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A Sad Day for Baseball: Baseball Legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial Pass Away

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“On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.'” Earl Weaver

It isn’t every day that two baseball legends pass away. However today was one day that the baseball world mourns the losses of two legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial.

In the morning I heard about the passing of Earl Weaver, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles who during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and help to establish what is now known as “the Oriole Way.” He was not much of a player, never getting out of the minor leagues, but it was his skills coaching and managing that like many other greats set him apart.

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He battled umpires on a regular basis and his rivalry with Ron Luciano was particularly sharp and his battle with Bill Haller, caught on tape and film as Haller was wearing a microphone for a documentary.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uLUuxVX4Z10

Weaver was thrown out of at least 91 games and received four multiple game suspensions. He said “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.”

He was also a master of statistics and in a way was a pioneer of working to the best possible match up of pitchers versus hitters and used the platoon system to ensure the right match ups. He managed his teams to five 100 game plus seasons (1969, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1980) four AL Pennants and one World Series title (1970).  He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996. After his managing career he spent much time active in the Orioles community hosting a radio program called Managers Corner. He and his wife were on an Orioles cruise when he died today at the age of 82.

He was a manager that I always loved watching and reading about later in life and his comment that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” is a theme for my life.

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Stan Musial was a player’s player and one of the best hitters ever to grace the diamond.  An All Star 24 times, National League MVP 3 times, seven time NL Batting Champ and part of three World Series winning St Louis Cardinal Teams, Musial was a consummate professional known for his modesty and hard work.

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After his playing career of 24 years ended in 1963 he went on to be the club’s General Manager helping the team to another World Series title.  Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 on the first ballot and was named to the All Century Team in 1999. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama on February 15th 2011.

Freedom

Musial was a hitter that analyzed every aspect of the craft of hitting. His comment about how he sized up pitchers sums up how detailed he was in how he played the game: “I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate.”

I saw Weaver manage in person a number of times and saw Musial play in an Old Timers game as a kid. Carl Yastrzemski said of Musial: “They can talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and all the rest, but I’m sure not one of them could hold cards and spades to (Ted) Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

There were few greater players than Stan Musial and Earl Weaver ranks high among the most colorful and successful managers of all time.

Baseball has lost two gems today.

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Rest in Peace on that great Field of Dreams,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Triumph of Durability: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig and the “Unbreakable” Record

“Whether your name is (Lou) Gehrig or (Cal) Ripken, (Joe) DiMaggio or (Jackie) Robinson, or that of some youngster who picks up his bat or puts on his glove, you are challenged by the game of baseball to do your very best day in and day out. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.” Cal Ripken Jr. 

Before the Orioles and Yankees began their game tonight the Orioles honored Cal Ripken Jr. on the anniversary of the night in 1995 when he broke the record that most thought would never be broken. On September 6th 1995 Ripken played his 2131st consecutive game, eclipsing the record of the legendary Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehrig. Ripken’s consecutive game streak finally ended and 2632 games on September 20th 1998 when he took himself out before a game against the Yankees.

The record is likely to remain for many years as it would take any current player at least 16 years playing every game of the 162 game season to break it. However records are made to be broken and in 1939 no one thought that anyone would break the record set by baseball’s Iron Horse, the great Lou Gehrig.

On April 30th 1939 Lou Gehrig played his final game after playing in 2130 consecutive games. That day he went hitless against the Washington Senators and was obviously struggling. The team travelled to Detroit to begin a series against the Tigers and on May 2nd the Iron Man benched himself.  He had played every day since coming up as a pinch hitter on June 1st 1925 and at the age of 36 Gehrig had still had a respectable year in 1938, even though he felt that something was wrong with him during the last half of the season.

It was a shock to Americans and the baseball world. Gehrig remained with the team but his wife Eleanor contacted Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic. He was examined by Mayo and endured 6 days of arduous medical tests before he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Eleanor instructed the physicians to withhold the full devastating impacts of the disease and while he knew that his playing days were over he thought that he might “need a cane in 10 or 15 years.”

However Gehrig knew that his days were numbered and on the 21st the Yankees announced his retirement. July 4th was proclaimed Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day by the Yankees and a ceremony was held between games of a double header against the Senators that day. His teammates and former teammates gathered with a crowd of over 61,000 fans while numerous dignitaries spoke in his honor. His number was retired and when the the speeches and presentations were complete Big Lou spoke.

The speech is one that will not be forgotten. I remember reading it as a kid when I read a biography about Gehrig in 3rd Grade. I would later see the video of the speech and when I watch it today I am filled with awe and deep emotions, sometimes I even cry. That speech by a dying man is not one of pity but of gratefulness despite the adversity that Gehrig faced.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SKyfGK9brs

Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech 

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. 

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Gehrig kept as active as his condition permitted, serving as a Parole Commissioner for the City of New York until he resigned about a month before his death due to his now greatly deteriorating health. On June 2nd 1941, 16 years to the day that he replaced Wally Pip at 1st Base in the Yankees starting lineup the Iron Horse died at his home. Mayor LaGuardia ordered the flags be lowered to half-staff in the city.

For 56 years Gehrig’s record remained unbroken, but 17 years ago tonight the unbreakable record was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. at Camden Yards against the California Angels.

Ripken’s record of 2632 games will probably not be broken in the next couple of decades if at all. Ripken’s record, as well as Gehrig’s before him are rare. Only seven players in the history of Major League Baseball have played in more than 1000 consecutive games.  The two men forever linked by their extraordinary abilities and durability to withstand the brutal grind of the long and arduous baseball season need to remembered in this day when durability, consistency and stamina are not as appreciated by our society. Now it seems that many are more enamored with flash, glitter and the quick fame or infamy of men and women whose only claim to fame is their ignorance, arrogance and lack of talent.

It is also a night to remember that both Gehrig and Ripken also gave credit to their families, coaches and teammates. In an age when some want to say that they did it all by themselves Gehrig’s words about those that helped him are timeless. I know I know that I haven’t gotten where I am all by myself. I guess that is why I really appreciate both of these men.

Tonight is a night to reflect on long term excellence and to remember both Cal Ripken Jr and Lou Gehrig.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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Sometimes between Life and Death a Baseball often Matters as much as a Prayer

I have had a number of patients in my ICUs who have been avid baseball fans.  Likewise there are a number of physicians and nurses who are avid fans of the game, or sometimes certain teams.  Like me they were members of the Church of Baseball.  Some even attend my parish, Harbor Park.  It is funny how in the intersection of life and death that baseball finds a place more than any other sport.  Baseball has a quality and nuance that is different from most other sports, save perhaps golf.  Baseball is not bound by the constraints of time.  It has an eternal quality that somehow transcends life and death and one can see that in the stories that we tell in film in novels, histories and our own narratives.

There is a scene in The Babe Ruth Story where a critically ill child asks the Babe to hit a home run for him.  The Babe then went out and hit two.  Later in the movie when the Babe is dying of cancer he is given a Miraculous Medal.  The film was rushed to completion before Ruth died and the scene at Yankee Stadium was filmed shortly before a game and Ruth came from his death bed to be there.

In Field of Dreams the spirits of the 1919 White Sox who were forced out of baseball in the Blacksox scandal.  The Pride of the Yankees deals with the life of Lou Gehrig, baseballs original Iron Man and his battle with ALS.  His speech at Yankee Stadium when he retired from the game is classic.  It is a reflection on life well lived and thanksgiving for what he experienced.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” – July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day

These are intersections of life and death.  In the ICUs I have a surprising amount of dealings with baseball.  In one ICU I had a lady that was very sick with chronic and apparently terminal heart disease.  She was a delightful woman with a wonderful husband.  I had met them and while she had struggled she looked like she was on the uptick. She was delightful to spend time with and in those pastoral conversations when I had the overnight duty we found that we shared a common passion, baseball.

We agreed that the Biblical writer’s description of heaven was inaccurate being that they were unaware of the Deity’s love of baseball. We agreed that heaven had to have not streets of gold, but the most amazing turf and most immaculate infield which one could imagine and foul lines that went into infinity. She and her husband were watching the Nationals and Astros play deep into the night but the following day she took a bad turn for the worse.

I saw her that day we visited again and she was struggling. I prayed and anointed her at her request.  And I asked her if she would like a baseball. Her eyes lit up and she nodded “yes.”  So I promised that I would get one from the stadium last night.  The game at Harbor Park was rained out that night so I went home and got a ball that I had received after throwing out the first pitch at a Kinston Indians game.  I inscribed it to her and took it to her room the next day. She was pretty heavily sedated and her sister was with her.  I spent some time with her sister to let her know that I had the baseball for her.  We then went to the bedside where I let the lady know that I had her baseball. She opened her eyes and I put the ball in her hand.  Her hand gripped it tight and I blessed her.

The lady did get better and about 8 months later following my “Christmas miracle” I was walking past the Medical Center Pharmacy and I heard a familiar voice. It was the lady’s husband and she sat beside him looking very well. It turned out that they had been able to correct the worst part of her condition through a catheterization after she had gotten out of the ICU. New medications were also helping but she was most thankful of my little visits to her and the gift of the baseball.

Her husband talked of how the ball seldom left her hand during her ICU stay.  As we visited they both told me how much what I did in the ICU meant to them, the prayer, anointing of the sick and the baseball.  She told me that the ball, an official Carolina League ball was now on her mantle.  We chatted some more and talked about all the prayer that had been made on her behalf as well as the hard work of the ICU and Cardiology teams to keep her alive and help her recover.  I mentioned that it was likely that the whole companies of baseball “saints” in heaven were praying for her as well and we all had a great laugh.  I had to leave and go to a call but we exchanged hugs and blessings.

Sometimes the miracle is not in the prayer but in the things that touch us and mean much to us. For this lady, her husband and I that was baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Passages: Thoughts on My Last Week at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Vin Scully

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an Old-timers’ Game.” Vin Scully

“The oldest pitcher acquires confidence in his ball club – he doesn’t try to do it all himself.” Burleigh Grimes

Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”  -Bob Feller

As any of my regular readers know I relate most of life to baseball. For me it resonates more than more than almost any other part of my life.  I think by now with over 29 years in the military that I count as a seasoned veteran who has been dinged up some and had to try to recover from injuries to his body but also to his self confidence and ability to stay in the game. My assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth has been one of those assignments that was a lot like a rehab assignment to get me back in form for an assignment on a new team where I will be the number one starter in the rotation instead of a rehabbing pitcher making spot starts and relief appearances.

Today I finish up most of my administrative out processing from NMCP as I prepare to transfer to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. I have been at the command two years and it has been an eventful tour.  During the assignment I was forced to deal with the effects of my tour in Iraq, notably my PTSD and its related physical, psychological and spiritual impacts which included a loss of faith and absence of God that left me for a year and a half a practical agnostic. I also had to deal with the end stages of my father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease which culminated in his death in June of this year.  While this was going on I also dealt with a nasty Kidney stone that sidelined me from almost all human activity for over a month, a tooth that had abscessed and had to be replaced by an implant after a root canal failed and various nagging injuries to my shoulders, elbows, a knee and ankle from Iraq.  Most recently I have had to struggle with my hearing, I have something called Auditory Processing Disorder as well as some really annoying Tinnitus, I can hear lots of noise but somehow my brain is not processing it correctly. With all of this in the background and sometimes the foreground I worked and often struggled through the assignment which despite my skills as a critical care chaplain was more difficult than I could imagine.

I compare my time at Portsmouth to a baseball pitcher that goes to a new team but has injuries that he thought were manageable but which were severe enough to take him out of the game and into a rehab mode.  Of course not all teams give older pitchers that chance and that is true more often than not in the military when injuries to an officer are severe enough, especially emotional ones to keep him from functioning at top form.  I was fortunate as Chaplain Tate gave me the chance to heal and looked at my potential rather than my weaknesses when writing up my evaluation reports.  I can say that that is not the norm in much of the military where I probably would have been given reports that would have kept me from being promoted and resulted in me being placed in second tier jobs until I was able to retire.

I was fortunate however because during the assignment I was given time to recuperate and begin to heal.  That has not been easy by far but I am doing well enough now to handle things that would have sent me down the toilet of tears a few months ago. I give a lot of credit to Chaplain Jesse Tate and my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard, better known as “Elmer the Shrink.”  I couple of retired Navy Chaplains on our staff also were men that helped me through the very rough times; Monsignor Fred Elkin and Reverend Jerry Shields gave me much spiritual support and provided me the opportunity to vent as I needed to during really difficult times.   As I got better and able to handle more responsibility Chaplain Tate started putting more responsibility on me, especially after I was selected for promotion to Commander.  It was like I was done with the rehab work and being put back into the game.  He held me accountable and was like a pitching coach or manager working with me, pushing my limits and making corrections even while encouraging me.  He did this with the purpose of getting me ready for my next assignment where I will be in charge of a staff of 6 personnel.  The past couple of months were high pressure due to all the activities the department was engaged in. These including a retirement, two major conferences and the transition of our Pastoral Care Resident Chaplains as one group finished their residency and a new group went through orientation.  In that time I had to deal with a lot more pressure than I had been exposed to most of my tour. After the last conference ended I realized that I could now function at a high level again and not just in my clinical areas.  I am now sure that I can do well in my new assignment and I am looking forward to the opportunity.

As I leave NMCP I will be leaving a lot of friends in my department as well as the rest of the hospital, especially the staff of our adult, pediatric and neonatal ICUs.  Some of these staff members will continue to serve at NMCP, others are now either deployed in harm’s way, have transferred to other commands or have left the service or retired.  I have to thank them as well because each in their own way has been a part of my recovery.

Most people do not get this kind of opportunity to serve and to heal at my age, rank or time in service. Most are put out to pasture until they can retire.  To quote baseball immortal Lou Gehrig “today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” As I re-read his farewell speech a lot of it resonated with me even though I’m not to my knowledge dying and he was.  I’m blessed and somewhat lucky and I am grateful for all that I have experienced at NMCP.  I will leave many friends and if I am lucky enough hope to continue my career as a chaplain in Navy Medicine and return to Portsmouth, perhaps to finish my Navy career.  When I depart on Thursday it will be with a grateful heart and I will miss those that I worked with at NMCP. I am fortunate in one respect that my next assignment is a Naval Hospital and that I will know a good number of the staff at it from my time at NMCP or other duty stations.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, remembering friends, US Navy

29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Military, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baseball on the other hand is different.  It calls us back to our roots and reminds us that the poisonous ideologies of the politicians, pundits and preachers will not last and as James Earl Jones playing the character of Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams so stirringly put it “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” Baseball even in its controversies and scandals still hearkens back to times just as trying and poisonous as the present and reminds us that those things which serve to divide us and may for a time hold sway over individuals and society will pass away and that our country still has a future and hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Those are just some of the reasons that baseball matters.  This is why George Will can say that “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” Walt Whitman once said “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion