Tag Archives: shoeless joe

Cubs Win Epic World Series and Remind us of All that Can Be

cubs-world-series

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late W.P. Kinsella wrote: “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.”

For five hours last night all the cares of the world didn’t matter. Not the raging anger of Donald Trump, not the election, not the wars and bloodshed in the Middle East, not terrorism, not the economy, not anything…  except what transpired on the baseball field in Cleveland. In Game Seven of an epic World Series two teams with a combined 174 years of not winning a World Series battled into the 10th inning as the weather got worse and the rain began to fall. The tension throughout the game was electric, the mood swings as the Cubs took a 5-1 lead and then the Indians scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game took one’s breath away.  Watching these two teams battle it was if time itself no longer existed, just the game, a game which transfixed the nation as no sporting event has in recent memory.

Kinsella wrote something profound  in his classic baseball fantasy The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: 

“Name me a more perfect game!” Matthew Clarke had been fond of saying to his son. “Name me a game with more possibilities for magic, wizardry, voodoo, hoodoo, enchantment, obsession, possession.” 

I have to agree, this World Series showed all of us something that no other sport can match in terms of tension, magic, and enchantment. People like to say that NFL football is exciting, but compared to this wonderful game, but the NFL has has degenerated into brutal test of strength, of declining talent, terrible injuries that the owners don’t seem to mind, with the joy taken out of it.

Instead last night we saw talented players play their hearts out, pitchers exhausted from overuse, hitters coming up big, and fielders making spectacular plays. The drama was played out as if it were a story out of ancient Greek mythology as immortals battled in front of watching mortals. I  wished that it could have gone on forever and that both teams could have won, but that is not baseball. A game may go into extra innings, but when it is over, it is over. Unlike politics when the game is over there is no recount: when the final strike is called, there is no court of appeals. As Bill Veeck 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.”  But that being said there is always next year; which brings with it a hope that springs as eternal as the luxuriant green grass on the enchanted diamonds in every corner of the nation; diamonds whose foul lines theoretically extend to infinity, and whose perfection calls us to something better.  Those fields await us all if we believe.

This World Series, in particular this Game Seven also called us back for just a few hours to a better time, a time of hopes and dreams that have always captivated American, a goodness that dwells within us just waiting to be released again. And it can be again, if we decide to release the cynicism and hatred that has built up over the decades which has been on such display during this election.

What happened last night reminded us of Kinsella’s classic line in his book Shoeless Joe which became the film Field of Dreams: 

“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.”

Congratulations to the Cubs and to their faithful fans. 108 years is an eternity to wait for this, and thank you to the Indians, and there fans as well, and maybe for you it will be next year. But whatever, this wonderful game reminded us of the fact that American is great, because America is good, and baseball reminds us of that good, and what could be again.  As 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.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, News and current events, philosophy, sports and life

Success & Happiness


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

W.P. Kinsella, who wrote the novel Shoeless Joe which became the classic film, Field of Dreams wrote, “Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.” 

Yesterday was  an interesting day, a day about winning, losing and finding happiness even when the system says that you should be disappointed. I found out today on Facebook of all places that I was not selected for promotion to Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I think about five years ago I would have been disappointed, maybe even crushed; but today I’m not. I’m actually thankful. I was afraid that promotion might mean more separation from Judy, as the last time I was promoted I was yanked out of my assignment and given what were basically no-notice, take them or leave them orders that entailed a family separation. That was difficult on both of us, the tour was good, but career progression wise it did nothing for me as a back-to-back tour in Navy Medicine. Followed by my current tour teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College, I knew that having no operational assignments in the past seven years that I would most likely not make Captain. So I began to re-prioritize my life. Family, friends, and stability matter more than another promotion. 

I have been successful and I am happy. I have served over thirty-five years in the military evenly split between the Army and Navy. I left the Army Reserve as a Major in 1999 and went back on active duty in the Navy, taking a reduction in rank to do so. I have been blessed to serve all over the world, including tours in Europe, the Far East and combat the Middle East. When I retire at the end of my last tour I will have spent nearly thirty-nine years serving this country, and to me, finishing well matters and helping young men and women succeed is more important than getting promoted. 

Judy is relieved, as this means stability for my last years in the Navy, and for that I am happy. Right now I get to teach, research and write. My last assignment will be managing a chapel program and hopefully being able to continue teaching. No matter what I will continue writing and doing research.

I can live with that as the rest of my life is not defined by making Captain. Sadly I have known quite a few people who end up bitter because they didn’t get promoted, some with good reason, and likewise I have known some people that when they reach high rank or high office are consumed by a lust for power and control. When it happens to ministers, as it does all too often, and not just in the military; it is tragic. They often not only destroy themselves, but those around them; their families, their subordinates, and those that depend on them for spiritual care. 

I called to congratulate a good friend who was selected for promotion on this board after being passed over for promotion before. His attitude was much like mine, he knows that the promotion will also bring added burdens, as his wife is very sick, and has been chronically ill for years. I am happy for him as well as some others that I know who were selected. At the same time, as much as it would have been something to be proud of, I am glad that I was not promoted, it was a relief. Judy has gone through too much in supporting my career. 

I received so many wonderful thoughts from friends last night, and that was a blessing. I have no cause for bitterness or to think that I was cheated, the fact it that not everyone gets promoted, and my career has been amazing and I still get to serve for a while longer. Not everybody gets that. As Lou Gerhig said; “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” 

I was going to write about the results of yesterday’s primararies, but what can I really say that a thousand other pundits haven’t all ready said, except maybe; know when to drop out. 

Have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under Military, philosophy, US Navy

My Favorite Baseball Films

 

 

 

his cheery holiness

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 reasons why I like them.

Bull-Durham-mv04

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.

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.

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.

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.

But also I have spent a lot of evenings watching games in the quaint ballparks of the Carolina League. The movie shows the closeness of these teams, players, fans and communities that is had to match elsewhere. So when I watch this movie it takes me back to good times that I had in places like Kinston, North Carolina with friends and people I will never forget.

major_league1

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.

This is a team of misfits is put together from veterans who have seen their best times, overpaid free agents that don’t perform and unknown rookies.  Like Bull Durham there is the veteran but somewhat washed up catcher, this time Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the glue that holds the team together. The team includes a Cuban defector who can’t hit a curve ball named Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, an underperforming veteran Third Baseman named Roger Dorn, played by Corbin Bernsen and two rookies; outfielder Willie Mays Hays played by Wesley Snipes and pitcher Ricky Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen.

During the season the team has everything taken from them by owner Rachel Phelps played by Margaret Whitton as 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-love-of-the-game-costne

For 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

For Love of the Game is a movie about life.  The film is based on the Michael Shaara novel The Perfect Game. This is a film about a pitcher  named Billy Chapel played by Kevin Costner who is facing the end of his career.

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.

natural-by-robertedwardauctionsdotcom

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.

The Natural was 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 his chequered past.

Hobbs leaves his sick-bed to play in the game that will decide 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.

The book ends differently and is kind of depressing. I like the film better.

James-Earl-Jones-Field-of-Dreams

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 shows a search for redemption as 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.

FOD ray and john

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. Dyersville is the place where the Field of Dreams was filmed and where the you can still play ball on that magical diamond. Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on that diamond. It is true that 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 special connection with. I think I may write about some of the philosophy and faith that I draw from these films over the coming season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under Baseball, film, movies

Modern Baseball Magic: Chin Music by Lee Edelstein Padre Steve’s Review for TLC Book Tours

ChinMusic-cvr-thumb

 

Chin Music, Lee Edelstein Sela House Publishers Boca Raton Florida 2012

“I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun.” Babe Ruth

I don’t read much in the way of fiction but when I do there is a good chance it has something to do with baseball. In fact someday I hope to publish my own baseball fiction fantasy novel someday but I digress….

I guess that it is fitting that I am watching the Semi-Final game of the World Baseball Classic between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic on television and that my brother Jeff and nephew Nate are in attendance at AT&T Park as I write this tonight. Baseball is a big part of my life as anyone that is a regular reader of this site knows.

Chin Music by Lee Edelstein is actually the first work of fiction of any genre that I have reviewed. Thus I found that reviewing it was a different task than biographic, historic or policy books that I have done in the past.  I write about baseball a lot and do a lot of reading regarding baseball history. To me baseball is something of a religion. To quote the irrepressible Annie Savoy (Susan Saradon) in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

It is hard to compare this book to other great works of baseball fiction such as W P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa, which became the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams or his less known but perhaps more metaphysically interesting The Iowa Baseball Confederacy; Bernard Malamud’s The Natural or Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game.

Those books are all classics in their own right; Edelstein’s work has the potential to become a classic in its own right. Now days a book becoming a baseball classic may be harder than in previous times. It is sad to sad but Baseball is no longer America’s game. Baseball is timeless but somehow it seems that for many Americans the sport is neither violent or “fast” enough to warrant their attention. The long season and intricacies of the game seem beyond a society addicted to speed, violence and instant gratification. To me that is sad, but this book though a modern look at baseball fiction and fantasy reaches back to a time when it was the dream of almost every American boy to be a professional Baseball player.

Edelstein weaves together the stories of the legendary Babe Ruth, a notorious drunk and womanizer and the Buck family over a period of 85 years.

It is a story that begins in St Petersburg Florida in 1926 when a young woman becomes a barber and ends up with one of the most famous men in America as a customer. The relationship, without concludes in a hotel room, the only records of which are the young woman’s diary, a couple of pictures of her with the Babe in the barber shop and a fair amount of unique and highly valuable baseball memorabilia.

The woman, turns out to be the great grandmother of a gifted but underperforming young high school baseball player named Ryan Buck. The book begins with a motor vehicle accident in which Ryan’s father dies, his brother loses a leg and he suffers what we understand as a Traumatic Brain Injury. Ryan suffers from survivor’s guilt and does not live up to his full potential. His mother, now a working mom and widow embarks to sell her grandmother’s Babe Ruth memorabilia at a baseball card show to help pay the bills and to pay for the costs of Ryan’s brother Michael’s prosthetic leg replacements.

Now I am well acquainted with baseball card shows and memorabilia. My house, much to the chagrin of my wife Judy is filled with objects, none as valuable as original Babe Ruth merchandise portrayed in the book, but for me just as valuable if for nothing else because of my love for the game.

The story that Edelstein paints is fascinating and I do not want to give away too many spoilers because unlike the biographical and historical works I have previously reviewed my audience does not know the ending. As such I will limit the discussion of the plot. I will simply note that it deals with a young man’s miraculous climb from high school to the Major Leagues and reconnection with his late father, the healing of the soul of a woman who has lost her husband who has seen the struggles of her children and held on to the hopes of her late grandmother; a woman considered by her mother a tramp and whore. It includes their interaction with an elderly widower who saves the mother from a bad deal at the card show which leads to the discovery of her grandmother’s diary and other items that lead to an interesting search, not just for memorabilia but also for a family heritage. If you don’t get my drift look back at the Babe Ruth quote that begins this review.

Edelstein did what I did not think possible. He got me interested in a fictional work about baseball that was not already a classic. It grew on me as I read it and even though I began to anticipate the ending about three quarters of the way through I had to keep reading and in doing so was captivated by the story.  No it is not Shoeless Joe, The Perfect Game, or The Natural. Those books stand on their own as classics, but Chin Music has the potential to become a baseball classic for a new generation. It is a story of redemption, healing and hope, something that among all sports that baseball seems to embody. 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.”

tlc-tour-host

I hope that it does and hope that in reading it people will regain their love for what is rightly called “America’s game.” I highly recommend Chin Music by Lee Edelstein to my readers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under Baseball, books and literature

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+

3 Comments

Filed under Baseball, faith, movies, philosophy

A Peaceful Night at the Ballpark: Casting my Cares on the Field of Dreams

“That’s baseball, and it’s my game.  Y’ know, you take your worries to the game, and you leave ’em there.” Humphrey Bogart 

It is amazing what a couple of hours at a ballpark can do for me. I don’t know about you but going to the ballpark is something that I need in order to maintain any peace in my soul.

This year I have been to fewer ballgames than any time in the 10 years and I can feel the difference. I find that no matter how crazy things are in my life or how much anxiety I feel I can go to a ball game and I find peace. There is something about that lush green diamond that brings peace to me soul and when I do not get to the ballpark for an extended period something is lost.

I wrote yesterday about those anxieties and frustrations, especially all of the hate that I see on display in our politics, in religion and between peoples at home and and around the world. It seems to me that the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers make a living of spreading hate and fear and turning people against each other, neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, nation against nation.

Fear and hate are contagions and as they spread even those who try to inoculate themselves against their pervasive evil can become caught up in them. I was feeling that way this week and yesterday I knew that I had to do a number of things to get help and one of them was to get to the ballpark. The other was to seek some help for the physical, emotional and spiritual manifestations of my struggle with PTSD. I will share more about that in the coming weeks and months. I am scheduled to begin some very advanced treatment for it that has shown tremendous results in those being treated for PTSD. After talking to the specialist today I feel very hopeful and blessed to be able to get a referral so fast. More on that to come.

However, last night I was able to take in a ball game. Since the Kinston Indians were sold my attendance at ball games has been limited to a few games in Norfolk. Thankfully the Morehead City Marlins of the Independent Coastal Plains League were playing at home against the Florence Red Wolves so I got in my car and drove up there.   It was relaxing. The ballpark was new and small but the field well kept. The ballplayers were college kids from colleges and universities around the country. The skill level was about the level of Low “A” ball in the Minor Leagues and I did’t know any of the players. That being said I found the game both calming and relaxing. I was able to get a hot dog and a beer and wander around taking pictures from various locations in the stadium.

Just being there was healing in its own way. I was able to do as Humphrey Bogart said “take my worries there and leave them there.” I know as a Christian that the Bible says to “cast all of your cares on him (Jesus)” and I do try to do that, but sometimes the ballpark brings me closer to him than a church and a good play by play announcer like Vin Scully more spiritual than the most eloquent preacher, and certainly less divisive than the political partisans who spew hate in the name of the Lord.

Last night reminded me of how important this beautiful game is in my life and why I need it. Like Sharon Olds, who wrote in This Sporting Life that “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as of the world is not going to blow up.”  Believe me I need that reassurance at times and after the past few weeks of angst I really needed that last night.

The great American poet, essayist and journalist 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.”

Last night was good for the soul. I slept better than I have in weeks. Today I started re-reading the classic baseball novel by W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe from which the film Field of Dreams was adapted. Kinsella’s writing is magical and deeply spiritual at its heart. It is about life, love, dad’s and sons and dreams that you don’t let die.

I still have dreams and I won’t let them die. I’ve been given many precious gifts by family, friends, those that have cared for me even when they were suffering and by God. One of those gifts is that wonderful, mysterious and always healing game played on the most perfect of fields, that field of dreams.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, PTSD

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+

4 Comments

Filed under Baseball, film, sports and life