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

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

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

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

Crash-Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Military, movies, PTSD

Putting the World back in Order: Baseball Movies Tonight

“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Sharon Olds

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball” Pete Hamill

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Walt Whitman

At long last I have my DVD player hooked up and the news is not on in my island hermitage. The past few weeks we have seen the world going crazy. Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear crises, wars and revolutions, political and economic instability are driving me fricking crazy.  I’m sorry but I don’t know about you but this constant torrent of bad news is really getting old fast and it probably isn’t going to get any better any time soon. That my friends is reality and reality can suck like a Hoover, or what the hell a Dyson or Kirby for all I care, it sucks.

But guess what friends we have seen times and events like this before, hell the 1920s, 30s and 40s were as bad or worse. That my friends is reality and it sucked then too. And you know something somehow we as a people got through it. We dealt with the collapse of Empires, revolutions, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Great Depression, World fricking Wars, natural disasters, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo and then to top it all off the beginning of the nuclear era and the Cold War with the ever present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union. But somehow the world survived, don’t ask me how but it did, not without a hell of a lot of pain, suffering and distress mostly brought on by people but occasionally nature but it still survived despite our best attempts to blow it all up.

Somehow as insanely sucky as things are right now with all the hate, turmoil and catastrophe unless the Cubs win the World Series in 2012 the apocalyptic asses prophesying doom and the end of the world in 2012 be it secular, religious or some convoluted theory about why the world will end because the Mayans ran out of rock for their calendar I don’t buy it. Now if the Cubbies win the 2012 World Series all bets are off and you better look to the east because there is a good chance that Jesus is coming. Now was that a hell of a run on sentence or what. That was almost as good as a German theologian.

So we are bombarded with bad news at a cyclic rate and yes it needs to be reported and it is probably good that we stay informed. However all that we do is tune in to the news 24 hours a day or giving three hours a day every day to some radio talk show host or for that matter never turn our radio dials away from them we will not have peace. If all we do is listen, read and watch what all of them stir up every day anxiety then it is no wonder that we are so anxiety ridden and hate each other so much.

I know what constant exposure to this can do for a person, because before Iraq I was consumed by this insanity. However, I came back from Iraq and reprioritized when I found that I could no longer do three hours a day every day or for that matter three minutes with any of these monsters of the airwaves.

Let’s face it Americans have come to loathe each other because all we focus on is how bad everything is and how it is someone else’s fault be they a liberal, a conservative, a Socialist, a Tea Party Patriot, a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or God forbid a Dodgers’ fan. We’ve divided ourselves in ways that haven’t been seen since the days before the Civil War, only now those visceral emotions are transmitted instantly through the television, radio and internet. Something has to draw us back to who we are as a people.

Unfortunately many can’t even find our peace in their faith because nutty extremists with all sorts of agendas from across the political spectrum have hijacked them so that preachers often have messages little different than pundits or politicians. As such we have become cynical, bitter and have lost faith in our political, social, economic and religious institutions and given them all into the hands of those whose chief desire is power.

So all that being said I am enjoying the hell out of two baseball movies tonight. The first was Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck as a New York Yankee slugger who is cut from the team and gets picked up by a Japanese team.  It’s a great flick and really shows some of the differences in the way Americans and Japanese approach this beloved game and how despite the different approaches how deeply it is ingrained in both cultures. Japan has suffered great calamity and we seem to teeter on the edge of our own calamities consumed in angst and for some anger.

The other movie that I am watching even as I write this little article is Field of Dreams a fantasy and allegory of baseball and life. It is a story that always gets me a story of redemption, second chances and hope, a hope that says “if you build it he will come.” We need to start building again; we have been tearing each other down for so long that we have left a tangled mess for our children.

I know for me that baseball is one constant that even when I experienced a loss of faith that left me a practical agnostic for two years after I returned from Iraq that brought peace to my troubled soul. The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish was one of the only places that I could regain a sense of balance and life.

Yes there is a lot of tragedy and crisis in the world but in nine days it is opening day and the “Boys of Summer” will again step onto the lush green diamonds as the regular season begins. It is not a moment too soon. As Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones said so eloquently to Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. 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.”

Things can be good again, we just need to pull together and persevere and believe again. I think that baseball, this wonderful game that has bridged the gap between East and West, this game that is timeless in an age of real and imagined deadlines, this game that still inspires millions around the world, this game that allows us to gain dip in the magic waters of hope and life can be as Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

We need to “hear the voice” again see what can be, we need to find our Field of Dreams and make it real.

Well the movie is ending and I have tears in my eyes, tears of joy as I watch Ray Kinsella “have a catch” with his father John on that magical diamond and long for the day I can do so with my father who is somewhere in that cornfield waiting to come out and play ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

A Visit from My Dad

Is there a heaven? Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.

John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.

[John starts to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?

John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

Dialogue from Field of Dreams

I went to bed as usual on Sunday night with my usual trepidation of the night but unlike many nights I actually fell asleep after two consecutive nights where I had almost none. Since returning from Iraq I don’t sleep well and most of the time when I dream, or remember dreams they are seldom good and often quite disturbing. When I see massive trauma and destruction as has been covered on the news of late be it the triple disasters in Japan as well as the situation in Libya where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are grinding the rebels that we encouraged to dust. For me after seeing the destruction of Iraqi cities and the effects of war the images of destruction and human tragedy in Japan and Libya are upsetting and I have slept even less well than normal.

My dad died last June after a seven year battle with Alzheimer’s disease which by the sixth year had taken away almost everything that he was.  The last time that I saw him alive he did not know me and for me that was hard. He died the day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to the Rank of Commander and I know that he was proud of my career in the military and would have been elated to share that joy.

I love the movie Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner ends up helping the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox including Shoeless Joe Jackson who were banned from baseball during the “Black Sox” scandal find peace on a baseball field in Iowa. In the process he also makes peace with himself and his father. I feel a lot of connection to the movie because of the father son relationship portrayed in it. Baseball was always a big part of our lives and my dad planted the love of the game deep in me. In my early adulthood my dad and I suffered some rocky times in our relationship many of which were due to my headstrong independence.  However later in life we had become close again, he was still high strung and opinionated and I was still opinionated and independent but it was a good relationship.  The only thing that we were unable to do was get together and “have a catch” during the latter years because of his deteriorating physical condition.

So after his death I had a lack of closure a feeling that we had never been able to say goodbye to each other. On Sunday night or rather early Monday morning I had a dream where he visited me. It was the dad that I remembered.  He came to me and we talked about baseball, the weather, and my mom as well as funny stories about his mother, world affairs, the Navy and even the earthquake in Japan since we had both served there at different times.  It was a natural conversation like one might have with their father after not seeing him in person for a year or more. He was really happy that the Giants had won the World Series and we talked about the possibilities of them repeating. The conversation went on for what felt like hours. He told me how proud he was of me and how he loved me and I was able to express the same to him. When he said that he had to leave I went to my desk, somehow he was visiting me in my office at the Naval Hospital to get him my business card so he would have my phone numbers. At that point the alarm clock went off and he disappeared.

I woke from sleep feeling like I had just been with him and that the visit was real. I was still tired but my spirit was refreshed. I told Judy about it Monday night and she thought that it was pretty cool and said that he may have visited me.  Whether it was a visit or a dream I don’t know. All I know is that I had my dad back for a while and finally was able to say that last I love you and hear the same from him. I’m okay with that and hope that maybe he will come back to “have a catch” with me or take in a ball game or just talk some more.

Is there a heaven? Yes, it’s the place where dreams come true.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Baseball, faith

Padre Steve’s Favorite Baseball Movies

I love all things baseball as my regular readers can tell you. In fact God speaks to me through baseball, even baseball movies when I cannot get to a ball park.  Of course as most readers know I am also a big fan of comedy and when baseball and comedy get together it is like beer and pizza, two great tastes that go great together.  Yeah, you were thinking I would say peanut butter cups, what a waste of calories, but I digress.

I love baseball movies, comedies for sure but also serious films.  Here are my favorite baseball movies in no particular order, although I’m sure that the order I place them has some subconscious meaning or maybe it doesn’t.  But whatever, these are some of my favorite baseball movies with a few reason why I like them.

Bull Durham


Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-mBb8Fyup0

I guess my favorite baseball movie of all time has to be Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Set in the Single-A Carolina League the film is about a journeyman minor league Catcher named Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner. Davis is a journeyman but was playing in Triple A at the beginning of the season and is sent down to Durham to help a top prospect pitcher named Ebby Calvin LaLoosh get ready for the major leagues.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppBt1Igsg-U&feature=related

In the process Davis meets Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) a part time junior college English instructor and baseball guru that hooks up with a player on the team for 142 games.  The movie is a great sports and life movie as it deals with transitions. For Davis it is the transition from active ball player to life and love after baseball, for LaLoosh who goes from minor league prospect to the majors and Annie Savoy who falls for a man for more than a season.  For the past ten years or so I have identified with Crash Davis, the journeyman who ends up mentoring young players.  In fact I recommend this movie to young chaplains that seek out my counsel simply because many are wild like “Nuke” LaLoosh and simply need a blunt and honest veteran at the end of his career to bring them along. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppBt1Igsg-U

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Crash gets throw out of a game. It reminds me of when I got thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course in October 1992. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZhDdcE2Iw&feature=related

Major League


“Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” Pedro Cerrano

The film Major League is another of my favorites. Set in Cleveland in the late 1980s the film as about a perpetually losing team with a new owner who wants to move the historic franchise from Cleveland to Miami.  Her instruction to the team’s General Manager is to lose enough games to ensure that so few fans will come that she can legally move the team.  A team of misfits is put together veterans who have seen their best times, overpaid free agents that don’t perform and unknown rookies.  Once again there is the veteran but somewhat washed up catcher this time Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the glue on a team that includes a Cuban defector who can’t hit a curve ball named Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, a underperforming veteran Third Baseman named Roger Dorn played by Corbin Bernsen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X8552DxqOk and two rookies and outfielder Willie Mays Hays played by Wesley Snipes and pitcher Ricky Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen.  As the team has everything taken from them by owner Rachel Phelps played by Margaret Whitton they embark on a journey from cellar dwellers to American League East Champions.  Once again I relate to the veteran catcher but I also have an affinity for the rebellious rookie Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

For the Love of the Game


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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAIixu-wL2I&feature=related

Another of my favorites is For the Love of the Game based on the Michael Shaara novel The Perfect Game. This is a film about a pitcher at the end of his career named Billy Chapel played by Kevin Costner. Chapel has been with the team 19 years and has seen good times and bad, pitched in the World Series and suffered a grievous injury to his pitching hand in the off season. He is a man who has struggled with love yet forged lasting friendships with teammates, even those now on other teams.  The movie is set at Yankee Stadium with Chapel pitching in a meaningless game for the cellar dweller Tigers against the playoff bound New York Yankees.  The game revolves around Chapel and his relationships with his catcher, Gus Sinski (John C. Reilly), his lover Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston), her daughter Heather (Gina Malone), former teammate and current Yankee Davis Birch and the team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) who is in the process of selling the team. The new owners are looking to deal Chapel to another team, likely the San Francisco Giants when the season is over and Chapel has to decide if he is going to be traded or retire.  With all of this swirling in his mind Billy Chapel pitches a perfect game and with every pitch the audience is introduced to the people and events that shaped his life.  One of the most poignant moments is toward the end of the game when the pain of his injured hand is killing him and his is tired that his catcher Gus pays a visit to the mount and says “the boys are all here for ya, we’ll back you up, we’ll be there, cause, Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not gonna screw that up, we’re gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLrqdqBfqcw&feature=related

The team which had nothing to play for finds its heart and soul backing up their pitcher making great plays and getting the all critical hits.  I relate to Billy Chapel a lot because of my long career with all of its ups and downs.  The game is a microcosm of life and tells a story through baseball that runs deeper than the game itself. It is about life, family, friendship, love, commitment, good times and bad.  I cannot watch this movie without being moved to tears. Of course having Vin Scully call the game as if it were a real game makes it all the better.

The Natural


Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?
Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NS0Q9sI-wuo&feature=related

The Natural adapted from the 1952 novel by the same name by Bernard Malamud.  In the film Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs a hot prospect that is badly wounded by a female admirer who shoots him.  After years away from the game he returns to the game as an old rookie.  The novel is a tragedy while the movie was changed to make Hobbs triumph over adversity.  Hobbs has to battle his past, the press and his age and the ever present affects of his injury as he plays a game that he loves all the while kindling a relationship with Iris Gaines played by Glenn Close.  After a remarkable season Hobbs is sidelined by after effects of the shooting and the press publicizing past.  Going to bat out of his sick bed Hobbs plays in the deciding game of the pennant. He comes to bat with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning bleeding from his side due to the injury. Hobbs crushes a pitch that goes just foul and breaks his bat which had been carved from the wood of a tree struck by lightning. He asks his batboy for a bat saying “Pick me out a winner Bobby” and goes back to the batter’s box.  As the catcher attempts to exploit Hobbs injury call for an inside fastball which Hobbs takes yard into the lights causing them to explode as he rounds the bases as the Knights win the pennant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54-6yimtjtA

Field of Dreams


“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones)

You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster)

The last film that I will discuss in this post is Field of Dreams. This is one of the three films that I call the Kevin Costner Baseball trilogy and like For the Love of the Game was adapted from a novel, in this case Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. The film is a baseball fantasy about a novice farmer named Ray Kinsella (Costner) the son of a baseball player who during the 1960s walks away from his father and baseball. While in his fields he hears a voice saying “If you build it, he will come.” He has a vision of a baseball field and plows under some of his crops to construct a field. Nothing happens at first but the next summer “Shoeless Joe Jackson” (Ray Liotta) shows up and after meeting Ray brings with him the seven other players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox implicated in the “Black Sox” scandal and banned from baseball.  The film is a fantasy, a search for redemption by Kinsella who tries to make sense of the voice and the ball players.  Eventually goes to Boston to find 1960s author and activist Terrance Mann (based on J. D. Salinger) played by James Earl Jones after he hears the voice say “ease his pain.” He meets with the reclusive and somewhat unfriendly Mann and it does not go well.

Ray Kinsella: [being rushed out of Mann’s loft] You’ve changed – you know that?
Terence Mann: Yes – I suppose I have! How about this: “Peace, love, dope”? Now get the hell out of here!

He finally gets Mann to go with him to a Red Sox game but even that does not go well. Ray thinks that he has wasted his time when Mann stops him and the pair drives to Chisholm Minnesota to find a former ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight Graham.” They discover Graham, the beloved town doctor died 16 years before.  As Kinsella walks the street he finds himself transported back in time and meets the old Doctor Graham.  He cannot get Graham to come with them but on the road back home he and Mann pick up a young hitch hiker looking to play baseball, named Archie Graham. They arrive back home and while the players who have grown in number they find that his farm is being foreclosed on be foreclosed on by a group of businessmen and bankers headed up by his brother in law.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/12384/field-of-dreams-people-will-come

During the argument between Ray and his brother in law the daughter fall off the small set of bleachers and appears to be severely injured.  Young Archie Graham walks off the field, becomes old doctor Graham and saves the girl’s life. The brother in law is transformed by what happened and sees the ballplayers for the first time. He stops the action against his Ray who after thinking Ray was crazy finally sees the magic of this diamond as Archie Graham becomes the elderly Doctor Moonlight Graham and saves the Kinsella’s daughter’s life after she fell from the bleachers.   Mann gets to go with Shoeless Joe and the others into the mystical cornfield and a young ballplayer, Ray’s father John Kinsella is introduced. Ray recognizes him introduces him to his family without identifying him as his father or admitting that he is his son. The classic exchange between the two explains the essence of the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[John starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

The two end up “having a catch” as the lights of cars wind across the Iowa farmlands heading to this little ball field.  The movie has a special place in my heart because of the father-son relationship. When my dad returned from Vietnam I had emotionally moved away from him and baseball. I kept an interest in the game but for a number of years it was not a passion.  The exchange between Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann still gets me, now later in life my dad and I reconnected as father and son and I came back to baseball.

Ray Kinsella: By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.
Terence Mann: Why 14?
Ray Kinsella: That’s when I read “The Boat Rocker” by Terence Mann.
Terence Mann: [rolling his eyes] Oh, God.
Ray Kinsella: Never played catch with him again.
Terence Mann: You see? That’s the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It’s not my fault you wouldn’t play catch with your father.

In 2004 while going to a reunion of my Continental Singers tour in Kansas City Judy and I made a few stops watching minor league games in Louisville and Cedar Rapids before making a trip  to Dyersville Iowa where she indulged me by playing catch with me on the Field of Dreams. If you build it he will come…I did.

I could go on about other baseball movies as there are many more but these above the others are the ones that I find a connection with.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, film, sports and life

Dad’s Gift of Baseball to Me…a New Season Begins

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.” George Will

Harbor Park

Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball.  For me there is something mystical about the game.  It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other.  George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on.  Not all holes or games are created equal and as Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) said in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was in 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me.  The seed of course had been planted long before watching games on a black and white TV and having my dad play catch, teach me to throw, field and run the bases.  In 1967 we even saw the Seattle Pilots in person while stationed in Washington State. While my dad thrived on all sports but baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball.  Golf it is an interior and individual game whereas baseball is a game where individuals depend upon one another in community much as in an ideal world Christians depend upon one another in the Church.

Me with Angels Manager Left Phillips 1970

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine not having done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  I cannot remember a time that I did not have a ball, glove and bat as well as at least one baseball hat. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score.  I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teaching me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him that I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls but complained that he did not teach me to hit.  He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”  Obviously he understood that I would never hit much above the Mendoza Line and stuck to teaching me defense and pitching.

Oak Park Little League Rams Stockton CA, the Team Sponsor was San Diego Chargers Owner Alex Spanos

Back in the days at Anaheim Stadium when it was still called “the Big A” I really did fall in love with the game.  I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest.  For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate.  I met so many of the players on that team and those of opposing teams and it was that personal connection of ballplayers giving a 5th grade kid the time of day that endeared me to the game. Players like Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, Sandy Alomar and Ken McMullen as well as coaches and managers gave me some of the best memories of childhood.

Billy Hebert Field

When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers.  Seeing the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome.  However our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because of the inhospitable location and added distance from home.   If you have ever seen a baseball game at Candlestick you will know that it is a perfectly miserable place to see a game as in that if nothing else that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold.  One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.

While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California where we lived. In the summer she would let me see the Stockton Ports several times a week. Back then the Ports were the California League Single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun, chasing balls down and chomping down peanuts that cost a quarter a bag.  I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor league player in the 1960s.

Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5766041

In high school and college due to other diversions I stopped playing baseball and did not have as much contact with it.  However the call of baseball never completely left me and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game. I think that the biggest mistakes that I ever made were taking on hockey for a couple of seasons and an ill-fated one year career in high school football. It was like I sold out baseball for games that seemed more exciting but were not me.  I have dreams of what it would be like to get the chance to play at my advanced age for one inning in a minor league game.

Moonlight Graham

I feel in a sense like Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams when he tells Ray Kinsella:

“Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” I can totally relate.

Other major sports do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is a spiritual dimension that the game has which makes it timeless.  Other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks there are no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock.  If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time making them seem somewhat hypocritical to me.  “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time.  It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock. Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Jeff Fiorentino Going Yard at Harbor Park

Baseball is not like that.  In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner.  Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious and have a wonderful playing surface in heaven.

I love baseball parks. I like their individuality and savor their differences and save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have kept their individuality.  Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team.  Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers.  And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Although the ivy of Wrigley Field, the Green Monster of Fenway are about all that are left of the great old ballparks however the new ballparks have returned to what makes every ballpark special in its own way.  Gone are the ugly drab oval stadiums with their fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf with only a small cut out for the bases.  The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble or retired to serve in other capacities and replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

Oak Harbor Little League where I played my first organized baseball

Last year for the first time in my life I bought season tickets for my local AAA team, the Norfolk Tides who are the AAA Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. I also went Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.  The ballpark is a place of solace for me that was after I returned from Iraq one of the few places that I could have peace, even church was a dangerous place but walking onto the concourse and taking in the lush green diamond and immaculately trimmed infield there was a place of peace.  I found that watching the young players striving to reach or get back to the majors to stay helped motivate me as I recovered from PTSD, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and a crisis of faith that scared the hell out of me.  I appreciate the young pitchers that I have met behind home plate as the chart the game following their starts, and my hope and prayer for them is that they will see their dreams fulfilled and eventually make it to the show and stay there.  So Jim, Andy, Chris, Ross, David This year I look forward to again taking me seats in Section 102 Row B seats 1 and 2.  Opening day is the 8th of April and the Weather Channel’s 10 day forecast says that the weather should be good.  However this is Hampton Roads, opening day was rained out last year and in 2005 the temperature at game time was 38 degrees with winds of 25-40 knots coming out of center field.

Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.”   When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground.  The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view.  There is not a bad seat in the house.  My seats in Section 102 row 2 are right behind home plate and offer a field level view of all the action. I love the people in the section, Elliott and Skip the Ushers, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Marty the Card Dealer, Ray, John and the Vietnam Veterans of America at the beer stand and of course legendary General Manager Dave Rosenfield and President Ken Johnson as well as Linda, Heather and the rest of the staff.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolds again as I gaze in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different than last year but similar my dad is still in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the disease is taking its time and now has robbed him of everything that he once was. In November I saw him and he did not know me.  It is so sad to see.  A year and a half to two years ago he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants and bad mouth the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.”  I never shared that opinion or the fact that I have been a closet Baltimore Orioles fan for years as he could barely handle my liking the Oakland Athletics.  He did not like Earl Weaver one bit but was a lot like him in his approach to the game and life…however he did admire Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

Dad told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he made sure that there were books of baseball stories around the house.  I learned to read with books about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Rogers HornsbyJackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Dad was an avid fan of Pete Rose; he loved “Charlie Hustle’s” high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall dad yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard at second base to break up a double play.”   Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard.  I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era where players who were Hall of Fame caliber sacrificed their reputations by doing steroids.

My Dad and I May 2009

I don’t know how long my dad will live. He has outlived his doctor’s expectations by well over a year maybe even a year and a half. He doesn’t know what is going on for the most part but somewhere in his Alzheimer’s ravaged brain he must still be there.  Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball.  Sure, it’s only just a game.  Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond.  I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.

Play Ball!

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, PTSD