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The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball I know that God still cares. Every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams, the last player to hit for .400 said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  That is true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

When I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

Churchofbaseball

 

The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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Bad Blood: Romney Wins Illinois, Missouri in Chaos and GOP Rift Widens

The “Wall Street financier” beat the “economic lightweight” tonight in the Land of Lincoln but the Republican race is still going to continue. Santorum lost by double digits but in any normal year he should have lost by far more. The voter turnout as in most previous GOP primaries was lower than 2008 which points to problems later on because it shows that in spite of their dislike for President Obama is that the GOP is not excited about its candidates.  The rhetoric continues to spiral into the land of frustration and anger as both candidates and campaigns have resorted to elementary school playground type name calling.

Romney’s win was important coming on the heels of coming in third in both Mississippi and Alabama. In that sense it was a big win, perhaps his biggest win of this primary season to date. But Romney needs to win more and put Santorum away and try to collect the support of Evangelical Christian social conservatives who heavily back Santorum.  If Santorum comes back with a win in Louisiana the talk will shift back to how Romney cannot seal the deal.

The vote showed Santorum’s weaknesses as well as the irrelevance of Newt Gingrich who is by all reason is splitting the conservative vote and hindering Santorum in is battle against Romney.

There are signs both Santorum and Romney are wearing thin on the independent vote on which the election will hinge. Polls show that both men have much higher negative ratings from independents than does President Obama.  The issue with Romney is that he seems out of touch and Santorum because he seems too extreme. Perception matters and neither Santorum or Romney seem to get the fact that the way that they come across does matter.  Tommy Lasorda noted something about baseball that I think is very applicable in a Presidential campaign of this nature. “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  In such a polarized race the independents are that third that make the difference even if they aren’t exactly a third of the electorate.

My prediction is that as both campaigns continue to battle each other that they will continue to widen the rift between the Santorum and Romney supporters.  I still believe that this race continues deep into the primary season if not all the way to Orlando. I think that even if it looks like Romney will wrap up the nomination that many Evangelical Christian social conservatives and quite probably much of the Tea Party wing will feel alienated from the GOP and with well over 25% of GOP voters saying that a candidates religion was a “very important factor” in their vote it is possible that Romney will not get their support even as the nominee. In a close election that will matter.  Both parties have to lock up their base while winning the independents. Any crack in the GOP base could be disastrous to their nominee.

The lack of enthusiasm for any of the candidates was shown in the exit polls tonight where 39% of GOP voters indicated that they are not satisfied with their candidates and that the numbers of Republicans voting today were a record low for the state.

Romney is winning in the urban areas and losing in the rural areas; a trend that has been constant this primary season. The problem in this is that any GOP nominee has to have strong support in rural areas because in many states the urban areas traditionally vote Democrat and will be won by President Obama in the November general election regardless of who the GOP nominee is.  The evidence of this is shown in in the Missouri caucuses last weekend where the largest country caucus in St Charles County had to be broken up by the police at the organizers’s request because of the chaos at the site. The battle for delegates across the country especially in caucus states is so clouded it is difficult to tell exactly what the count really is despite each candidate’s spin. I have linked two videos showing the chaos of that event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9__0im5kQk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6d9X6krB9A

Romney has had to spend huge amounts of money to bury his competition, money that will not be available for the general election. He and his Super PAC allies outspent Santorum 7-1 in Illinois. The longer the campaign goes and the more invective spent on each other the more likely it is that whoever the nominee is will come out wounded, especially in the eyes of the independent voters.  They will decide the election.

This will continue to be interesting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Only Church that truly Feeds the Soul…

The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right.  In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone.  Jonathan Swift once mused “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   

Now of course in addition to being a Christian and a a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain I also belong to the Church of Baseball as the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti said “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.”  While I may become frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures I know that God still cares every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball.  

To some that may seem like heresy but God even loves heretics that love football or basketball more than baseball.  But really I don’t know of a game that can speak to the soul like the game of baseball, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

But then what is heresy? I mean I don’t think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do as even Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “love your neighbor as yourself thing” and not real cool with pompous religious leaders that seem to give preference to the rich and powerful and . Forgive my rather casual language there but I did grow up in the 1970s and who could forget “translations” like The Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man.   

I am a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles and admirer of the Oakland A’s.  I like some other teams as well but I am a fan of teams that seem to suffer much, although unlike my brother George Will I do not quite know his suffering as a Cubs fan.  For fans like like me and others that suffer with their teams through bad times and good baseball is a love affair with our teams and the players that play for them. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 for the first time in over 50 years in San Francisco. The Orioles are now up to 14 straight losing seasons.  The A’s have not won a series for two decades but their GM Billy Beane helped revolutionize the way that players are evaluated.  

There is something right about baseball, even more right than the height of the trees in Michigan.  Unlike the hyper politicized preachers who also specialize in making themselves rich and protecting their market share instead of shepherding their flocks baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that reality exists. 

Baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow, the grind of the long season and the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection but the realization that most of the time you won’t get there. 

In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.” 

That is life and faith. While I am definitely a Christian I do have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel and who I think are actually driving people away from Jesus. At least when I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” 

I think that is why I agree with Annie Savoy about baseball being the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out as well as the late legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell who said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”  

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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The Unbelievable Implosion of a Storied Baseball Franchise

At one time the Los Angeles Dodgers were one of the most desirable and bulletproof franchises in all of sports. They were one of Major League Baseball’s premier franchises. They had a reputation as pioneers they were the stuff of legends, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Tommy Lasorda, Walter Austin, Kirk Gibson, Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, and the list can go on ad infinitum especially for a Dodgers hating San Francisco Giants fan like yours truly.

But today something that a couple of years back I could never have imagined. Today Dodgers’ owner and destroyer Frank “I love my MLB ATM” McCourt declared bankruptcy. For me it was like the Soviet Union going tango-uniform to end the Cold War back in 1989. It’s unseemly, it’s unsightly and it’s undignified. My goodness the man and his equally despotic ex-wife Jamie bought the team with none of their own money and took loans totally hundreds of millions of dollars from the team as well as turned the team into their own realm of nepotism. The hired their sons at over half a million dollars a year, they paid the former Mrs. McCourt a million a year, they set up multiple expensive residences and they hired a psychic for a pretty price to guide their decisions, well I guess if Nancy Reagan could why not them. Now that couldn’t have been a good experience after all have you ever heard of a “happy Medium?”

They even signed Manny Ramirez who by the way is now their number one creditor. I mean this is embarrassing; multiple pops for performance enhancing drugs, declining stats, injuries and all the Manny baggage.  The ridded themselves of Dodger Town in Vero Beach that storied spring training facility that had hosted the Dodgers for over half a century. They bankrupted the team and even took a 30 million dollar personal loan from Fox to meet the May payroll.

Why in the hell Major League Baseball gave them, I said gave them a franchise, especially one like the Dodgers I don’t know. After all what connection did McCourt have to baseball? Well none actually. He was a smooth as freshly laid asphalt parking lot mogul with a propensity toward pomposity. He could talk Hannibal Lector out of Lady Gaga’s drumstick, not that there’s much meat on it but still you get my drift.  And to think that baseball rejected Mark Cuban because they didn’t want a new young Steinbrennerish owner to upset the cart. However despite his antics Cuban is a committed owner who would have done baseball and the Dodgers better than the parking lot Putz. Ask the people in Dallas what they think of him, look what he did to revive a franchise. He used his money and put himself on the line to turn the Mavericks into a winner. He hired good basketball people and got out of the way. He was a face, spokesman and cheerleader and he would have been good for the Dodgers. Los Angeles is big and it loves the outlandish he would have been perfect and he would have used his money not others to do it.

Now Bud Selig and the rest of the baseball establishment will have to figure out to do. If they don’t want Cuban they could pick someone like Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates who have oodles of money and love to spend it on charity cases, which by all counts the Dodgers now are.

I see this as a Giants fan would in light of the Cold War. When the Soviets went tits up the world went crazy. They were the Yang to our Yin. I certainly don’t want baseball to experience anything like the world has gone through since the end of the Cold War. Baseball is about stability not chaos and the McCourts have thrown the Dodgers into chaos which is not good for baseball or America.  They should be taken out and banished to outer Mongolia or some other place that is parking lot deprived.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Meaning of Opening Day

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  Tommy Lasorda

At long last it is Opening Day, the first day of a long and arduous 162 game regular season and three tier playoff series system that can extend the season by up to 19 more games for teams that reach the World Series. Beyond the pageantry of opening day, which will be repeated tomorrow for the teams that did not play today and next week for the Minor Leagues and which is something akin to New Years Day the meaning of Opening Day is that baseball is back and Winter is over, even if it tries to hang on a few more weeks.

Over the past few days all the experts have weighed in on their picks of who will make the playoffs and even win the World Series. The good thing is that like Bible prophecy “experts” their predictions are often woefully wrong.  Baseball is about sustained performance of teams and individuals over the long season. In no sport do players and teams have such a punishing schedule as in baseball. Day in and day out the players take the field, travel across country and play the next day.  As the legendary Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said “This ain’t a football game, we do this every day.”

The team rosters on opening day often are far different than those in September, injuries and slumps can get players traded, released or sent to the minors while unheralded players, journeymen, players called up from the minors and players that had been written off by former teams bask in the sunshine of success.  Teams which were expected to do great things sometimes collapse due to injuries, unexpectedly poor play by players that have to have a good season or a failure of on field leadership and trouble in the clubhouse or in senior management.

For these reasons I take all predictions made on opening day by experts with a grain of salt. I do not think that any of the experts picked San Francisco and Texas to meet in the World Series and right up to the end most of the experts picked the Giants to lose their division, then the divisional playoff series, then the NLCS and finally about half thought that the Giants would win the World Series.  I really think that experts show their bias, especially for East Coast teams over those in the West or Central and for teams with a lot of money and media clout such as the Yankees and Red Sox.  I have my thoughts on who might win their divisions and go on to the playoffs but anything I say now will be rendered moot by events on and off the field.  Do I think that the Giants can repeat? Of course, but no one has repeated since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.  That is reality and what makes baseball so much fun, you never know how this long campaign will play out.

I love baseball because it really is an allegorical play about America and life. There are the highs and lows, the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations and the excitement of the underdog team that pulls it all together to win.  The meaning of Opening Day is that it is a beginning not an end, the end will only be seen when the last out of the World Series is recorded. Ernie Harwell said “Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Passing of the “Duke of Flatbush”: Duke Snider 1926-2011

Duke Snider (Getty Images)

“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” Tommy Lasorda

Baseball lost a legend today. Duke Snider the “Duke of Flatbush” who was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to 6 National League Titles in 10 years and a World Series Championship in 1955 was 84 years old.

During his 18 year career of which 16 were spend with the Dodgers, one with the Mets and his final season with the San Francisco Giants he batted .295 with 407 home runs and 1333 RBIs. He still is the all time home run leader for the Dodgers with 389 as well as RBIs. He was an eight time All Star. During his most productive period between 1953 and 1956 he averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs and a .320 batting average.  During the World Series Championship year of 1955 he hit .309 with 42 home runs and 136 RBIs.

While the Dodgers’ were in Brooklyn Snider was one of a trio of Center Fielders that all reached the Hall of Fame and are considered some of Baseball’s immortals. Snider along with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays electrified the diamond of Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds and have some baseball historians still arguing just who was the greatest New York Center Fielder of the era. He was consistently for a period of 10 years in the top 10 of votes for MVP finishing second by just 5 points to teammate Roy Campanellain a controversial vote involving a mismarked ballot from a hospitalized sportswriter which had the ballot been marked correctly could have given Snider the MVP.

Snider as well as his Dodgers’ teammates Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Clem Labine, Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca, Jim Gilliam, Joe Black and Pee Wee Reese have been immortalized in Roger Kahn’s classic book The Boys of Summer. It is a book that I have read several times and is part of my usual summer reading program along with David Halberstam’s The Summer of 49, October 1964 and Teammates a Portrait of Friendship.

Snider was released by the Dodgers after the 1962 season after he and Third Base Coach Leo Durocher disagreed with Manager Walter Alston on a recommendation to have Don Drysdale go into the third and deciding game of the 1962 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. With a 4-2 lead Alston opted for Stan Williams in relief of Eddie Roebuck and the Giants rallied for a 6-4 win. After spending the 1963 season with the Mets and the 1964 season with the Giants he retired at the close of that season.  He would later be the play by play announcer for the Montreal Expos and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. The one blemish on his post baseball life was a conviction for tax evasion for not claiming income earned from the sale of baseball cards and memorabilia.

Despite the conviction Snider is remembered as one of the good guys of baseball respected by his peers and his fans.  He is immortalized with his fellow Center Fielders Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in the Terry Cashman’s classic baseball ballad (Talkin’ Baseball) Willie, Mickey and the Duke. http://video.yahoo.com/watch/456784/2533611

Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully said “He had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”

An ESPN News Story about “The Duke of Flatbush” is here: http://sports.espn.go.com/espntv/espnShow?showIDshowID=SRDA&addata=2009_tscbr_xxx_xxx_xxx_xxxespnShowcomshowIDflv

Here is a clip of Duke Snider in his words. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHQXQC9grAU

I shall treasure my autographed Duke Snider Baseball Card even more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Called Him Sparky: A Baseball Legend Passes Away a Victim of Dementia

Big Red Machine (L-R) Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose

Baseball great Sparky Anderson died today at the age of 76 of complications from dementia a day after being admitted to hospice care in his home in Thousand Oaks California.  The Hall of Fame manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers had been in declining health for a number of years and had spent time in the hospital in February for a Kidney related illness.  He last visited a ballpark in May when he visited Dodgers’ Stadium and visited with managers, coaches and players. At the time the loss in his cognitive abilities were noticed but for a few moments the spark of his old managerial self came out.  In 2009 he was at the reunion of his World Series Champion Detroit Tigers team. It was obvious then that he was slipping even though he was quite animated as seen in this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJQBKlkrnIw&feature=player_embedded#at=87

Dementia of any kind is one of the cruelest afflictions as it often takes everything from a person. In the end stages it is often something like aspiration of mucus into the lungs as the person loses their gag reflex. The last two years of my dad’s life were difficult because he lost the ability to be himself ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.  The last time I had any real communication was for a few minutes in May of 2009, after that he didn’t know me. I can only imagine what Sparky’s family went through in the last years of his life.  We don’t know a lot about Sparky’s illness but the signs of his declining health were noticed by his friends. Tommy Lasorda the legendary Dodgers’ manager commented: “He looked bad,” Lasorda said following an appearance at the annual Hall of Fame dinner in August: “He was really down. He was very sickly, and we had to take him off the stage. And then I called him about 10 days ago because I was thinking about him. We spoke, but I didn’t want to speak too long because he sounded exhausted, you know? We talked for maybe eight or 10 minutes, and he thanked me for thinking of him, and that was it.”

In the 1970s my dad loved Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine. My dad had been a Reds fan as a kid and despite becoming an avid Giants fan always had a soft spot in his heart for the Reds.  I remember my dad’s disappointment when the Reds lost to the Orioles in the 1970 World Series, even though I was secretly rooting for the Orioles because I liked Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer.  However in 1975 when the Reds won 106 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling 7 game World Series I was enthralled by Anderson and his team. When they swept the Yankees in 1976 I was similarly elated and my dad, well, he was about in heaven.  When dad taught me about baseball he used Sparky Anderson and the Reds players as models on how to play the game right.

One of those players was Pete Rose who is still banned from the game for life for betting on games.  Despite that my dad never gave up on Pete and had an autographed picture of Baseball’s most prolific hitter who despite what he did should be in the Hall of Fame. Rose said of Anderson today.

“Baseball lost an ambassador today. Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for. He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players, and he loved the game of baseball. There isn’t another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson. He gave his whole life to the game.”

Another Reds’ great Joe Morgan said “He was a people person. I don’t think anybody else could have managed that team nearly as well as he did. We had a lot of different personalities. Sparky was able to deal with all of us on an individual basis but also collectively as a team. Because he was close to you and cared about you as a person, you were always willing to do more for him than you were for somebody else. I never thought of him as my manager. I thought of him as part of my family.”

The latter statement by Morgan is something that endeared Anderson to his players. He cared about them and he was totally committed to the game. Anderson overcame a hot temper which had earned him the nickname “Sparky” in the minor leagues In his time as a Major League manager he led the Reds to two World Series titles and one with the Tigers and 5 pennants. He is credited with beginning the pitch count which is now almost universally used in baseball.  He made pitching changes with such regularity in a day when starting pitchers typically threw complete games that he was nicknamed “Captain Hook.” Anderson admitted that it was because of the weakness of his starting pitching and strength of his bullpen. “Captain Hook? Yeah, I used what I had. We weren’t blessed with the Dodgers’ starting pitching, but we had a really deep bullpen. People say I was ahead there, too, five years ahead of the league, you know, having more saves than complete games, but I didn’t do it because it was in some book. I did it because we didn’t have but a couple of guys who could go much past six innings.” He is 6th on the all time wins list for a manager and was beloved by his players.

A saying that he picked up from his father epitomized his view on life and relationships

“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”

Alan Trammel, Bench Coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks said today “I’m happy to say that Gibby (Kirk Gibson) and I are going to be able to pass along his legacy because we teach what we were taught. Being a good baseball player and person went hand in hand with him. He wanted us to put our dirty clothes in the bin so that the clubhouse guys didn’t have to pick up after us.”

Tiger’s pitcher Jim Morris said:  “Wow. He died way too young. I got a lot of phone calls yesterday about the hospice and the dementia, neither of which I knew about. I wasn’t prepared for this. I don’t know what to say. I’m kind of shocked, he was a big part of my life, for sure. He had a lot to do with molding me professionally and taught me a lot about perseverance.”

He demonstrated that care in his community.  In 1987 Anderson founded “CATCH”, which raises money for sick and at-risk patients of Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Henry Ford Hospital. Sparky became a man of faith late in life when managing in Detroit when he was baptized as a Catholic.

One of Sparky’s quotes sticks with me and sums up what I feel about life is this: “People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.”

Sparky died too young. May he rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Night Before the Big Game: Comprehensive Exams All or Nothing

In the Funky Winkerbean comic there was a strip that one the the characters made this comment:

“There is no such thing as a “final” exam…if they were they would take you out and shoot you afterward.”

Anyway, the quote may not be exact but it does convey a truth, unless you are living in a country where academic failure is punishable in some way shape or form.  The old Soviet Bloc countries did this well….screw up in Olympic Training Camp and end up picking rotten turnips in a Gulag.  Yummy.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 24 November I take my Comprehensive Exams for my Masters Degree in Military History from American Military University.  It is a venture into the unknown.  In my degree program I performed very well.  I have a 4.0 average in all academic work to this point.  I did very well in Marine Command and Staff College and aced my studies for my Doctor of Ministry. However, this is different, it is one shot, like a World Series appearance.  The rest was regular season stuff, it mattered, but not as much.

The past 7 weeks I have been preparing, unfortunately I really don’t know what for.  The class I believe is taught by the Department Chair, a man from whom I have never taken a course. Thus although I understand the format and expectations I have no earthly idea what he will ask.  I will have to answer four questions in 6 hours.  I’m told that they probably will tie together but it is like going into a game against a pitcher that you have never seen before,  You don’t know his stuff, you don’t know how he works and all you have is your experience and knowledge to face him. As such I am out of my comfort zone with this guy.  In addition I go into the exam at a pretty low point emotionally because of the situation with my parents and just being worn down.  So I will have to dig deep tomorrow to do as well as I want to do.

Despite all of my prior preparation which has included a lot of review and even re-writing of old research papers to put on this site, I am anxious.  My stomach and gastric systems started doing backflips like when I was in California and after my return.  I hardly slept last night and hopefully will not only get to sleep early but actually get some rest before getting an early session of PT in before the exam begins at 0815 and end 6 hours later.  I will be alone with the exam.  A sign will be on my office door warning humanity to stay away.  I can certainly relate to Roger Clemons who said: “If someone met me on a game day, he wouldn’t like me. The days in between, I’m the goodest guy you can find.” For 6 hours tomorrow I will be unlikable.

If I do well I will be celebrating at Gordon Biersch tomorrow night.  If I don’t I will be drowning my sorrows there.  The beer will be the same but the mood a bit different.  It is like Tommy Lasorda once said: “When we win, I’m so happy I eat a lot. When we lose, I’m so depressed, I eat a lot. When we’re rained out, I’m so disappointed I eat a lot.” I can drink happy or sad, I would prefer to celebrate.  It is more fun.

Now I do expect that I will do well.  I want a grade of “Pass With Distinction” versus just a “Pass.”  It will take work and probably drain me as I will not have the time that I normally have to prepare and research my writing.  Heck I take a lot of time to polish what I write here on this site.  I figure if I am lucky that I will have about 65-70 minutes on each question.  I do hope that I can pull it off. But then maybe I need to relax a bit and remember what Bill “Spaceman” Lee said:

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.”

Maybe I just need to pass the damned thing and get it done with.  Well I need to get ready for bed.  Nothing much more to do. I just gotta go out and do what I’ve worked so long and hard to do. I’ve wanted a Masters in History since my undergrad days. This is for all the marbles.  I hate to lose and will be pissed at me if I do not kick this thing in the ass.  This is my World Series, at least until the next time….Ph.D. anyone?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s MLB Divisional Playoff Picks

steve on top of the rockLooking Forward to the Playoffs

Well sports fans it is October and with the exception of the 163d game in the AL Central between the Twinkies and the Pussy Cats we are ready for the playoffs to begin. Tomorrow’s one game playoff in the soon to be history Hubert H Humphrey Metrosexual Dome should be a pretty good game that hopefully will go longer than the 2005 NL Divisional series game between the Braves and Astros that lasted 18 inning.  If it goes that long the winner will be the Yankees.  Wait, that’s when they play whoever wins between the Twins and the Tigers.  My guess on this is that the Twins take them down hard in the inhospitable confines of the Metro Dome and go on to the playoffs where they will lose to the Yankees in 4.

With that in mind let’s take a look at the divisional series.  First the National League:

Cardinals vs. Dodgers: Cardinals in 4

The Evil LA Dodger’s (95-67) have the best record in the National League backed into the playoffs after starting like they owned the world.  Manny has been cold as a Boston night and the starting pitching has been suspect.  I like St Joe Torre but I don’t think that the Evil Dodgers have the Schlitz this year.  They will be playing the St Louis Cardinals (91-71) skippered by St Anthony La Russa who have some awesome hitting with Matt Halliday and Albert Pujols. The Cards are stacked with great pitching and I think that they will take the Dodgers in 4.  Now to be fair under St Thomas of Lasorda the Dodgers pulled off some pretty amazing playoff wins, however I don’t think this is the year for that. If it happens I owe my nephew Joe the Dodgers fan dinner next time I’m in San Diego.

Phillies v. Rockies: Phillies in 5

The Rockies (92-70) had an amazing season, going from worst to almost first in the National League West and taking the Wild Card berth. Everything has been working for them and Manager Jim Tracy is attempting to become St James of Denver.  They could potentially win this series but I am going to go with the Phillies (93-69) because I like their offense.  When the series moves to Coors Light Field I think that Ryan Howard’s wrecking crew’s bats light up the cool Rocky Mountain High nights when they get out there.  The Phillies pitching has not been as good in the past few weeks and closer Brad Lidge is seeking redemption after a miserable season which followed last year’s phenomenal performance.  As for the Rockies I think that Cinderella departs from the ball early.

The American League looks like a whole lot of the same with the exception of the Central.  What I would do to see the Orioles and the A’s back in the series like in the 1970s and 1980s.  The teams in the American League playoffs, at least the ones currently in and not the Central Division Champs regardless of who that is, are outstanding teams all with a decent shot of advancing to the ALCS.  First I’ll look out to Anaheim.

Angels vs. Red Sox: Angels in 5

Most experts are picking the Red Sox to once again knock the Angels out in the first round. The “Wild Card” Red Sox (95-67) have owned the Angels every year in recent memory that they have matched up in the ALDS.  However that being said this year’s team is not the Red Sox we have known the past few years.  They still have a lot of good players but they are showing signs of age and just don’t seem to have the same ability they did in past years despite their great record.  They were eaten up by the Yankees in their last two series with them and took a while to secure the Wild Card.   The Angels (97-65) played in a weaker division but still have done very well.  Unfortunately with the exception of 2002 they have regularly choked in the playoffs.  This year there seems to be something different about the Halo’s and I think it is related to the commitment of the team and dedication of the season to rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart who was killed by a drunk driver after pitching his first Major League start.  I think it will be a tight series but the Angles end the Red Sox dominance of this series.  I go Angels in 5.

Yankees vs. Central Division Champs: Yankees in 4 (Twins) or 3 (Tigers)

The Yankees (103-59) are my odds on pick to win it all.  This team is deep at every level and playing with an attitude after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995.  They will face either the Twins or the Tigers either of which will be 87-76 when they win Tuesday night.  The Twins are the hotter of the two teams and their playoff run has been outstanding but helped by the ineptitude of the Tigers.  However I do not think that either does well against the Yankees who seem to be healthy and hitting on all cylinders.  Yankee haters may not like it but the Yankees are a solid team and a middle relief corps that is home grown and not bought.  I think the Twins might steal one game but expect that the Tigers should they win Tuesday will go down faster than Apollo Creed in Rocky 4.

So we’ll see how I do as compared to guys who make a living at this.

Odds and Ends

A couple of notes on the personal side my job focus is shifting more to our Pastoral Care Residency program and out of the ICU.  I will be functioning in some manner like an attending pnhysician for our residents on all of their wards.  Likewise I will be working more on training for the entire department and more work with the ethics committee and the Special Psychiatric Response Intervention Team (SPRINT).  I will be moving my office back to the main pastoral care department offices this week.  I still have the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

I started the preparations for my comprehensive exams for my Military History Masters at American Military University.  It is an eight week course which is finished off with the actual exam.  I want to finish with the highest marks on the exam “Passed with Distinction” to cap my perfect record in my classes.

I had the undead tooth show its ugly face again.  Well not the tooth itself, it is dead but it still haunts me.  I was notified on Friday that I was on what we call a “Dink” list for Dental.  This is not good, the Naval Dental Corps is like the Gestapo in tracking down Sailors and Marines who miss appointments or regular screenings. When you get “dink’d” you are skylined, an open target with you name hanging out for the command to see.  You don’t want to be a “dink.” Those who have been reading this website since the summer know all about The Undead Tooth of Terror. See my post Killing off the Undead Tooth of Terror https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/killing-off-the-undead-tooth/

As a result of the Undead Tooth of Terror I spent much of the summer in the Dental Department or with the Oral Surgeons who I get to see again tomorrow.  I was told that I needed to take care of the problem with personnel.  After several perplexed looks by disbelieving personnel specialists I was directed to a back office and the young corpsman there looked me up and was able to tell me that I was “dink’d” but couldn’t say why.  So I went to Dental after another meeting where a young corpsman and I think that they are all young assisted me.  He told me that the computer said that I was delinquent on a root canal. Well, not only had I had the root canal, but when it failed I lost the tooth as well.  Informing the polite young man that said tooth was no longer in my head he looked for an explanation.  When I mentioned that I was being evaluated for an implant he told me that he would be right back.  He came back quickly with my record which had never been returned to records and was sitting on the Oral Surgeon’s desk.  He removed the “dink” from my records and the world is right again.

Tomorrow I have a couple of ideas as I have been working on an article about the first US Navy Aircraft Carriers, one on the Congregation of the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and some reflections on the 2009 baseball season.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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