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Musing on Life as Journeyman on a Lazy Saturday: Billy Chapel, Crash Davis and Padre Steve

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Today is one of those lazy Saturdays where Judy and I, both tired from a long week and watching a winter weather system approach the area have been taking it easy. We have talked, napped, and enjoyed playing with and watching the antics of our dogs Molly and Minnie. Judy has been reading a Kindle book on her I-Pad and I have been sort of puttering around, paying the bills, updating connections on Linked-In and reading the comics online. This afternoon I have been listening to the songs that I linked in my Valentine’s Day article Padre Steve’s Top 25 Lonely Hearts Club Valentine Day Love Songs and musing about life.

Music tends to make be a bit more contemplative and introspective. Some of those songs, as well as the thoughts of the beginning of Baseball Spring Training have led me to muse about my own long strange trip as a long time military officer and chaplain. I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films the classic Bull Durham, the touching and sentimental Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game.

The main characters in each of the films touch me each in a different way. The character of Billy Chapel in For the Love of the Game helps me remember why I keep going and how I want to leave my military career, at the top of my game and ready to move on with life with Judy. Ray Kinsella, the lead character in Field of Dreams is like my dreamer side, the one that sees possibilities that others do not, even those that most people think are foolish. The character also reminds me of how much I miss my dad but know that he is still with me.

Crash-Davis

However, the character of Crash Davis who Costner played in Bull Durham strikes a particular chord in me. Crash is a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league homers. He also spent three weeks “in the show.” I guess what gets me is how much he loves the game and the intensity that he gives it, but also has a sense of humor and knowledge about when to back off the seriousness.

Crash is a consummate professional. He loves the game works hard on his own skills and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience. I can say that his I find a lot of commonality with him.

Crash’s relationship with the young pitcher he is assigned by the organization to help, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from a AAA contract to a single A contract to develop the young bonus baby.  He’s not happy with the job, in fact he is angry at being sent down. Crash is proud, threatens to quit the game but he then takes on the task of dealing with the wild and cocky LaLooshe with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team, which until his arrival was derided by its fans, manager and announcer as “the worst.”

It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as Crash still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of a games if it helps motivate his team and let’s his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.

My life is like a journeyman ball player. I started in the Army, and to use the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.

I left active duty as a Medical Service Corps officer for seminary in 1988. It was like going from playing in the Majors to going to learn a new position in an instructional league. In seminary I entered the Army Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard. When I graduated from seminary and become a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.

The National Guard and Reserve assignments then were the ones that didn’t pay much and involved a lot of travel, long nights and time away from home. The civilian jobs offered little job security or upward as I found out when I lost a contract chaplain job when I was mobilized with Reserves.

When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to Triple A ball. The assignments were better but I was still like playing in the minors as the active duty, especially then often viewed reservists and National Guardsmen as inferiors.  But when I was mobilized to support the Bosnia operation in 1996 to 1997 and then remain on active duty to serve as the Installation Command Chaplain for Fort Indiantown Gap it was like getting promoted to the Major League, however it was with the knowledge that it was a call up not a career. When that time ended and I returned to the reserve it was like being sent back to the minors.

I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career, like that of Crash Davis was destined to end in the minor leagues.

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That changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I reduced in rank and came in with no time in grade meaning that I was starting from scratch with a new slate.  Now all of my experience was still there, but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded between from the American League to the National League in mid season, or is called up from the minors to play on the big team with a clean slate. That to me was the beginning of the Billy Chapel side of my career.

After 17 1/2 years in the Army, going up and down the food chain I have been blessed to serve the last 14 years in the Navy. I am now an old veteran, still a journeyman at heart but I got the chance to go back and live my dream serving as an active duty Navy Chaplain.  I’ve gotten to serve on ship and with the Marines and EOD.  I’ve travelled the world and I’ve gone to war.  I’m not the same as I was as when I started.  I have issues, maybe even the full subscription.

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I have streaks where I am hot and when I am not, I have my slumps. The biggest slump was the struggle with PTSD and a faith crisis that engulfed my life for several years. That is pretty much over now, though I have my moments and flashbacks but things are back to my new normal. I know my limitations now, and like Billy Chapel fighting through his near career ending injury to come back and finish well, I want to do the same.

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I’m somewhat superstitious at times. I am not the same person that started the journey so long ago, but I make do. I guess now my goal is to help the younger guys and gals that are coming up through the ranks, chaplains as well as others. Sometimes this is difficult, I have had to work with some who are potential superstars and others who struggle greatly either due to lack of skills or bad judgement and decision making. I have had others who have seen their dreams in the military ended my injury, wounds, illness or supervisors or commanders that did not appreciate them.

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I know that disappointment but thankfully I can point to several men and women in the course of who have helped me through those times. I have also had men who helped set me up for success through their personal example and the opportunities that they provided me. For all of them I will always be grateful.

The thing is now I’ve been in the military since before many of them were born. In a sense I’m a Crash Davis or Billy Chapel kind of guy.  I love both of those movies and those characters and find inspiration in them.

I hope we can all find something or someone to help connect us to what we do in life.

Peace, Steve+

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Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, Pastoral Care, philosophy

What Makes Padre Steve Tick: My Vocation, Life, Love and Baseball

I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game. The main characters in each of the films touch me each in different way.  Crash Davis and Billy Chapel are players at the end of their careers.  Davis is a career Minor Leagues journeyman who “played 21 days in the show.” and Chapel is other a future Hall of Famer at the close of a final season filled with disappointment.

The character of Crash Davis strikes a particular chord in me.  Crash Davisis a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league home runs, 227 to be exact. The real life Minor League Home Run King is Mike Hessman who played for 15 years in the Minors with a few trips to the Majors and the U. S. Olympic Baseball Team; he had 329 home runs and is now playing in Japan) I have seen Hessman belt numerous home runs and the man is a beast, but I digress…

Davis also played “21 days in the show.” In the film Davis is a consummate professional. He loves and respects the game and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience.  His dealings with Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLooche played by Tim Robbins are case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from his AAA contract to the single “A” Durham Bulls, back when Durham was in the Carolina League in order to help the team develop the young bonus baby.  Crash is not happy with the job, he’s proud, and threatens to leave the team, only to ask his new manager what time batting practice is.

He takes the new assignment on with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team.  It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as he still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of games if it helps motivate his team.  Likewise he is not hesitant to let his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.  The thing that Crash has the hardest time in dealing with his young charge is that he feels that “Nuke” doesn’t respect the game. Respect matters to a professional.

Mike Hessman

The comparison fits for me in more than one way. In a sense my life has been like a journeyman ball player.  I started my military career in the Army almost 30 years ago.  I come from a different generation of military than the vast majority of the Sailors and Marines that I serve with today.  I am “old school” in some ways but have learned to adapt, just as the men who were the old soldiers when I was a young enlisted man and officer. My career has been quite diverse and I have not always done the same job on the same team or at the same level.  I think this is the mark of a true journeyman, to keep playing because you love the game. Mike Hessman is doing that in Japan.

To continue the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.  I left my active career as a Medical Service Corps Captain and transferred to the National Guard to attend seminary. When I graduated from seminary I became a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain.  I did not go on active duty. Back then the reserves were kind of like the minor leagues. Being a Reserve component Chaplain while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.  When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to AAA ball.  When I got mobilized to support the Bosnia operation it was like getting called up during the regular season by the Major League team.  When that time ended and I returned to the reserves it was like being sent back to the minors.  I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career was destined to end in the minor leagues.

That all changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I took a reduction in rank and came in with no time in grade. This meant that I was starting from scratch with a new team.  I had all of my experience but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded or is sent back to the Minors by one team and has his contract picked up by another team in a different league in mid season. His slate is clear; it is a new start with the new team. That is what happened to me.

The analogy also fits because I do not like it when I feel that people do not respect “the game.”  By game of course I mean the vocation of serving as a Military Chaplain as a calling as well as their attitude toward the organization in which they serve. I have little tolerance for clergyman or women who enter the military with better education and natural or God given abilities than me who do not respect the institution, those in it and are out to push their agenda. This is how Crash feels about “Nuke” and I love this exchange from the film:

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I got a what?
Crash Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.
Crash Davis: Christ, you don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well, how would you know? YOU been in the majors?
Crash Davis: Yeah, I’ve been in the majors.

Looking at Billy Chapel, the central character in For the Love of the Game I also find some connection though not quite the same as Crash Davis.  Billy has played the game a long time for the same team, 19 years. He came back from what should have been a career ending injury.  In the film and in the novel he pitches in what for his team is a meaningless last game of the season against the playoff bound Yankees in New York.  The story focuses on this last game, Billy’s relationships with current and former teammates as well as his long term relationship with the team’s owner who is selling the team.  The new management wants to deal Billy to another team in the off season and is asking him if he wants to continue in baseball.

While the game is going on, Chapel knows this is the end and spends a lot of time reflecting on his life, his parents, his World Series appearances and friendships. He thinks about things that have gone well and things that he regrets. He especially regrets his relationship with the woman he loves but has messed up.  While his mind visits these subjects he tries to maintain his focus on the game and block out the thoughts as well as the near hatred of the Yankee fans. “Clear the mechanism….”

The thing that hits me the most is relationship between Billy Chapel and Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston.  I have done a lot in my military career but at the same time have missed a lot of time with Judy.  From 1996-2001 we spent most of 40 of 60 months apart. Since September 11th 2001 we have spent many more months apart. We have only spent 12 of 28 wedding anniversaries together not to mention birthdays and other holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.  So many times Judy has missed the high points of my career and I have missed out on being with her to celebrate her achievements and to be there when times were hard.  But as anyone who serves a full career in the military knows it goes with the game. Chapel’s words to Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston after his perfect game strike a chord with me, I don’t ever think that I have said that I didn’t need Judy, but I spent a lot of my life not needing anybody, so she probably thought at times that I didn’t need her. Thus Chapel’s words to Jane do get me and when I first saw the movie put tears in my eyes:

“I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you’ve risked everything put everything out there. And I’ve done that. I did it my entire life. I did it with the game. But I never did it with you, I never gave you that. And I’m sorry. I know I’m on really thin ice but, when you said I didn’t need you… well last night should’ve been the biggest night of my life, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t because you weren’t there. So I just wanted to tell you, not to change your mind or keep you from going, but just so you know, that I know, that I do need you. “

The second thing that really gets me is where the owner tells Billy Chapel that he is selling the team and tells Chapel that “the game stinks.”  I’ve seen a lot of people throughout my career with that kind of attitude about the Church, the military, their vocation and life in general that I want to scream.  Yes there is much that is not perfect in life and the institutions that we serve, but neither life nor serving God one this country stinks. Chapel’s words back to him echo how I feel about so much of life.

“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.” After all these years I still love the game, my vocation, my service as a chaplain in the military and the young people that I get to work with.

Since coming back from Iraq there have been plenty of times that I have felt like I had nothing left to give. In the times that I was really struggling I made my transfer to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where I ran into a number of guys who were like Chapel’s catcher Gus Sinski (played by John C. Reilly) and let me know that they were not only with me but were going to take care of me:

Billy Chapel: I don’t know if I have anything left.
Gus Sinski: You just throw whatever you got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now!

There are times in life where we think that we have nothing left and when we have people that challenge us and stand with us even painful situations where we don’t think that we don’t think we have anything left to give.

Finally there is the announcer, the legendary Vin Scully calling the game and realizes that something special is going on:

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”

Now I know that I am quite as far down the road career wise as Billy Chapel in the movie, but I do know that I am closer to the end of my military career than I was even a couple of years ago, but the thought that I could be on the last few years does cross my mind a lot.

I guess that there are three major things that I want to accomplish before the end of my military career. I want to take care of all of the people that God gives me and puts in my life.  Second is to help coach the young men and women that I meet along the way, especially clergy and chaplains as well as colleagues and friends, especially when they hit difficult patches.  In one scene Billy Chapel talks to a young player named Mickey Hart (played by Greer Barnes) who made a boneheaded play on a fly ball against the “Green Monster” in Boston.  The young man knows that his flub will be all over the news and chapel advises him:  There’s a bunch of cameras out there right now waiting to make a joke of this, Mick. So you can either stop, give them the sound bite, do the dance. Or you can hold your head up and walk by, and the next time we’re in Boston, we’ll go out there and work the wall together. Don’t help them make a joke out of you.” When I see young guys get in trouble or make mistakes I want to help them get back on their feet, especially the young chaplains and medical professionals that come into my life.

What is funny is that I am as old or older than most of our young Sailors and Marines parents.   I’ve been in the military since before many of the Sailors and Marines were born.  In a sense I’m a Crash Davis and Billy Chapel kind of guy. I want to finish well and have my last season be my best, to go out like Mike Mussina when he retired from the Yankees.

My career isn’t done yet. I should have a few more good years left. I’ll be promoted on September 1st to Commander in the Navy.

I love both films and characters and find a new connection every time that I watch them. I think that it is important when we have lived the often disconnected military life that we find things that help connect us to the people closest to us, those who have often have had to endure our choice of vocation.  Somehow in Her grace the Deity Herself allowed me to find this in baseball and somehow relate it to the rest of my life.  After all, it is for the Love of the Game.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, film, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, sports and life