpen but at least I’d be there.  The Witnesses don’t even give me the chance at Hell since they don’t have one. Guys like me get to be instantly annihilated, do not pass go do not burn in Hell. Dante would not be impressed.  So, what the hell?  I’ll have to chat about this with the Deity Herself tonight over a beer.

As always I thank you for your prayers, kind words and thoughts.  Still some more left to do here.

Peace, Steve+

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