Tag Archives: football

Super Bowl LII: A Championship Game for a Dying Sport

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was the Super Bowl which I watched with friends at Gordon Biersch. Truthfully watching football for me is more a reason to hang out with friends as the game of American Football lost its magic for me years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well played, competitive, and exciting game; but truthfully I find most NFL games including many Super Bowls to be less than exciting. The hype about the games, the entertainment build up to them even in the regular season, the unending year road coverage and replays of games played the previous season, not to mention the faux patriotic military displays often paid for by our tax dollars make me tired. I agree with conservative columnist George Will, a Baseball man like me that “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

I have always been a Baseball fan. While American football is simply a game to me, Baseball is a religion.

For me NFL football, with the except of the glory years of the San Francisco 49ers with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, and coach Bill Walsh is not that special. Tonight’s game was a great game in which the underdog led by an unheralded backup quarterback complete a Cinderella Story, but for the most part the magic is gone.

My lack of real interest in the NFL has nothing to do with the abilities of today’s players; they are outstanding and player for player probably superior to the men who played before them. Nor does my disinterest have anything to do with the kneeling controversy which who I support because ultimately it has to do with the First Amendment. I think that as long as players are forced to be in the field that if they take a knee to protest injustice rather than standing while being even more disrespectful by scratching their ass or balls while acting completely disinterested during the playing of the National Anthem. I find the latter much more disrespectful and offensive than players that take a knee to protest real injustice, but I digress, I chased a rabbit there.

For me the fact is that despite the speed and violence of individual plays the pace of game is incredibly slow and the officiating seems to get worse every year and this is compounded by rules, such as what constitutes a completed pass, that are so subjective as to be a joke. I could go into other criticism of the NFL, it’s culture of violence, and of profit over the welfare of its players; especially over how it has treated its veteran players and their medical issues, particularly CTE and other brain injuries which are cutting short the lives of so many players. While the President of the United States mocks rules designed to protect players, this does matter; this is a game for God’s sake people shouldn’t die or have their lives shortened because they played it and played it well.

When I look at football and its future I see a dying sport. It won’t die tomorrow or even in the next decade but the game itself has to change or die. Tonight’s one that took a player off the field was a concussion injury to New England receiver Brandin Cooks.

The Patriots were denied their 6th Super Bowl title when Tom Brady fumbled with just over two minutes left in the game. They lost to time against a very tough yet under appreciated Philadelphia Eagles team led Nick Foles, by a quarterback who had been written off by most football commentators. Foles not only had a great post season, but a very good Super Bowl, even catching a touchdown pass.

For a Super Bowl, so many of which are disappointing this was a very good one, the underdog won. Philadelphia finally got a Super Bowl title. Their offense pounded the Patriots and in the end their defense sealed the deal breaking up Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass to Rob Gronkowski with not time left on the clock. While for me it will never have the magic of “The Drive” of the 49ers but it was a great game, especially because New England and the Belichick-Brady cult lost, not that there is anything wrong with that.

I watched it wearing my full Bayern Munchen kit, Thomas Mueller jersey, with matching sweats. Honestly I enjoy watching European, particularly German Bundesliga football to American football. Let’s face it, American football is much close to up-armored Rugby than it is real football because the only people allowed to use their feet on the ball are kickers, punters, and players acting as a kicker or punter; if a regular player kicks the ball during the game it can be a penalty. Really, if players can’t kick the ball how can it be football? That’s no criticism of the players or this Super Bowl, it’s just my opinion. Maybe for truth in advertising the NFL should call the game Gridiron Ball or Up-Armored Slow Paced Rugby. Admittedly that may not help ticket sales or even more television and advertising revenue but it would be more truthful, and who but the President doesn’t like the truth.

Congratulations to Nick Foles and the Eagles. They deserved this win.

Until tomorrow and reality,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under football, Loose thoughts and musings, sports and life

Your Actions Speak so Loud… A Meditation on Faith and Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back when I was in high school sophomore I made a dumb decision to try to play football. I should have stayed with baseball, but football was cool, and despite the fact that I was too small the be competitive as a lineman and too slow and unskilled to be a good running back, receiver, or defensive back, and not strong enough to be a solid linebacker I went out for our sophomore team. I showed up for ever practice but I really didn’t have the instincts needed to play the game, and no-matter how much I showed up for practice I didn’t get to play until our line coach, Duke Pasquini, nailed me. 

When I complained that he wasn’t playing me after we lost a big game by an embarrassing score he told me “Steve, your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.” That infuriated me so I yelled and him and he said “I can’t hear you.” Eventually after a minute or so of this back and forth his words sunk in. I went out to practice that day mad as hell, and in a pass rush drill I got around a player who I had never beat before and tackled the coach. As we got up he said “now I can hear you.” Now I still wasn’t very good, but I did get a few plays in during each of our last three games and even got in on a couple of tackles. After the season we had our team banquet where to my surprise our coaches and players named me the most inspirational player. That is usually an honor reserved to people who are dying or injured who inspire others by overcoming or enduring their hardships. Honestly, in my case I think it was because I was so bad and untalented that nobody thought I would even make the team, and that they were surprised I didn’t give up and that I learned to do more than show up expecting that showing up would be enough to get me into the game. That year I learned that my heart, soul, mind, and body had to be into the game. That was something that Coach Pasquini taught me, and it is something that I have done my best to apply to the rest of my life, including my spiritual life.

When I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s I began a journey to the catholic faith. One of my favorite theologians and authors was Hans Kung, one of the great theologians to come out of the Vatican II era. Kung once wrote something that really was at the heart of what Coach Pasquini t me. Kung wrote: “In the last resort, a love of God without love of humanity is no love at all.” 

I have found that there are many people who profess a love of God but who hate humanity. They despise their neighbors, crush the poor, and strive to ensure that they are as powerful politically, socially, and economically as they can be. They show up at church, they say all the right prayers, and hold the doctrines of their denominations as tight as a boa constrictor would hold its prey and as perfectly as an elite Soviet era figure skate could do a triple axel double toe loop combination, but they hate their neighbors. 

Of course they would never admit to that, but their actions speak louder than their words. Sadly, the Jesus they profess to believe in would not be welcome in their circles. He hung out with the wrong crowds, including women, gentiles, sinners, and tax collectors, he preached about them in the synagogue, and he even got angry once in a while to the point of flipping the tables of the money changers at the entrance of the Temple. When a rich young man asked him what he needed to do to get to heaven, Jesus asked him what about the commandments. The man said that he had followed them his whole life. Jesus then told him that he needed to give all his stuff away to the poor and follow him. The man was sad, because he, like the majority of American Christians liked his stuff better than the risk of following Jesus. 

Every day I learn more of what it is to be an incarnational Christian, I that I try to let God’s love for others influence how I treat them. Honestly, I don’t do it as well as I should. I’m basically a Mendoza Line Christian trying to stay in the game, but that makes me work harder. 

So until tomorrow, may we all try to let our actions speak louder than our preaching. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

Eagles Cowboys Football .JPEG-0a50b

“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls-2

It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

459727235-957

Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

011313-6-NFL-Texans-Gary-Kubiak-OB-PI_20130113233221785_660_320

Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

jasonjerry

Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under football, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events

It’s the Footballcalypse! The NFL Referee Strike Strikes Back

If I was swimming in gasoline with a lit blowtorch I couldn’t have immolated myself better than the NFL has managed to do over the past few weeks. Yes it is the Footballcalypse, that time when the religious faith of millions is put to a test greater that the Apocalypse or the Obama Presidency.

But how could this happen?  The NFL is the bomb; it is the pinnacle of American religious life. For crying out loud more people tune in to the NFL on any given Sunday than show up in church. The NFL Shield was the most trusted icon in America and then poof, Roger Goodell began to blow it up.  Like the Anti-Christ in the Left Behind movies he had it all, and now he is bringing down the wrath of Khan on the institution that was as solid as the shield that is its symbol.

To think that it all began because the league couldn’t cut a chump change deal with the Referee union. Sure those guys are part time employees and no one buys their jerseys but still they are like the big toe of football. Sure you can walk without a big toe, but it isn’t a pretty sight, kind of like the officiating of the NFL right now. Sure the refs are part time employees that make more money than most Americans including me do in a year, but this is the NFL. It is a religious faith, more important to most Americans than their own jobs, healthcare or national security.

Obviously Goodell and the owners didn’t think that they needed a big toe. Sure the religious fans would still come out and pack the stadiums, watch the games on TV and buy the merchandise, they wouldn’t care about officiating. After all what could go wrong? Anyone can call a holding penalty, I have done it myself when I watch those replays on TV with angles and views that no on field official could ever hope to match. Illegal motion, easy, clipping, no problem, hooking and boarding? Easy, a balk, you bet, a double fault or goaltending, any of those tricky calls that an NFL referee would have to make anyone with half a brain tied behind their ass could call.

After all, a few bad calls aren’t going to affect the game or the season. Certainly there won’t be any calls that let’s say are wrong and hand victory to a team that didn’t deserve it. It could never happen, even the washed up former college, high school and Pop-Warner referees couldn’t mess up calls that could cost potentially a team a playoff berth or home field advantage. Certainly they couldn’t make calls that would be so bad that even die-hard Green Bay Packer fans want to walk out in fury.

But they did and now unless something happens soon to change things we will witness the Footballcalypse of 2012. Could it be that the Mayan Calendar was actually referring to the NFL? It is possible. Maybe we just misinterpreted it.

NFL Replacement Referee making the Secret I Love Satan sign

Well things are bad my dear readers, things are bad. They are so bad that I actually switched my TV to the watch the last few minutes of the Packers-Seahawks game last night just to see if it was as bad as my football fans were saying ti was. Sure enough I was rewarded for my effort. Within minutes of changing the channel the Seahawks quarterback threw one of those Catholic prayer passes into the end zone against the Packers who were ahead. When the ball came down it was as if God had answered the prayers of the Packers fans, but then it was like Satan himself came down and took victory out of their hands. The Seahawks were ruled to have possession of the ball even though it looked like the Packers defender had the ball and that the Seattle receiver was interfering. By all means it looked like the Packers had won the game, but then, the lack of a real big toe was obvious to all.  The artificial referees decided that the Seahawks had the ball and scored a touchdown. The place went crazy, it was like the end of a WWE cage match.

It has gotten so bad that big union fans like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Congressman and GOP Vice President Nominee Paul Ryan are demanding that the real union referees return. I never thought that I would see either on the side of the oppressed workers and turn their backs on the the NFL owners, the very top 1% of the top 1%. But then true faith my friends is important to these men. They are men of values whose faith in their Packers and the NFL for they stand, one Packer nation, under God and Lombardi, indivisible with liberty and victory in the NFC Central for all. Belief matters and above all politics both are Packers fans who saw their team get screwed on the final play of the game and they didn’t have a morning after pill available to change the result.

I think that if the NFL wants to deceive their faithful by putting on this kind of show they should at least have the good sense to hire someone who knows how to play that game. Yes, they need to hire Vince McMahon of the WWE, throw out the rules and put a cage around the field.

I for one have to stand up and like an Old Testament prophet on the wall shout the alarm. Lo’ the Footballcalypse is coming! Repent and turn back to baseball before it is too late and all of the money that you spent on your fantasy team is lost.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under faith, football, News and current events

The Myth of Excitement in the NFL: It’s Really about Violence and Meetings not Action

“Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” George Will 

I am always amazed when I hear football diehards knocking baseball for supposedly being “boring” or “slow.”  Allegedly according to the football enthusiasts that knock baseball football is fast paced and exciting.  Well for an average of 11 minutes in a typical three hour plus game it is, unless there are two teams that can’t move the football or score.  11 minutes, which is the average time, spent actually playing the game.  11 minutes out of almost three hours of a typical telecast.

So what happens to the rest of that three plus hours?

Can you believe that 17 minutes are spent on replays? Well unless you are watching ESPN where replays sometimes take up to 24 minutes of air time.  Of course commercials take up an hour or more and about 67 minutes is spent on shots of players milling about or hanging around the sidelines.

A typical play takes about four seconds to run and unless you are watching a top team with an outstanding offense going up against an outstanding defense many of those plays will frankly be pretty boring.  Since teams get 40 seconds to run a play and have 3 two minute timeouts a half the percentage of time the ball is in play is minuscule.

In football you can leave the room that you are watching the game and have a quickie with your significant other during the commercial breaks or during one of the two per half challenges that coaches can request.  Of course those can take an ungodly length of time to resolve which results more shots of players sucking oxygen on the sidelines or drinking Gatorade while talking about what they plan on doing after the game or what they plan on “tweeting” after the game.

NFL Football games on average are 17 minutes longer than Major League Baseball games, 3 hours and 7 minutes versus 2 hours 50 minutes for a baseball game, unless the Yankees and Red Sox are playing.  During a baseball game the ball is almost nearly always in play.

Of course there are games where there is real tension where the game goes down to the wire.  Despite the other delays the 11 minutes of action in those games can be amazing.   But for each of those games there are many more that are blowouts where a team plays so badly that only the most diehard fans of that team actually watch the second half.  Then there are the last five minutes of most games where the team that has the lead runs the clock out on the opposing team.  But in baseball it is much more common for a team to come back when things look hopeless because the other team still has to play without the comfort of being able to run out the clock.  Earl Weaver said it the best:

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Now the NFL has been the king of sports marketing in the United States. While baseball may be America’s pastime, football has become its passion.  We have become a football nation.  This is in large part due to the way that the NFL has marketed itself.  First there is the NFL Films which has actually turned out more drama than the vast majority of NFL games.  Then there are the Fantasy Football Leagues which have become almost like a drug in their addictiveness by making people have more than a passing interest in the game.  Fantasy leagues get people personally invested in the game in ways that they never had been in previous years.  Then there are the ways that the NFL has packaged for television.  Why go to the game when you can get a better view at home? Football has also become closely matched with the entertainment industry with major musical acts and stars to open games and high tech shows that promote the game.   It really is quite amazing and to that end you have to hand it to the NFL they are the best at packaging and marketing their product.

So the real difference that I see between football and baseball is how football has managed to create a fiction that it is a game of action and excitement when in fact it is a ponderous game punctuated with a few exciting plays as well as some gratuitous violence.

But then maybe that’s what we like, the violence, to be transfixed as we watch a player have his femur bent in half, or laying on the field unable to move because he has suffered a head, neck or even spinal cord injury.  Maybe we just put it out of our minds that NFL players tend to die young and that many suffer from early onset dementia or that other former player can barely walk.  Then there is the fact that football players who have devoted themselves to the sport since childhood only have on the average a 3.2 year NFL career.  Many leave the game crippled and financially bankrupt within a few years of their “retirement.” To top it off it was only this year that the retired and disabled players that made the game what it now is were provided for in the collective bargaining agreement.  But heck, football is big money and now that we call can have a piece of the action in the Fantasy leagues why do we care what happens to players after their careers are over?

So if a person wants to mock baseball as boring as compared to football they need to look at the facts and also maybe just ask themselves exactly why they think that football is so exciting.  It certainly cannot be the pace of play, so maybe it is the violence.  Maybe that says something about us as individuals and a nation.  I wonder sometimes if the exponential rise of football as a form of entertainment can be correlated to the rise in violent crime and corporate greed.   I haven’t seen any studies about this but it seems to me that as football has risen in popularity so has violent crime, the incivility of our politics and media and the excesses of Wall Street and Corporate America.

You see my beef is not with the players who sacrifice their bodies and health for years just to get to the NFL, men that actually work incredibly hard to reach that pinnacle.  I have the highest admiration for them.  I went to high school with Derek Kennard who played for the then Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys.  I was a trainer on the high school team that he played on after I figured out my sophomore year that I was neither big enough nor fast enough to make it in football and should have stayed with baseball.  Many players are outstanding examples of leadership, determination and make their communities better, the players and especially those that have honed their skills to be the best I have nothing but the highest admiration and teams that perform at the highest levels year after year one can only admire.

No my issue is with the culture that has come to surround the game. It has almost become synonymous with the excess and violence that have come to characterize our American culture.  It’s not that one cannot learn good things from football, teamwork, hard work and leaving everything you have on the field to come out victorious, one can learn a lot of virtues by playing football.  However football is for most of us that are not playing or coaching the game is simply another form of violent entertainment where good men play out our fantasies on the battlefield called the gridiron, it has for some become a religion.

Now other sports can have a nearly religious following, after all I am a member of the Church of Baseball.  But baseball is different, there is a sense that we always have next year that permeates the life of a fan.  Maybe it is the ebb and flow of the 162 game season where even the best teams lose a third of their games that gives us a sense that life does not end when our team loses and the realization that the game is never over until it’s over.

Maybe it is the exaggerated level of importance and emotional investment that many people put into football that sets it apart from other sports.  The legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell made a comment that I think hits the nail on the head.

“The importance that our society attaches to sport is incredible. After all, is football a game or a religion? The people of this country have allowed sports to get completely out of hand.”

Something to think about, don’t you think?

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, football, sports and life

Thoughts on Baseball and the World Series in a Time of National Turmoil

“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.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”  ~Saul Steinberg

“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987

I’m sitting down watching game one of the World Series and as usual the Giants until the bottom of the 5th inning were playing it close in their unique “tortureball” way that drives Giants fans as well as their opponents absolutely nuts.  Now at the end of the 5th they lead 8-2 after beating up the vaunted Cliff Lee for 7 runs in 4.2 innings pitched.  But that is not the point of this article; it is an article about hope in a time of turmoil.  I could write about the Lord being a hope in time of trouble and that is certainly true but unfortunately so many people are using God as a bludgeon against their political opponents I’m not even going to go there. I figure that the Deity is pretty sick of how he or she gets used by people for their own agendas and although I believe with all of my heart that God is a refuge and help in time of trouble.

As anyone that reads this site on a regular basis knows that I am a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and that baseball is much more than a game to me. Yes I love the details, statistics and nuances of this beautiful game played upon that lovely and lush diamond but the game is much more than that it is the heart and soul of America.  I know that Football is now the most popular sport in the country but it is different, it is a sport of combat, speed and violence a sport which while there are lessons that can be learned from it its’ appeal is to our violent and warlike side.

As John Leonard in the New York Times said back in 1975 “Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.Roger Kahn one of the nation’s most gifted sports writers said “Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.”

I think that this year’s World Series is symbolic of the Spirit of this country where we see two great teams that embody all that is good about this country.  There are the stories of excellence in Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, the stories of second chances and redemption in men like Josh Hamilton and Texas Manger Ron Washington recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol, the stories of players cast off by other teams like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff and the stories of young men like Neftali Feliz, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Elvis Andrus, stories of the eccentric epitomized by Giants closer Brian Wilson, natural born Americans and immigrants and so many other stories. These are stories about us, stories that hearken back to the times when Americans actually believed in a good future and were willing to work with each other despite political differences to make it happen.

The teams were not considered among baseball’s elite at the beginning of the season and neither was picked to win their divisions.  Their payrolls pale in comparison to the Yankees, Phillies and even the Cubs and the Rangers were just rescued from bankruptcy by baseball legend Nolan Ryan.  In a time of recession and uncertainty such teams relate to everyday Americans because they seem to be real, made up of flawed people, people that needed second chances and have triumphed.

Both the Rangers and Giants have special fan bases, the Rangers fans epitomize middle America and the Giants fans, well they are as diverse as the city that their Giants represent.

I agree with Bill “Spaceman Lee” who said “I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Baseball is the bell weather of America and a place that we can all go to if we want.  Thankfully it seems that baseball after the gratuitous excess of the steroids era has recovered itself, maybe we will never get back to nickel beer but we can recover our soul as a nation.

In baseball you have opponents, not enemies and while you play them hard you never dehumanize them.  I think that in the poisonous political and social environment of 2010 where political or ideological opponents are no longer fellow Americans that we may differ with but enemies to be defeated destroyed and trampled under violently if necessary.  In baseball there is a decorum that is seldom breeched but in our society such decorum is sadly lacking and there is blame on all sides of the body politic.

Maybe we can learn something as a nation from this World Series which happens to share the national stage with one of the vilest election seasons that I have ever seen where Republicans and Democrats alike share the blame for the mess that we are in.  Maybe we can learn from the game that was with us during our Civil War, through the Great Depression and World Wars, through the social upheaval of the 1960s and the current wars and worldwide economic crisis that has so severely impacted the people of our country.

For me baseball has been there in good times and bad and in the worst and most desolate time in my life, the two years after I returned from Iraq damaged in mind, body and spirit that diamond was the one place that I could find peace.

Here’s to the Rangers and the Giants, the men and their stories and their fans.  I hope that we all learn something from them this year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Why Baseball Matters….There’s nothing bad that accrues from baseball

“Baseball is a habit. The slowly rising crescendo of each game, the rhythm of the long season–these are the essentials and they are remarkably unchanged over nearly a century and a half. Of how many American institutions can that be said?” George Will

“I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill Lee had it right.  In a world filled with the prognostications of politicians, preachers and pundits all with their agendas to “fix” what ails society baseball is the one constant in American life that somehow calls us back to a better time and allows us to realize that bad times don’t last, unless perhaps you are a Cubs fan.  Baseball when you come down to it has no agenda it is not just a game but it is life, American life the way it is supposed to be. Baseball has endured despite strikes and scandals because of what it is and what it embodies and baseball matters to America more than political social or religious ideology.  Baseball is more than a game, it is America.

You see baseball at all levels matters from the Little Leagues to the Major Leagues is a game where talent and hard work teach life lessons.  It is a game but unlike other games it is a game where the past, present and future all matter and as such baseball helps connect us to the reality of life.  It stands apart from the overwhelming cultural impulses of most other sports, the media and the entertainment industries. Winning matters but the integrity of the game matters more which is why when there is a scandal in baseball that the politicians, pundits and preachers all suddenly become experts even if they have never played an organized game of baseball in their life and couldn’t tell a infield single from a fielder’s choice.

So why does baseball matter? Well let’s start with all those politicians, pundits and preachers that promise to “fix” the country on a daily basis.

In the United States of this new millennium we live in a pressure cooker that is being turned up to higher and more uncomfortable levels every day and I think this is in large part due to politicians, pundits and preachers who intentionally play on people’s worst fears and suspicions. For many people there is no relief and no place to go for succor.  The political climate is toxic and destructive, politicians and pundits of all stripes beat the airwaves senseless with their non-stop propaganda and twisting of the truth and it seems that many of the politicians simply desire power for power’s sake rather than being interested in the good of the country.

Pundits make their money by stirring up controversy just as the pundits of the “yellow journalism” era did over a century ago.  Of course some preachers who desire earthy power, popularity and political influence doing the same stirring up the emotions and playing on the fears of their flocks as this keeps the money flowing.  I think that these relationships are incestuous and do more harm to the people of this country than good.  Thus I figure that very few of these people have any interest in bringing peace to the country. Whether it is the Left calling the Right Nazis and Fascists or the Right calling the Left Communists and Socialists, all of which have meaning loaded with fear and emotion the effect is the same on those who cannot escape the ceaseless bombardment of bad news.

Even the most popular sport in the country, Football is a game of the modern industrial age. It is a game of power and open violence fought like a war on a gridiron and bounded by the clock which constrains the game force the players, coaches and fans into a mentality of artificial urgency which often carries over into the way that people do life in general.

Baseball on the other hand is different.  It calls us back to our roots and reminds us that the poisonous ideologies of the politicians, pundits and preachers will not last and as James Earl Jones playing the character of Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams so stirringly put it “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.” Baseball even in its controversies and scandals still hearkens back to times just as trying and poisonous as the present and reminds us that those things which serve to divide us and may for a time hold sway over individuals and society will pass away and that our country still has a future and hope.

Baseball does not rush us along. It teaches us to savor detail and get caught up in the nuances of the game and of life. It is not governed by artificial deadline and if needed takes us into extra innings. No game is ever out of reach and baseball shows us that no matter how far we may be behind that we can come back and there is a fairness in that people can’t just run out the clock on you but have to give you a chance at the plate.

Baseball teaches us perspective and humility for even Hall of Fame members are not perfect. It is the one sport that teaches us a key fact about life; that we will fail often more times than we will succeed…. unless of course you are Mariano Rivera.  It teaches us another fact of life that we need to plan for the long term as the baseball season like life is a long event with many peaks and valleys.  As Andy Van Slyke once said “Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.” It teaches us that we don’t know everything about life or even what we do well in our chosen vocation as Mickey Mantle said “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” Likewise it teaches us to put things in perspective by reminding us that we don’t know everything. Earl Weaver once said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Such an attitude keeps us humble and reminds us that there is always more to learn.  Baseball also teaches us that you can’t live your life in the hopes of making everybody happy by worrying about what people think of how you do what you are called to do.  Tommy Lasorda noted “if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.”

Baseball calls us to be better by teaching us that teamwork and individualism can work together for the good.  It helps teach us that individually we can be better no matter where we begin our life journey from. Satchel Paige said. “Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” Likewise it calls us to community as Harmon Killebrew noted that “Life is precious and time is a key element. Let’s make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own.” It also call us to be better human beings in matters of civil rights and the public good, as the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti said “On matters of race, on matters of decency, baseball should lead the way” something that it began in 1948 with Jackie Robinson well before the rest of America figured this out.

Baseball is about striving to do better and be involved in life as Jackie Robinson said “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

Baseball is about community with the fans, players, owners, management and media all having an interest in the game. It is funny when there is a scandal in baseball it is often viewed more seriously by the public than almost anything else. There are no congressional hearings about pro-football, basketball or hockey because they exist in a different world than baseball. Baseball despite football’s immense popularity as a sport still represents what is traditionally American.  It is a sport where someone can work their way up from nothing and be an All-Star and a sport that takes better care of its players unlike football which has left former players and stars crippled with terrible injuries for life with little assistance from the league and game that they sacrificed their bodies for. Football may titillate our baser gladiatorial instincts but baseball helps define us as people and as a nation more than any institution or sport in the land.

Yes baseball has problems, it is not a game of perfection except for brief moments where a pitcher will throw a perfect game and there have only been 18 of those in the history of Major League Baseball.  That is why it still speaks to many people who can relate to a game that deals with the ups and downs of life better than any other sport. Nothing is guaranteed in life and life can change for the better or the worse in an instant. Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech after he had been diagnosed with ALS is a case in point:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I 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 have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? 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 groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that 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. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Those are just some of the reasons that baseball matters.  This is why George Will can say that “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.” Walt Whitman once said “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

I know of no other sport that can help bring healing to our land which like in times past needs something to cheer about and remind us what is really important in life. You can disagree with me all you want but if tell me if any of this is bad for us after all anyone can argue a call.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion