The Greatest That Never Was

800px-Josh_Gibson_HOF_PlaqueFor the purist of baseball, there are a few known facts which seem to be a consensus. The first is that Babe Ruth is the greatest player that ever was and possibly will ever be. Even people who were on steroids couldn’t reach the larger than life stature of the Great Bambino. Go back into a similar time frame and is another legend, but unfortunately, we will never know what will come of the greatest slugger in the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson. Gibson often called the black Babe Ruth never got his chance to play in the MLB. It leaves a giant question of how good he could have been. It’s up there with such debates what would have happened if Ichiro would have played his whole career in the US? What if Prior and Wood would have not been hit by the injury bug? What if Dwight Gooden didn’t have a substance abuse problem? What if JR Richard didn’t have that stroke? Baseball if full of what if’s and the list could go on. However, the only legend which comes close to the Babe is that of Josh Gibson. He was rumored to have hit almost 800 home runs in his career. The only player who may have been better than Gibson during his time was Stachel Paige. Paige who many believe could have been one of the greatest if not the greatest pitcher of all-time but did not get his break until his 40’s. These two could have changed baseball’s history had they had the opportunity to play even by the age of 30. They will remain one of baseball’s biggest what if’s and go down as potentially the greatest ball players who never were.

Now we can sit around and fantasize about what could have been, but we will never know. When we look back it is another example of how stupid segregation was. It also serves as an example of how many today go about their day’s with unfulfilled potential. Within each of us is a God-given calling. Some of us have a grander calling in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God, we are all equal. For some, they are held down by what their circumstances, for other we don’t have this hurdle. While many of us are only held down by ourselves. Our dreams are often within our reach but because we fear the unknown we don’t chase them. This is a terrible tragedy because as Christians we should all strive to be the best at one thing that is love. We all have different callings, but no one has ever been held back in their true calling because of love. We can’t afford to be held back by ourselves because life already throws us enough hurdles. We would never know who the Gibson’s or Paige’s of the world were if they would have one day thought that they couldn’t do what they do. While their potential may have never been fulfilled on the big stage they would have dreamed their impact remained. They may have never reached the Major Leagues in their prime of even at all, but think about the legacy they may have left behind. How many people saw them and want to be like them. How many people watched and were inspired to be better because of them. One of the things which often is forgotten is the impact of being the one who opens the door for the future.

During the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. never was able to see the world change as he dreamed. Nor did in the journey of the Israelites did Moses ever see the promise land. In our society, we need not only Moses’s, but we need Joshua’s as well. Not everyone will get that golden stage like Jackie Robinson did some of us will be legends in the shadows like Gibson. Just because we are not on the street we want to be on doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. While Josh Gibson might not have played in the Major Leagues his legacy was in the hearts of a number of great baseball players.

For those of you who don’t know Josh Gibson died at the age of 35 in 1947. Four months later Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the rest was history.

“One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that’s one of the reasons why Josh died so early – he was heartbroken.” –Larry Doby

When I look at the story of Josh Gibson I have to wonder what he could have done and historians will forever think the same thing. He left his mark and left a legacy, but for many, that legacy could have been much greater if it were not for selfishness, greed, and racism. Still today people are struggling due to circumstances they cannot control. This is major because we first have to examine how we can make our world better by tearing down prejudicial barriers, but also shows why we need to invest. This my friends are why it is so important to invest in humanity. Support people who may not have everything which you have. One major hurdle was the reason the world never truly knew the legacy of Josh Gibson. How many people are being held back because they don’t have the means to clear a hurdle. You never know what that investment could turn into. Peace and Blessings Always My Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

Theology of Baseball and For the Love of the Game pt. 5

1997_world_series_programIt was the late hours or at least what I perceived as late on a cool day in October. I had witnessed my first World Series game ever and it was one of the best games I have ever seen even to this date. I had rigged the rabbit ears on the small television which laid nearby red bunk bed and was able to get NBC to come in. To be honest, I knew I liked baseball, but I really didn’t understand the full extent of what was going on. I was seven years old and was watching a game which I would later fall in love with. I tuned into the game in the 7th inning and recalled wanting the Indians to win who currently had the lead. However, I had no vested interest in this game, but it was baseball and I was staying up late. Little did I know that it would go on to be yet another page in the turmoil of the city of Cleveland. If any American sports city has worst luck than Cleveland I would love to hear who it is. While my Cubbies had their drought they at least saw success from the Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks at various times, but Cleveland it’s just a sad situation. Not since WWII times have the Cleveland Indians hoisted that illustrious honor. It’s not like Cleveland has had bad teams either they have had their chances, and while I am extraordinarily happy the Cubs won the series, another part of me can sympathize with them as well. They were up 3-1 on my Cubbies, and it looked as if Cleveland would be ending their drought. However, something special happened with the Chicago Cubs, and they set up what may go down as the greatest game 7 in sports history. Baseball more than any sport knows how to rip your heart out and demoralize your soul. Baseball isn’t fair, but neither is life. While Cleveland now holds the longest drought in professional baseball, it only reminds me how much of life we often take for granted and don’t take in what is truly beautiful around us.

Luckily for Cleveland, they had their moment earlier in the year as they saw their hometown hero lead their Cavs to the NBA Title. They overcame a 3-1 deficit and they went from experiencing a positive 3-1 flip, to ending the year on a negative. Sports are cruel. However, what will get left in the ashes of 2016 will surely be the record setting season the Warriors had, and the amazing season the Indians had. The Indians were on the wrong side of destiny. Everything about 2016 had it being the vindication year for the Cubs, and it was.

Baseball teaches us to appreciate the wonders of life. However, they also hurt us. One of the things I think we do far too often is arbitrate our pain. For many years, Cubs fans could say my pain is greater than thou, but here’s the thing we need to do better is to learn to sympathize. Pain is pain, just because one person’s pain isn’t on the same level as your’s or what you deem is greater doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. We far too often tell each other well that’s bad, but this person is going through this. It makes no sense.

Much like this situation how many times do we look at the negatives of what has occurred, but forgetting everything beautiful which had occurred? God gives us incredible blessing every day. From the moment you wake up your breathing, your are alive, and you right then and there are receiving a blessing. Since your reading this blog I would imagine your likely had a roof over your head, a blessing, and probably went to the bathroom short after in indoor plumbing. We often overlook the gifts which we have received. What ruins it one moment, one tiny moment whether that’s some jerk at work. The guy parked in two spots at the store, or maybe the person who just cut you off. However, we don’t see the blessing that we have paved roads, a car, and store to go to. The point I am getting to is not that we should not be hurt by these things, but it should not get to the point where it takes away from the amazing things which had occurred to get you to that point. Life is too short to dwell on small things which bring us down. In sports as soon as that loss occurs everyone’s team is undefeated and only a few short months until a new opportunity arrises. With every shortcoming comes a new day until that day the Good Lord waves us home.

 

Theology of Baseball and For the Love of the Game pt. 5

blogpic.jpg.png.jpgIf you’re anything like me then when that time comes where I meet my maker it’s kind of like a clutch moment in a baseball game. I’m standing on second and I am the winning run. A screamer is lined into the right field corner and I am hurling home. I look up to see if I’m cleared to go home and being waved in. I round third and there could be play at the plate. I get low and slide and touch home I’m safe and where we all want to be. The game is over and we have won! I surely hope there is baseball in heaven because it would make it all that more interesting. One of my favorite baseball films is an all time classic Field of Dreams this summer I plan to make the trip to Iowa and visit the location of the film. In the film they depict players of the past coming back and entering the diamond though the miles of corn to play ball. For me baseball is peaceful and there is something about baseball that is second to none. The experience of the game is simply amazing.

Two old men had been best friends for years, and they both live to their early 90’s, when one of them suddenly falls deathly ill. His friend comes to visit him on his deathbed, and they’re reminiscing about their long friendship. The friend says, “Listen, when you die, do me a favor. I want to know if there’s baseball in heaven.”

The dying man responds, “We’ve been friends for a lifetime, so yes, I’ll do this for you.” And then he dies.

A few days later, the surviving friend is sleeping, when he hears his friend’s voice.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” it says. “The good news is: there’s baseball in heaven.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“You’re pitching on Wednesday.”

We all want to score the winning run, just like all want to go to heaven. However, just like we can’t expect to score the winning run without putting in the work, we should not expect to get to heaven if we are not willing to put in the work. I like to think that the team in heaven is the ultimate baseball team. God standing as the Executive which the likes of Theo Epstein, Branch Rickey, and Ed Barrow would only dream of being. Jesus the manager which even at their best John McGraw, Connie Mack, nor Tony LaRussa could not stack up to. The pitching coach being the Spirit as the soothing words and impact of a pitching coach can often shift the shape of the game. I could only picture Peter as the third base coach as he is often pictured giving the go ahead into heaven. Ok, maybe this is a bit frivolous, but the point does not matter how great we see things on earth, in heaven things are an infinite amount better. We will play in the likes of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Camden Yards, but better because we will be in the ultimate cathedral. Where there is an endless amount of hot dogs, beer, lemonade, and cracker jacks. Where there are no unlucky bounces. The score does not matter because we all just are happy to play the game. There is no such thing as a rain delay. Also, there certainly are no Goats, black cats, or other hideous curses. The reality of it all we don’t know what heaven will be like all we know is it will be wonderful.

Theology of Baseball for For the Love of the Game pt. 4

Image result for little league fieldOne thing is common across America during the summer the beaches are full, it’s hot, and baseball in full swing. Across America are countless little league games full of potential future big leaguers or whatever they may go on to. A few summers back I decided to umpire a local league for some extra cash during the summer, but also because I dearly loved the game of baseball. One of the great things about the job was the kids and their undying love for the game, one of the worst parts was the parents. It would not matter if I made the right or wrong call I would get rants from both sides. I call a strike one side screaming good call blue which was ironic because my gear was green. However, the other side was screaming terrible call. I could not win. Not to mention I would often be greeted by one of the parents after the game telling me I should be ashamed of myself. Don’t get me wrong heckling the referee seems pretty universal, but I think it gets worse at this level because there is an instant availability. What many of those parents seem to never get is that this is for their kids. They are having fun and with the rare exception, most of them are just happy to play the game, make friends, and be a kid.Image result for blasphemer The sad thing is many Christians are the exact same way. While I don’t think I’ve been to a service where someone has stood up and told the pastor he is wrong or someone one standing up yelling rev. you suck. Nor do I believe I have seen anyone stand up ripping their shirt calling the pastor a blasphemer. Of course, we wouldn’t we’re Christians and we wait to talk to the pastor afterward and tell him all this. Ok, well maybe most of us are not calling our pastor a blasphemer. Nonetheless, ask any pastor how much input he gets following a sermon. Most people will often give them the humble good message. However, there is usually one person who has some sort of gripe. These gripes range from “I didn’t like the second song the choir sang”, “pastor the new family the Williams, they were sitting in our pew”, “the lights in the chapel was too bright”, “that message was a little risky don’t you think”, “that sermon was good, but what if next week we…” The list goes on and I am sure you all could add a hundred more as could I.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

-Matthew 18:2-4

Much like those little leaguers we should worship and conduct our faith much like a child playing little league. A kid who is playing little league is not concerned with winning they are concerned with playing, sliding in the dirt, and having fun. They have an adoration for the game which is second to none. They look at their favorite players as people who are larger than life. They have sun burnt arms, big league chew, and baseball cards, some of us still have all this (guilty). Unlike the parents in the stands, it’s not about them, it’s about the kids. No one is going to get draft not a college offer due to their little league performance. It’s a game and it’s meant to be fun. That’s what it’s all about. When we go to church it’s not about us or our favorite songs. Not it’s about God and God alone. Everything we do if for His glory, not our entertainment. So next time your pastor is preaching a message which hits you too hard to the core get over it if his/her message is biblical. The only thing we should be advocating for does this all glorify God. Yes, we should be looking for ways to make it better and ways to have fun, but not if it takes away from the core. Like many of the parents who overreact to a game, if it’s not hurting anyone we should let it go.

Image result for kris bryantA lot of us make Christianity harder than it needs to be, but the thing is it’s not a thought, but a practice. It’s not a set of words it’s a way of life. We like a child who is reliant on others should be reliant on God. We should be at church for God like those kids are at the ballpark. We should look at God like those kids look at Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, or insert another popular ballplayer and times that 100 over again. We should want God as much as 90% of the kids want to pitch or play shortstop. A lot of use struggle with what is important, but our faith is as simple as playing little league. It’s not about the score it’s about having fun. So what if you’re not the best at it, no one is a major leaguer at the little league level. Like being a little leaguer we are here to learn lessons, develop, and grow.

Theology of Baseball and For the Love of the Game pt. 3

As a Cubs fan, there are some basics, and that’s love the Cubs no matter what and that the Cardinals are the enemy, but here’s the thing is that it’s a friendly rivalry. Unlike a lot of rivalries in my view its the best in all of the sports because there is respect. Its one of the few rivalries where you can go to the ball game before the game wearing your respected jersey’s and leave the game afterward in the same jersey still friends. There is some kind of harmony that exist between the Cubs and the Cardinals. Seriously, though, there is a trash talk, but there is respect. It combines two of baseball’s best fan bases with history, amazing ballparks, and an undying love for our game. As a child, I could not stand seeing the likes of Mark McGwire succeeding. I always hated seeing Albert Pujols (still one of my favorite players) leading the Cardinals, but when the Cubs and the Cardinals get together, in my opinion, its baseball at its best. No matter which team is on top the games are good for the most part. If you drive across Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, etc. there is almost a clean split in most towns between Cubs/Cards fans. It’s something that combines midwestern lore and history.

A baseball like a cathedral when you enter is supposed to have a special feel for what you are about to witness belongs here. When a church is absent of the gospel its not the same, like a baseball venue which is not fit for the game that is about to be played. This is not nor has ever been the case for the Cubs nor the Cardinals. Walking into these venues baseball feels right and it feels like a home. Both venues feature history, iconic imagery, and an experience which highlights the features of its city.

In all honesty, though as much as I despise the Cardinals on the field, there is an underlying respect on my part and many Cubs fan’s parts. There is something special about going to St. Louis, and watching baseball because it’s a city that loves its baseball, I also appreciate the price of military tickets as well. However, it’s fun to watch baseball in St. Louis, but it’s also a painful experience. Their fans are passionate and there is something unique about the roar of their crowd. It’s not quite as loud as the roar a Wrigley, but the sound of the crowd is annoyingly unique. I’ll admit over a handful of some of my best friends are Cardinal fans. St. Louis for me is a place which is near and dear, but despised in my heart. There is something special about baseball in St. Louis, they are a juggernaut and when you think they’re out their not. They have a long history of elite talent Pujols, Smith, Gibson, Stan the Man, Hornsby, Brock, and so on and so forth. It’s a place which is a haven for baseball fans because it’s welcoming.

My first major league game was at Old Busch Stadium, and let me tell you, folks, there is only one way to describe that place “hot” it made you uncomfortable, but that’s often how many opponents feel walking into Busch Stadium because they’re ways a threat. A perfect example of this is July 28, 2002, it was a day I still remember. My parents let me stay up that night and I loved it. However, the end result was no so enjoyable. The Cubs took an early lead as Moises Alou’s RBI double gave the Cubs an early lead. Moises Alou’s big game continued as he drove in another. Corey Patterson would homer giving the Cubs a 6-0 lead. The sixth inning came and the game shifted. The Cubs’ lead went from a 6-0 to a 6-4. The Cubs would score in the 7th and 8th. It once again looked like the Cubs had this one in the bags as they held onto a 9-4 lead going into the bottom of the 9th. Miguel Cairo doubles to left scoring Fernando Vina. Jim Edmonds singles narrowing the lead from 9-6, they just won’t go away. The bleeding continued Tino Martinez drove in Jim Edmonds. Tino Martinez and Albert Pujols are on, and Edgar Renteria comes to the plate. Home Run, ball game over. Something so typical of that team. However, what was significant about that game is that the Cubs would see a number of key pieces in that game play a role. The next year the Cubs would go on a spectacular run and make it to the NLCS anchored by Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Corey Patterson, and with the help of the game’s starter Matt Clement.

Two years ago when the Cubs and the Cardinals squared off in the NLDS it was like a match made in heaven because in order to be the best you have the beat the best, and in the National League there was no bigger hurdle than the St. Louis Cardinals, and I say this with all due respect to the San Francisco Giants and other teams, but let’s face it they are the pentacle of success in the NL, if you beg to differ lets crack open the history book together sometime. Even though the Cubs did not go all the way in 2015 it was a stepping stone to their success in 2016. No longer were the Cardinals the big bad wolves, no, they were now in our rear view mirror in a sense. They became an achievable target. It was a symbolic conquest which showed the league these boys are for real. Simply put I don’t think you can call a National League team a success unless they clear the hurdle which is the Cardinals.

When the Cardinals transitioned from Tony LaRussa to Mike Matheny it was kind of a shot in the foot to the rest of the league because there never became much of a step off. During LaRussa’s days in St. Louis, he made the best of nobodies, it seemed like when someone would depart in comes another equally talented ball player. I mean seriously guys like Bo Hart, Hector Luna, and So Taguchi had a solid run in St. Louis. There pitchings solid and that usually was to the credit of Dave Duncan. There were times where I thoroughly believed Dave Duncan could get a dog turd to be a 5.00 ERA pitcher. I mean that’s a bit of a stretch. However, two things were consistent when LaRussa/Duncan was are the reigns was solid pitching and solid defense, pair that with crafty and timely hitting the Cardinals were always in contention. This mentality carried over when Matheny took over a smart, young manager molded in the “Cardinal Way.” Matheny’s hire was a home run something Matheny was not known for as a player. He’s got the experience and baseball knowledge that’s going to continue to make St. Louis a thorn in the side of my Cubbies for years. This team went from a Hall of Fame manager to likely another one in the making. Credit this to their management and scouting as well. The bottom line is they’re a well ran the organization and baseball know’s it.

When it comes to baseball, in my view there is no better baseball than the show that is put on in the Midwest between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a rivalry which will remain near and dear to my heart. Now that the Cubs are on top hopefully we can shift the tides of this rivalry in our favor. However, for now, I look forward to this upcoming season and the many more to come. Simply put baseball is at its best when the Cubs and Cardinals are at their best. They are two cornerstone franchises which share a level of notoriety shared only by the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers.

To Be Continued….

Theology of Baseball and For the Love of the Game Pt. 2

What can be given can be taken, and those who have suffered know all too well the value of breaking through and triumphing. For Cubs fans, we were much like the Israelite’s and our years in the wilderness. For every triumph we would have there would be an equally painful memory to go with it. However, unlike the Israelite’s we have made it out of the wilderness, while the ultimate goal of the Jewish people now is to eventually rebuild the temple. What was interesting about the Cubs winning the series this year was that it pinned the two longest droughts in baseball, and while the Cubs had become the epitome bad luck, that honor may actually belong to the entire city of Cleveland. One thing was truly mutual in this series and that was a shared pain, a shared desperation, and a shared hope. Cleveland really in the world of sports is the city of bad luck, and it simply seemed like a cruel prank that Cleveland got a taste of a championship in the beginning of the year only to see them do the typical Cleveland thing and blow it. As a Cubs fan, I can obviously sympathize with the Indians, they have had their fair share of near falls. Many times in the past 25 years the Cleveland Indians looked like a special team only to fall. However, one this was clear this year in baseball, someone was going to go home heartbroken.

I remember my first time thinking the Cubs could actually win the series, and most of us already know where this is going. It was 2003 and the Chicago Cubs looked like they were primed to be an elite team. They had the balance of youthful arms and veteran sluggers. The Cubs looked like they were something to watch. Baseball writer wrote this group is for real, and with their young arms, they will be good for a long time. Anchored by ace Kerry Wood, another young up and comer were making his mark, Mark Prior looked like the next big thing in his rookie season garnering Cy Young consideration, and his next season did not disappoint. The Cubs feature another young, but rawer talent Carlos Zambrano. Rounding out the rest of the rotation were veteran Matt Clement who drew a number of Abraham Lincoln comparisons because of his goatee and lefty Shawn Estes. With all of those arms, the Cubs looked ready to win. The offense featured Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou. The Cubs added veterans Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros. Former first rounder Corey Patterson was finally coming around, and youngster Hee Seop Choi was getting an of hype. What could possibly go wrong?

Humble Beginnings

I was an optimist and when the Cubs hired Dusty Baker, a manager who had just lead the Giants to the World Series, in my 12-year-old mind this seemed like a perfect match. I was not much of a stats buff, but mostly and avid baseball fan at the time. When the Cubs first kicked off I remember racing home from school and trying to see the game. The Cubs had dominated the New York Mets, and it was against eventual Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. The Cubs won 15-2. Kerry Wood looked sharp, and there was some optimism for this season right out of the gate. They would go on to win that series, win twelve more in the month of April. The Cubs were in contention, but no pennant race is ever won in April. Moving into June I would have a similar routine of racing home to watch the Cubs. June was here and the summer had begun so it was playing baseball and watching baseball. The Cubs were 28-24. Nothing incredible about the record. June came and there were some struggles, but the Cubs would eventually rebound. The Cubs would enter the break one game over .500. In the first half, Hee Seop Choi was lost after a collision with Kerry Wood. Only Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were All-Stars. Nothing spectacular looked to come of this season at the break.

Fork in the Road

The Cubs featured what looked like an All-Star cast in the outfield, while they may not have actually been voted to the game, veterans Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou were two of the most feared power hitting duo’s that season, and both capable of hitting 30+ home runs. Between to two power hitting corner outfielders was Corey Patterson who was supposed to be the next big thing in center field. He looked like a 5 tool talent who was supposed to be the Cubs version of a Carlos Beltran like player, but things didn’t work out, but it looked like 2003 was going to be his year. Patterson was on fire and he looked like a safe All-Star selection all season long. He had 13 home runs, a sub-.300 batting average, and 55 RBI’s. His OPS was .839 and has stolen 16 bases. He was finally playing like the Cubs envisioned him to. July 6, the Cubs were playing the rival Cardinals, and while legging out an infield single, Patterson lands wrong and immediately people around the stadium are holding their breath. Patterson’s breakthrough had ended. It was a big blow to the Cubs who looked like they could make a solid run in the second half it Patterson could provide the same production. The Cubs big hole on the roster went from third base to third base, leadoff hitter, and center field. The Cubs looked to be in trouble.

The Trade that Changed It All

With those same Cubs on the fringe of being contenders, the Cubs made a run for it. They offered up comically named top prospect Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez, and Mike Bruback to Pittsburgh for Kenny Lofton and young and upcoming slugger Aramis Ramirez. The big knock on Ramirez was his footwork defensively, but that did not hold the Cubs back from pulling the trigger. They went out and acquired a bonafide lead off hitter in Kenny Lofton and another stable power bat in the middle of the lineup. The Cubs hit the lottery with that trade which would propel them into the playoffs. Lofton gave the Cubs a top of the order and stable defensive presence they were lacking. They needed speed at the top of the lineup. Ramirez was a plan b as the Cubs were seeking the services of Mike Lowell. Ramirez turned out to be the better option. Ramirez flourished with the Cubs and eventually would go on to become one of the faces of the franchise. His glovework improved and he became one of the most feared hitters at third base for the coming years. Following the trade, the Cubs would go 34-21 following the deal and nab the division as it came down to the wire.

The Pain Was Washed Away

For most of the year lefty, Shawn Estes struggled, and he was getting jeer reviews from the Chicago faithful. He has lost the trust of a lot of people looking on, but that didn’t seemingly deter him from coming up big when it mattered the most. The Cubs were in do or die mode, and if the Cubs would have lost against Cincinnati on September 24 they likely do not win the division. The Cubs bats exploded, but it was Estes who stole the show throwing a complete game 4 hitter. Estes for the first time that season was spectacular, and while his presence was not a major one it was on September 24 the Cubs chances of the Central division crown were in sight.

Can They Clinch It?

The Cubs had a day-night doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and they won their first contest as their young gun Mark Prior in a solid performance to allow the Cubs to stay in contention. The same day the Houston Astros lost earlier giving the Cubs a chance to clinch the division on the 27th of September. The Cubs bats were ready for the challenge and the 9th inning came and veteran Dave Veres was on the mound he walked the first hitter. The next one came up and quickly flew out. Then former Cub Jose Hernandez came to the plate with one runner on he took strike one. Then Cubs fans hear Chip Carey say, “Double play ball, second base one, on to first, THE CUBS ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF THE CENTRAL!”

For a brief moment, the pain of the Cubbie nation was healed and it was on to the NLDS facing the Atlanta Braves. I remember seeing the celebration on the field and sitting at home just watching in awe as my team was going to the playoffs, maybe this would be the year, but only time would tell. People were beginning to see if their “Old Style Pledges” would have to become reality, and boy were there some interesting ones. However, for the Cubs fan bases and some of the hurting souls this would be a minor sacrifice to see the Cubs reach baseball immortality once again.

So Far So Good!

In game 1 against the Braves, the Cubs gave the ball to Kerry Wood who would only surrender one run. The Cubs loaded the bases in the 6th and were able to score. Kerry Wood helped himself with the bat doubling in two runs making it 4-1. The Cubs would close the door on a 4-2 victory. Atlanta would take game two. In game 3, Mark Prior got the better of Greg Maddux. Randall Simon smacked a two-run single and the Cubs would later get an insurance run off the bat of Aramis Ramirez. Prior would only allow two hits in the contest with the complete game. Game 4 was tight, but the Braves managed to squeak out the win as the Cubs made a comeback attempt in the 9th. Game 5 was all Cubs, The Cubs would take the early lead off the bat of Moises Alou. Alex Gonzalez would lead off the 2nd with a solo home run. Aramis Ramirez would give the biggest blow as he smacks a two-run homer in the 6. The Cubs would go on to win the game 5-1. The Cubs win their first playoff series since 1908, and people were ready. I went to bed happy that night and it was the talk around the school. We talked about who was the better players on the Cubs. The chatter was nothing, but Cubs. We are all in a state of happiness and that was our new focus. The Cubs were all we were thinking of.

5 Will Haunt Us For Ever

It was wonderful we couldn’t stop talking about the Cubs for the next couple days. We had such Cub fever you were a complete outcast if you were not wearing Cubs apparel. If you thought of wearing another team gear stand by. We were full of joy and were bleeding blue all over the halls. The NLCS had come and one of my teachers promised a free 10 extra credit points just because assuming the Cubs would win the NLCS. Many people could feel those deep wounds healing. Game One was a slug fest. Seven total home runs, and it looked like the Marlins had game 1 under their belts. Sammy Sosa had other plans, Urgueth Urbina tried to throw a backup slider, it didn’t fool Sammy. Sosa was 1 for 11 in the playoffs, he had been irrelevant up this point. The whole time the announcers said as long as he avoids the slider he will be fine. He obviously didn’t hear the announcers. Urbina throws ball 1 then responds with a swinging strike. Right before the pitch was thrown Al Leiter says, “Don’t throw that backup slider.” The pitch is thrown “He did it, he did it!” says one announcer while the Thom Brennaman says, “Sammy with a deep drive and we are tied!” Leiter replies, “Unbelievable, Thommy I said don’t throw that backup slider because it’s the same one Grudzielanek saw earlier in the inning. It’s one that stays in the zone and begs just hit me.” Despite Sosa’s Waveland shot, the Cubs would drop game 1.

Game two the Cubs were more fortunate in game two. The Cubs already up 3-0, Sosa comes up to the plate and shuts the door. Thom Brennaman makes the call “Sammy plays long ball, and I mean long ball!” The Cubs would win 12-3. The series would head to Miami, and the Cubs took the first two contest thanks to mid-season acquisitions, Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez. I was so sure the Cubs were going to win the series that year, they were up 3-1 and they had Zambrano, Prior, and Wood taking the mound. And boy was I wrong.

I wished I was wrong, but I wouldn’t be. Josh Beckett took over game 5 and it was heading back to Wrigley Field. Before I went to bed that night I told my mom the same thing I told all my friends the next day at school, “It’s OK the Cubs, lost the game, there’s no way they beat Prior and Wood at home the next two games.” Pride got the best of me, and it got the best of the Cubs, we all assumed because we had such a dominate duo, history wouldn’t come into play. We were due, this was our year, no one would dare take this from us. We were 5 games away from winning the World Series, and we just dropped game 5.

Game 6, everything was going well. We had who we wanted to have on the mound. Mark Prior, our next big thing was out there mowing down Marlins. We were looking to celebrate our fish fry. Then it happened and it all unraveled. A pop fly went into left and Moises Alou thought he had a play, but fans seeing a fly ball do what fans do they reach for it. Alou doesn’t make the catch as we all know. The first thread was popped, Alou looked up to the stands and throws his hands down. The Wrigley faithful was in a wreck. People pointed their fingers to one fan, but many fans reached for that ball. Mark Prior pointed to the outfield begging for fan interference, but to no avail. The next thread was popped, I sat at home crying out “It’s fan interference, it’s fan interference, are you kidding me make the call blue.” People want to look back and blame the fan, but it was not his fault. The ball was in the stands, no guarantee Alou makes the catch. Then it gets worse. Dusty Baker chooses to leave Prior in the game when all other logic says otherwise.

The Cubs were 5 outs away, and after walking Luis Castillo, the third thread broke. Ivan Rodriguez hits a 0-2 pitch to left, and the fourth thread breaks. Baker still sticks with Prior. Miguel Cabrera grounds to one of the sure-handed shortstops in the game, number 5, Alex Gonzalez, but he bobbles what would have been the inning-ending double play. The 5th thread pops, and the bottom falls out. The bases are loaded and Derrek Lee doubles tying the game. Prior is finally removed, but it was too late. The Marlins score 8 runs in the 8th with the help of 3 future Cubs.

Game 7 came, but it was on better. The Cubs would eventually take a lead into the 5th, and lose the lead for good and the Cubs would go on to lose the series.

Wrapping Up

That season ended with so many what if and left thousands of fans in tears following the game. Baseball like life is not fair, but the Cubs took things for granted much like we do in life. God never promises that everything will work out for better, but he will give us what we need. For a moment that season the Cubs got a slim taste what it was like to be a winner, but in the final moments, they could not keep it together. The last three games had a number of what if’s, but it’s too late for those questions. However, how many of us do the same thing? We mope around when we get hit with adversity and we let it drag us down. Instead of building off the tragedy we ask God, “Why me?” or “How could them this happen to me?” Far too often we point the finger at God or someone else, but the finger needs to be pointed right back at ourselves. Other times there was nothing any of us could to do, but we still sit there and ask why. It’s not our place to ask why. It’s not our place to blame God. We are given trials from God to learn. The Cubs lost plain and simple and they can only blame themselves. In life, we can not assume everything will go as planned. We are not promised the next day or the next minute for that matter. In a split second tragedy can strike, the course of the game of life can change, and will we sit there and let it bring us down or will we go out and fight. The Cubs looked like the team of the future with their bountiful stock of arms, but it continued to get worse for the Cubs following 2003. The Cubs would end up seeing Mark Prior’s career end too early. They let Kenny Lofton walk. Sammy Sosa would become distanced from the franchise. While the Cubs would go on to add Juan Pierre and Derrek Lee in the coming seasons, Dusty Baker would later be fired. Lou Piniella was brought in to provide a change of face. The Cubs would bounce back, but not make it to an NLCS until last season after many harsh seasons. When we face adversity we must use it as a trial and not let it weigh us down. The emotions of that 8th inning weighed down the Cubs, but so much could have been done to potentially change the course of that game. Rather than 2003 being the year, we once again sat there saying “Next Year.”

To Be Continued…..

Theology of Baseball and For the Love of the Game pt. 1

Like many of you, I am an avid baseball fan, I would be what Joe Maddon calls a baseball nerd, by this I love everything about the game, the numbers, the stadiums, the rituals, and just the game itself. I get taken back by memories of playing, watching games, and going to games. It’s American to love baseball. It’s something that gives me chills. So like any normal baseball fan, I have my team, the Chicago Cubs, and the moment finally came in 2016. This was our year and there was something special about this team, about the win, and how it was done. During game 7 when Rajai Davis hit that game-tying home run I sat there next to my wife Kim and uttered “of course.” Realistically by the rules of nature, it was a borderline miracle the Cubs were there. I mean just a few days earlier they were on their last leg, on their brink of elimination, on the brink of becoming another great Cub team which couldn’t close it out. However, from the genesis of the season, there was something special. They were stacked and only got better as the season continued. For the first time in my life and pretty much anyone’s life we were the champions. So that was a special moment. My love for baseball began long before this moment and it was in the sandlot like many other children. I dreamed of being a baseball player, but God had different plans for me. Now being in seminary I can see my love for baseball was not a coincidence, but for a reason. It’s this beautiful game which gives me a sense of deep theology. When I am taken to the ballgame I can often feel the presence of God, and while many of you probably believe I am crazy at this moment, others know exactly what I am talking about.

Church of Baseball

Let me make one thing perfectly clear here, I am not professing that baseball should be your source of connection with God. This is not a Bull Durham type of post, but some of the facets of the beginning of the movie hold theological value. Ok, well this post will discuss some of the movies. When Susan Sarandon spoke those eventual iconic words it began to click in the minds of many people.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball and it’s never boring … which make it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you gotta relax and concentrate. Besides I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250 … not unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident and they make me feel safe and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime, what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul is the Church of Baseball.”

While there are some inaccuracies we can appreciate some of the value here. How many people have wondered around seeking the right place of worship? Many people these days walk around with deep holes within their being because they have not found their connection with God. Whatever that may be people connect to God in various manners. For me there is something calming and spiritual about baseball, whether it’s a perfect execution of a double play or a walk-off home run, baseball is surreal. I get emotional when I hear the national anthem, and I feel a lump in my throat when I hear their perfect execution of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It’s a beautiful game, and it’s a game which can bring us closer to God, and it’s a game which unites us. Baseball is America’s Pastime, and it has a new youthful vibrancy with the likes of Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw leading the way baseball’s future is well intact. It’s a game which holds dear to my heart, and something I wish to always have in my life. When I have children I wish to share the game as my dad did with me. He instilled the passion for the game which I now have. Baseball is more than a game, it is a pathway to life.

My First Step in the Cathedral

It was a rivalry game amidst on of the most exciting times in baseball. It was 1998 and I was heading to my first baseball game. As a proud boy from Illinois, I love my Cubs, win or lose. Rocking out my Cubs shirt heading into to enemy territory Busch Stadium. I was filled with an enthusiasm of attending my first professional baseball game. I had attended other games before, but that day I was going to see Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Kerry Wood. It was a hot day in St. Louis and we sat in a stadium which somehow made hot days even hotter. The traffic was heavy, and the spirits were high. We enter the stadium, and quickly I was ambushed by a stadium hand selling programs and I was handed a promotional photograph of a Cardinals player which I quickly wanted to discard. It’s almost methodical how we enter the game though you park your car. You look around and head into the building where you know something bigger than yourself is going to occur. You pass through the turn style and much like church immediately are greeted by other lovers of the game. You’re offered a bulletin or a program of upcoming things, and within a couple minutes, you find your way to your seats likely stepping over a couple people to get to the spot you want. We proceeded higher and higher and found our seats. The national anthem was sung and we were ready for some baseball. I looked down on the field and looked to the sky with bliss as I had my glove ready to catch foul balls which I clearly had no chance of catching.

While I was there for baseball, that passion I had I used to help me draw closer to God. While I am not promoting a personal worship of the game, in fact, that’s downright blasphemous. We can still find value from the Church of Baseball, we can use it as a link to God. My childhood passion for the game, which still seemingly lives within me is God given. For you see coming close to God is how God wants us to come close to Him, while I know this may rub a few of you the wrong way, but a church is not a building, no it’s a gathering of people in the name of God. Whether it’s the millions of fans around the world praying for their team or maybe the link between the impossible happening. See its when people truly believe in a team is when it is truly successful. No, I am not proclaiming a large fan base is the key, if so my beloved Cubbies would be one of the most successful teams ever. God is there when we need Him the most, and His healing is second to none. I was sitting in the hot sun in front of thousands of people all gathered for the same reason, to see a ball game. However, for some, it was a route to healing and a path to redemption. For that moment for many in that cathedral, people were silent only to stand when needed, only to cheer when they felt it was warranted. It was in that moment, a father saw pure joy in his child’s eyes and knew at that moment he could be just as happy.

So the ball game started and it stayed slow. We were expecting dingers in the midst one of baseball’s revival periods the great home run chase. Sosa, McGwire squared off and they saved baseball. Their methods may not be approved by all, but they alone saved baseball, because if it was not for that historic chase baseball could be dead. One of the biggest pieces of American History would be gone with the wind. Maybe, not obsolete, but not as popular. The first pitch was fired and I remember a Lance Johnson slicing a single to begin the game, but from that point on the Cubs were quite until the middle of the game. A few batters later, I was thrilled to see my then favorite player Sammy Sosa step up to the plate. He smacked a screamer into the right field only to be corralled before it could get down. The scare was over for St. Louis. A few innings later the Cardinals struck first blood, and Mark McGwire didn’t disappoint the hometown faithful. He drove one deep to left just shy of Big Mac Land. I was distraught as the Redbird Faithful took to their feet. However, I would get my moment soon. Soon after the Cubs took to the plate and Sammy was up. Sammy smacked a line drive to the wall. He was on with a double, Mark Grace would drive him in later to knot up the game. No home run, but we were tied and we had a chance. Later in the contest, the Cubs would take the lead and keep it for good. We left the game fighting the crowd, much like trying to get around the people who want to talk in front of your path at church. We hit the parking garage to be greeted by thousands of other cars, but that day was like no other because it was my first day at the big league ballpark with my dad, and I still remember the trill of going to that game.

The Game of Heart Breaks

The crazy thing about baseball it’s like life, it’s not fair. Your heart will ache, it will triumph. Whether it being in the form of being a Cubs fan prior to this season or seeing you team botch year after year. Baseball strikes a nerve of every baseball purist. To simply think about the game for some is as calming as talking to their pastor for others. I don’t believe that God created one way to learn about Him, and I believe that there are many ways to finding Christ, if there was on way to find Him, then we would all be lost. Why would God make us all different if He didn’t want us to connect Him in different manners? To see your team lose is almost as big as a blow as being shot by a metaphorical bullet. So you see, for every time you get to see the celebration about, the possibility of the following lurks the next possibility. Thus ending your World Series dreams, and breaking the heart of a  fan who finally understand baseball. Thus opening the door to an eight-year-old boy who finally understood the game getting his first taste of what it is like to be a Cubs fan. The first playoffs I ever watch ended quickly as the Atlanta Braves swept the Chicago Cubs right out the playoffs. 1998 was a good year for me, I had little worries, and was oblivious to the things in the world. I knew my God, family, friends, and baseball. However, for the first time in 1998, I truly understood baseball. I had played for a while, but I really developed myself as a fan that year. The world came crashing down that year as it flourished most of the year and this was just the beginning. However, little did I know that the game I fell in love with back in 1998 would be the foundation to my understanding of so much.

To be continued….