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“Lancing” the Boil: The Ethical Conundrum Presented by Lance Armstrong

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“Listen, I’ve said it for seven years. I’ve said it for longer than seven years. I have never doped. I can say it again. But I’ve said it for seven years. It doesn’t help. But the fact of the matter is I haven’t. And if you consider my situation: A guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence, why would I then enter into a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.” Lance Armstrong to Larry King and Bob Costas on Larry King Live August 25th 2005 

It appears that Lance Armstrong has confessed to cheating to win his historic 7 Tour de France cycling championships. Using a sophisticated means of blood doping he sometimes with the cooperation of his teams he, like the majority of the high level competition cyclists of his era used an illegal but often hard to detect means to bolster his ability to win.

Armstrong, like so many at the top level of his sport appears to have been a habitual cheater, liar and bully. The fact that he was a cancer survivor and had returned to the top of his sport made him a legend and gave him an almost mythic aura. Who could criticize such a heroic individual? Certainly his struggle to defeat cancer and return to the top of his sport was worth something and indeed it was. Armstrong became a legend and established a foundation that did and still is doing wonderful things for cancer victims.

If it was simply cheating and then getting caught the situation would be different. Armstrong was not different than many of his competitors and if it was like the cases of people in other sports who cheated and later either were caught or admitted their misdeeds it would be just another case of a sports cheater.

However in the Armstrong case the story is one that is not so simple. His also involves an aggressive cover up and willful destruction of the reputations of anyone who dared challenge him or accuse him of cheating. It involved attacks on the character of critics as well as threats made against them, even veiled physical threats. It involved legal actions to attempt to prevent the publication of articles or books that could damage him in multiple countries. It involved a campaign of lies that lasted over a decade. It also ensnared cancer victims as his charity foundation Livestrong was devoted to helping those battling the dread disease.

It is a case that will not simply interest sport writers, but one which will engage philosophers, ethicists and theologians for years to come. The reason is that it is so multifaceted and brings to the fore questions that most people care not to even think about, even though they fascinate us.

The questions are hard. Who would want to think that the cancer victims helped by Livestrong were not positive beneficiaries of Armstrong’s benevolence? It is certain that Armstrong’s foundation has done remarkable work. At the same time can Armstrong’s actions be justified simply because many people were benefited by them? What about the his victims? Those men and women who suffered professional, legal and financial reverses as well as had their reputations damaged for attempting to stand up to someone that looks by the actions committed against his critics and accusers to be a bully.

It is the classic question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few combined with the actions of one person to advance himself at the expense of others. Some would like to be able to fame Armstrong’s cheating and subsequent support of Livestrong and its tremendous work in helping people in a positive manner.

That can be done, but at what cost? We wrestle with such ethical questions all the time but seldom do we see the drama play out out in such a personal manner. Usually we are able to keep it theoretical and distant. But Armstrong, he had become a legend, a hero to many and

I think that most of us, me included were enamored with the myth of Armstrong the cancer survivor rising to unheard of heights in his sport. I think that this was especially the case in the United States where the thought of an American winning at the top levels of a sport that has few American long dominated by Europeans was particularly pleasurable, especially since most Americans couldn’t care less about competitive cycling. However, Armstrong got us to care about it, even if it was only when we saw Tour de France highlights on ESPN Sports Center.

Caught up in the myth we surrendered to it. It was attractive and it appeals to the underdog in all of us. However, it was a myth and the creation and sustainment of the myth created victims just as it helped others in need of live saving treatment as well as cancer research.

As for Armstrong, his confession and apology that will be aired on Oprah Winfrey’s show the next two nights I am of mixed feelings. Some like Mike Lupica have stated that it is another attempt of Armstrong to control the situation and the narrative. He could well be right and there is part of me, the cynical and realistic part that believes this. At the same time I would hope that Armstrong has had a real epiphany as to the consequences of his actions in the lives of the people who were his fans, his beneficiaries as well as his victims.

As for the very harsh remarks of Pat McQuaid the President of the International Cycling Union that “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling….” I have a negative opinion. He and his championships, though tainted and no stripped from him are a part of the history of cycling. He helped popularize the sport in the United States. He and his tainted accomplishments cannot be erased as if he did not exist. No cycling bodies took any substantive actions against Armstrong during his competitive career. No sport was as inundated by a culture of cheating as professional cycling. Armstrong cannot be forgotten as McQuaid says he deserves to be. It is okay to say “never again” and work to build an authentic and honest competitive sport. But to erase and forget is to ensure that another Armstrong will come along. It is a cautionary tale.

As long as Armstrong brought attention and income to the sport his actions were tolerated and despite numerous accusations he was celebrated and because of his story as a cancer survivor many looked the other way. I have to say that I am part of that latter group that saw a cancer survivor winning as inspirational. I did not want to believe the accusations and I did not look to see or even pay attention to the things that he and his associates were doing to those attempting to bring the story to the light of public scrutiny.

As for Livestrong I do hope that it will survive and continue to help cancer victims. As for Armstrong I hope that his confession and admission of wrong doing are genuine and that he will make restitution to those that he bullied or ruined in maintaining the cover up. I am less concerned about his competitors in the Tour de France as so many of them were doping that it makes the steroids scandals in other sports pale in comparison.

I encountered Armstrong once in Iraq when he was on a tour with a number of celebrities. I had come back to my base of operations the day that he and his tour led by the now retired Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen came through. Since the number of people who could attend the show was limited and I wanted to make sure that junior personnel had a chance to see Armstrong, Robin Williams, Kid Rock and Lewis Black I did not attempt to go. The next morning I was walking to the dinning facility and passed Armstrong as he was walking back to is quarters. I said “good morning” and he returned the greeting and we both continued on our way. I figured that he didn’t need another person coming up to him to get an autograph and though he was a public figure on a USO morale tour I still attempt to honor some modicum of privacy. The tour left later that morning and my friend, Father Jose Bautista-Rojas a Catholic Chaplain who had escorted Mrs Mullen during the visit brought me a ball cap signed by both Armstrong and Robin Williams. I will keep it and remember the fact that Armstrong and those with him came to Iraq at the height of an unpopular war, but also to remind me that all of us have feet of clay.

I do hope that he is able to make his peace and reconcile with those that he has hurt or disappointed and that some good will come out of this for him, his family, those that benefit from Livestrong and the sport.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Ball Game with Saint Pete: The confluence of Baseball and Faith

This is a re-written version of an article that I wrote last year and is part of my “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” series.  The original; was written shortly after my dad died last summer. Today I revised it while traveling to a Church clergy and Chaplain conference in Houston. Peace, Padre Steve+

A week after I met Jesus and the team at 7-11 I found out that I was selected to be promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  While still in amazed wonderment about that meeting and what happened on the team’s road trip to Dyersville Iowa to play at the Field of Dreams I was caught up in the excitement of knowing that I was among 20 chaplains selected for promotion for the next fiscal year.  That night I went to worship at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish despite being very tired from three busy overnight duty shifts over the preceding eight days at the hospital that I served at as a Chaplain.

The previous night had gone long as I had to deal with a number of serious situations.  We had young Petty Officer First Class named Kenneth die of cancer. Kenneth was one of those rare people with no guile. While he served in the Navy he was also an outstanding basketball player and played on the All-Navy Basketball team. He died after a struggle with cancer that had ravaged his formerly massive body, that of a basketball power forward until he looked like a concentration Camp victim at the end of the Second World War. The time with this young man and his family was filled with grace as three Chaplains as well as a number of hospital staff that had gotten to know them over the preceding three months gathered at their apartment outside the hospital gate where he had gone home to die.  It was his desire to spend a few days at home with family before dying and one of the last things that he was able to do was watch game seven of the NBA Championship game between the Lakers and the Celtics. The three Chaplains, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal and me a miscreant Old Catholic type all prayed at the bedside and stayed with the family and his body during the holy silence that pervaded the living room.

Later I would spend time with the family of an eighteen month old boy that had drowned and been resuscitated by EMS in down but was certain to die in the next day or two.  Then I did some follow up with a dear lady that was in the end stages of heart and kidney failure in our ICU. I’d known Corrie a sixty-five year old Filipina and her family over the past couple of years as she struggled to live, but today was different. Nothing more could be done. I was with her and the doctors as they discussed her condition and when she calmly let people know that if her heart stopped again not to try to bring her back. We talked and prayed afterward and she had asked if I would come up to help her write down her story.  Well that had not worked out but I did get to her bedside late making the sincerest of apologies and letting her know what had happened. Corrie was also one of those dear saints, a devout Catholic that loved God and her neighbors, she was concerned for the families of the other patients and not so concerned about herself. She had faith and was confident that Jesus would have her in heaven because as she said it was his grace and mercy that had allowed her to know him.  I listened to her, sang with her, prayed with her and chatted for almost an hour and a half before going to check on the parents of the little boy and my Pediatric ICU staff before trundling off to the Duty Chaplain Bunk room for a few hours of fitful sleep.  I thought of the people that I had dealt with during the day and how each in their own way had touched my life and saying a brief prayer I laid my head on the bricklike pillows and body down on the devil’s mattress, or the mattress from Hell fell asleep.

After going home I received the call from Derek our deputy chaplain at the hospital to congratulate me on my selection. I was thrilled and that evening I went to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish to see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was a terribly hot and muggy night but the game was exciting and as is my custom I took a lot of pictures for my website as I try to write about every Tides game, hoping that someday when I grew up that I might be a baseball writer.  I guess that I am one now except no-one is paying me for it but such is life. As I moved about I spent some time with my buddies, Elliott, Chip and Art the Ushers and each time that I moved up or down from the home plate area where I reside down the first base or third base line to get shots from different angles I would visit with them, talking baseball, life and receiving their congratulations on my selection for promotion.  To them I am the irrepressible Padre Steve and we have a wonderful time together at each home game.

That night was like any night at the Church of Baseball until I noticed a burly man in a Yankees hat with a beard and pony tail coming down the stairs toward section 102. He was showing his ticket to Elliott the Usher, also know by some as Elliott the Enforcer he also has charge over section 100, the VIP section shared by scouts, players, families of team members and visiting VIPs.  That section is carefully monitored by the aforementioned “Enforcer” and the man, wearing a faded Yankees Jersey from what appeared to be from the 1930s with the number “3” on the back and a pair of large brown cargo shorts with sandals on his feet walked toward Elliott showing his ticket.

I recognized the man and since I was on the move anyway from the third base side toward first I went up to them.  Having met the man the previous week at 7-11 and knowing that he and the team loved baseball I had wondered of they might make their way back to Hampton Roads.

“Elliott, you gonna let a Yankee fan into section 100?” I smiled as I asked the question. Elliott and Pete both looked over at me, Elliott is about my height but Pete towered over us at a good 6 foot 3 inches outweighing each up us by at least a hundred pounds. Pete smiled.

“Steve from 7-11 right?”  Pete asked as he recognized me with Elliott looking on.

“That’s me” I cheerily answered. I liked Pete, there was something genuinely fun about him a blue collar guy that in addition to going and spreading the Good News also liked to be around regular people and have some fun, after all he had spend his early years as a fisherman and like any sailor was a little rough hewn in his manner.

Elliott looked at us and asked Pete “You know this guy?” to which Pete responded “I sure the heck do, he’s one of our people, you know a baseball fan and Padre to boot.”

“So where do you know each other from?” I asked.

Elliott looked at Pete and Pete looked at me before Elliott answered. “I met Pete up at Fenway back in ’76 when the Red Sox went to the World Series.”

“Yeh, I was in town to see the Yankees play those bums and happened to sit by Elliott, for a Sox fan he’s a pretty good guy and unlike most of those weenies at Fenway he actually understands the game.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding Padre, that’s how we met, just goes to show that if you really love the game even Red Sox and Yankees fans can sit together in peace, right Pete?”

“You know it Elliott, you know it.”

“So Pete where you sitting?”

“Section 100; row C on the end down there behind the radar gun.”

“Cool I’m right across the aisle in section 102 row B to your right, would you like to go down there with me? How’d you get section 100?”

“Dude, the boss has connections, when I asked him if I could go back and visit this ballpark when we were done in Dyersville he called Dave.”

“Dave? You mean Dave Rosenfield?” Dave is the long time General Manager of the Tides and I chat with him whenever I get the chance.

“Heck yeh Padre, the Boss knows all the GMs, talks to them often, even the minor league GMs. He likes to put in his two shekels with them in discussing prospects; you know that the boss keeps a keen eye on these players don’t you?”

“Well, I figured so, like he does the rest of us right?”

“It’s kind of like that but this is something that the Boss has a passion for, he died to save the world and the world does include baseball, does it not?”

“Well, that’s true, but even though I found out last week that the Boss and you guys liked baseball I didn’t know it was this serious.”

“Padre, this is baseball, it is serious and the Boss takes it seriously, even more serious than Selig, the Grand-Poobah of Major League Baseball.”

“He takes the game serious or Selig serious?” I smiled as I said this triggering a smile back as he replied removing his cap and wiping his brow of the sweat that the hot and humid Tidewater weather causes the human body to produce in mass quantities when not inside an air conditioned building, which Harbor Park, open to the elements as a baseball field should be is not. As he put his cap back on he quipped back to me “the game Padre, Selig he just humors, lets him think that he is in charge, there are times that he thinks about resurrecting A. Bartlett Giamatti.” Pete paused for a second looked up at the press box and continued “but whenever he talks about it he says that he doesn’t want the Dispensationalists to think that the Tribulation has started, the boss seems to think that it would not be helpful even if Giamatti would be better for the game than the Grand-Poobah Bud.”

“I guess that that would cause a bit of a stir if he did that can you imagine all the headlines on ESPN, the in depth interviews and of course the talk show circuit Pete?” I continued not giving Pete a chance to answer “It would be freaking amazing, could you see Giamatti being interviewed on Larry King Live and see if Larry asks him if he will lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose? Or even better brings up the Congressional hearings on steroids in Baseball?”

“Yep Padre it would be a spectacle and would cause more problems than it would solve, hell Congress would probably want an investigation of how Giamatti came back from the dead and the liberals and conservatives would have hearings that would drag on endlessly and make themselves the center of attention every time a camera was in the room, thank God that Herod and Pilate didn’t have C-Span or the 24 hour news cycle.”

“And people would pretty much ignore the God thing in the story…” said Elliott.

“Well not really except that the Bosses’ involvement in raising someone like Giamatti from the dead so many years after he passed away, God rest his soul, like anything that the boss does would be used by politicians to advance their agenda and dare I say preachers to further their “ministries” or make money by selling books, audio CDs and DVDs that miss the point entirely.” Pete took off his hat and wiped his brow again “sure is hot and miserable in this place, makes me miss the Med, you know that Israel has pretty good weather, a bit dry and hot in the summer but no humidity.”

“I know, I’m originally from California and we had hot weather in the summer but no humidity.”

“Now California, that’s an interesting place, I love the West Coast road trips and that new stadium that the Giants play in that is great.”

“I like it too, it’s so much nicer than Candlestick.”

“Don’t get me going about Candlestick young man. Went out there once in July to see the Giants play the Mets in a double header….I think that it was in the mid-1970s, so guy named Halicki threw a no-hitter.

I looked a Pete funny. “Halicki’s no hitter?”

“Yeah, you heard of it?”

“Pete, I’ve been a Giants fan since I was a kid and I was there for that game.”

“No kidding?”

“No really dad took my me and my brother, it was cold as hell out there but it was so cool to actually see a no-hitter in person.”

“Ain’t that a hoot. Sure is a small universe partner.”

“That it is Pete that it is.”

“So what do you think of the new ballpark? I love the food there, did you have the garlic fries?”

“Yeh, it was the first place that I ever had them, Gordon Biersch has a stand there.”

“Those sure were good; I think when we got back in the bus for trip down to L.A. the next morning we all still smelled like garlic.”

“So Pete, you want something to eat or drink?” I asked figuring that it was a good chance to see what the big Yankees fan liked.

“Sure Padre, what have they got?”

“They don’t have the garlic fries but they have some pretty good chow, want to go up and look around?” Elliott looked at us and said to Pete “You’re not leaving already are you?”

“Hey Elliott, you know me would I leave a game before it was over?”

“Well you didn’t get here on time.”

“Elliott you know that’s not fair, I drove in from Iowa and that doggone Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel is for the birds, if I was the boss I would have Moses come in, part the waters and lay down another tunnel like with four lanes in each direction.”

“Now that would be nice, do you think that he could do something with the Downtown too?” I asked as Pete and Elliott chuckled.

“Hey, Padre, let’s go up and get something to munch on, I’m hungry.”

“Sure Pete, what would you like?”

“What have they got?”

“Heck Pete about anything, well anything, they even have a real restaurant down in the Right Field corner.”

“So what do you like?”

“I don’t mind a Tides dog with chili and a beer.”

“Tides dog?”

“Yeah, just a grilled hot dog with chili sauce, of course they have the all-beef Jumbo Dog, but it’s a bit heavy for me.”

“So any of this Kosher?”

“Are you kidding, this is a ball Park Pete.”

“True, but one can hope.”

“Besides, Pete didn’t you get the vision from Jesus that all food was cool even if it wasn’t Kosher?”

“I know Padre but you gotta remember my background, I still fall into the old habits sometimes.”

“I know, even after Jesus told you that all things were clean old dour Paul had to correct you when you were hanging out with some Greeks.”

Pete looked down and shook his head once again wiping his brow, “I wish Luke hadn’t put that down in Acts, not really fair to me, but Luke was Paul’s man. Now it’s not like Paul didn’t have his faults too, ran off Barnabas and John Mark on one of his trips, but to his credit Luke put that down too” Pete wiped his brow again and continued “I guess that you could say that he was the first “fair and balanced” reporter.”

“Yeah, church politics and the writing of history huh?”

“You know it even then, but old Paul and I did patch things up when he got to Rome.”

We walked down the concourse to the far concession stand down the third base line where my buddy Gerry from Gordon Biersch works with his volunteer organization.

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hey Steve, how are you doing?” said Gerry who is about the same height and build as Pete.

“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Pete, he’s from out of town.”

“Really, where from?” asked Gerry.

“Oh here and there, right now travel around with my boss doing good stuff and getting in some baseball wherever we go.”

“Cool, so Pete are you a Yankee’s fan? I love the jersey”

“Pretty cool, huh? Babe Ruth’s number”

“Yeah, got it special, so what team do you root for?”

Gerry shook his head and gave a slight chuckle “well I’m a Reds and Indians fan, from Ohio.”

“So the Big Red Machine huh? They have a pretty team this year, lots of young talent and they are willing games in the last inning and the last a bat like something I’ve never seen” replied Pete “and I’ve been around quite a while.” Pete paused took a deep breath and continued. “I think that they have a a real shot at making the playoffs and taking the N.L. Central this year.”

“It’s been too long Pete, I’ve been around quite a while and I haven’t seen them play this well in a while.”

“I think some of the sports reporters and columnists are going to eat Cardinal on this one.” said Pete.

Gerry laughed out loud and blurted out “You mean crow don’t you?”

“Nope, Cardinal, like in St. Louis type.”

“That’s funny, what can I get for you guys?”

“A couple of Tides dogs with chili, right Pete?”

“Can I have a big order of fries too?”

“Sure Pete” replied a very cheerful Gerry since you’re from out of town they’re on me.” Gerry pulled his wallet out and told the cashier that he was getting the fries as I handed over the money for the Tides Dogs.

“Anything to drink Steve?”

“Gerry you know that I don’t drink the beer from this stand.”

“That’s true; we just have the Bud and Bud Lite here, you going across the way to get a Yuengling?”

“Is that good?” asked Pete. Before I could answer Gerry said “a lot better than what I have here.”

“It’s not Gordon Biersch but it’s alright” I replied. “Besides, Budweiser is like the wine that they were serving at Cana until the Boss dropped by.”

“That bad huh?” replied Pete as Gerry chimed in “you’re too much sometimes Steve, you talk to Pete like he was there or something” as I simply chucked, and said “Yeah, something like that.”

A lady brought our hot dogs to us and we went and got our beer from the kiosk opposite Gerry’s stand and we began to walk down to our seats once again greeting Elliott on the way down.

“Hey Padre, these are nice seats, you have to pay through the nose and have connections big time for seats like this at Yankee Stadium and the boss won’t cover that, he thinks it’s a bit extravagant and wouldn’t look good on the organization.”

“So he’s not a big fan of high prices that keep regular folks from getting great seats?”

“No, he’s like to see everyone get a chance to sit behind home plate in a big park like that at least once” as he looked at his ticket and sat down across the aisle from me.

“So Pete, so why do you keep calling me Padre? You can call me Steve.” I said as I took my first drink of my Yuengling Lager. Pete picked up his cup and said “cheers Padre” and lifted the cup to his lips drinking the amber lager. “Not bad, we didn’t have much beer back in the day, Judea and the Mediterranean was more of a wine place. There was some beer back then but it wasn’t that good, it took the Monks working for the organization in Germany to get it right” as he took another drink from the cup and wiped beer from his beard “nice beer, I’ll have to tell the boss about it.” Pete paused for a second and went on “good choice Padre.”

“There you go again you can call me Steve, I don’t mind Padre but if you let me call you Pete and not Pope Pete why don’t you just call me Steve?”

Pete looked and me and smiled. “Padre, that’s what you are, it’s who you are, remember that whole Sacrament of Holy Orders thing?”

I kind of felt silly, I like being called Padre, beats the heck out of “the Reverend” or something like that but still having Saint Peter, the first Pope call me that was kind of humbling especially when he had no objection to being called Pete.  “I know that you’re right Pete, but still, you were like the first Pope you really outrank me.”

“Padre, I never paid any attention to “rank” as you call it when I was Pope. Back then it was not really a career or longevity enhancing job, no palace, no red shoes, even though Ben’s aren’t made by Prada like some people say and none of the big hats and stuff like that. If it was up to me the hats that clergy wear would be more practical, I like baseball hats, Matthew kind of likes a Fedora and a couple of the other guys like hats like that Indiana Jones character when the are not travelling as part of the team.”

“Really?” I asked quizzically.

“Oh yeah, back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of vestments and heck I wasn’t in charge of very much, a few priests and deacons and “parishes” if you could call them that pretty much house churches or places in the catacombs where we could celebrate a simple Eucharist and hope that the Roman police wouldn’t show up.  Heck we didn’t even cause anyone any trouble, just no one liked us. Romans called us “atheists” if you can believe that and guys that used to be friends in Judea had no problem turning us over to them whenever they could. Nope, being the Pope was not what it is now, no Popemobile or anything.”

“No Popemobile, that’s just wrong, not even a chariot?” I asked with a bit of humor in my voice.

Pete didn’t catch my attempt at humor and narrowing his eyes blurted out “are you kidding? We didn’t have didilly squat.” He paused and looked at me. “You know it actually offends me how the Church can surround a leader, any leader in that kind of in that sort of opulence, and to think that they named Saint Peter’s after me. Do I look like I would even hang around in a place like that? Judas might have liked it but I’d rather they named a ballpark after me.”

“Well it could be worse.”

“How?” Pete gave me a curious glance.

“We’ll it could be like the studio that the Terrible Blond Network uses, the one that looks like an ecclesiastic French brothel.”

“Oh Padre, don’t get me going on that subject, those people really piss off the boss, and to think of all the money they bilk out of folks.  He took another drink of his beer “not bad stuff and the dog is pretty good too for ballpark food.”

“Glad that you like it.”

“Thanks, you know there Padre I don’t think I would want to be Pope now, my successor Benedict has his hands full mainly because they try to run the place like a massive government all those bureaucrats and clergy functioning as diplomats and everything but being priests, and it’s not just the Roman part of the church. It’s like you said, those guys on TV talking about being happy healthy and wealthy as the crux of the Christian life haven’t got a clue.  Same with the folks that try to get away from the excesses of the prosperity Gospel heretics so much that they throw out the baby with the baptismal waters.”

Pete paused and I broke in. “Pretty messed up, if you ask me.”

Pete continued. “Yeh, it’s messed up all right but the Church has been messing up for 2000 years, I messed up pretty bad at times too.” He took another gulp of his beer and continued. “Nowdays though, it’s like 2000 years of getting stupid have really made an impact. Some of these churches seem to be afraid of even looking Christian, like that whole Willow Creek bunch, they don’t want to offend people, and then the stadium sized churches that seat more people than Harbor Park, and others that spend so much on things that look nice but really aren’t needed. I don’t think that any of them have a clue, no sense of decorum or real understanding of what the Boss was talking about.”

“You almost sound like Andrew Greeley.” I chuckled.

“I think that Padre Andrew has done a lot of good, he makes that Blackie Ryan fellow believable and the kind of priest that you would want to be around. I like his Bishop Blackie mysteries, always fun to read, and a lot about the grace of God in them too.”

“I know, they helped me get through Iraq and the past couple of years when I pretty much was an agnostic.”

“That suck Padre, people don’t like to admit how hard it is to believe sometimes. I remember back after the Boss got crucified. My world crashed around me. If he had waited longer than three days to get himself resurrected I might have completely lost my faith. I’m not surprised that you did but at least you are on the way back.”

“Thanks Pete, I hope so.”

“You know Padre, back in the day we had very little but did try to keep a sense of decorum and sense that Jesus was with us because he said that he was with us in the breaking of the bread.  I’ll tell you what it shocked the heck out of me when he started talking to us about “eating his flesh,” that my friend chased a lot of the hangers on away.  I don’t know why people that call themselves by the Bosses’ name have to make things so hard, and I’m not even talking dogma and doctrine just living the Christian life, you know that thing that the Boss said about the top two commandments, love God and love your neighbor.  For us that was mind blowing because a lot of the really religious folks in our day were all about rules that made life hard for regular people, just like today and you can be sure that the Sadducees and Pharisees wouldn’t be having a non-Kosher Tides dog and beer with you a Gentile military officer, no way” a brief pause and he continued “no offense intended.” He stopped and looked at me and I replied “none taken my friend.”

You remember the movie Bull Durham Padre?”

“Of course Pete, I watch it at least two or three times a year, it’s almost a religious thing.”

“You know where the manager gets mad at the players and said “It’s a simple game, you catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Anyway, that’s a lot like the Christian life, it’s really not that difficult but we can make such a mess of it.”

Somehow the ball game seemed like it was background noise, Pete was really wrapped up in what he was saying and I knew that he meant every word. He smiled at me and continued.

“Of course Padre there are all of those churches that are more interested in promoting certain social agendas from all over the political spectrum than focusing on the top two commandments. They make themselves look like pawns of the politicians rather than the Bosses’ Church.  I tell you Padre there are times that the Boss really does get frustrated with what some of his people do in his name; I think that’s why he spends so much time at ball parks now.” Pete paused for a moment, took another gulp of his beer, wiped his beard and looked at me as he took a deep breath and sighed looking out at the diamond where left hander Troy Patton was pitching well for the Tides and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were imploding defensively as the Tides hitters were pounding out hit after hit.

“The Tides, an Orioles farm team huh?”

“Yep, that they are Pete.”

“Well I tell you the O’s are having problems but as a Yankees fan I’m kind of glad because when they get well they will be a pain in the ass to the Yankees, all they need is a first rate manager to get the kids to pull things together and to get that owner of theirs, Angelos is it, to spend some money to get some solid all star caliber veterans to build around and to help nurture these guys along. They do have the young talent, just need the leadership to make it happen, they need another Earl Weaver type of manager to do the job.”

“I’d like to see Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter.”

“I don’t think Valentine is the man, but if the O’s can get Showalter things will change in a hurry.”

“I hope that they get someone like that, anything’s got to be better than the leadership that they have had for so long.”

It was amazing to me how Pete went from what he viewed as the problems of the modern church back to baseball so quickly and I realized that he needed this.

About this time Tides outfielder Jeff Salazar smashed a pitch over the right field wall bringing the crow to its feet including Pete who was applauding loudly and as Salazar crossed the plate looked at me and said “high five” before his massive hand slapped my pip squeak hand causing it to sting just a bit. As the crowd continued to cheer Pete reached in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone and looking at me said “just a second, it’s the Boss.”  He put the flip phone to his ear and I tried to listen in just a bit. “Yeah Skip, its Pete, what do you need?” I could not hear what was being said on the other end of the phone just Pete’s responses which were punctuated by his head nodding up and down and words like “yes, okay and sure.”  I still have no idea what they were talking about but it looked serious. Pete then said “I’ll get on it Skip, take care, later.”

Pete looked at me. “The Boss sends his congratulations on getting selected to promotion. You know that he really liked the military people that he met, the professional soldiers like the Centurion and that it was a military guy, Cornelius the Centurion and his family that was the first Gentile family that I got to spend some time with, they were really great folks.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool coming from the Boss himself.” I said.

“The Boss also told me to tell you not to let it go to your head and to make sure that you keep it real.”

“I think that I can do that Pete, after all I wasn’t always a Priest or Chaplain, just a Navy Chief’s kid that has been in the military for a long time.”

Pete looked at me and by the look on his face I knew that he was not done talking. “Padre, the Boss wanted me to let you know that he cares for your dad and for you not to worry about him.”

“Why should I worry, he’s got Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know me but he’s been medically stable for a good amount of time and last time I talked to my mom she said that he didn’t look too bad the last time that she visited him.” I looked at Pete as he was finishing his beer.

“The Boss just told me to let you know that he loves your dad and cares about him.” The look in his eye was far away. “I remember my dad, a fisherman like me, he was already gone by the time the Boss came into my life, and he just passed away in his sleep one night after a long night and day on the boats on the Sea of Galilee.”

“Sounds like you miss your dad.”

“I do Padre, but I tell you what, we’ll have to do this again. The boss told me that he needs me to come up and see him up in D.C. it seems that he wants some of the team to meet him there conduct some business and take in a National’s game, sure hope that he gets us tickets to see Strasburg.”

“That would be cool, think that I can come?”

“No not this time Padre, but I’ll talk to the Boss for you to join us somewhere on the road, or maybe even back in time. Besides you’re going to have a lot to do soon.”

Pete got up from his seat and patted me on the back. “Take care Padre, be safe on your way home.”

“Pete you take care too.” Pete turned and began to walk up the steps where he shook Elliott’s hand before he left.  Shortly after Pete left I went to Elliott and Elliott said to me. “Padre you have some interesting friends, you have some interesting friends.”

“I know my friend, funny how you knew Pete too.”

“What can I say?” replied Elliott as Pete got to the concourse, shook hands with Dave, said a few words and headed out of the ball park.

“Seems like Pete knows a lot of people huh?” I said as I looked back at Elliott.

“He gets around there Padre, he gets around.”

 

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

Minor League Moves: The Dance Begins, Connecticut Defenders move to Richmond

007Minor League Moves: The Orioles Affiliated with The Norfolk Tides in 2007

Minor League Baseball teams move around for many reasons with a fair amount of regularity.  At the end of every season there are almost always a number of teams that either changes their major league affiliation or moves to another city.  A few years ago my team here in Norfolk told the New York Mets and the Minaya – Bernazard Axis of Idiocy to “get out of town and don’t let the door hit you.”  The Mets had treated their AAA affiliate badly for years and these guys gutted the Mets farm system.  I talked with various Mets scouts this year who although not saying anything on record nodded in agreement about my observations of the Mets.  So the Mets went to New Orleans and this year to Buffalo and managed to continue their mangled management of their minor league system.

However teams change affiliations for a number of reasons.  One reason that Baltimore relocated to Norfolk was the entrance into the Hampton Roads TV market.  Other reasons include facilities, distance from the home club, fan base issues, tradition or local government policies.

When I was a kid I lived in Stockton California where I got my first taste of Minor League ball watching the Stockton Ports of the California League in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  At the time the team was affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles.  A few years back I had opportunity to talk with Orioles great Paul Blair who remembered his days playing in Stockton at Billy Hebert Field.  The Ports have since been with the Brewers, the Rangers, the Reds and the Athletics and maybe a couple of others over the years.  This is not unusual as teams try to move their teams closer to the major league club or local owners negotiate deals with major league franchises to move teams to their markets.

Last year there were several moves in the International League and the Pacific Coast League. In the PCL the biggest news was the relocation of the Dodgers AAA affiliate from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, a move that returned the Dodgers to one of their tradition minor league cities.    The Ottawa Lynx franchise left that city for Allentown Pennsylvania to become the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. This left that city without any baseball.  A Canadian league that was supposed to move a team there folded.  This is actually sad for Canada as both Ottawa and Montreal which had a long baseball heritage with the Major and Minor leagues no longer have teams.  This is in large part due to the Canadian government’s tax policies that ensured that minor league players would be taxed by both the US and Canadian governments.  This made the situation difficult if not impossible for many minor league players from the states and as a result the major leagues moved all of their teams out of Canada except the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest League.  Since the Northwest League is a short season single “A” league and most of the players are college players there is a different dynamic at work than the rest of the minors.

In 2009 the New York Mets brought the team once known as the Norfolk Tides from their home in post-Katrina New Orleans to Buffalo. In Buffalo the Mets replaced Cleveland who had moved their team to Columbus.  This ensured that the city of Buffalo and especially Bison’s fans would bask in the misery inflicted on both Norfolk and New Orleans fans for the foreseeable future.  The Bisons under Mets management finished the season with the worst record in Triple “A” ball.  I saw them several times in Norfolk and there wasn’t a young prospect of any caliber on the team.  There was an ass-load of older “has been” players who are deep into the tail end of their careers and I looked like I was in better shape than some of them, some of the guts and butts were simply huge.   The Mets under the current Oscar Minaya management are pathetic.  They have no prospects, their minor league system is broken and if the Bison’s plight was not enough their AA affiliate the Binghamton Mets were the worst team in AA Ball.  If Ross Perot was talking to Larry King about them he would say “That’s just sad Larry.”

Cleveland moved its affiliation to Columbus to be closer to the major league team while the Washington Nationals who had been in Columbus moved to Syracuse when Toronto moved its Triple “A” affiliation to Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League.    In the mean time Atlanta which had been embroiled in a decade long contest with Richmond’s clueless city council led by Doug “I have no plan or clue” Wilder for a decent stadium to replace the cesspool called “The Diamond” gave up.  Since they and not a local owner controlled the franchise, they moved the Braves to the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County.  Richmond has one of the worst if not the worst ball park in the International League and maybe the minors.  Having been to the Diamond many times I have to say that it was the worst venue that I have ever seen a ball game, decrepit and uncomfortable seating, poor amenities, and a field that flooded if so much as a thimble full of rain fell made it a horrible venue for fans as well as players.  Thus the city which refused to work cooperatively with the Braves lost its team and AAA franchise, a franchise that has been for many years one of the best in the minor leagues.  Richmond lost their hockey team as well to this bunch’s inept leadership.  These people have to be one of the most clueless city government s in the entire United States and certainly the worst managed state capital.

All of this leads to the first move of the 2009-2010 off season.  On the 23rd of September the Eastern League announced that the Connecticut Defenders franchise would move to Richmond in time for the 2010 season.  The city has agreed to make improvements on the Diamond to keep it viable until a new stadium can be build by 2012, a plan that should be doable unless the city has decided to make their plans for the new stadium on the Mayan calendar which assumes that the Cubs will win the World’s series, that Jesus will come back and the world as we know it will end.

The team is an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, which means that if the Tides are not in town that I may make a number of trips to Richmond in 2010.  The Giants will stay with the team through the end of 2010 and hopefully for me will remain in Richmond for many years.  Richmond is allowing fans to suggest new names for the team.  A link to that site is here: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/sports/baseball/name-the-team/

There will be more team moves announced in the coming month or so as cities and major league teams alike assess what they need.  Cities with a long minor league heritage may lose teams, some cities are building stadiums to get teams and some cities may end up with teams in the independent leagues.  Regardless Minor League Baseball will continue to do well and fans will come.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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