Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thank You Madison Bumgarner: SOTY

For sports fans, there is a whole lot to love about the holiday season. Maybe you are excited about the first-ever college football play-off. Some folks must decide if it is time to surf or ski. Perhaps you can't wait for Santa to bring you a new golf club, fitness gadget or if you're an Eagles fan, I think you need a new jersey. (I write that because it's time I recall one of my favorite lines from a great movie, Silver Linings Playbook:
Pat: Hey, my friend Ronnie is having this party on Sunday night and it's like a real hoity-toity thing. And his wife Veronica is a real stickler for... I don't know. My mom got this Gap outfit she wants me to wear, but I want to wear a jersey that my brother Jake got me from the Eagles. 
Dr. Cliff Patel: Which jersey? 
Pat: DeSean Jackson.
Dr. Cliff Patel: DeSean Jackson is the man. 
Pat: Well, that settles that.
However for this sports fan, I love nothing more than discovering who is crowned as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year

This year, the magazine had my chomping at the bit from Thanksgiving on as it built one case after another for why for certain athletes should win. And truth be told, each one was convincing. Russell Wilson?—okay. Rory McIlroy—you had me at the PGA Championship. Serena Williams?—one year girl...Kansas City Royals Fans? no one takes Steve Rushin that seriously.
So imagine my utter delight, surprise, shock and awe when I saw San Francisco's own Madison Bumgarner at the 2014 Sportsman of the Year (SOTY). I'm still smiling.

These days Sports Illustrated runs so many regional covers that I am never quite sure if what I am seeing at my local bodega is what my friends on the east coast are looking at. With this special issue however, there is but one cover, and this one is as impressive as the man who earned the accolade. 

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised given that his feat was truly one for the ages, but I was. And from what I read, the writers at Sports Illustrated might have been too."Mad Bum wasn't even on the radar in September. But by the end of Game 7, there really was no discussion to be had."  So thank you SI for shedding your east coast bias, thank you for letting go of your conceptualized cover image of Clayton Kershaw and Mo'ne Davis "side-by-side, pitching arms extended forward each holding a ball autographed by the other," and thank you for letting Tom Verducci, one of my favorite sports writers extoll 10,000 words on a great Giant.

But with this blog, I want to thank MadBum for something much more than his epic performance on the mound. I want to extend my gratitude for bringing me great joy. Joy in two very simple and unexpected ways. I don't know that the SOTY gives any credit to these characteristics you hold, but thank you all the same.

1. You Make Me Laugh: 
The week before final exams is a nightmare. Seriously, every teacher deserves the two weeks we get at Christmas for all that we put up with to get there.

This year, a large number of my students challenged me about their grades. I was surprised by their aggression both active and passive for points, for wanting me to reconsider their grade, for telling me they "deserved" an "A." Despite the rubric which indicates as objectively as possible how a subjective matter is assessed and regardless of my hand written comments and corrections, students wanted more. Said people are known as "grade grubbers." They can be relentless and mean. Grading is the worst part of teaching, and grubbing puts fuel on that fire. 
It seemed as though everywhere I turned, grading confrontation and conflict was at my door. I tried to breathe deep and remain calm and consider that their stress had gotten the best of what are typically good kids. I came home that day to a very welcome surprise in my mailbox. SOTY. I started reading about this 25-year old from Lenoir, NC who did the incredible. He is man, he is myth, he is legend. Verducci writes:
This may be the best Boone-like tale about the man they call Mad Bum. One day during spring training this year in Scottsdale, Bumgarner and his wife were roping cattle when Madison was startled by a large snake he figured was a rattler. He quickly grabbed an ax and hacked it to pieces. When Ali, an expert field dresser, examined what was left of the snake, she found two baby jackrabbits inside pieces of it and extracted them. A short while later the Bumgarners noticed that one of the rabbits had moved slightly. It was alive. Ali brought the rabbit back to their apartment and for the next few days kept it warm and bottle-nursed it. The rabbit soon was healthy enough for them to release in to the wild. 
“Think about how tough that rabbit was,” Bumgarner;said. “First it gets eaten by a snake, then the snake gets chopped to pieces, then it gets picked up by people and it lives. It’s all true.” 
I read what this 6'5" pitcher who weighs 235 lbs said about a tiny rabbit and I couldn't stop laughing. I put the article down and tried to continue reading, but I kept laughing. I probably laughed for the next 5 minutes. Mad Bum is calling this creature tough? I love it.

But the laughter didn't stop there. I asked my friend Ryan if he had read the piece after our "Hour of Power Class." When I told him that in high school the lefty dated a woman named Madison Bumgarner, Ryan laughed so loud that people in the BM cafe turned around to see what was so funny. I wish one of us had snorted, the whole exchange was so funny. 

MadBum, you played on an elite travel team known as the North Carolina "Dirtbags." When you asked to ride a horse in the championship parade in San Francisco, Manager Bruce Bochy expressed his concerns but added, "it might've been more humane for Mad Bum to carry the horse." 

Jimmy Fallon couldn't stop talking when he interviewed you as the World Series MVP. You were funnier than he was that night and you said all of 30 words. Thanks for being you.

2. You have a Faith that I find inspirational.
Verducci writes, "When asked what were his short-term and long-term goals as a person and a player, this is what the 16-year old Burmgarner wrote: "My short-term goal as a person is to witness an activity of Jesus in my life, and my long-term goal is for people when they look at me to see something in me about Jesus. My short-term goal as a player is to win the state-championship. My long-term goal is to be a Hall of Famer."

You inspire me to develop noble, honorable and outstanding goals. Wow, what a gift to be a witness to the achievement of your aspirations. 

Your senior quote in high school, indicates a way to live now that you have achieved your professional goals! You said, Talent is God given—be humble. Fame is man given—be 
thankful. Conceit is self-given—be careful.”

I am humbled by your talents. I delight in your fame. You have every reason to be conceited, but am encouraged that you know to be careful. Mad Bum, you made us cry tears of joy upon winning, but you have made me (and others) laugh really loud. Thank you. For those reasons, among many others you built an outstanding, compelling and the best case for why you are the 2014 Sportsman of the Year.

Photo Credits
SLP DeSean Jackson jersey
Cover Shot

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Picture This: My Spirituality through Sports (Part II)

The Catholic novelist Flannery O'Connor lamented our age's loss of "a sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusion of grace" into our fallen world. I suppose that's why I begin my Sports and Spirituality course by having students share a Sports Moments of Grace. We must train the eye to see. The first instruction for how to live a life by the poet Mary Oliver is "Pay Attention." Sports Moments of Grace invite us to do that. 
What exactly is a Sports Moment of Grace? In the article "March Madness," the Rev. Dr. Michael Tino describes them as "peak experiences." He writes, 
During peak experiences, it is said one finds connectedness with the universe around us—sometimes one is overwhelmed with that sense of being part and parcel of a vast and wondrous creation. 
Many of my colleagues described experiences like sitting on mountain ridges at sunset, or finding deep inner peace on a meditation retreat. I thought of women’s basketball. Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut… perhaps I should have shared this sooner!
I wish he hadn't. But, I'm grateful he recalled a missed opportunity and wrote about it to encourage others to do the same. Said moments can also be understood as 

  • A moment of self-actualization
  • When you found connectedness (not all need to involve connection, but many do….)
  • Kairos…not Chronos
  • Flow
  • Sports Moment of Grace
In the five years I have taught the class, I have told my students about the 201o World Series parade that took place on my brother's 40th birthday; this year I wrote about attending a baseball game in Tokyo, Japan as my Sports Moments of Grace. 

We learn a lot about one another in the sharing of our stories and I hope the exercise is just the first one of many where-by I train their eyes to see in a new way. Choosing a photo that captures their spirituality is another. Here is part two of the venture.
“I'm forever in pursuit and I don't even know what I am chasing.”
–Harold Abrahams, 
Chariots of Fire

I think what I miss most about football is...the guys.
Not winning, or losing or catching touchdowns.
It was like, the locker room and the bus rides home.”

- Cooper Manning
“Family on three. Family” —Fouad Zaban, head football coach of Fordson High School

“Grace is the presence of God within us.”—Friar Jim Van Vurst

 “Run in God’s name and let the world stand back and in wonder.”
Reverend J.D. Liddell —Chariots of Fire

"Every time we encounter another person in love,
we learn something new about God." —Pope Francis