I love to be proven wrong. Perhaps that’s why I teach high school-- adolescents are no different. I read it on every evaluation of my course: “I was initially skeptical about the connection between sports and spirituality. I now understand….” Teens like to be proven wrong because they enjoy figuring things out for themselves. If you have a teenager, heed my simple advice: don’t give them any. Lead by example and let them do the rest. Life will prove them wrong about many things, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
I like to be proven wrong because I like surprises. I enjoy seeing the unexpected blossom and bear fruit. So, what could be a more fitting way than to describe my favorite sports moment of 2012: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series?!
Friday night in St. Louis: the Giants were down 1-3 in the series and this was the elimination game. Everyone wondered if Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would stay with Barry Zito as the starter. He pitched all of 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Reds. He allowed four hits and four walks. However, we won. Bullpen by committee.
Zito faithful launched a #RallyZito campaign via Twitter. The fictional picture of Zeets riding a unicorn fit the part. Here was a guy raised out of the box. In the interview, Barry Zito: Play-off hero, he says “From a spiritual side, my grandmother founded a religion [Teachings of the Inner Christ] and a teaching center in the ‘60s in San Diego, and I was raised on that. That’s where a lot of the eccentric, Zen things come from.” I wasn’t interested in Zen. We needed Ks and Ks (backwards—the symbol for when a batter is caught looking…thanks for the reminder Mike!)
He got out of a two-on no out jam in the second inning; he laid down a bunt for a single and completed 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. The momentum continued to build; Giants won 5-0. The winning never stopped.
People give Hunter Pence a lot of credit for his inspirational speech in the dugout—a rally cry, if you will. But Zeets did what speaks to teens—he led by example. The rest of the Giants’ pitching staff followed his lead.
To confirm my appreciation, I made the pledge (albeit in a bar) that if the Giants won the NLCS title, I would purchase and wear a Zito 75 shirt. After that game, how could I not make good on my word?
In “Life Lessons from the Spiritual Southpaw,” I threw a lot of stones at Barry Zito because of the size of his contract and lack of player development. I delighted in not seeing his name on the 2010 post-season roster. But something was different in 2012. I knew he was quietly contributing all season long, and I didn’t want to give him credit. He became the fifth starter on the post-season roster, while the all-star from 2010 was relegated to the bullpen. I held on to my suspicions but desperately wanted to be proven wrong. The World Series was at stake!
When Zito pitched Game 1 of the World Series, I ate crow and loved doing so. I wore my 75 Zito shirt with sheer delight and enjoyed an article my brother sent me from ESPN magazine about the lucky lefty. Once again, I was proven wrong about how he is, even about his spirituality…and I love that.
I But I just needed more structure, and sometimes you have to go through difficulty and physical trials to really get broken down. In 2011, I got broken down physically as well as mentally. In August of that year, I committed my life to God. I realized I'd been relying on my own strength for so long and, man, I'd been wearing it. I've been wearing it like no one in my circle. So this was about finding a strength outside of myself. The way I was raised, that's a concept I never would have given any credence.
I had this very odd injury in April of 2011. It's mostly a football injury -- Lisfranc ligament tear -- and I came off the field that day after never being hurt in 11 years, and I said, "All right, something bigger is going on here. A message is being sent, and I've got to listen." A few months later, I realized I'd been doing it alone. My best friend told me an old story I really love. A shepherd will be leading his sheep, and one of the sheep will be walking astray from the pack. The shepherd will take his rod and break the sheep's leg, and the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again. That's a really beautiful metaphor. A lot of things happen to us as people, and we realize we've been relying on our own strength for too long. Last September, I got a tattoo, and it's the only one I have, of a golden calf on the inside of my right bicep. I show people that, and it signifies idolatry and that I was putting things before God. I haven't talked much about this. When I committed with my chaplain, he said, "You don't need to go around telling people this stuff. There will come a time and a place." I guess that's a change for me too. I used to kind of dig attention. Now I'm seeking deeper fulfillment.
2012: thanks for some wonderful sports memories. BZ, thank you for my favorite.