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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”