Tag Archives: Baseball

Obama and Hank Aaron.

I have yet to get political on this blog, but I have also not been shy about letting people know who I would vote for in the weeks and months leading up to last night’s election.  We have had Obama ’08 bumper stickers on both our cars since the primary.  My wife and I went to Lafayette, Ind., during the primary to hang signs on doors. 

We went to Springfield to see Obama introduce Joe Biden.  I was quoted on the front page of the newspaper the next day and was identified as “An Obama supporter from Chenoa.”  I also shook Obama’s hand that day and was giddy for a week as I told the story to anyone that would listen.  On facebook I have made a point to let everyone there know that I am an Obamamaniac. I have refrained from making any political statements from the pulpit, and I did not go so far as to put a lawn sign in front of the parsonage, but I think everyone that knows me knows who I voted for yesterday.

While pondering his extraordinary road to victory, I am reminded of Hank Aaron.  You might know Aaron as the second-leading home run hitter in baseball history.  He broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs in 1974. Aaron hit his 713th home run on the second to last day of the 1973 season, and spent the offseason just one home run shy of the most renowned record of all of sports – owned by the greatest figure of American sports history, Babe Ruth.

After the last game of the 1973 season, Aaron wondered if he would make it to the 1974 season, and he had good reason to wonder.  No one knew about it at the time, but Aaron was receiving threatening letters as he approached Ruth’s record.  During the offseason the death threats poured in.  Some of the most hateful, vitriolic things ever written were directed at this quiet and peaceful man.  “Hammerin” Hank was the most consistent hitter baseball has ever known, but because of the color of his skin, he became a target.  Recent accounts of this time have revealed that Aaron had a full squad of body guards, that he lost weight and sleep.   One reporter covering the chase at the time wrote Aaron’s obituary, with the foreboding knowledge of what could come.  After Aaron’s 715th home run, two teenagers ran out on the field to congratulate him, many feared for a moment they were there to harm him.  In recent interviews Aaron admits that he did not enjoy the chase, and that the ugliness that came with it made him bitter for many years.

Last night Barack Obama became the first African-American President-Elect.  As I watched him give his speech, which brought me to tears twice, a nagging feeling lingered.  I believe that one day we will find out that Obama experienced much of the same hatred that encountered Aaron.  I am sure that he has been bombarded with ugliness that most of us have never experienced.  As much as yesterday was about hope, I am realistic enough to know that even though 54% of Americans voted for Barack Obama to be the President of the United States, there are some that hate him with an unyielding passion.

I am full of hope for America.  I believe that we have come a long way, but I also know that we have a long way to go.  Electing a black man to be President is a signal to us all that America is truly the Land of Opportunity.  Electing a man to be President who has a grandmother living in Kenya is a sign to the world that the American Dream is still alive.

Yet I can’t help but think of Hammerin’ Hank, and all those people that threatened to take his life for hitting too many home runs.  I fear for President-Elect Obama and his beautiful family. 

I am hopeful for the future of America.  I believe we are striving toward a better future, one where demonizing those that are different is not accepted, one where diversity is lifted up as a triumph, one where the melting pot looks more like a stew.  I also know that we are not there.  Until that day, I will continue to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven.  God Bless America.  God Bless all nations, and may God bless Barack Obama.

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Why I love the Phillies

The most common reason any one person follows a particular team is civic pride.  We adopt the teams that play in our cities for many reasons.  The most obvious is that their games are the ones we can most easily attend, watch on TV, listen to on the radio, or read about in the newspaper.  Loving a team is all about being a part of the team’s story, and it is much easier to be a part of that story when the local media helps tell it.  As that story of a team enmeshes with the story of the city, the two become linked in powerful ways, and the mood of an entire city can be swayed with the wins or losses of their team.  I don’t know how strong this affect is in every city, but in the two major league cities in which I have lived, Chicago and Saint Louis, this is definately the case. 

The reason I love most of the teams that I follow is the simple fact that they play in Chicago.  The Bears, White Sox and Bulls are my team because they play in my city.  I have been a part of their story as a resident of Cook County.  I have seen the Bears helmets on the lions at the Chicago Public Library, my grade school class had a Superbowl Shuffle party, I was in Grant Park with thousands of others celebrating with the Bulls and I choked back tears as the White Sox paraded through the South Side. 

But there is one team that I love that defies standard allegiance practices.  I am a Phillies fan.  People have asked me through the years, “Why are you a Phillies fan?”  I often joke, “It’s my Dad’s fault.”  I have never lived in Philadelphia.  I could not care less about the Eagles and 76ers, and I have only been to one home Phillies game my entire life.  There is no natural reason for me to love the Phillies, save one: my Dad does.  And here’s the funny thing, he has no natural reason to love the Phillies either.

He was born and raised in Southern Illinois – Cardinals country.  He listened to games on KMOX, and went to games with his Dad and brother at Sportsman’s Park.  He remembers Stan Musial fondly, yet Richie Ashburn was his guy.  The reason he is a Phillies fan, at least the way he always told it to us, was simple: he didn’t want to be like everyone else.  When he was a little kid the Cardinals weren’t very good, so he decided to pick a different team.  He thought it was cool that the Phillies dotted their i’s with stars.  Plus, he was learning to read and thought it was funny that in the words Philadelphia Phillies there was not a single ‘F.’  So he decided he’d be a Phillies fan.  He has a photo of himself, no older that 7 or 8, wearing a Phillies hat that his Aunt made for him by cutting out the “P” from white felt and sewing it on a plain red hat.

When he was a bit older he was treated to the Whiz Kids, the 1950 NL champions led by Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts.  When he was a young man he experienced the horror of ’64, when the Phills had a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play but lost the pennant after a 10-game losing streak.  He remained true to the Phillies en route to the most losses of any professional sports franchise in American history, and he raised his kids to be Phillies fans.

My brother became a fan when he was about the same age as my Dad was when his aunt sewed that P on the old red hat.  My brother watched Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton carry the Phillies to divisional dominance in the late 70’s, and was an impressionable age when the Tug McGraw leapt into the air to celebrate the Phillies’ first (and only) World Series title in 1980. 

And they raised me to be a Phillies fan.  I remember being able to stay up late to watch George Michael’s Sports Machine when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th home run.  I remember putting on a Phillies batting helmet and running around the family room pretending to be Pete Rose during the 1983 World Series.  And ten years later I was in that same family room trying to get the radio to tune into the Philadelphia station to hear the Phillies clinch the division.  And I was on a couch in that same room when Joe Carter made me die a little inside with one swing and many jubilant leaps into the air.

It was my brother that taught me how to trade away all my Cubs baseball cards to my neighbor for more Phillies cards, and it was because of my brother that I have a collection of hundreds of Mike Schmidt cards.  In 1995 my brother and I went to Cooperstown to see Schmidty and Whitey get inducted into the Hall of Fame together.  It was on that field in Cooperstown, where we claimed our spot the night before with nothing but an outstretched Phillies beach towel that I got the worst sunburn of my life, one that scarred my skin for many years. It was also the first time in my life I had ever been surrounded by so many Phillies fans.

All my life I was one of just a few lonely people in a stadium full of enemies.  Along with my Dad and brother, we would pack up some sandwiches in the cooler and go to Wrigley Field to see the Phillies, not the Cubs.  We were at the first Phillies night game in Wrigley Field on August 8, 1988. My Dad’s best friend, who was a Cubs fan, gave my Dad the tickets as a gift in the beginning of the season, before he knew he was giving away history.  It is a strange feeling to wear a shirt in a stadium that you know will make you the enemy of 30,000 people – but it’s also kind of fun.  There is nothing like being the only one in a section of fans standing to cheer a home run, only to hear in the distance another lonely fan doing the same.  I have shared many long-distance high-fives with fellow Phillies fans.

Why do I love the Phillies? Because they are a part of my family story.  The story of my Dad just deciding he didn’t want to be like everyone else.  The story of our bonds getting stronger around a common cause.  For most sports, we were just another family in the crowd.  Bears, Bulls, Sox and Illini – nothing too strange.  But every now and then we would wear the ‘P’ and be just a little different, but more importantly, we would be together.  So now I have taught my daughter to say, “Go Phillies,” and I am the only one in town to hang a Phillies flag from my house.

Last night my brother and Dad were at Game Four of the World Series.  In a way, it probably would have made more sense to go to a game in Tampa – that is part of what made being a Phillies fan fun, but they went to a game in Philadelphia. My work and finances made it impossible for me to go, but I was there with them.  From my living room I watched as Ryan Howard came to life again, and I saw those white flags waving in the night, I could see my brother and Dad finally giving people close up high-fives, and I wondered if someday we will make another trip to Cooperstown.  I knew my nephews were watching the game and I wondered if they now have their Phillies.  My Dad had Ashburn and Roberts.  My brother had Carlton and Schmidt.  I had Kruk and Schilling.  It looks like they will have Howard and Hammels. 

Tonight we will all be back at home.  We will watch with high anxiety as our Phillies try to do something special.  I am sure there will be some phone calls made, and texts sent and received.  Seperated by miles we will be together.  It will be another page in our story.  Here’s to hoping for a happy ending.


Filed under Sports

Why I love baseball

The reason we love baseball, or any sport for that matter, is the stories.  There are stories of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson; the Cubs futility and the Red Sox redemption.  Baseball fans need only to hear the words “Bill Buckner” or “Bartman,” and we see again the ball trickle through the legs or bounce off the outstretched arm.  We honor numbers like 61 and 755, and know the sour taste of betrayal that comes with the number 73.  We know the stories of baseball.  Each season is a small story – starting in March and ending (for a few lucky teams) in October, and at the same time each season is but a chapter in the larger story.  It is a story that includes tremendous accomplishments, think the ’27 Yankees and ’69 Mets, and terrible disappointments, consider the ’69 Cubs and recent Mets.  It is a story that includes heroic figures, like Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, and tragic disappointments like Jose Canseco and Dwight Gooden. 

The stories of baseball often reflect the stories of America.  It is the story of Civil War soldiers with bayonets and ball gloves.  It is the story of the home front, keeping people’s mind off of the Nazis, if only for a few hours at a time.  It is the story of segregation, and the exclusion of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.  Baseball’s story is inexorably linked to history, from the infamous Disco Demolition Night signaling the end of a social era to the World Series in New York in October, 2001, signaling the beginning of a national healing.

Like James Earl Jones’ character Terrance Mann said in Field of Dreams, “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again; but baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” 

As fans, we become a part of the story of a team.  We share in the excitement and disappointment of the game as if we were on the field ourselves.  Every pitch is another line in the story, and we all desperately want the story to end in a win, and ultimately, a championship.  We never live the story alone.  We share it with our neighbors.  We share it with strangers that happen to be wearing the hat of our team.  We share it with entire cities where the mood of a community shifts with each run scored.

We share it with our sisters and brothers, with our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers.  They are stories that go back generations, and they are stories we want to share with generations that come after us.  These stories of baseball are linked to family stories so that our team becomes a part of our heritage.  The link between grandson, father, son is enmeshed with the link between DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. Or in my family’s case, the link between Roberts, Carlton, and Hammels. 

This is why we love sports, to be a part of something larger than ourselves.  This is why we care about every game, every inning, every pitch, because the next pitch is the next line in on ongoing story that we have adopted as our own.  Why do I care if the guys with the right words on their chest score more runs than the guys with the wrong words?  Because that jersey is my jersey.  That city is my city.  Those players are my players, and the story they are writing is my story. It is our story that we write together.

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I try not to talk about sports too much in my sermons.  While I believe that the world of sports is rich with metaphors that can be applied to life in general and theology in particular, I know that the overuse of sports metaphors can alienate a significant portion of any congregation.  Here however, I was up front about the fact that I am going to write about sports.

As I type, I am watching the Phillies play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.  The Phillies are down 0-1, and my emotions are going up and down with every pitch.  I have said many times that I am going to die watching a game because at some point my heart just won’t be able to take it. 

I planned on waxing poetic about the beauty of baseball and the pure joy and exhiliration of watching my favorite team in October.  The problem is, I find myself much too distracted.  I pour myself into these games so completely, it is difficult to concentrate on anything else.  So I am going to have to cut this blog short, because the Dodgers have a man on and Manny is up to bat and I just can’t take the suspense.

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