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The Astros Sign Stealing Scandal and the Importance of Baseball to American Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Walt Whitman wrote:

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.

Baseball, can and should be that, but over the years as a culture and a country we have largely abandoned it in favor of more violent, and supposedly faster paced sports like football, which should be more honestly named slow paced, up-armored Rugby. True football is what we call soccer, a sport where every player, not just the kicker and punter can kick the ball, and where use of the hands to stop the ball by anyone except the goalkeeper is a penalty.

There is a lot going on in the world and in our country worth writing about today. I could write about the coming impeachment trials, the Democratic Party presidential race to the first primaries and caucuses, the crisis with Iran. They are all worthy of writing about. However, something troubles me more, because the issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans, and what we have lost. That was revealed in the last few days when it was revealed that the Houston Astros and quite likely the Boston Red Sox have been implicated in a scandal that goes to the heart of the game, and to the heart of us as a people, and it is reflected in our culture, our politics, our religion, and the way we do life.

In the film Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones playing the character Terrance Mann, loosely based on the great author J. D. Salinger remarked:

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.

But the latest scandal involving the upper management of the Astros and Red Sox has probably done more damage to the game than the 1918 Black Sox scandal, and the Steroid Era combined. This time upper management used technology to compromise themselves, their players, and the game itself. No member of the Astros and Red Sox World Series winning teams will escape question, including some of the best recent and young players to have played the game. The actions of A. J. Hinch, Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Luhnow, as well as others certainly to be implicated have harmed the game, and show the depravity of our win at all costs culture, embodied so well by President Donald Trump and our business elites. In sports this has best been seen in the NFL and both the NCAA Football and Basketball organizations, where it is all about winning, and money, with little regard for the players.

With the evidence released when the Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran  after he was named in, but not suspended by MLB in their investigation of the Astros sign stealing scandal. At the time Beltran was a player, but video showed him along with other players watching the videos from the Center Field Camera as signals were being sent to batters. Another whistleblower revealed that at least some, if not all Astros batters had a buzzer embedded in their uniforms to alert them to the type of pitch coming.

I am sorry, call that whatever you wish cheating, and it is on a scale greater than the Black Sox Scandal of 1918 which resulted in the permanent suspension of eight players for life, including Shoeless Joe Jackson who played an amazing World Series but who was also illiterate, meaning that he probably did not understand the contract he signed to throw the Series. Likewise, the fact that the Pete Rose scandal, which involved his personal betting on games, did not significantly influence his teams record and got him banned from Baseball for life. Yes I will go even father, the PED/steroids scandal which ruined Hall of Fame careers for men who would have magpie it to the Hall of Fame with or without them pales in life significance to this scandal because all of the fact that it was so widespread in MLB. The reality is that all the great players stained with PEDs would have made the Hall of Fame without them, while hundred if not thousands of others, without their degree of talent never saw an increase in their performance tells me that talent, not drugs, was still key to the success of players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons. You don’t have to agree with me, but those are facts. In this case it was upper management, the team Manager, coaches, and b players working together to cheat.

As much as I dislike the Evil Dodgers and Yankees, they did not deserve to be cheated out of League or World Series championships by teams that cheated using technology to skirt the long-standing taboos of Baseball that stealing signs is illegal, immoral, and ignoble, especially when the entire management and many players are in on, is simply dishonorable.

My judgement, and yes I used the word “judgement” not feeling, is that the players who participated in this scheme, even those who turned a blind eye to it need suspensions and reprimands, and maybe bans from playing or participating in the Major Leagues, or any minor league teams associated with a major league franchise. If that applies to Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Eight Men Out, to Pete Rose, and the men who would based on their records be in the Hall of Fame even without their use of PEDs then these men, who did this in the playoffs and World Series, need to be punished even more severely. MLB and the teams concerned need to ban the participants in this cheating scheme from baseball. They need to do what  the NFL and NCAA by and large refuse to do.

Baseball is essentially a peaceful and pastoral game, that when onne understands it makes a part of your heart. It is timeless in a time in an age where time is the enemy to be defeated. It is relatively slow paced, like reading books and classic literature, listening to well reasoned speeches and debates like the Lincoln Douglas debates, debates of substance, not sound bites. It is the fact that most Americans regardless of their political or religious beliefs revel in memes and sound bites, violence and speed, rather than reason, reflection, and respect for our institutions, laws, and conventions which have led us to today.

President Trump and his authoritarian Presidency didn’t just appear out of thin air. Our culture, changed. We came to value short term profits, social Darwinism, and amoral violence conducted by men in uniforms, some military, some law enforcement, and some in sports. They vicariously live the violence that we worship as the cornerstone of power.

Bill Veeck, who was the owner of a rotten White Sox franchise for years said:

Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.

I hope that Major League Baseball makes a clean sweep. The National Football League hasn’t done it, but if baseball does it may again become America’s game, and it may bode well for our society as a whole, even more than religion or politics. I hate to say it, but I have to admit that I have come to like soccer as much or more than baseball. Yes, FIFA has its corruption, but it’s a game that is very hard to cheat at, regardless of the amount of technology available, and the desire to win.

By the way, in 2017 I wanted the Astros to win, without knowing the full story of how they got there.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, ethics, faith, film

Shoeless Joe and the Healing of the Soul

“Success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get.” Eddie Scissions in Shoeless Jo

I don’t read much non-fiction. However I do appreciate writers that can tell a story and make it feel real and bring the wood pulp that becomes the pages of a book to life.  I appreciate the writers who are able to blend fantasy and reality, history, religion, faith and mystery and in doing so bring me into the world that they create. It is quite amazing when I think about it.

Before Iraq the fiction I read was historical fiction or the genre of “alternative history.” I gravitated toward military fiction like Anton Meyrer’s Once an Eagle or W.E.B. Griffin’s The Brotherhood of War series and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. All dealt with a military culture that was part of me and that I could relate to because of that shared culture.

But took going to Iraq for me to start reading the occasional work of fiction that was not related to the military. When I was in Iraq I started reading Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. I was beginning a crisis in faith and couldn’t sleep at night I found that somehow the stories touched me with the grace of God.  But I also read a little book called The Perfect Game by Michael Shaara which was a novel about a baseball player, a pitcher named Billy Chapel in the final game of his career. The book  later became the basis of the movie For the Love of the Game. It also resonated in me because it dealt with a man looking back at his life, his successes and failures and how they all flowed through his mind in that final game.

I finished reading W. P. Kinsella’s masterpiece Shoeless Joe last night. It is not the first time that I have read it The book is the novel that the film Field of Dreams is adapted from. Kinsella is a wonderful writer who manages to write in such a way that if you pause for a moment and close your eyes that you can enter into the vividness of the story. Sights, sounds, scents and even touch are imaginable in what he writes.

I saw the movie before I ever read the book. I drove Judy a couple of hundred miles out of our way back in 2004 to visit the actual Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa. But the book touches me in a very deep way. I read it the first time during the summer of 2008 when I returned from Iraq. I remember hunting through the shelves of the local bookstore until I found a copy. Every page that I read came to life and there were times that I had to stop reading because tears filled my eyes.

This time I read it on my I-Phone courtesy of the Amazon Kindle App. I have been doing a lot of my reading on my Kindle or I-Phone lately and despite the lack of pages to turn and spill coke or beer on as I read, the ability to have a lot of books at my fingertips instead of weighing down my trusty Blackhawk “Three Day Pack” that has been with me since I went to Iraq with more books that I should reasonably carry. People have always been amazed with the number of books that I have lugged around ever since I was a kid going to the public library or the school library.  Believe me the trade off is worth it, but I digress….

Once again Kinsella transported me to the world of Ray Kinsella, J.D. Salinger, Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Unlucky Eight” of the Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball in 1919.  I feel like I know them. But then in a way I do. I know so many ballplayers and baseball has been such a big part of my life that there is something that transcends the pages.  Like the characters in the book whose lives are tied to certain teams, in particular the 1919 White Sox and 1908 Cubs I have that sense of connection with the 1970 California  Angels and players like the late Jim Spencer and Third Base Coach Rocky Bridges. Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman and I met him at an autograph signing session at a local Von’s supermarket in Long Beach. that year. I wrote an essay for a contest on why he was my favorite Angel. I was one of the runners up and ended up as a runner up and got tickets to a game, my name in the newspaper and announced by Dick Enberg. I met Coach Bridges that same year and have a picture of him with my brother Jeff and me. That year at Anaheim Stadium and those fleeting encounters with the ball players and coaching staff of the 1970-71 Angels made me a believer in the game of baseball.

So whenever I read the book Shoeless Joe or see the movie Field of Dreams I end up crying. I do that a lot more of that than I used to and as always by the last few pages of the book I was wiping away my tears in order to read.

I think this is because it is a story that really is about the healing power of that lush green field, that perfect diamond that the game of baseball is played. It is a story of reconciliation of fathers and sons, brothers and even strangers. It really is a story of life touched by grace, of infinite possibilities. As Ray Kinsella, the teller of the story in the novel said:

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”

It is a healing balm to my soul.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, movies, philosophy

The Gift My Dad Gave to Me: Baseball and the Mystery of Life

The Big A

This post is an updated and edited version of an article that I published here in 2009.  It is something that I come back to often because it deals with my dad and the influence that he had on my life especially in giving me a gift, the gift of baseball something that almost more than anything else which been a bastion of peace since I returned from Iraq in 2008.

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

Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.  Roger Kahn

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.

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was during the 1970-1971 season 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 by him long before when we watched games on a black and white TV and going to see the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural and final season back in 1969 and in our back yard when he taught me to throw, field and run the bases. He tried to teach me to hit, but that didn’t work too well as I never hit above the Mendoza line in any organized league. The only mistake he made, a mistake that my kindergarten teacher also made was to turn me from a natural lefty to a right hander.  I think that this is one of the reasons that I am as warped as I am.  Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “You have two hemispheres in your brain – a left and a right side. The left side controls the right side of your body and right controls the left half. It’s a fact. Therefore, left-handers are the only people in their right minds.” In a sense my mind has been at war with my body since kindergarten but at least I am in my right mind.  In spite of that he did turn me into a pretty good pitcher something that unfortunately my Little League coaches never noticed.

While my dad thrived on all sports, baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen master’s love.  But Gold is not to be compared with baseball because it is not a team sport though individual accomplishment is key to both and neither

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine have not done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  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 teach me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting except turn me around at the plate.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 when he was markedly deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease and I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls and 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.”

In 1970 we moved to Long Beach California where we lived about 15 minutes from Anaheim Stadium, the home of the then named California Angels.  Back then Anaheim Stadium was called “the Big A” due to the scoreboard shaped like a large “A” with a halo ringing the top in left center field.  Dad took us to more games than I can count and the times there were simply magical.  It was and still is a wonderful place to watch a game.  Back then access to players was easy.  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.  Now I find that I have a hard time sitting anywhere except behind home plate and when I had season tickets at Norfolk’s Harbor Park that is where I sat.

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.  To be able to watch the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome but our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because it was a lot more difficult to get to from Stockton as opposed to Oakland.  Candlestick if you have ever been there is a miserable place to see a baseball game if for no other reason 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.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Minor League ball became a part of my life around the same time. While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California so I could see the Stockton Ports who at the time the California League single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun.  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 leaguer.

In junior high school I switched to hockey and in high school football and never played organized baseball again falling to the temptation to do what the popular people were doing.  In college I played softball where I did hit better and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game.  I did get to a few Dodger’s games when attending California State University at Northridge and although I am not a Dodger’s fan I remember their World Series comeback against the Yankees and I have always thought that Vin Scully painted the best verbal picture of a ballgame and season that has ever been done.

I like other sports but they do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is the nearly spiritual dimension baseball which gives it a timeless and sometimes other worldly dimension.  I find that other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited in this aspect.  Baseball yards are all different, with the exception of the infield dimensions there is a great variance allowed to designers.  The other sports are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks which have smaller playing surfaces there is no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos and the quality of the seating.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock which determines much of what happens during the game giving these sports an almost industrial feeling where baseball is not bound by time. In the other major team sports if a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that they will win the game.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games often has different rules than regulation time.  “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.  

Baseball is not like that.  Legendary Orioles Manager 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.” In order to win a baseball game you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. A baseball game in theory might not ever end and I have been to a number that I thought had some eschatological dimensions.  W.P. Kinsella’s novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, depicts a game that is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner between the 1908 Cubs and a semi-pro team in Iowa. The game which is recorded by a young man who steps into a time warp on a country road goes on for well over 2000 innings eventually provoking the intervention of a Native American deity.  In baseball the foul lines in theory go on for eternity and only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that the outfield in heaven is a lot more spacious and has a much more wonderful playing surface than is even imaginable for us on this terrestrial ball.

Baseball stadiums all have their own distinct design and personality. Save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable places to play football, baseball parks have had maintained their individuality.  It is a pity that some of the great parks have disappeared, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium to name a few are gone but new parks have recaptured the magic.  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.  Gone were the ugly, drab oval stadiums, fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf.  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, replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

In 2009 and 2010 I was blessed to be a season ticket holder at Norfolk’s Harbor Park home of the Norfolk Tides.  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.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolded again as I gazed in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different; my dad passed away last year but up to a year before his death he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants while  bad mouthing 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.”  Likwise I do not have my season tickets in Norfolk since I am now stationed at Camp LeJeune North Carolina, but I will get up to a number of games including Norfolk’s home opener next Saturday.

When I was a child he told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he was an avid fan of Pete Rose, he loved his high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall him 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 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 which was a stain on game but now is now history. Unfortunately it is being used by self-righteous politicians a bureaucrats to make baseball and baseball players look bad so they can look good.   At this point I say reinstate Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose and stop with the endless illegal leaks of documents and alleged positive tests of players whose names are being leaked out one or two at a time.  I think my dad would say the same now, if only he could.

Tomorrow I will take in an afternoon game at Grainger Stadium in Kinston North Carolina. It is the home of the Kinston Indians, or the K-Tribe, the Advanced Single “A” affiliate of the Cleveland Indians in the Carolina League. It will be nice to take in a game, even if not at Norfolk.

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.

Peace, Steve+

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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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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