Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tim Husdon: "He's Going the Distance"

While some San Francisco Giants fans want Madison Baumgarner to start in tonight's Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, I am excited to see Tim Hudson take the mound. There is nothing I would rather see than this 39-year old veteran pitcher nail it on baseball's highest stage. 

In April and May, Huddy was unstoppable. He would throw 8-innings of near shut-out baseball game in and game out. It became a regular feat to the point that the Giants would play Cake's "The Distance" open entering and leaving the mound. He did it all without flash or fanfare; that was Huddy being Huddy. His worth ethic became so inspirational, that I started to think of where and how it might apply to my life. I didn't have to look far.

In those same spring months, the senioritis that has incubated since the start of the semester has spread and inflicted hundreds of seniors. Even though I was once one of them, I have never understood why they concede to the epidemic. Why wouldn't you finish strong?

It runs counter to any athletic training I have had. No coach or teammate has ever asked me 
to "hang it up" or "mail it in" before the final game of the season. As a teacher, I've never pushed play (even though I've wanted to) for the final month of school. Why would this be true in other domains? It is definitely a cultural phenomena. Senioritis is common in many schools, but not all of them. I began to wonder what my students had to say about it.
He's going the distance. Yes! Yes! Yes!
I decided rather than step on the proverbial soap box or remind them how lucky they were to be in school, I would point to Tim Hudson and what he is doing right.

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up.
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
Their prowess is potent and secretly stearn.
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
The fans get up and they get out of town.
The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can.
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup.
But he's driving and striving and hugging the turns.
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.
He's going the distance.
He's going for speed.

I showed his highlights, some of which were actually boring. Why? Because Huddy was doing was he is supposed to be doing. He was throwing off speed pitches for strikes, he was bringing the fastball to the plate when Buster Posey called for it. He let his teammates take command of the field and showcase their defensive talents. And when he was taken out of the game and thousands of fans stood on the feet to say cheer him on, he simply tipped his cap.
He went the distance.
He went for speed.

And all of that is exactly why and how the Giants are now in the October Classic. No finish what we started? then no "Orange October." No desire to finish strong, "Always October" is "Never October."

Everyone got it....crickets. They knew what I was calling them to; they admitted they could do better and why that matters. And then my student Tristan raised his hand and said "but Ms. is fun." Good one Trist. I said "What? Calculus isn't fun?!!" 

It goes without saying that I hope Tim Hudson, a great athlete who has literally gone the distance of this 2014 season does so tonight: Game 7. It speaks to his career, who he is and how he does it. Thanks for that example.

And let's not forget. “Game 7 is a gift. It’s a gift for the whole world, and we get to play in it.” - Hunter Pence ‪#‎ChampionBlood‬

Photo Credits
Rally Huddy

Monday, October 27, 2014

De La Salle's Evening of Honor Recognizes Not Just the Workers....

To see the words of a prayer revealed, is a great spiritual gift. I have been a witness to such sacramental moments in likely places—a friend's wedding, the baptism of a child, and even visiting a former student after he had surgery. But I was reminded this past weekend that spiritual gifts are given in unlikely places too. For me, and hopefully many others that was at De La Salle High School's Evening of Honor.

One of my favorite prayers is "A Future Not Our Own" by Oscar Romero. I hope it is not unfamiliar to you. Coaches and teachers need no interpretation or context to understand its message. It captures my belief in these two ministries and why I do what I do with grace and authenticity.
Romero's words have sustained me during the dog-days of the season. When I get tired or frustrated with a runner, I have to "step back and take the long view." I know my role is to tend to "seeds that we hope one day will grow." Indeed, I "cannot do everything," that is why I am one of four members on a coaching staff. I hope and pray that it "enables me to do what I can do very well." Amen!

I pray this prayer because I believe it is true—about God's kingdom and what we are trying to build here and now. But too often, it just doesn't feel that way.

We fight the fight, we plug away and grind it out, knowing we "seldom see the end results." That can be so frustrating. It's easy to lose hope. I have come to the brink many times. I reach my wits end and then I remember I am not the only one who struggles. My fellow "workers in the vineyard" can and do lend a hand. Occasionally, it's their athletes who are my teachers, my beacons of hope. And for me, that was in Demetrius Williams '01—one of five individuals inducted into the 2014 Spartans Hall of Fame. 

An outstanding athlete, Williams thanked his football coaches Bob Ladouceur and Terry Eidson as well as Frank Allocco, boys' varsity basketball coach. Williams, a man of few words said "Coach Allocco, I know we didn't always see eye to eye. But you taught me how to play basketball. You instilled in me the importance of the fundamentals of the game. Because of you, I became a team player (NB: a team that won the state championship). I will forever respect you for that and for all you did for me. Thank you." As both a fellow coach and a friend to Frank Allocco, I understood exactly what Williams intimated and of equal importance, what those words meant to Frank. 

Coach Allocco has a vision for his team and his players. He knows what it takes and what it's going to cost to win. He is unafraid to tell his athletes their strengths and precisely what they need to work on so the team can get there. Quite often, this is not what a teenager wants to hear. But that is "the difference between the worker and the master builder." The worker wants to complete the job their way, but the master builder has a vision much greater. It might be greater than the worker can even imagine.
Matt Guitierrez ' 02, Coach Allocco, Joe See '01 and Demerius Williams '01
For Williams, this vision required using his gifts—his speed, agility and strength. Such gifts take to the hardwood quite naturally. But they must be grounded in the fundamentals of the game, something that's easy to lose sight of in today's world. Indeed, what catches our eye, isn't the feet that are planted and squared up before taking a shot. It isn't the mechanisms of a solid defense that holds opposing players off balance. And it certainly isn't drawing the foul to get to the free throw line. Those things are "beyond our vision," but not Coach Allocco's. Allocco lives by this golden rule and it yields something more than victories, it underscores the path to excellence. 

Williams found this type of teacher in Allocco. It might not have been the type of teacher that he wanted when he was brash and bold at seventeen, but it's something he said he will "forever respect." As a teacher and a coach, I can think of nothing more I would rather earn that the real and true respect of someone I helped become not good, but great. 

And this reminds me of yet another prayer. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says
By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?Just so every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.A good tree cannot beat bad fruit, not can a rotten tree bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.So by their fruits you will know them.
Coaches and teachers, when the days are long, remember to take the long look. What we want for our students and athletes is part of a greater plan. Stay the course and know that with hard work and a great vision, they too will bear good fruit.

And as written many times, a word of personal thanks to one of the greats, Coach Allocco. You are a cherished teacher to me too.

Photo Credits

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Taken" by Lorenzo Cain's Story

People love NPR, National Public Radio, for many different reasons. Programs like "All Things Considered" and "StoryCorps" never fail to amaze, inspire and infuriate me. Their news hour informs me of national and international news with critical aplomb. One of my students once quipped, "I always feel smarter after listening to NPR." Everyone understood exactly what he meant. So on Saturday when I heard the Weekend Edition report "Two Wildcard Teams Meet in the World Series" "Two Wildcard Teams Meet in the World Series" I was anxious to hear how they would describe my team, the San Francisco Giants.
The G-men have played October baseball three times in the last five years. Outstanding. Unbelievable. Rockin' good. With the exception of the Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey, the amount of national media attention this team gets is anemic. What would a non-sports talk station reveal?

This NPR news story focused on the obvious—the Giants (and Royals) won less that 90 games this season. It also mentioned the style, genius and salary of Giants manager, Bruce Bochy, who has earned every bit of his $5 million dollar salary. And, as newsworthy as his unconventional style of leadership has been, the part of this story that I enjoyed the most wasn't about someone in orange & black. It is a vignette the Royals' center fielder, Lorenzo Cain.

Here's the transcript from the interview:
SIMON: Tom, dropped my pocket comb on the way to work this morning and Lorenzo Cain, the Royals centerfielder, picked it up and threw it to home.
What a series he's having.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) I'll bet it was a diving catch too, right? He's been a great story. He didn't play baseball until the sophomore year of high school and only after he got cut from the basketball team. That was his first and only sports love. He took to baseball and listen to this story from a great Kansas City Star profile of Cain - talked about his insatiable work ethic in high school combined with this innate skill of tracking down baseballs. He'd ask his high school manager after workouts to help him practice fielding. And here's a quote from the manager, Barney Myers, "when I got tired and I wanted to go home, I would hit the ball as far from Cain as I could so that he had to run. I tried to wear his butt out so I'd get to go home. And that's why I see him making some of the most amazing catches in the playoffs."
I love learning about professional athletes who don't start playing their sport until mid-way through high school. The trend toward specialization in one sport and at increasingly younger ages prevents something from happening. And that something is the most intriguing part of this entire story. "He took to baseball..."

I hadn't heard that word in quite some time. What does it mean to "take" to something?  I asked my students what they thought.** 
"Taking" to something means to have a natural talent or ability, an inclination toward it. One student added that you can also "take" to a person. For example, he remembers his father telling his favorite babysitter, "my children have really taken to you." 

What is wonderful about taking to something is made evident in Cain's story. It draws you in. Your world is expanded. Although he was probably heartbroken about being cut from basketball, he found a new love, a new passion. "Taking" to something makes life a little sweeter.

I think it's important that we offer opportunities for young people to take to something. Every year on our summer immersion trips, I witness how a student "takes" to serving others. Some "take" to the population we serve, others to the freedom and joy they discover in living a life that doesn't revolve around you. My hope it that my students will "take" to the relationship between sports and spirituality, to sacramentality and what makes Catholicism beautiful and true.

What is the last thing you have "taken" to? Is it time you let yourself be "taken" by someone or something?

And as far as the 2014 World Series is concerned, I hope the SF Giants, who have taken my heart, take their third championship title in five year. Sorry Cain.

**One student made a hilarious comment when I asked "What does it mean to "take" to something." He said "hmmm...taking to the streets?" ...Good one

Photo Credits

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Hole-in-One: Astonishing...and Worth Telling About

Forgive me, but Mary Oliver's poem "Instructions on How to Live a Life" bear repeating once again. She writes:
  1. Pay attention.
  2. Be astonished.
  3.  Tell about it.
All too often, the battle that I face is paying attention. But fortunately, on Sunday, October 19, I caught sight of something rare...something I hope to see again and again. My friend, Malia Lyle hit a hole-in-one. Her first?!
Presidio, 15th hole, 132 yards, with my seven iron, three great golf buds and a lot of screaming.
Nothing about this (life) accomplishment should be taken for granted—the least of which being that three of the four members of our group saw it. On any given hole, not all parties watch the ball or are as interested in where it goes as is the golfer in the tee box. Other times, the sphere that is 1.8" in diameter, can be tough to spot off a driver (or iron), into the open fairway (or not). And recently, I have broken the pact that I made with myself: that exercise is a cell-free zone. On several of the 18 holes, I glanced at my phone while my friends were preparing to hit. Indeed, paying attention in this instance was more than good fortune! 

Using her seven iron, Malia hit the ball well, as she so often does. The ball landed just to the left of the (right) bunker, adjacent to the green and began to roll. It rolled at a near 45-degree angle, slowly but surely toward the pin. We watched, waited (not long) and "sounded a barbaric yawp over the rooftops," or in this case, the fairways of the world (thank you, Walt Whitman). Needless to say, being astonished was a given.

But what astonished me most was her gracious response. Malia was shaking with excitement and adrenaline. We were hugging and screaming. She did nothing to draw any attention to herself or be self-congratulatory. The first thing she said was "I feel so badly for my dad. He hasn't had one..." We made sure she enjoyed the feat; we had to celebrate as well!

Great moments reveal more than we will ever know about who we are and what we value. To think of the man who introduced her to the sport of golf, who has taught her about golf and life shouldn't be astonishing. Malia called her parents right away to share the news. To me, I saw how much the game of golf has brought this family together; they enjoy traveling and playing golf with one another. A win for one is a win for the others. Casey Martin once said, "(professional) golf is the most selfish endeavor in the world; the team is you." Sorry Coach Martin, the team is never just you.

And a wonderful truth about a hole-in-one is that you can't help but tell everyone around you about it, in large part because it is rare. So rare, that Malia was asked to turn in her scorecard so it could be noted in the newspaper! I teased her that the President will be sending an official note of congratulations soon. 

I wanted to tell every golfer we saw on the course about what Malia did. Perhaps this is why I will never have one. I'm pretty sure if I hit one, I would find a way to tell people standing in line in a grocery store (for weeks on end) about hitting one. Not Malia, she was humble and gracious. 
Furthermore, the customs that accompany the feat are fun. We made sure she kept her ball; I told her to have it saved into acrylic (in the same way that Bo Jackson did, after hitting a home run in his first at-bat after his hip replacement surgery). Malia gets a commemorative flag. Her name will appear in the monthly magazine of our athletic club, The Olympian. At a private club, the golfer who hits a hole-in-one is tasked with purchasing all drinks for the rest of the day! Some folks actually take out insurance for this purpose. I am trying to think of any other instance where one takes out insurance for something good to happen.

Malia told me she woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I'm sure she woke up with a smile on her face. But what she doesn't know is that the three of us who were with her woke up today with the delight of what had happened. When something exciting and fun like this occurs, it leverages everyone. 

I told my runners today, they will see their teammates accomplish great things at our final league meet. The best part about that is that the feat of one is never limited to just that person. It is for all of us to enjoy. So pay is unfolding this very moment. And what we can see, learn, taste, touch, and experience are astonishing. And I hope her Dad has the next hole-in-one that's hit!

Photo Credits

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What Every KC Royals Fan Should Celebrate: Bo Jackson

The Blues that have played in the background at Kauffmann Stadium after every win sound a little sweeter tonight. For the first time in MLB history, a team has won 8 straight post-season games. That team—the Kansas City Royals—is headed to the World Series. 
Ask anyone what they know about the Royals and I would put smart money on one likely answer: George Brett. Perhaps you also know they have a waterfall in their outfield—or do now.  Why? A number of fans decided to jump into it in celebration during the ALCS. I suppose I would if my team hadn't been in a post-season game since 1985. 

But when I think of the KC Royals, I immediately think of one ballplayer: Vincent "Bo" Jackson. And I think everyone who loves sports and spirituality should too. Here's why.

Jackson was sent to Double A. Ridic.
For one, the story behind how and why Bo Jackson ended up with the Royals is legendary. It was quite dubious that he would even play baseball. Why? Jackson was the number one pick in the 1985 NFL draft. Upon signing, Jackson, the eighth of ten children who grew up in a 2-bedroom house in Bessemer, AL would have been the highest paid running back in the history of the game. Yet on a point of pride, he refused to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Royals pursued the Heisman trophy winner without a sense of urgency. They drafted him the fourth round! 

In the press conference that followed the signing, one writer asked Jackson: "What are you going to do now?" "I'm going to take batting practice" was his honest and simple response. Had they asked him where he would take the long ball, I'm sure he would not have replied. Bo knows better. His actions always speak loudest, and this one was loud. According to Royals GM, he hit the first ball not only over center field, he hit the crown above the scoreboard. Welcome to Kansas City, Mr. Jackson.

His remarkable hit is just one of the hundreds of examples of his sheer athleticism. But to look at his talents, I cannot help but believe Bo Jackson reflects the wonder of God's creation. Move over Yosemite Valley. So long Grand Canyon. I see God's majesty in a ballplayer who is capable of doing the following, with little effort. 
His former teammate, Howie Long said it best. "God just reached down and touches a guy like that and says: you're going to be great. You're going to make great athletes look average." He did.

Jackson is aware of his giftedness. With candor and humility, he said,
God blessed me the speed that I can like I can run like a spooked deer. He blessed me with great hand-eye coordination. He blessed me with the arm like a high-powered rifle. And with all those tangibles, you’ve gotta be successful at something.You gotta be successful at something that you do. My niche fell on the baseball and football field.
I'm so glad it did. Thank you, Lord! (and thanks to ESPN for the highlight reels).

What Royals fans should know and appreciate about today, is the history of their past. Jackson is a jewel in that crown. As said in "You Don't Know Bo," Jackson was this fatherless kid who had a chip on his shoulder and was known as a bully in the neighborhood. And then, he channeled all of that anger into sports. What if more of us did the same?
words just aren't necessary
Tonight, baseball fans in Kansas City are celebrating what has been an incredible ride. To look at the team, you can't help but see several heroes—men who might not be much different than Bo Jackson. You might be thinking there's no one like him on that squad. That's not my point.

David Housel, former Athletic Director at Auburn explains what I believe. He said, "Why do we need heroes? Why do we look up to people like Bo Jackson? Because we are less than perfect. We're always looking for perfection—somebody who can do it better than we can. Somebody who can be an example to us of what we can be. That's why Bo Jackson is important. He offers us hope and an example of being more than we alone think we might be."

This team sure look like an example of much more than anyone thought they might be. I hope to see you at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants later next week.

Photo Credits
SI Cover

Leaping Catch
KC Wins

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Words Jeter Was Never Allowed To Say...

Knowing we had a hard work out scheduled for cross country practice that afternoon, I shimmied up to a group of about 3o of my runners and said with great enthusiasm: "Girls! Imagine a world where everyone said "I can't!!" They looked at me as though that would be horrible. They should have.

I can't tell you how many punch lines I have completely botched when telling a joke. Or sometimes I get so excited while telling a story that I ruin the details. I say things like "Eminem is from 10-mile" with complete sincerity (it's 8-mile). I wish I could say it's a creative way I get people's attention but really, it's just a quirky part of my humanity. And in this case, what I meant to say is "Imagine a world where NO ONE said I can't." I fumbled this life lesson because I was so inspired by the great Derek Jeter whose final game in 20 years of MLB took place this September. 
Raised right by his parents Dot and Charles
In Tom Verducci's article "Exit Center Stage," I learned that Jeter's parents "never permitted Derek to use the word "can't" around the house. Anything was possible with hard work. There is no doubting whence comes his distaste for negativity." If Jeter could think that way, couldn't my runners think in a similar vein? Even if just for 2.5 hours?

As a teacher, a coach and a Christian, I believe it's my duty to give people hope. I think it's important to "find a way" when life is challenging. Removing the words "I can't" from our vocabulary is no easy task, but I think it's worth considering. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is "with God all things are possible." On my best days, I know this is true. Other days...not so much. 

Part of me, can't believe the BoSox did this. (Can't intended)
In reflecting on Jeter's example, I realized I say "I can't" literally and metaphorically quite a bit. The first place I noticed it will come of little surprise to those who play golf. Indeed, the golf course is a breeding ground for said words of contempt, but I soon realized there are many others.

Just one hour after XC practice, I played a quick round of nine holes. To my delight, I maintained solid contact on one one shot after another. That is always a moral victory. In fact, I hit the ball so well on one hole, I didn't mind that it landed in the bunker. 

I descended into the sand with a spring in my step and approached the ball with no fear. It was a hard shot, but I was feeling great. I swung my sand wedge and found my ball back where it started. A tough lip, it didn't clear the edge. I took another swing. Still in. I reviewed my stance, I looked at the open face and I said it, "I can't!" I thought about the fact that my next 8 shots might be from this very place and I said "I can't!" again, this time out loud. 

Sometimes life feels like one big...
I couldn't believe it. The very words I had preached against were mine. And even worse, I believed them.

I caught myself. I took a deep breath and stepped back from where I was. I looked at the open sky and loosened up and told myself to refocus. I hit the ball 2 inches behind it and got it out and onto the green. Great shot.

The literal and metaphorical symbolism astounded me. How often are we caught in a spiritual sand trap? How many times do we try and try again to get out? We feel as though we never will. Why don't we realize the words "I can't" are of little help. How can we change our thinking? What is it that gets us out? 

Indeed, the spiritual sand trap is very real. There are so many things which tempt us to say "I can't." Perhaps you can't accept God's mercy. Maybe you can't continue to pray for someone. Recently, I've thought "I can't forgive this person..." I know this because I have wanted Serena Williams' words to be my own. 

Serena. I get it.
In the 2012 US Open, she was so frustrated by calls from the line judge that she lost it. In a fit of anger, she said: "If you ever see me walking down the hall, walk the other way." Forgiving someone means I'm able to walk down the same hall and look them in the eye. Right now, that seems impossible. With God, however, all things are possible.

What I've come to believe is that if we want to get out of the sand trap, we can't say "I can't." (In one case using "can't" is ok here!) We have to look up to God. We have to take in a breath and regroup. 

Building the Kingdom of God here and now isn't easy...but I'm certain it requires the optimism Jeter was raised with. It's something we can do, little by little and day by day. Let every "can't" become a "can." Can I get an "Amen?"

Photo Credits
Jeter Family

Fenway Honors Jeter

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Running for those Who Can't: The Great "Pink-Out"

Once you know, you cannot not know. —Larry Lauro, Bellarmine College Prep

In other words, you can't unlearn something. Reading the July 2014 issue of Giants Magazine, taught me about the One Flap Down Foundation, an organization started by former Giant Jeffrey Leonard. It supports a group in need—single parents with cancer. Even though I read about it in late September, its timing was fortuitous. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I thought to myself, I can't not do something with what I now know.
The "HacMan" and Lou Seal
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. it is "an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same. We have made a lot of progress but still have a long way to go and need your help!"

We are reminded of this campaign through the color pink, especially pink ribbons which can now be found in the office, at coffee shops and throughout the wide world of sports. The NFL, college football, Major League Baseball and many others draw national attention to this cause through their support, literally, on the field! The girls cross country team at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco wanted to join the fold.
A sea of pink for the great "pink-out."

The day before a race is no longer just a "pre-meet" day-workout; they are "spirit days" too. 
Captains choose a theme and runners are encouraged to play the part as they do their part. Their part is a light workout: low mileage, no intensity. We get our athletes to stretch, stay loose and we discuss our race plan. Combine these tasks with spirited attire, and you have a recipe for team unity and bonding.

The spirit day on October 1, one day before our first league meet is one I will never forget. The captains decided they wanted to have a "pink-out" to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I shared with them the story of the One Flap Down Foundation and what it made me think about.

One of our team mottos is "I run because I can." The girls wanted to wear pink to remember that we run for those who cannot. I thought of how much more difficult it would be for a single parent to find both the time and the energy to run when a battle against cancer is underway. 
Very spirited: a tatt and a great Giants hat!

In response, we had a collection for the Hac Man's foundation. With over 100 girls on the team, we were able to gather a robust donation. And on the day of our great "pink-out," all of our runners offered prayers to all of those with cancer, and especially those who are single parents.

A personal highlight was the accessory that accompanied a sea of pink. The San Francisco Giants happened to be playing the wild card playoff game in Pittsburgh that evening. I asked every girl to wear a Giants hat or gear to show support for our team, for the roots of the One Flap Down Foundation and to welcome in ORANGE OCTOBER.

Any team can unite in the color pink this month. And keeping with Catholic tradition, they can pray the rosary for those struggling with cancer and for more respect for life. As far as I can see, the One Flap Foundation and SI XC are doing both.

Also, here's more background on Jeffrey Leonard and his foundation from yesterday's blog.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Pink" October: Using Sports to Share the Story of Those with Cancer

Will Clark is my all-time favorite baseball player. As I've grown and matured, I have come to appreciate the humanity of "Will the Thrill." This is code for the fact that I get why I love "The Natural" and why others might not. Clark can be hot-headed and shrill. In baseball terms, he is a "red-ass." Will never held back his emotion. He always played hard; he expected no less of anyone else. Just look at his reaction after clinching the Division in 1987. His parents watched in disbelief. They turned to one another and Bill, his dad said to his wife, "He didn't just say that, did he?!" They knew, like his true fans do, that he said it and he meant it.
Will had and still has a tremendously loyal fan base. Go to any San Francisco Giants game, and you can't help but see how many other people feel the same way. #22 Clark jerseys abound; they always make me smile. But Will also had his enemies and one of them is Jeffrey "the HacMan" Leonard. If you are interested in the alleged details of their conflict, read here. Looking at this relationship 25 years removed, my guess is both parties were to blame. Both men have very strong personalities and hot heads. Those things are bound to collide, and they did—that's baseball, that's life. 

Go to AT&T Park today and you won't see many Leonard jerseys. Traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1988, he played for the Giants for 7 years. You might, however, see Jeffrey Leonard promoting charity events, attending speaking engagements with boosters and visiting suites during home games. That right, the HacMan was hired this year as a Giants' community ambassador (Giants Magazine). 

When I read that Leonard was "a professional schmoozer" in the July 2014 issue of Giants Magazine, I was a little surprised. Was he a good guy? Why might he be a good fit for the larger Giants community? In his prime, Leonard was an All-Star outfielder who was also named the MVP of the NLCS—even in defeat (to the Cardinals. Boo!). I also learned that he is committed to something much larger than the Giants: The One-Flap Down Foundation.

"Leonard's stepdaughter Christine, a single mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer five months ago. After watching her go through the experience, Leonard and his wife Karen, started a charity to support single parents battling cancer. We deal with the everyday needs, he says. Transportation, house cleaning, bringing them food five days a week, laundry—whatever they need. We try to take the burden off people."

I couldn't believe what I read. I have always believed that single parents are heroes. Being a parents is already a 24-hour a day job. Doing that solo—without the support of a spouse—is that much more demanding. Add an illness like cancer into the equation and your full plate is now too heavy.
A reunion of the 1987 team. 
I am grateful that Leonard is using his platform to draw attention to the reality of another group affected by cancer. I am encouraged by the work of his foundation to assist and meet the needs of this population, one I had never thought about before.

Growing up Catholic, the month of October meant two things. One, it was the month of the Rosary. As I got older, I became aware of the fact it is also "Respect for Life"month. Today, we widely recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I aim to pray the rosary for all of those who are affected by cancer, especially single parents with this disease. Recognizing them, holding them in our prayers and hearing their story is a remarkable way to Respect Life. It's also a telling reminder: Life is indeed a gift.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Question Every Sports Fan Must Ask: Is it Worth it?

Exhausted after watching the longest post-season baseball game ever—the National League Division Series Game 2 featuring the San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals in 6 hours of ball—I finally admitted something to myself. I am in a relationship with the San Francisco Giants.
Brandon Belt's HR in the 18th inning ended the madness.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time, money and energy on this Major League Baseball team. I have traveled near and far to see them in action. Their schedule all too often determines mine. I watch them on television, I listen to them on the radio. I wear their colors and refuse to sport those of their opponents. I seek the company of others who are in this same relationship for advice and insight, to share stories and to learn more about these Boys of Summer and now Autumn. And, like any relationship, it hasn't always been easy.

This team that barely made it into the post-season somehow managed to beat a team that was picked by Sports Illustrated (in their baseball preview) to win it all in four games of the 2014 NLDS. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe they would find a way to continue playing in October after what was a painful and pathetic June and July. I guess #ChampionshipBlood is real.
The Reverend. Preacher Man Hunter Pence.
Sometimes what makes relationships work is synchronicity. What I mean is that the right things fall into place at the right time. Post-season play for the Giants at home for me as a fan was no exception. 

A friend bought tickets to Game 3 at the conclusion of the regular season. I never even thought we would attend this game. The G-men played the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game wild card playoff. The Buccs had the winningest record at home of any MLB team. Bumgarner shut them out 8-0. 

NLDS is a best of 5 series.  The Giants headed to our nation's capital the next day and my fears worsened. I thought I would see the elimination game for the Giants. After winning the first two games on the road, I was privy to the opposite.
Mad Bum was elevated to SuperHero Status.
Originally Game 3 was scheduled to start on Monday, October 6 at about 5:00 pm. For television purposes, it started at 2:07 pm instead. The Giants haven't had a post-season day game on a weekday since 1989. Fortunately, I don't teach the last class of the day so it was easy to go. Apparently it was easy for 42,000 others to do the same. 

I drew closer to AT&T park, excited by the sea of orange and black, I began to sweat literally and metaphorically. As I began to wonder where I could leave my car for under $40, a parking spot miraculously opened up. It was if the skies open and a dove was sent down from heaven as I saw the charge was all of $5 on the meter for four hours; I pay that much on the street where I live for one. I left my blanket, down vest and running shoes in my car and headed to the yard in a skirt and flip flopsA slave to warm weather, I couldn't believe the temperature at the start of the game. Summer comes to San Francisco in October; so does baseball!
But committing to someone for better or for worse is part of the gig. Unfortunately, the Giants lost 3-0. We had such high hopes; the ace of the pitching staff Madison Bumgarner didn't get any run support. We exited the park in silence. The good news however, was that we had been there before. This relationship knew what to do. 

And as witnessed in the 3-2 defeat of the Washington Nationals, they did it. Glory Be! The Giants are now headed to the National League Championship Series...Maybe even the World Series...I cant' believe it! They continue to inspire and excite me. Their success feels great. But if you were to ask me what I have enjoyed the most in all of this, it's something quite unexpected. Anyone in a relationship will understand what I am about to say.

When I got home after Game 3, crestfallen and a little bummed that I didn't see a division clinching moment, my roommate asked me "Are you glad you went? Was it worth it??" It's an honest question and it's a worthy question. My answer was and is, unequivocally "yes."

I say that because in spite of the outcome, when you genuinely care about someone or something, being there...being present...sharing in the moment is what it's all about. You go because it's what you do. To not go would feel, well, like part of you is missing.
At some point, we have to inquire about his leadership. #Excellence.
Being in a relationship for years now, means that when they succeed, you can't help but feel it deep down. It means that when they get to the postseason, you know something very special is about to happen. I absolutely love play-off baseball; it is just so much fun. The atmosphere at the ballpark was electric. Fans stand at every 2 strike count. All eyes are on the field during the game. In between innings my buddy Kevin and I stand, we can't help but dance to the music, or laugh as we look at the signs made by fans—it's awesome. 

And it's all part of the story that is ever being written. For me, it was one that really began in 1987. There were highlights in 1989. 2002 is still painful, but the magic of 2010 has made that much easier.

Pedro Arrupe, SJ has a beautiful prayer that speaks of the relationship that God seeks with us. One that is akin to falling in love. In it, Arrupe writes:
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. 
Right now, it feels a lot like my relationship with the San Francisco Giants.

I told me students today, I hope regardless of what happens in any relationship you have—good or bad, past or present that you can look back upon it and recognize it's worth it. This one sure is. Go Giants!

Photo Credits

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prayers of Petition: Thank you Ameer Abdullah

I walked into class today, the San Francisco Giants 8-0 win fresh on my mind and said to my student "well, I guess your prayer was not in vain." Twenty-four hours earlier, this high school senior prayed for the "Pittsburgh Pirates fans, after they lose." It was tough to summon a collective "Lord, hear our prayer." I thought by senior year, students would be more familiar with how we hold and offer our prayers of petition. It was awkward and it was inappropriate because it was presumptuous and insincere, but it was also an invitation. It was a reminder. How do we pray? How ought we?
This is who we prayed for in class on game day.
Whenever something uncomfortable or challenging presents itself in class, I stop to ask myself how could it have been different. Do young people understand the power and purpose of petitionary prayer? Do they trust that when we offer our prayers out loud with a community that we in turn hear, hold and offer those prayers to God as well? And that doing so makes a difference? These are questions I intend to sit with; I have work to do. I know my colleagues would agree.

But one approach I believe in and live by is that we can help someone understand something by pointing to excellence. For example, when I return papers, I always have two students who wrote outstanding essays share them with the class. Their peers identify why its strong; we know excellence when we see it!

This is what we are working toward!
On the cross country team, I can't get girls to complete 10 push-ups to save my life! I encourage them weekly to set a small goal for themselves. Rather than completing 10 "girl" push-ups, I say (on repeat) aim to do 3 "real" ones. I find the athlete with perfect form and have her model what that looks like. Good form and a good goal. Let's do this! Prayer need not be any different.

Fortunately, I had a thoughtful and fresh example at my fingertips.  A former student sent me the article about a devout Muslim football player, Ameer Abdullah. The ESPN article Ameer Abdullah Makes His Way shares the story of this impressive young man, a running back at the University of Nebraska. In Sports and Spirituality, my students look at the spiritual disciplines of many athletes. Abdullah's commitment to fasting during Ramandan is impressive, but so is his approach to prayer.
He says, "I say a little prayer before every game, wishing myself, my teammates and the opposing teammates the best of luck, asking the Lord to help us use our talents just to glorify him [and] not to be selfish or self-motivated today, just to let our talents glorify him and keep us safe from injury, to allow us to go out and show everything we've worked for the week before." Simple. Authentic and worth sharing. 
#8, Ameer Abdullah
I want my students to know that all of our prayers can be worthy prayers. We can come to God with anything and we should. I also hope they know we can ask others to pray for us at all times and in many different ways. But it's wise to offer said prayers with thought and sincerity.

So, as the Giants take on the Nationals in the National League Division Series, I would like to ask God to help all the athletes use their talents to glorify him. Keep them safe from injury. Let the fruits of their labor bring joy to all those who watch the game. And for the fans, keep your communities safe and give thanks for baseball in October. Amen.

Photo Credits
Committed Fan