August 2010: I had the good fortune of attending my first Washington Nationals game at their open air and robust stadium on same night “the Nats” recognized the career of baseball's newest Hall of Famer, Montreal Expos outfielder Andre “the Hawk” Dawson. Recalling how fierce “the Hawk” was as a hitter, particularly during the '89 Giants vs. Cubs NLCS games, I said “I bet he earned that name because he was so focused during every single at-bat." I could seldom relax when Dawson came to the plate. Any pitch became his prey. At least that was my guess…and as I’ve asked before “what’s in a name?”
Truth be told, Dawson got his nickname from an uncle at nine years of age. He used to work out with a senior men's team that would hit him ground balls at practice. Andre's uncle told him that most kids his age would shy away from the ball, but Andre attacked the ball like a hawk. The name, and a good one at that, stuck.
Baseball nicknames have become an integral part of the sport's culture: The Baseball Almanac says "In no sport are nicknames more pervasive than baseball.” Each name has a story behind it, reveals a humble or interesting truth. In fact the Baseball Hall of Fame even chronicles nicknames into particular categories (e.g., ethnic nicknames, personality trait nicknames etc.). It also includes a list of nicknames of current Major League teams. Sports journalists, broadcasters and fans commonly refer to teams by a wide variety of nicknames. Many of the names are so established that newspapers routinely use the names in headlines.
Although “The Hawk” was the only player to be inducted into Cooperstown in 2010, he wasn’t the only honoree with a nickname. His class included umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller, sports writer Bill Madden, musician John Fogerty for his song “Centerfield” and manager Elvert "Whitey" Herzog.
Nicknames and honoring an outstanding individual are not unique to the sport of baseball; a similar tradition is part of the Catholic Church. Many of our “hall of famers” are the Saints. In the 12th Century, the Vatican formalized the process for canonization. Although it is true that a man or woman is officially declared a saint after two miracles are performed with their intercession, the primary criteria for sainthood is how this person lived their life. Saints are “shining examples” of Christian love.
Induction into any sports hall of fame is no different. An athlete is enshrined because of how he or she played the game. Many may have changed the game, others were excellent in their day and age. They overcame obstacles and won respect, some adoration from their teammates, fans and even their opponents.
And what about names? I read today (December 26) that The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized next year with Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of her second miracle. Tekakwitha, Canada's first aboriginal saint, is commonly known as “Lily of the Mohawks.” What a beautiful image to hold of this holy woman; what a beautiful way to learn of her people. And do not flowers reflect God’s great beauty in the same way a saint’s life does?
In May 1887, Thérèse approached her 63-year old father Louis, recovering from a small stroke, while he sat in the garden one Sunday afternoon and told him that she wanted to celebrate the anniversary of "her conversion" by entering the Carmelites before Christmas. Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day. Therese later wrote: "while I listened I believed I was hearing my own story." To Therese, the flower seemed a symbol of herself, "destined to live in another soil.”A simple flower symbolizes her rich spirituality. She believed every soul is similar to a flower. Some souls are magnificent and grand like the rose and others are simple and pure like the small white lily of the valley. And “The Little Way” characterizes her spirituality. She sought to do small acts of charity and kindness with great love. She may not have “changed the game," but she is an outstanding example of someone who did something we are all called to do. Her name and her status as a saint are simply drawn from how she lived her life.
I am grateful that two domains I revere—the Church and Baseball hold similar traditions. Although I may check my hat at the door at Mass and not at the yard, when it’s time to recognize a person for their God given talents and their contributions, I sit in marvel at both. I hope to learn from their lives and their legacy in much the same way.
The Hawk: The Expo
Hall of Fame