Friday, July 26, 2013

Dem Bones...Thoughts on Phil Mickelson's Bag Man

If given one adjective to describe Phil Mickelson, I'll take "loyal." Not only has he remained faithful to Amy, his wife of 20 years, he has had but one caddie in his professional golfing career—Jim "Bones" Mackay. 
While the world marveled at what many may be the best round of golf Mickelson has ever played, I wasn't thinking as much about his four birdies on the last six holes, or that he is now one of four players to have won three different majors (since 1970).  No, I wanted to know about "bag man."

The most popular caddie or "bag man" on the tour is Steve Williams.  This Kiwi has had colorful and exciting career, serving as the caddie for Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and now Adam Scott. Williams found his share of the press during the final round of the Open as Scott and Woods were paired together; Woods ended his partnership with Stevie in 2011. But when Lefty climbed from ninth place and five shots back on Sunday morning toward pole position, it was hard not realize something remarkable was underway elsewhere at Muirfield.
I watched Mickelson and "Bones" discuss the approach. I wondered what it was like for "Bones" to tell the press to back off as they stood too close to the tee box. I noticed at times, Mickelson walked alone and at other times listened with intensity to the man with his bag.  And then I saw something very special occur when Mickelson nailed a 10-foot putt on the 18th hole.  The two men held one another with a strong emotional embrace. When they parted, I noticed they both had tears in their eyes.  It was a look that said "we did this."  

Mickelson verified what I observed. When interviewed, he said,  "I easily could have played three different clubs on every shot out there.  I couldn't have done it without him." In fact, I found out today in the SF Chronicle Sporting Green that he "won without carrying a driver in his bag all week, another example of his tendency to buck conventional wisdom."  No driver?  Talk about club selection!  A 2-handicap and 21 years on the tour proves that "Bones" cares deeply about the player and the game.  
Being "Bones:" Phil Mickelson's Caddy reports "Bones, Jelly, Fluff—Caddies get nicknames" but "Bones" has got to be one of the best. When I first heard it, I immediately thought of the little ditty "Dem Bones."  I have since come to learn this negro-spiritual, composed by African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson, is based on Ezekiel 37:1-14.  Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Now hear the word of the Lord.

In the Vision of Dry Bones, the prophet visits the center of the broad valley. It was filled with bones.  He exclaims How dry they were!  He asks Son of man, can these bones come back to life? Indeed, Ezekiel sees what is lifeless and dry. The Lord states I will put my spirit in your that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land.  Then you shall know that I am the LORD. 

I had a little fun of thinking about Bones' relationship with Phillie in this way.  Certain relationships bring us to life.  They can put spirit into what might be lifeless or dry. I find particular nourishment in those relationships that echo the word of the Lord. 

And as the song proclaims, they remind us what we are connected to. Leg bone's connected to the knee bone.  Said relationships ground us and remind us what we are a part of. Mackay knows that Mickelson's family is what he is connected to; he knows because he's practically part of it.  Furthermore, Amy and Phil Mickelson introduced "Bones" to his wife Jen Olsen.
Bones and Lefty: A Perfect Match confirms this sentiment, "They are quite a pair," said Mickelson's wife, Amy. "They are so different but a lot alike. They're like brothers ... I couldn't imagine either of them with anybody else. They are kind of the perfect balance."
Mickelson, 40, considers having Mackay by his side "one of the most fortunate things" to happen in his career and one of the keys to his success.
"I think the three most important people in a golfer's life are their wife, their manager and their caddie," Mickelson said. "I've been fortunate to have the same three throughout my career. From the first time we've been together, I realized he was a great caddie, but over the years he's become a lot more than that."
I think what he has become was self-evident on Sunday.  From the long sweet walk on the 18th hole to the tear filled embrace as its completion, "Bones" is the spirit that has put life into the legacy that has shaped the career of the world's number two golfer in the world—Phil Mickelson.
Photo Credits
Embrace
Team Mickelson
Claret Jug
Bag Man

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Iowa: A Good Stop for JPII and Lance Armstrong....

Ask American Catholics where Blessed John Paul II traveled in his first Papal visit of the United States and most likely they will say New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. And that's correct.  But there's one unlikely but important stop on that historic visit: Des Moines, Iowa. 

As written in Iowans remember Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit "Joe Hays, 69, a farmer from Truro, brought the Pope to Iowa with a handwritten request. After learning of John Paul II’s visit to America, he wrote to the Pope and said that the strength of the Catholic Church in America is found in its rural people. A month later, a response arrived and Hays was called to an August 29 news conference announcing the visit."  

Somewhere along the course of my American Studies degree, I learned that if you want to truly know a nation and its people, don't judge it by its coastal communities. As someone who lives in one—San Francisco—a place Paul Kantner described as "49 square miles surrounded by reality" I couldn't agree more.  You must go to the heartland.  And John Paul II did.  In the country's agricultural center, he said mass on an altar crafted by local millworkers out of 100-year-old barn wood who carved their names on the boards and in front of a banner that was made by volunteers at a quilting bee.  Thirty four years ago, he spoke under the open Midwestern sky to the largest crowd in the history of Iowa.  

I share all of that as context for my interest in reading about Lance Armstrong in today's sports page.  I'm not a fan, but I have to admit, when I read his first public appearance since his interview with Oprah Winfrey was at RAGBRAI, I thought it a savvy move.  
RAGBRAI—Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa began in 1973 as a challenge from one reporter for the Des Moines Register to another; they decided to ride their bicycles across Iowa and write columns about what they saw from that perspective.  A July tradition was born.

It has popularized cycling for men and women of all ages...and I mean all ages.  Families and friends ride for a day, three or a week in the summer tradition.  I know about it because I rode all 580 miles of the route in 2004; so did Armstrong.

Because it is not a race, RAGBRAI affords its 15,000 participants with plenty of time to talk and think, laugh and reflect, all while pedaling to the day's destination.  Is also provides a good setting to ask the tough questions, like those written in the USA Today article "Lance Armstrong says reality is uncomfortable for many"  It asks,  Would people forgive doping charges that led to one of the world's most prominent athletes being stripped of seven Tour de France titles? Did the tangle of lies and intimidation meant to protect those secrets paint his legacy irreversibly in the eyes of others?
Bryce Miller writes, "Armstrong found part of his answer Monday as he rode with an estimated 20,000 others on the second day of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Armstrong said he was reminded of the fallout from his decisions after he traced a portion of Iowa's highways. "At the end of the ride today, I had a long conversation with a guy," he said. "He said, 'I just have to tell you, since all of this came out, I just feel a little differently about the story.' That's not quite a middle finger, but it's an honest, direct answer and an honest, direct opinion."

And so you have it.  The heartland speaks—and respectfully so I might add.

"When asked what he sees for himself in the next five years, Armstrong paused. "The thing that's the most important is what happens to my children five years from now," he said. "I've got to help myself, my family and my five kids navigate an interesting time."

If I may make a recommendation, I think Armstrong should bring them with him on RAGBRAI.  They will hear what others ask and say.  They will be able to form their own thoughts, create new ones and dream big under the Iowa sky.  They will find themselves in America's agricultural center; its heartland. And know for themselves what JPII said
"The land is not only God's gift; it is also man's responsibility," You are stewards of some of the most important resources God has given the world. ... Conserve it well."
Photo Credits
JP II in Iowa

Friday, July 19, 2013

Power Can Be Held in...the Golf Ball?

With a tee time scheduled for 4:00 that afternoon, I looked at the poster of Frodo that reads "Power can be held in the smallest of things" and thought of one thing: the golf ball.

Those who are familiar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, know what I mean—the ring represents power and weakness, danger and temptation.  And yet, its meaning changes. The golf ball is no different.

I committed to the sport of golf last summer.  I have been a fan of the PGA for the last ten years and when health issues suggested that I reevaluate my commitment to running and aerobic activity, I decided golf was the ideal sport.  I love being outside, I live in a place where one can play nearly year round, as a teacher I have time off in the summer and I love the 19th hole!

But I didn't want to just play golf, I wanted to become a golfer.  I wanted to become comfortable enough with the game that I could play in a tourney without trepidation.  I wanted to head out to most courses and know that I could give it a go, hit the ball well, move it forward, manage my game, improve.

People see me as athletic, but I have never been the athlete who picks up anything as though it were my second nature. I have usually met some level of success because of discipline and my willingness to commit time, focus and energy to the undertaking. I have played enough sports to know that learning to play a sport is an exercise in humility. Golf just might be the one where that notion reigns supreme.  It blows my mind that a non-moving target can be that hard to hit. Indeed, power is held in something that is 1.68" in diameter.  

Like the ring, golf has shown me that power doesn't always make for a good play and those who have it, might not be the one you expect. I played recently with two senior women who hit the ball further and more accurately than anyone I have played that course with.  

And golf will mercilessly reveal one's weaknesses. Do you need patience? forgiveness? the ability to focus or remain optimistic? Golf exposes the good and the bad, our strengths and our human struggles.  It is the humblest of teachers.   

The temptation that accompanies golf runs the gamut, from the demands it puts on time to damage to the pocketbook. I will let those who have played much longer than I have to speak to the ways it seduces the imagination. In the past year, I am aware that consumerism is no stranger. What started as a desire for my own set of clubs has grown to wanting additional clubs (I've been eyeing that 5-hybrid) and it doesn't end there.  New gear, summer shoes, winter shoes, even a digital green reader, I see the slippery slope that is the world of golf.  
But golf is a sport of a lifetime.  How a player understands, appreciates and loves the game will change with age, wisdom and those we share it with.  The game doesn't change, but we do. From playing golf with a grandparent to one's grandchildren, it is a journey that is only beginning.  And in that spirit, the quest for the ring continues...

NB: I don't know that J. R. Tolkien would be a fan of this blog as its foundation is analogy. I love a good allegory and he insisted the Lord of the Rings was not. We do however, share a common faith.  And because of that, whether we intend to our not, we write from that perspective.


As reported in Faith and Fantasy: But it was Tolkien’s deeply held Catholic faith that most profoundly shaped his work. Though he rightly insisted The Lord of the Rings is not an allegorical work, the fact is that Tolkien thought, imagined, and wrote as a Catholic, and his work bears the clear signs of his faith, as he fully intended it should.

Photo Credits
Lord of the Rings Poster
Lindsey Weaver, No 1 Notre Dame Golfer
Golf Ball

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Miracle at Golf Mart

Originally written on Monday night, July 15....I have been riding a bit of an emotional high since Tim Lincecum's no-hitter. Perhaps I need to get more of a life, but I love it when I catch a good Giants game on TV, and I love it even more when it's an epic one.  But nothing can beat what I saw today, nothing.  Why? I saw a living miracle.

I arrived at Golf Mart to begin the much needed task of purchasing a legitimate (read: expensive) driver.  I took a few swings in their indoor digitized driving range when I heard a familiar voice. "Ms Stricherz?" I turned around and could not believe who I saw. Standing before me was my former student, Ben, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in August 2012.  

Without treatment, ACL is quickly fatal.  Treatment is contingent on finding a bone marrow donor.  Unfortunately, Ben's siblings were not a match.  Furthermore, as sited on Be The MatchRacial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Today, there simply aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. Latinos comprise but a small percentage of the bone marrow donor base. The bone marrow drive that was held at SI in Ben's name sought to increase awareness, educate people about the disease and ultimately find a match for him and others with Leukemia.  

Perhaps that was the first miracle—15 people registered as donors.  The generosity of others didn't stop there.  A man in southern Europe was found to be a match and agreed to donate his bone marrow (this is not a given). Ben received treatment on December 13, 2012; his body accepted and engrafted the cells.   He is a survivor. He is healthy. In short, he is a miracle.   
Ben played football all four years at SI and I imagine a host of other sports as a boy. Because of his health and weakened immune system, for now, he is limited to sports that are less physically taxing. Golf is a legitimate option and as far as I'm concerned, a good one (hint: next blog posting). 

As we were talking, I realized I stood in solidarity with him.  To look at us, you would never guess it, but we had come to Golf Mart for similar reasons.  Health had changed our relationship to sports.  High intensity, aerobic, contact sports are off the table—for Ben's immune system and for my heart health.  

Fortunately however, the wide world of sports offers many varietals, like yoga, walking, archery and golf.  Although I miss really pushing myself and breaking a sweat for a runner's high and the camaraderie that comes with playing hoops, the joy (and frustration) of golf has surpassed my expectations. Unlike many sports, I can play with people of any age.  For example, last Friday, I played with two women in their 60s who crushed the ball. Today, I played with a beloved student, who will be one of two captains on the girls varsity golf team.  It has also brought me to some beautiful places in and around the Bay Area. 

It's funny to think that Golf Mart is one of them...but when you see a living, breathing miracle, you can't help but give thanks for something like our health, the generosity of others and all that is to come....for Ben, his family and new friends I will make through golf.  
Photo Credits
From Caring Bridge: Ben Aguilar

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thank you Timmy: Life Lessons from a No-Hitter

We paid our greens fees and my friends said "Are you sure you don't want even just a push cart?"  With his first no-hitter fresh in my mind, I replied "Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches last night and struck out half the batters he faced, the least I can do is carry my bag for 18 holes." 

My charge may have proven to be a little ambitious as I trudged through the 475 yard 16th hole, but I couldn't help but think of the 7th no-hitter in San Francisco Giants history and all the life lessons I have taken from it.  Here are but a few--some with examples that speak of the spiritual life and some that are implied... 
The importance of hard work.
The only way to get the distinctive "no-no" is to finish the game.  For Timmy the Kid, this meant being on the mound for nine full innings, for coming to bat 3 times and I'll write it again because in the modern game, it's rare--for throwing 148 pitches.  
Even though Lincecum said "I felt fine out there from the first pitch. Maybe just a little sweaty" he had to have been physically and mentally exhausted.

The spiritual life requires mental stamina as well.  My aunt once told "never take faith for granted.  If you don't work at it, you can lose it."  I knew her words were spoken from experience, and that work, quite often is hard.  Spiritual growth isn't a given; I now understand there are hundreds of spiritual disciplines for a reason.  Different disciplines resonate with different personalities. Regardless, they yield a common fruit--spiritual growth and a living faith. And the more you work at it, hopefully the easier it is to stay with it... Which leads me to....

The importance of sabbath.
Or in this case, the All-Star break.  Even though he was voted to the All Star team for four straight years (2008-2011), the rest this year will serve Lincecum and his $20.25 million dollar arm well.  


The break provides an important framework for thinking about the season.  Teams build their squad, rotation, line-ups and chemistry from April until mid-July, with but a day off but once a week (usually Mondays or Thursdays).  The three days off is significant. Once the All-Star break has passed, fans and athletes know what the focus becomes--how to get to the post season.  

The Christian sabbath is no different.  It marks a new week and when used for its intent--rest, worship and prayer, faith and family, it can refresh and re-energize the soul.  The sabbath is increasingly more challenging to observe.  Thank God for holidays and summer break, for they remind us what we are called to do weekly.  And when we do rest, we remember why it's important.
We never accomplish anything great on our own.
I asked my brother what percentage credit for a no-hitter should go to the catcher.  Even though I was much more generous with my number for the 2012 NL MVP, Buster Posey (25%), it was fun to think about.  A good catcher will frame the high heat in the strike zone; he calls each pitch, he aims to outsmart the batter in the box.  Of course the glory of this effort goes to the pitcher for he is the one using his arm to throw the ball at over 100 MPH. But there were many outs where and when #55 pointed to a teammate, calling them out (and maybe saying F*** yeah...this is a reference to a very popular Giants T-shirt).

My favorite image from this great game is Buster Posey hugging Lincecum for many reasons.  It puts Tim front and center, but that embrace from Posey verifies how we can and do lift one another up.  Our gifts and talents work in tandem with each other's.  It's no secret that Lincecum and Posey are not the best of friends.  In fact, it's very rare that Posey catches for him.  But on this night of nights, they made the masterpiece happen...as did Hunter Pence--awesome catch, Pablo Sandoval at third, etc etc.
Familiarity with a location or venue makes a huge difference.  
I came home from dinner with friends and immediately turned on the TV To watch the game because I had been to a Padres vs. Giants game at Petco Park last August.  Giants fans refer to this yard as "AT&T South" because it so much Orange and Black in the stands, it looks and sound like a home game.  Having visited a venue that rivals the beauty of AT&T North, made me want to watch this game in particular, and it changed the way I watch it.  I know the field, its quirks and how the Giants may play it differently.


My trip to Rome in April 2009 deepened my appreciation for "The Vatican."  When Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis I could envision where he was standing and asked us to pray for him before he prayed for us.  They refer to a visit to Jerusalem as "The Fifth Gospel."  I love that claim.  I have no doubt visiting the Holy Land would transform my experience with the Readings and my faith.  To walk where Jesus did must be incredibly powerful and humbling.  I hope to get there someday....and to Petco for another series with the Giants in town.
To Win is to Honor Him.
I've written about Eric Liddell's words many times and given many examples for how and why I believe this is true.  As demonstrated in Chariots of Fire, Liddell believes the excellent use our gifts and talents is one way to honor the Creator--God the Father.  

When Hall of Fame announcer Jon Miller asked #55 who was the first person he was going go call, he immediately responded "my dad."  I wondered who he would say and his response came as no surprise to anyone.  Enough said.

The Freak.
Tim Lincecum is beloved by Giants fan for hundreds of reasons.  Drafted 10th in 2008 out of the University of Washington, he developed in our farm system.  He emerged as a positive face for the Franchise when we needed one--in the Bonds era was finally behind us.  He is why I consider the 2010 NLDS Game 1 one of the very best sporting events I have attended; he struck out half of the Atlanta Braves batters that night!  He gave this 2013 a much needed shot in the arm and he did it because of his talent, his teammates, his dad and now he gets to enjoy a week off.  Thanks Timmy for the memories!

And enjoy the Mid-Summer Classic tomorrow night.  Props to Mad-Bum, Buster Posey and Marco Scuataro
Photo Credits
Pence Catch
Posey-Lincecum

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spirituality of Wrestling

Whenever I find out a school has a wrestling team, my immediate response is "good."  Many schools, including the one where I teach have eliminated this classic sport.  When they do, I believe that something spiritual has died.  
I have never intentionally gone out of my way to watch a wrestling match.  I always thought the head gear and pinnies were rather peculiar looking.  No one in my family has wrestled and I can't tell you much about the rules, but I do know that it is a sport that has a cult following.  I know it was in the ancient Olympic games and because of its weight divisions it is accessible to athletes in a way that another winter sport--basketball--is not.  I have often thought part of its popularity in the midwest, Iowa in particular, is because the extreme cold weather climate lends itself to an indoor sport that challenges its athletes to something much more than just physical competition!  Wrestling demands great mental focus and preparation, skills that I believe are necessary in our faith lives.

A popular biblical story is one in which Jacob wrestles with an angel.  The Book of Genesis says "Then some man wrestle him until the break of dawn."  Jacob said "I will not let you go until you bless me" to which the angel replied "You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings have prevailed."  

Living With Christ, a daily companion "for praying and living the Eucharist" says "There is something both fascinating and consoling about the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Jacob wrestles through the long night.  Sometimes we wrestle through the night too--not with an angel, perhaps, but with problems, decisions  questions, fears, pain.  Jacob is remarkably persevering in his struggle, refusing to let go of the angel until the angel blesses him.  How persevering are we in our struggles?  How persistent are we in our requests to God for help?  Steadfast God, be with me in all of my wrestlings...."  Praying with and reflecting upon this made me wonder To what degree might a wrestler be more adept at persevering in prayer? Maybe he (or she!) finds a spiritual role model in Jacob.
I have a sense the coaches and wrestlers at St. Louis University High School can speak to that.  Hanging front and center of their well lit, welcoming and open wrestling room is a sign: SLUH Wrestling Team Principles.  It drew me in.  From it anyone can gain a sense of what wrestling demands--hard work, hustle, accountability, and attention to detail.  But the first two principles indicate that there's something spiritual about the sport.  

Wrestling on a team requires care for each other and the gifts God has given.  Perhaps when your only equipment is your body, as opposed to a stick, racquet or club(s) you have a better sense of that.  Many of those same principles are what Jacob, who renamed was Israel, lived by.  They are ones worth considering as we face the decisions, questions and fear that life affords.  Perhaps I will make it to a wrestling match later this year to gain a few tips on how I can do that....

Photo Credits
Statue







Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breakfast with Wimbledon, A Breakfast of Champions

I woke up this morning ready for "Breakfast with Wimbledon." Since I was a teenager, I have set my alarm for the Sunday match up of the men's finalists. No strawberries and cream or all-white ware in my home, but the third and perhaps most prestigious of the Grand Slam tourneys is a royal treat (pun intended).
Growing up, NBC had the rights to air Wimbledon which was highlighted by hosts Dick Enberg and Bud Collins.  As someone who grew up fond of Wheaties' as the "Breakfast of Champions," I always thought NBC's marketing campaign was a good one. Indeed, breakfast with Wimbledon had to be the most important meal of the day.  

And yet, a friend recently asked me "What meal isn't important?" Even though breakfast "breaks the fast" from sun down to sun rise, doesn't every meal play a part in keeping us strong, hydrated, fit and focused?  If "food is fuel," is breakfast really that much more high octane than the others?  Yes and no.

When I eat a healthy breakfast--one chalk full of fiber (bran flakes?), antioxidants (blueberries), calcium (milk) I feel as though I am ready to take on the day--be it Monday or Friday!  I can creatively respond to the challenges that come my way.  I stand a little taller and the world looks a little brighter. Yes, all this is made possible by a fortified breakfast (and a good night's sleep).  Let me be honest, as much as I adore the donut, it holds no weight to oatmeal with raspberries and almond milk--even when it's an apple fritter or powered up with a hot cup of Joe!

As much as I love breakfast--and I do--it's important because it's one of many indicators  that reveal how we start our day is what we should be intentional about.  Forgetting to eat it is leaving the tank empty.  Our brains and our bodies know the difference.  

By way of another example, the holiest men and women I know begin their day with prayer. They set aside time in the morning to sit with God.  Essentially, they are cultivating the most important, fundamental relationship in our lives--one with the Lord. Taking but five, ten or 60 minutes when the day is off and running can be incredibly challenging, but I have heard all of them share that they couldn't accomplish all that the day requires without doing so.   

Times in my life when I have been most committed to prayer in the morning, I have felt the difference.  I know that no matter how busy the day gets, I have already prayed for my loved ones, thought about what might need to be reconciled and thanked God for another day.

The same is true with morning workouts.  As a collegiate rower, everyone wants to know how I handled the morning practice.  The 4:30 a.m. alarm, was never easy and yet nothing beat the feeling of coming off the water as the sun was rising and going with my teammates to South Dining Hall for a healthy breakfast.
Or another example was born out of one of my Lenten disciplines.  I gave up listening to music while running and gained time for prayer and reflection.  I love it when my schedule permits me to run in the morning.  It is a tremendous gift--time with the Lord and time to pound the pavement.  I strongly recommend it!

Coming back full circle, this year's Breakfast with Wimbledon left me energized and inspired by Andy Murray's performance.  Does any athlete look more high energy and fit than Novak Djokovic?  As he was gaining momentum in the third set, Murray--already up two sets to none--found something inside of him that did not quit.  He returned every winner, drop shot and overhead smash that Djokovic served.  His concentration and focus were akin to mine after the Olympic Club cafe's Green Monster smoothie (kidding).  


And yet, my favorite part of the 127th All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club's final match was when Murray dedicated the win to his coach Ivan Lendl, who never completed that feat.  Lendl lost to my favorite player Pat Cash (so I'm shedding no tears on this one).  
In "Murray hails Lendl for inspirting Wimbledon glory" Murray said “I just think for him, obviously ideally he would have won it himself, but I think this was the next best thing for him. I’m saying it seriously. He believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. He stuck by me through some tough losses the last couple of years. He’s been very patient with me. I’m just happy I managed to do it for him.” 

Murray was playing for many people--his homeland, his mum, the Dublane school community, and yet the relationship of coach and athlete was today's highlight.  It gave me plenty to think and pray about--Who do I dedicate accomplishments in my life to?  What do I want my athlete's to achieve?  Who has been patient with me?  Who do I need to be patient with?  What will make my athletes happy?

Good questions to chew on at breakfast, during prayer or while exercising. Have a great morning! Enjoy!

Photo Credits
Murray Wins
ML Retton
Breakfast at Wimbledon
Murray Wins

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Balm of Sports

The unexpected, sudden death of a loved one is profound.  Faith, time, acceptance of the new relationship, God's mercy abate the tremendous grief and sorrow, but death is so hard...and it is so heavy.  Watching the Oakland A's play the Chicago White Sox however, I realized at their best, sports serve as a balm, one that in a small way eases the pain and can open us up to God's grace.  

Josh Nemeth was a huge White Sox fan.  He was raised in a house divided.  His mom and her family, ever close to their home in Wheaton, IL were loyal to the Cubs.  So loyal that when Josh's sister Courtney got married, that half of the family went out of their way to point out the "C" on the china at the reception cite was in favor of their Cubbies.

But Joseph Nemeth IV, "Josh," was his father's son.  When push came to shove he sided with the south side.  And this from an outsider's point of view, this is hard to do.

The old and new Comiskey (now Cellular Field) have no charm, especially when compared to the brick and blooming ivy at Wrigley field.  The uniforms over the years...well, let's just say I think it's a good thing they launched the "good guys wear black" in the '90s.  To their credit, the Sox are generous and competitive with their payroll, they have a colorful history and personalities to match.  I will let the Nemeth family support and defend the rest.


In 2005, this team did the impossible.  They remained in first place from Opening Day until they defeated the Houston Astros to win the World Series title.  It had been 88 years since the franchise last clinched a championship.  It was the White Sox's third and the first in Josh's lifetime.

San Francisco Giants hold Journey's "Dont Stop Believin'" as the unofficial theme song of our city's first World Series championship, but the credit should go to that 2005 crew.  When they swept the series in 4-games, I called Josh's sister Courtney; I knew her dad and brothers had to have been ecstatic.

Josh died on a routine morning run of an asthma attack; he was without his inhaler.  At just 33 years of age, he was a beloved son, brother, Godfather and teacher.  A graduate of Notre Dame, he taught chemistry for 8-years at Cristo Rey High School--a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition that serves economically challenged families.  I still tear up when I think of his passing and the loss it has left with his older sister, one of my favorite people--Courtney.

I think of the madness of this world and why the good die young.  A wave of pain fills my heart and then I remember, in his lifetime Josh accomplished so much.  He touched hundreds of lives--his brothers in Zahm Hall and his students.  I find a little comfort in knowing in his short life, he also got a World Series title.  As a baseball fan who waited 37 years for one, I know what this means.  It's incredibly sweet.


The Oak Park newspaper wrote "As a lifelong White Sox fan, he stuck with the team through thick and thin. He was a deeply religious person, as well: When his family went to his apartment to gather his things, they found an open bible on his bedstand."

I run as much for my physical health and my mental health.  I use that time to think and to pray.  I have often wondered if Josh was reflecting on the Word as he ran that morning. Or maybe he was thinking about the Sox game from the night before.  If he's anything like me--he was doing both. 

The prophet Jeremiah raises the question Is there no balm in Gilead? no healer there? Why does new flesh not grow over the wound of the daughter of my people. The New Testament reveals that the balm is Gilead is Christ Jesus.  He is the true source of deep healing and yet I don't think it unfair to believe some things help along the way.  Not all cities get championship rings. Not all sports fans are as loyal as Josh.  I delight in knowing Josh got to savor a World Series victory; perhaps half of the Nemeth family can take comfort in that.

Photo Credits
Sox Logo
Josh Nemeth
Believe it!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Jim Harbaugh: Fearfully, Wonderfully Made

Why would I write about Coach Jim Harbaugh at the heart and height of summer?  The gridiron, the pigskin, the Fall--heck, even the Superbowl have little if anything to do with my favorite holiday that is but a few days away--the 4th of July.  Is it because I have come to believe that Jim Harbaugh is a Man for All Seasons?!"  That he is not....but in a small way, I recently heard a story that suggests he wants his athletes to be.  But, before I share that great story, let me reflect back to February 3, 2013...
I walked into the "last-chance" mass, 9:00 p.m. at St. Dominic's on Superbowl Sunday with my head hung low.  My San Francisco Forty-Niners lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31. I listened to the First Reading, Psalm 139 and the verses 13-16 made me smile.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!
My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you.
When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be. 


Sorry, but I couldn't help but think of Jim Harbaugh.  There may not be a whole lot of great memories for Niner fans of Superbowl XLVII, but if there should be, he's one of them.

This man has taken a team that hadn't been in the play-offs in 10-years to the NFC Championship in his first year as a head coach and to the Superbowl in his second.  Sunday morning before the game a friend said "if I had to go into battle, I would want him on my side." Fans know exactly what he is talking about.  I look at Jim Harbaugh in total amazement and wonder.  I am a fairly competitive person, but on a Richter scale I would measure a hairline fracture next to his seismic wave. 


Human personality fascinates me.  I heard San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy speak at the Commonwealth Club later that same week, and I had to laugh because his affect is a 180 from Coach Harbaugh.  Baseball runs at a different pace and cadance.  "Boche" is baseball, Harbaugh is hard hitting.  He is hustle, hustle and more hustle.  He is NFL football. Indeed, he is fearfully and wonderfully made.

The stories that accompany Harbaugh's competitive nature are endless.  He didn't speak to his brother John after the Superbowl loss for weeks.  His golf handicap is 6. And what may prove to be his greatest acquisition--signing QB Colin Kaepernick, wasn't without contest--he ran three specific drills on him, to be exact.  In Harbaugh road-tested Kaepernick in 2011, Scott Ostler wrote 
Harbaugh and Kaepernick talked for a while, but Harbaugh wanted to see the skinny kid throw, so they hit the field. 
After Kaepernick tossed some passes to Baalke, running routes, Harbaugh threw down the gauntlet. 
"I think the first thing that came to mind was, well, number one, the energy he brought," Kaepernick said later, recalling their first meeting. "He was running all over the field with me, throwing the football around. From the get-go it was just a competition out there, we're going to see who can throw the most perfect spirals to each other. And then we're going to see who can be the most accurate throwing through the goalposts from different spots." 
If you think either man was casual about the little games they were playing, you don't know them. 
Harbaugh never plays a game to lose. His over-the-top competitiveness in pick-up basketball games is legendary. For him, there is only one level of competition.
And that competition should never be limited to one arena, something that in today's world of increased specialization cannot be taken for granted.  A true competitive drive will manifest itself differently in racquetball (which he played against Niner GM Trent Baalke) than it will in football or basketball.  And a good coach knows that different sports enhance different techniques and skills.  Different sports achieve victory in different ways...but a competitive drive cannot be turned off.  It is innate in Harbaugh and in Kaepernick; no wonder they got along so well.
At the Play Like a Champion conference at Notre Dame, an athletic director of a high school shared with me a story about Jim Harbaugh, then coach of Stanford, coming to his campus to watch the school's starting quarterback. It was late in the season and Harbaugh found out the young man wasn't going to play basketball.  He immediately wanted to know why. It soured his interest.  He wants great athletes who are interested in competing.  There is no competition in off-season training.  

I write this story just before Independence Day because I am continually challenging our youth sports culture that promotes specialization earlier and earlier; I take every chance I can to give examples of why the countercultural option may be worth considering. Focusing on one sport leads to overuse injuries and the danger of changing what should be recreation to work.  Fitness becomes labor.  Winning is everything.

I truly believe that it will take more coaches on the highest levels speaking in the way that Harbaugh did to make a change.

One thing however that won't change is his competitive nature.  And knowing what he has done for the San Francisco 49ers, I wouldn't want it to...it's how he's fearfully and wonderfully made.

Photo Credits
Press Conference

Reaching out