Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Redeeming Baseball

In Calling, Places & Spaces, Sports on October 6, 2012 at 4:08 am

Regarding the ridiculously ruled infield fly in the eighth inning of last night's MLB Wildcard game between the Braves and the Cardinals, here's what I wish would have happened:

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is (rightly) arguing the call with the umpires and Braves fans are (wrongly) revving up to throw whatever they can get their hands on out on the field in protest, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny calmly walks out on the field to join the discussion with the men in black.

Listening for a moment to the "discussion" (if that's what you want to call the heated dialogue that goes on between managers and umpires over a blown call), Matheny puts his hands up to quiet both sides, suggests that the call was way out of line and should be reversed, and actually argues for loading the bases for the Braves and charging an error to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (for that's what it so painfully was) before walking calmly back to the dugout to finish managing the game.

Atlanta fans are dumbfounded as they drop the bottles and trash from their hands and have a seat. Cardinal fans are proud, for any one of "the smartest fans in baseball" can recognize how horribly wrong the call is. In addition to growing his reputation for having a fine mind for baseball, Matheny demonstrates his heart for justice as well. Best of all, the game goes on without some silly twenty minute delay (and a slew of protest for days to come), and regardless of who wins, baseball comes out the winner.

Wouldn't that have been classy and inspiring? Beautiful, even?

Atlanta's retiring living legend, Chipper Jones, whose fourth-inning error on what should have been a standard 5-4-1 double-play that was really the beginning of the end for the Braves, gave his typical try at class in his post-game interview:

"Ultimately, I think that when we look back on this loss, we need to
look at ourselves in the mirror. We put ourselves in that predicament. … [So]
I'm not willing to say that that particular call cost us the ballgame.
Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the
biggest."

Jones admirably took responsibility, but for redemption to happen, it has to cost somebody something, and the Cardinals were the only ones in the position to pay up.

I don't blame Matheny for not doing so (no other manager in baseball would have); I just wish he did. That's how baseball could have been redeemed last night.

That's what I wish would have happened.

A Dispatch from January

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Movies, Oklahoma City, Places, Pop Culture, Sports, Television, TV, Veritas, Young Ones on January 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

I have over 150 "have-to-answer" emails in my inbox, so it would seem a good time to work on the blog. (I'll just think of this as a warm-up rather than a put-off. Note: If you're waiting on an email from me, it will come today). Some items of late to mark the days:

I just finished two books, both with a financial theme: The Price of Everything, a parable of economic emergent order, by Russell Roberts, and The Third Conversion, a "novelette" by R. Scott Rodin about fundraising as ministry and not just money. The first book is a very readable text that our seniors are reading in Economics; the second is a more semi-hokey series of conversations between a seasoned fundraiser and his up-and-coming protege.

While recovering from my first kidney stone surgery, I found myself with some time to actually watch a few things on Netflix via the iPad. I'd heard of Joss Whedon's Firefly series (only one season of 15 episodes, capped off for resolution by the movie, Serenity) and enjoyed this "space western" well enough. I also had time for a few Shakespeare films (Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth were excellent), which were fun and novel to watch.

There's been a lot of "launching" going on this January. A week ago, City Pres got off the ground with our first official worship service (I helped serve the Lord's Supper) and our Tuesday night CityGroup started back up; this past week, we kicked off our Veritas capital campaign and website, which we hope will come to first fruition in early March; and I've  enjoyed getting back in the classroom twice a week teaching the second semester of our senior American History course (two very different but engaging texts: A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schwiekart and Michaell Allen and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn).

Other highlights so far this month: 70-degree weather, my four capitalist daughters selling three (and counting) enormous boxes worth of chocolate for their homeschool band program, Megan clearing off and cleaning my desk (she loves me), NFL football playoffs (which is really the only time I'm interested enough to watch), the daily newspaper in my driveway, cold milk on hand, and people who call me "friend".

Okay. Guess it's time to deal with email, to which I say (in my best British accent): "Do your worst!" Thanks for reading.

New Kevin Durant Commercial Filmed in OKC

In Oklahoma City, Places, Sports on December 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

Pretty cool ad from Nike featuring OKC as the backdrop for Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. Thank you, KD, for being classy enough for Sam Cooke‘s “Good Times” tune.

A Beautiful Season

In Arts, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on May 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

"I love baseball.
You know it doesn't have to mean anything,
it's just beautiful to watch."
Woody Allen in Zelig

I hung up my baseball uniform today. Granted, I hung several of them up (uniform collection is one of the least glamorous parts of high school coaching), but I paused an extra moment when I came to number 20. Though I had picked it last year simply because it was the biggest jersey available (ahem), wearing it this year ironically corresponded with our JV team's final number of wins this season – the most victories for a JV baseball team in Westminster's 28-year history.

Huddle with Tickets

I mentioned the irony of my number to the guys in my pre-game talk last Thursday – the last game of the season and the one we needed to win to reach 20. As there are no playoffs or post-season games at the junior varsity level, total number of victories would seem all a JV team can shoot for to register its existence. But in baseball (as in most sports), record (we were 20-2 on the year) rarely captures what a season means to a coach and his players; relationship does that.

While we had our share of ups and downs, we loved one another even (and especially) when we didn't always like each other. Sure, there was plenty of competition for positions and no one wants to ride pine when his team is on the field, but the guys worked through a lot of that early in the season (sometimes with a little help from their coaches) and came to be each other's biggest fans.

Out of 22 games, no lineup was the same (Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is not the only one who can manage by "platoon"). At the JV level, our goal is to play as competitively as we can while playing as many as we can – winning games and preparing guys to be able to one day contribute at the Varsity level. In addition, JV provides the opportunity to call up some guys from our Freshman team (in only our second year, they went a very respectable 9-4 this spring) to see what various winning permutations the future might hold.

For some this season, action on the JV (or Freshman) team may have been all they saw, but they played a lot, learned a lot, and won a lot. For others, contributing at the Varsity level came sooner than later, as we played our last four games without three of our sophomores who got "called up" and are still playing as our Varsity just won districts on Wednesday for the sixth straight year.

District Champions

One of our JV player's dads sent me a gracious email summing up our season this way:

"Our family appreciates the time you gave to coaching the boys the past two years. You somehow managed to get playing time for everyone, which doesn't happen much in high school baseball, and you did it without weakening the team's performance in any way.  That's an impressive accomplishment for any coach."

I received several notes like this from parents, and being the affirmation junkie that I am, appreciated every one of them. Still, the one thing that meant the most to me this season happened after our 19th win. We were playing a 4A school (Westminster is 2A in size) and the opposing team's coach had told his team that we were not any good; he did not even have enough respect for us or our program to throw an actual pitcher against us, but simply plucked an infielder and had him awkwardly pitch.

We ended up winning, 18-3. After the game and our normal post-game meeting in the outfield, the guys made a few mini-speeches and handed my assistant coach, Slade Johnson, and me a manilla envelope with 15 tickets to a Cardinals game. Their parents had chipped in on so that we could all go to a game together (which we did Wednesday night after having the guys over for grilled hot dogs and wiffle ball – see below).

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After handing over the tickets (and with even bigger "ah, shucks" smiles than before), the guys made a few more mini-speeches about my leaving for Oklahoma and presented me with an authentic Rawlings bat with my name engraved in the barrel and their signatures scrawled on the bat head. Marveling at both the beauty and the meaning of the piece of wood I held in my hands, I nearly cried at the classy thoughtfulness of it.

Baseball Bat

The next day, we won our twentieth and final game. As I was walking off the field after shaking hands with the other team, the Lord gave me an idea for our post-game meeting. Since I had received a bat from the guys the day before, I thought it might be a good idea to rightly set up my successor. Grabbing my coach's fungo bat, I made my own mini-speech and presented it to Slade, who will be overseeing and coaching the JV and Freshman teams next year. He was thrilled (notice Lil' Blue in his hand below).

Passing the Bat

After the meeting, as Slade and I were walking back to the dugout, the guys presented their final gift to me: my very first water cooler shower. Strangely (and after the initial cold shock), I was honored by this just as much as I was by the bat the day before. Why? Because my players felt comfortable and secure enough in their relationship with their coach to have some fun with me. The day before they had honored me with their respect; now they honored me with their trust. I don't know if they caught it or not, but it was a beautiful illustration of how we are to walk with and enjoy our relationship with God.

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It was a special season – one that I will take with me to Oklahoma and hold onto for years to come. I told the guys that, if they work hard and commit themselves to each other in doing so, I believe they have a great chance of one day winning a state championship. I also told them that, if and when they make it that far, I will be catching a plane back to St. Louis to be there. I think they believe they can do it. I think they believe I will, too.

So, for all you baseball fans out there, there's your post-season wrap-up. Thanks to my players, their parents, my fellow coaches, and the Lord God who gave us baseball. The only season that can top this one is still to come…and will play on through eternity. Look for me: I'll be the one in the coach's box down the third base line…

(Thanks to Dale Froeschner and Megan for the photos. For Megan's thoughts, click here.)

The Original Field of Dreams

In Movies, Places, Sports, Young Ones on April 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

The backstop was three times higher and made from a wooden frame and chicken wire. Shortstop felt a whole lot further away from first base then it looks now. Still, back before there was a movie about plowing under farm acreage for a baseball field and the whole "Is this Heaven?" thing, indeed there was – only in Illinois instead of Iowa.

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Thanks, Dad, for not planting over the baseball diamond. Truly, it's "gone the distance."

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

In Family, Places, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster, Young Ones on March 31, 2011 at 8:10 am

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It probably has something to do with living in St. Louis, but I always find myself writing a post on the occasion of Major League Baseball's opening day. As usual, humor me.

Whether or not she meant for the opportunity to coincide, Megan scheduled a tour (via Groupon) this past Sunday afternoon of Busch Stadium III. It had just snowed the day before and there were at least a dozen people on the field trying to dry things up; otherwise, we and the 20 other people on the tour pretty much had the place to ourselves.

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As you may know, St. Louis is a great baseball city with the second-most World Series championships to its credit (10; only the New York Yankees have more at 27). Somewhat unrelated (but interesting nevertheless), we've also had a fair number of official logos during this time (Slugger Bird – fourth from the left – was always a favorite of mine).

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The history is rich, and some of it is represented at different locations throughout the stadium: vintage uniforms encased with pennants and other timeless memorabilia; a tribute to former Cardinals radio announcer, Jack Buck; various World Series programs and trophies scattered here and there.

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The Redbirds aren't the only ones who open their season this week; Westminster's baseball season started for us as well. This is my second year coaching the junior varsity/freshmen at WCA and I have an unbelievably talented group of guys who really love the game. It's also a treat to be part of a coaching staff under head coach Rich Van Gilst (now in his 28th season) and with pitching coach Andy Benes, former Cardinals pitcher who spent 14 years in the big leagues.

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranked WCA's varsity team number one for small schools in St. Louis. My part in that (along with stellar assistant coaches Slade Johnson and Micah Gall, two guys in their twenties who were both solid players in high school and college) is to build guys into varsity-level players during their freshmen and sophomore years. While we're certainly not the only ones investing in their baseball skills (many of our guys play baseball year-round for other coaches), it's fun to see "our boys" do well when they get the chance to play up.

For instance, two days ago, Ben Lovell, my top pitcher from last year as a freshman, started his first varsity game as a sophomore, going six innings and getting the win against one of the big Parkway public schools (check out his post-game interview). Last night, due to some injuries with some of our seniors, Mark McFarland, another sophomore, got "called up" to do some varsity relief pitching and threw two innings and also got the win. Today, a third sophomore, Davis Vanderslice, is making his first varsity start, and I'm confident he'll do well, too.

Sure, I hate to lose the guys from the junior varsity team, but it's fun to both help prepare and celebrate with them before and after their "big break." It's also fun to "call up" a few freshmen to help out on the junior varsity level in replacement (having lost two of my sophomore starters, I'm starting two freshmen pitchers in games later this week). Finally, it's very enjoyable to win games with guys at the junior varsity level (we won our first game 7-0 by playing really good defensive against another of the big Parkway schools).

Tonight, after our JV and Freshman games were canceled due to rain (the joys of playing baseball in March in the Midwest), I came home and played catch with my two youngest, both of whom are learning to love baseball as much as their two older sisters. It's amazing how much they've improved in their catching and throwing since last year, all from simply growing one year older. We laughed, we talked, we threw, we caught. It was fun.

At whatever level – half-pint, freshman, junior varsity, varsity, the Majors – baseball is the same great game that gets the entire city of St. Louis excited when the boys (and girls) of summer show up and start playing in the spring. It's as perfect a game as there is, and I'm glad to relive my love for it as a former pitcher/player and now as a coach.

Play ball! And go Redbirds!

(For more baseball thoughts over the years, click here, here, here, here, and here.)

Out Standing in My Field

In Education, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on May 14, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Coach My first year as a junior varsity baseball coach has officially come to a close. We finished 13-8 – a good season, especially after starting 0-4 in early April. We had a great mid-season run in which we won 12 of 13 games, and we could/should have won four of the seven games we lost, as they were all 1-2 run games.

The three things I preached all season were the importance of attitude (heart), ability (hands), and adaptability (head). Because of the nature of JV baseball – games bumped, umpire no-shows, guys transitioning from varsity – the adaptability point became a favorite joke for the team (as well as our only hope of making it through with our sanity).

A personal highlight was working with JV assistant coach, Slade Johnson. Slade played four years at WCA before playing ball at Wheaton College, and he's starting down the path I just finished – taking classes at Covenant while beginning his teaching career at WCA this coming fall. He brought energy and experience to our team, and we co-coached our way through the year pretty much on the same page the whole way through.

Craig and Slade

We had some Field of Dreams moments as well as some scenes straight out of The Bad News Bears. We had a variety of personalities on the team and some players with multiple personalities on the field. We got better as the season went on and learned to play the game with intensity and pride. We made mental errors that led to physical ones we had to shake off, get over, and move past. Parents were supportive and got behind us, and Megan and the girls were our biggest fans.

The Baseball Ladies

In addition to trying to help the guys learn the fundamentals of baseball, we had plenty of opportunities to help them learn some fundamentals of life; sports – especially team sports – are so good for this. Some things I heard myself say repeatedly this season:

  • Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
  • The only thing you can control when bad breaks happen is how you respond.
  • Sometimes you have to deal with bad or unfair calls, so start now.
  • It's only the first inning; relax.
  • Respecting those on your team can sometimes be hard, but it is not optional.
  • Don't make excuses; take responsibility.
  • There's nothing you can do about it; it's not your fault.
  • Let me do the coaching; you do the playing.
  • Win humbly; lose graciously.
  • Play the game and have some fun.

JV Baseball 2010

While we had a few injuries and the occasional sore arm, nothing was paralyzing or fatal, which is not insignificant when one considers the number of baseballs flying around practice, warm-ups, and games during the course of a season. I'm sure we had a few bruised egos here and there (cursing, throwing equipment in frustration, or showing up late without reason guarantees time riding pine), but those heal eventually and "build character" as my father used to say about all things hard.

As much as I could write about the season, this picture with Mark sums up what WCA JV baseball is all about – smiles, smudged eye black, and dirt on the uniform. Love it.

Craig and Mark

(Special thanks to George Sneed and David McFarland for a season of great pictures.)

Lineups 2010

In Sports, Technology, Westminster on March 28, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Baseball in glove

My fantasy baseball league (Crooked Numbers) had its draft this afternoon. It's my first time playing (I got Megan to field a team as well), but nobody mentioned the draft itself was going to consume two whole hours of a Sunday afternoon. As there are 11 teams in our league, the process took a while, but I was impressed with Yahoo's interface and draft kit, so at least it didn't feel clunky…just long.

Neither Megan nor I have any idea what we're doing in terms of baseball fantasy (we prefer the real stuff), but for those who do, here are my 23 drafted players here at the start of the season:

Pick #, Player, Position(s)

1. (6) Joe Mauer C

2. (19) Aramis Ramírez 3B

3. (30) Adam Wainwright SP

4. (43) Robinson Canó 2B

5. (54) Mariano Rivera RP

6. (67) Billy Butler 1B

7. (78) Bobby Abreu OF

8. (91) Yunel Escobar SS

9. (102) Jason Kubel OF

10. (115) Jair Jurrjens SP

11. (126) Brendan Ryan 2B,SS

12. (139) Rick Porcello SP

13. (150) A.J. Burnett SP

14. (163) Stephen Strasburg SP

15. (174) Miguel Tejada SS

16. (187) Joe Nathan RP

17. (198) Rajai Davis OF

18. (211) Carlos Ruiz C

19. (222) Maicer Izturis 2B,SS

20. (235) Tim Wakefield SP

21. (246) Melky Cabrera OF

22. (259) Andy Pettitte SP

23. (270) Joba Chamberlain SP

I feel pretty good about the majority of my picks, as I've got some
superstars (Mauer, Wainwright, Rivera, Abreu), some solid position
players (Cano, Escobar, Ryan, Kubel), and just to keep it interesting, some risks (Strasburg). My one certified dud draft pick was Joe Nathan, as apparently he is scheduled for Tommy
John surgery soon (information that would have been helpful yesterday). Whups.

Anyone playing fantasy baseball with a comment or two? Care to post your roster and compare? Any counsel or strategy for this rookie?

In semi-related news, I'm dealing with a completely other set of rosters as Westminster's underclassmen baseball season begins tomorrow with a four-game junior varsity tournament (M-TH) as well as a freshman game on Wednesday. I've been working on my signs all weekend long so I don't look like I'm having a seizure down the third base line, but I'm not quite there…yet. Come on out if you're in the neighborhood. Go Wildcats!

10 Commandments of Pitching (or What Happens When a Bible Teacher Coaches Baseball)

In Sports, Theologians, Westminster on March 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Spring Training

Handing out this original (and highly contextualized) paraphrase of Exodus
20:1-20
to our junior varsity pitchers today:

“And Coach spoke all these words:
‘I am the Coach your Teacher, who brought you out of
the dugout, out of the land of the bullpen.

1. You shall not lose control –
mentally, physically, or emotionally.

2. You shall not make for yourself a mess by falling behind counts
or walking batters. You shall not drag or work at a slow pace;
for I, the Coach your Teacher, am a just Coach, punishing the
pitchers for the sin of not throwing strikes through the third or fourth
inning, but showing mound time up to a full seven innings to those
who love pitching and care about the strike zone.

3. You shall not misuse a pitch in the wrong spot
or in the wrong situation, for the Coach will not hold
anyone guiltless who misuses his pitches.

4. Remember your fielders by throwing strikes.
Three balls you are allowed to do all your work,
but three strikes is a Sabbath for the Coach your Teacher.
With them, you shall not wear out your team, neither you, nor your infielders
or outfielders, nor your parents or fans, nor your girlfriends or
wannabe girlfriends, nor the scout within your gates. For with three
strikes in mind the Coach made the decision and the line-up, the
fielding positions, and all who are in them, but he rested on the fact
that you are going to make good pitches. Therefore the Coach trusts you to
throw strikes so the team can make outs.

5. Honor your umpires and your officials,
so that you may live long on the mound
the Coach your Teacher is giving you.

6. You shall not waste pitches.

7. You shall not walk the lead-off hitter.

8. You shall not allow
runners to steal on you.

9. You shall not allow the opposing team
to score the inning after we score.

10. You shall not covet your teammate’s velocity.
You shall not covet your teammate’s curveball, or his changeup
or slider, his two-seam or four-seam, or any pitch that your teammate
throws.’

When the pitchers saw the thunder and lightning and heard
‘Play ball!” and saw the mound in smoke, they trembled with fear. They
stayed at a distance and said to the catcher, ‘Speak to us yourself and
we will listen. But do not have Coach speak to us or we will die.’ The
catcher said to the pitchers, ‘Do not be afraid. Coach has come to test
you, so that the fear of Coach will be with you to keep you from
throwing balls.’”

Hoping this gets the point across. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of both baseball and the Bible, you might enjoy this from a few years back: Moses at the Bat.

O Canada (revised)

In Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, TV on March 2, 2010 at 8:42 am

A friend of mine in Colorado is in a fun but fierce battle with a Canadian friend of his over the outcome of the Olympic gold medal hockey game in which Canada beat the U.S. My friend asked me to write a parody of the Canadian national anthem to use as ammo.

Here's the original (click here to listen):

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Below is my version (click here to sing along). Keep in mind the following is all of 5 minutes of work, stereotypically-dated by my coming of age in the 80's (so take off, eh?):

O Canada!
Our home and TV land
True luck that we have Captain Kirk's command.

With glowing hearts made warm by beer
and McKenzie brothers two!
S-C-T-V,
O Canada, we raise remotes to you.

God keep us warm, laid back and free.
O Canada, we love to watch TV.

O Canada, we love to watch TV.

Other lyric suggestions?

This Just In

In Family, Marriage, Places & Spaces, Sports, Writers on February 28, 2010 at 8:06 am

We interrupt this discussion to bring you Megan's latest post – on baseball. Hints of spring, familiarity of home, America's pastime done on the cheap…I'm in love all over again.

We Were Young and We Were Improving

In Family, Friends, Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, Thought on February 16, 2010 at 11:38 pm

When we moved from Colorado back to the Midwest five years ago, Megan got her first real taste of my tiny hometown's passion for all things basketball and baseball. While she mocked it a bit then, she's since come around to a more accepting position, which was helpful this month, as I was invited back to Griggsville to join in celebrating the career of my junior high school coach, Ken Stauffer.

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Coach Stauffer's coaching legacy includes 1,130 wins split between Griggsville's seventh and eighth grade basketball teams, countless regional and sectional trophies, two state basketball championships (with more appearances),
and induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of
Fame
. He retires with something north of a .750 winning percentage with only two losing seasons over his 38-year career. (For the record, the 7th and 8th grade teams I played on were a combined 39-2. Booyah.)

 Junior High (25 years later)

Speaking of those teams, here are seven of the eight guys in my grade who played for Coach Stauffer all through junior high school. Six of the seven of us went on to experience continued team success in our high school years, and as this was the first time all of us had been together in Griggsville in 25 years, a picture seemed appropriate.

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As part of the celebration, the school had pulled out a lot of old trophies and pictures, one of which I had completely forgotten about from 1982, but that Megan and the girls found particularly humorous. I was one of two fifth graders to make the eighth grade team that year, and though I didn't get to play in the tournament, I went on to enjoy good success in both junior and senior high baseball later (my only real credential for what I'm doing this spring…ahem).

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All that to say, it was a fun weekend at home honoring Coach Stauffer, seeing old teammates, and reliving a few of the glory days. Granted, Megan reminded me of her original Uncle Rico post, and my girls couldn't quite believe I was once the age that my oldest is now, but to quote my favorite Midwestern poet:

That's when a sport was a sport
And groovin' was groovin'
And dancin' meant everything
We were young and we were improvin'

Laughin', laughin' with our friends
Holdin' hands meant somethin', baby
Outside the club, 'Cherry Bomb'
Our hearts were really thumpin'

Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"
Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"

— from "Cherry Bomb" by John Mellencamp

Yeah.

Play a Man’s Game, But Will Men Will Show Up to Play?

In Humanity, Sports, Television on February 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Over the past few days, I've read several interpretations of this year's Super Bowl commercials, many in which men seemed chastised for not being "male enough." (I noticed the trend myself in real-time on Sunday, but hadn't had time to put down my thoughts until now.)

Personally, my reaction to the ads was positive, if for no other reason than that advertisers seemed to be targeting a demographic other than just the metro-sexual and hyper-sexual male types. Instead, this year's crop of commercials seemed aimed at the wimpy male type – the guy who, either outwardly or inwardly, has basically surrendered his masculinity to his more "feminine side" (if there is such a thing) and needs to buck up and be the man in the relationship (whatever relationship that happens to be).

The first ad toward this end was for Dockers and their call for a Pantsformation. What I took from it was the call to men (mostly slobbish, out-of-shape guys who take pride in their slobbish out-of-shapeness) to dress up a bit and, well, "wear the pants" of initiative in life:

Another one in this same vein was for Flo.tv. This commercial applied the "buck up" theme to a particular male/female/sports relationship triangle in which a guy lets his girlfriend walk all over him when he would rather be watching the game. CBS sports anchor Jim Nantz's comment at the end: "Change outta that skirt, Jason." (Ironically, Nantz divorced his wife of 26 years last October, so I'm not sure his words and example are the best to follow concerning the aforementioned male/female/sports relationship triangle.)

Apparently, a lot of women had trouble with this next ad from Dodge, as it came off "ridiculously misogynist and hyper-masculine" in its portrayal of men's brooding anger at having to deal with women's demands before making "Man's Last Stand" and choosing to drive a Dodge Charger. While I'm no expert on the matter of misogyny, there does seem to be a fair amount of emasculation the men in the commercial are trying to withstand (albeit with a pretty shallow course of action in simply owning the car of their choice):

Perhaps the one spot I liked most was Dove Men+Care's "Journey to Comfort" ad. Though I have no plans to buy their product (sorry, Dove, but I feel comfortable enough in my own skin not to care that much about it), I could relate to the frenetic life documented in the commercial, as well as the sense of accomplishment that comes with having (so far) survived it.

Whereas the typical Super Bowl fare might (and did) include the typical
"cars, cash, and cuties" commercials, this year's collection seemed
more geared to appeal to a man's needs as much or more as his wants.
Though wrapped in humor, subtle acknowledgments of a man's desire for
purpose, respect, adventure, and success seemed to upstage the
normal bounty of commercials boasting of beer and babes.

The thing I take from all this is – newsflash! – there's some real confusion out there as to what true manhood entails, so much so that it's become a national joke during the biggest television event in the world. Have we really come to a point where men are so comfortable laughing at and thinking of themselves as mere "male wannabes" that advertisers have recognized a whole new market to target?

Bubbaville, Super Bowl, Love

In Friends, Holidays, Places, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Sports on February 3, 2010 at 9:56 pm

When we lived in Colorado, Megan and I hosted an annual White Trash Super Bowl Party.

We took our inspiration from the Colorado Springs neighborhood in which we bought our first house – "Bubbaville," we affectionately called it. You see, we lived down the street from the local Salvation Army; the police helicopters flew over our house every night as we happened to be in the center of their "suspicious behavior" circuit; and our neighbors (with whom we awkwardly shared a driveway) used to loudly ride their four-wheeler around our house for fun.

The idea of an actual party came a couple years later, after we had moved out of Bubbaville and into a different neighborhood across town. We encouraged our friends to embrace their "inner white
trash." For our part, we let our then-very-young children run around in
nothing but diapers; Megan put on a ton of cheap jewelry and frizzed
out her hair; I didn't shower, fix my bedhead, or wear anything but sweats and a white T-shirt. We
thought about putting a couple vehicles up on blocks in the front yard, but
in the end opted for dragging a bunch of stuff out of the garage and putting up a
couple of cheap pink flamingos instead.

Here's an invitation I sent out via email one year:

Superbowl Invite (Low Res)

Our friends gleefully showed up and played their parts: guys wore "wife-beater" T-shirts, fake mullets, and jeans with holes (a la Def Leppard); gals got "creative" with their makeup, giving themselves fake hickeys and black eyes as if they had just fought AND made up with their boyfriends/husbands in our driveway. There were other little kids running around in diapers and pull-ups, and we all sat around laughing at each other – sometimes watching the game, always watching the commercials.

It was funny…and fun…and wrong. Megan felt it…and so did I.

For someone like me, whose sense of humor can seem unfortunately more developed than his sensitivity, having fun at the expense of others is all too easy to be all that good. I learned a long time ago not to use humor as a weapon, but there have been plenty of instances – some public, most private – when I have broken my own cease-fire agreement. The only thing quicker than my brain is my tongue, which can be unfortunate for others when the former follows the latter in an all-out pursuit of anything funny.

When we moved to St. Louis and I got my first full semester of seminary under my belt, the Holy Spirit zeroed in on a couple of areas in my life that caused me to regret and repent of some prejudices I never thought I had. Despite growing up in a county with next to no racial diversity, my prejudices rarely involve race; instead (and as my "white trash" years should have first clued me in), I have to watch out for "education prejudice" – judging others on the education (or the sense of education) I perceive them to have or not have.

While there's more nuance to it than I can describe in words, basically it's a very quick process that goes something like this: if I think I'm smarter than you are, I win; if I don't think I'm smarter than you are, then I ask the question again and again until I can figure out a reason how and why I could be. (Ironically, the ridiculous part in all this is that I assume by default that I'm actually dumber than everyone, which is another example of how sin ratchets up my insecurities and feeds the aforementioned cycle.)

Thankfully – mercifully – I've grown in my understanding of God's love for me through the words and wounds of grace, but the Super Bowl (of all things) and the memories of the "white trash" parties of the past serve as an annual reminder of my need to love others as God loves others, which often – and often simply – means not making fun of them.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians (and as a good friend once shared with me because of my arrogance):

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11

Go Colts.

(Note: To relive last year's Super Bowl (and commercials), I live-blogged it here.)

Leading Off

In Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on January 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Bases
“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

I’m about to enter new territory this spring. No, I’ve not been offered a new teaching position anywhere, nor have I yet to receive a multi-book publishing deal. No, I have not decided to try to finish our attic by myself (God have mercy), nor have I come to the attention of anyone for anything in particular of late.

My new territory? I’m the new junior varsity baseball coach at Westminster…in St. Louis…home of the Cardinals…and supposedly the most intelligent fans in baseball.

Gulp.

Baseball at the high school level in St. Louis is quite the deal, but not as I initially imagined. When I played high school ball back in the day (pitcher, infield) in rural Illinois, there was little overlap of the seasons and most of us played three of them (fall and spring baseball, basketball in the winter). These days in metropolitan St. Louis, kids play two sports in the same season (right now it’s basketball at school and baseball or soccer as part of a “select league” run by former pro/semi-pro/college athletes) and all summer long (again, in these “select leagues”).

While I’ve not had any first-hand experience with these “select teams” just yet (some examples: Gamers, Pirates), I’ve listened a bit and have been able to piece together a few things about them: they’re fairly competitive, incredibly time-intensive, way expensive ($2,500+ for over 100 hours of instruction), and supposedly the best shot a kid has to get recruited/drafted to play college or pro ball, as coaches and scouts tend to prefer this “one-stop-shopping” to watching prep games that might only feature one all-star.

Of course, hearing the boys talk about the possibilities is one thing; listening to parents dream about them is another – in many ways, the kids are more realistic than the adults in evaluating themselves and their chances to make it past high school ball. As I’ve yet to see many of them in action (we’ve had three days’ worth of optional “open gyms” for individual tee work and soft-toss, but the official start of the season isn’t until March 1st), it will be interesting to see who’s more accurate – the kids or the parents.

As Monday is MLK Day and schools are out, Westminster’s varsity baseball coach and I are attending the I-70 Clinic, an annual gathering of high school and college baseball coaches from around the Midwest held at Greenville College and hosted by their baseball team. I have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to going and seeing what I can learn about coaching high schoolers in a game I’ve played and always loved. I’m also hoping to pick up some tips on coaching amateur baseball in a professional baseball town.

Play ball.

My Counsel for Mark McGwire

In Places & Spaces, Sports on January 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I suppose you can call it "news" if you want, but is it really any surprise to hear from Mark McGwire himself that the former Cardinals first baseman/Major League Baseball single season home run king used steroids? Let's be honest: this doesn't exactly rank up there with "man bites dog."

Some of my students have asked, from an ethical perspective, what should happen to McGwire? Should he still be included on the home run list(s)? Should he still be considered for the Hall of Fame (he's been on the ballot for the past four years)? Should he still be the batting coach for the Cardinals this year?

Here's what I think: If McGwire really wants to do what is right and honorable, he will HIMSELF 1) request to be removed from the home run list(s); 2) request to be excluded permanently from Hall of Fame consideration; and 3) vow to do his very best to ensure that none of the Cardinals he coaches this year are juicing. Only then will he have any credibility in baseball, as well as any hope of leaving a legacy redeemed from his past.

Maybe – just maybe – others might follow McGwire's lead, with baseball being the better for it. I'm not naive and doubt many (if any) would, but I would sure think a whole lot more of McGwire as a person and, yes, even as a baseball player who played hard, made some mistakes, but had the character – finally – to deal with them honestly.

And Joining Me in the Booth This Evening…

In Sports, Young Ones on October 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Buck and McCarver

Sound bites from my 9-year-old as we watch the Yankees trounce the Angels:

Me: "Boy, C.C. Sabathia sure has good control tonight."

Her: "Yeah, I never know where the ball is going to go when I pitch."

Me: "He's got them swinging at a lot of bad pitches."

Her: "Yeah, I swing at everything…pretty much."

Me: (as A-Rod successfully steals second): "It's a good thing he slid or he would have been out."

Her: "Yeah, I hate sliding. It gets me all dirty."

She is the Tim McCarver to my Joe Buck; the color commentary to my play-by-play.

There’s No Crying in Baseball

In Places & Spaces, Sports on October 10, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Thanks to my friend, Mark, I was one of the 47,296 (new record attendance at Busch Stadium III) who watched the Cardinals' last game of 2009 in the chilly October air. Unfortunately, the Redbirds lost to the Dodgers, 5-1, putting the final touches on one of the worst post-season collapses I can remember (at least we had great seats for the bitter end – section 162, four rows back, halfway between third base and left field).

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When I wasn't shivering (it was 60-degrees when the game started, and at least 45 by the game's end), I watched Fredbird try to entertain a less-than-enthusiastic crowd.

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And, when I just couldn't take it anymore (i.e. after the Dodgers scored two runs in the 3rd to be up 3-0), I tried to drown my sorrows with a Coke and a bag of peanuts. Didn't help.

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Alas, what was in many respects a very good season through August, fell short of being a great season by September's end, and the October postseason was, needless to say, forgettable. I can't believe how poorly we played the past six weeks, nor that we got swept by the Dodgers (who we beat 5 out of 7 times this year already) in the NLDS.

Indeed, there's no crying in baseball; there were, however, more than a few sighs at Busch Stadium tonight.

Cardinals in Seven

In Places & Spaces, Sports, Television on October 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm

But2009-world-series

The Major League Baseball playoffs officially begin today and the Cardinals are in the thick of the race. Unlike 2006 (when the Redbirds surprisingly won the World Series), I'm not concerned with the pitching; it's the hitting that worries me. I won't bore you with statistics, but let's just say we could improve in the offensive department.

Back in 2006, I wrote a post on baseball called The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Here's an excerpt:

The joy of baseball in October is that, if and when we have a spare
moment (and can actually get the channel to come in), odds are there's
going to be a baseball game on, one that a whole lot of people here in
St. Louis (as well as throughout the country) are watching closely.
Call us nostalgic, but this takes us back to when such shared
experiences through one real-time medium made us feel more in touch
with others than we sometimes do now.

I still feel that way – even more so now that our local ESPN radio affiliate is carrying all the playoff games in addition to the Cardinals'. It's fun listening to different announcers broadcast from different cities for different teams. It feels like folks are paying a little more attention to the same thing, which in our highly-diversified media, doesn't happen all the time. It's one game at a time – best of five for the pennant, best of seven for the Series – and anyone who cares about baseball is watching or listening.

Personally, I'm hoping for a Cardinals/Yankees series, as these are the two most classic franchises in the game (yes, Red Sox and Cubs fans, you heard me). I hope it goes seven games, and I hope the Cardinals win. But even if they don't, as the weather chills and the leaves fall, watching a game or two, popcorn in hand, will be a most enjoyable way to spend an evening in October.

I'm saying Cardinals in seven. Care to make your prediction?

Some Thoughts from Baseball Heaven

In Places & Spaces, Sports on August 29, 2009 at 9:00 am

IMG_2947

As the St. Louis Cardinals are twenty games over .500 with a magic number of 26 to clinch the division (and a real chance at the World Series), I thought I'd let everyone in on the secret to our success.

Some might think it's starting pitching, and that's part of it; Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Piniero are statistically as good as any threesome in baseball. Some might think it's the end of July trades for Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Julio Lugo, and that's part of it; the team has been on something like a 23-9 tear since acquiring these guys. Some might even think it's the recent acquisition of John Smoltz, and that's part of it; after setting a club record for consecutive strikeouts in his first game in San Diego and his second quality start last night, indeed the Cardinals may have a true fifth starter.

But the key to everything is Albert. Pujols. El Hombre. The Mang.

sicover_031609_pujols

The beauty of Cardinal baseball – certainly this year as well as historically – is that the Redbirds and their fans usually don't have to put up with the egos and shenanigans of players whose personal lives and contracts ridiculously distract from their contributions. From old-time Cardinal greats like Stan Musial to future Hall of Famers like Pujols, by and large, the Cardinals as an organization have usually attracted and employed baseball players rather than baseball celebrities.

There's a big difference between the two. Can anyone imagine Alex Rodriquez in a Cardinals uniform? Manny Ramirez? Milton Bradley (whose name I still giggle at when I think of the board games of my youth)? No way.

But here's the thing: even if the Cardinals organization temporarily lost their minds, came up with the money, and went after one or more of these guys (or guys like them), Albert is the great perspective bringer. Statistically as well as personally, Albert is the best player in the game – he is the ceiling, the bar, the standard – both, on and off the field. And yet, because of his spirit and humility (which are so much a result of his Christianity), he is a leader – the leader – for the ball club, and the one from whom his teammates naturally take their cues (and remember their places). As a result, the Cardinals are a team, not a show.

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Growing up 100 miles north of St. Louis, I was a Cardinals fan from the beginning. Now, living in this city and attending more than one game a summer, I'm daily amazed at how much St. Louisians love their baseball…and how much of what they love has everything to do with who Albert is. There is no one – no one! – in this city who does not speak well of Albert on or off the field, and it feels like a very "once in a lifetime" chance to get to see him do his thing day in, day out.

Die-hard St. Louis fans don't need or want east coast glitz; we won't tolerate west coast attitudes. St. Louis is and has always been about baseball – the game – and Cardinal players like Musial and Pujols who have and continue to represent all that is right and good about it. This is not idol worship – neither Musial or Pujols have ever demanded that; rather, it is about enjoying the goodness of God to others, and rejoicing in the fact that we, by God's grace as well, happen to be here to experience it firsthand.

"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." – James Earl Jones in
Field of Dreams