Friday, October 30, 2015

Surprised by....The Mets

I have no personal connection to the New York Mets whatsoever. Nor do I have any emotional ties to New York City sports, to players on the team, nothing. I was looking forward to an open October. I thought I would have loads of free time in a way that I haven't (three times in the past six years). It's an odd year, so my beloved Giants are resting and getting healthy. They saved my pocket book from running on empty and my calendar from filling up. And then something happened....Tuesday night, to my total surprise, I found myself rooting, cheering and rising (and falling) with the New York City Mets. 

I never thought this would happen. Even though they are a National League team, and I'm an NL fan/NL girl, I wondered: Why do I care about this team? As an American Studies major, I find New York City fascinating, but with that same degree, I find equal, if not more weight in supporting a city amidst the heartland. One of my favorite athletes—Bo Jackson— got his start with  the Royals. I got to know much more about what makes them talented and exciting to watch from the 2014 World Series. The Giants emerged victorious in the seven-game dog fight. It's hard not to respect Ned Yost and his squad and yet, I find myself rooting not for the Royal blue...but the royal blue and orange. Here's why.

1. Bartolo Colon
Let's start with this bad boy. First, I support any active player/professional athlete who is older than me! At 42 years of age, Colon is allegedly the "most flexible" man on the team. Perhaps you caught sight of that in his remarkable defensive move earlier this season I should love him that much more for taking down my LA rival, but Colon is already admired for serving as a great mentor on the team. He has stated that he has no plans for retirement.
To look at Colon, you could easily add to the argument that baseball players aren't great athletes. But, your claim would be short sighted. Colon throws but one pitch—a fastball. And he does so remarkably well. I'm sorry he took the loss during Game 1. Those things happen.

2. Dark Knight
Who doesn't love a good nickname? Baseball is rife with them and the one assigned to former All-Star, starting pitcher Matt Harvey is a good one: Dark Knight. If you're a movie buff, you can probably put two and two together. "The Dark Knight Rises" was released in 2012. One year later, in his All-Star season, Harvey earned that moniker.

Fred Owens writes,
On May 7, 2013 in a game against the White Sox Harvey pitched with a severe nosebleed but retired the first 20 hitters before Alex Rios managed an infield single. That night he pitched  nine innings giving up one hit before leaving the game. 
The next issue of Sports Illustrated (May 20) featured Harvey on the cover with the headline "The Dark Knight of Gotham."  Harvey said that it fit his latest Halloween persona and was honored by the SI article according to to his tweet.
You may have seen fans at Kaufmann wearing an orange Bat Man mask to support the starting pitcher of Game 1. As mentioned before, I love good sports fan. Great pick-up Mets fans.

3. Man Crush
A friend recently admitted that he has a man crush on Dave Wright. I immediately responded "I get that." In fact, I support it. When I went to a game at Citi-Field, I was blown away by the number of fans wearing #5 Wright. The 32-year old third baseman has played his entire 11-year career with the Mets. Bottom line: any Phillies fan who can admit his feelings for a rival team's hot corner? That's worth supporting...

4. Mr. Met
Speaking of man crush, honestly is there a cuter mascot in all of baseball? Granted my nieces love Screech, the bald eagle that serves as the Washington Nationals' mascot and Baby Screech even more, but it's worth noting that Mr. Met is not single. In fact, according to Wikipedia,

In the 1960s, Mr. Met occasionally appeared in print with a female companion, Mrs. Met (originally called "Lady Met"), and less frequently with a group of three "little Mets" children; the smallest was a baby in Lady Met's arms. Mrs. Met was debuted in a short lived live costumed form in 1975 before being reintroduced in 2013
Mr. Met appears on ESPN Sportscenter commercials and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, on April 30, 2012, Forbes Magazine listed Mr. Met as the #1 mascot in all of sports. Props to the baseball head.

5. Daniel Murphy
Seems like most covers of Sports Illustrated today are regional ones—but not this week's. Look in your bodega or grocery store and you'll see the Mets outfielder turned infielder Daniel Murphy gracing the cover.
It should go without saying that I appreciate any athletes who takes it to the Dodgers. And Murphy did. So much that when he was asked about how he beat Greinke, he credits his calm and peace of mind to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It may have sounded strange, but if you know anything about Daniel Murphy, it's authentic. I enjoy seeing what SI reports as "a very normal looking guy" do extraordinarily well.

6. Team Colors
Lastly, I love a good story behind a logo, team name, the number an athlete wears, etc.
In "What's In A Name? What's the Story Behind the Symbol?" I address why I never look at the Mets in quite the same way once I knew a little more about their history. Great call in keeping the orange (Go Giants) and although it won't this year—long live  "the curse of royal blue"

C.S. Lewis' semi-autobiographical novel "Surprised by Joy" sought to 
to identify and describe the events surrounding his accidental discovery of and consequent search for the phenomenon he labeled "Joy." We find joy in everyday people and in everyday things. I happen to find it in a game. That game is baseball. And for the World Series 2015, it's in cheering for an unsuspecting team from an unlikely city. Go Mets.

Photo Credits
Mr. Met
Mets Logo
Matt Harvey

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What MLB is Wearing Around its Neck

It bothers me just how close to Halloween the World Series falls these days. Something doesn't feel right about baseball games in November. Two years later, I still remember thinking to myself when I walked into Giordano Brothers—a popular sandwich shop San Francisco that offers the Pittsburgh delicacies found at Primanti Brothers—Is tonight Halloween? The waiters were dressed from head to toe exactly as the Pirates on the television were: ball cap, jersey, stirrups, cleats—yes cleats—and the crown jewel: eye black. I thought to myself—I love sports fans. Some of them stop at nothing, including the lead waiter who went so far as to wear a gold and black "Tornado Necklace." You've seen these—the braided chain that comes in multiple colors that many athletes wear. If you are like me, you might wonder why do athletes wear them? During Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, I thought what other "necklaces" that ballplayers wear. So, with this blog posting, I'd like to offer a thought on what you see....
The Tornado Necklace
We know that athletes are continually looking for a physical edge—they want to get stronger, fitter, faster, jump higher, etc. But, the most competitive ones also seek a mental edge. I suppose that is what this jewelry, also known as "energy" or "titanium" necklaces have to  offer.

Power Energy Sports writes
Germanium, Titanium, and Anions (negative ions) - three very powerful chemical elements, are being blended together into the necklace fabric to help relieve stress and fatigue by improving blood flow & circulation.  
Many professional athletes are finding positive results in enhancing their sports performance while wearing these necklaces. Perfect for all types of sport: Baseball, Softball, Tennis, Martial Arts, Gym, Golf, Basketball, Fishing, Hiking, Hockey etc. We are the largest & most reputable tornado baseball necklace retailer offering you over 150 color combinations to choose from.
Wow, even in his solo shot Jonathon Niese
wears his tornado necklace
Like many material goods, these necklaces have morphed beyond three colors. They are linked to specific causes—breast cancer or prostate cancer awareness and others offer inspirational messages such as "hope" or "stay strong." I have a feeling that a lot of young athletes wear them because their favorite ones do. And I'm not convinced that they offer all they claim to provide, but the concept (or at least the marketing) is interesting. The placebo effect, mental edge, stylish splash—all reasons point to the fact that sports psychology never runs on empty.

The Rosary
I would love to think I am the type of athlete who could be a closer. This ballplayer comes into the game to complete a very specific task; the weight of the world is on him (0r her) and they like it that way! They are skilled, strong and mentally tough. Truth be told, I would totally crumble under the pressure, so I probably would wear not only a tornado necklace but what Jeurys Familia, relief pitched for the New York Mets had under his jersey—a rosary. 

But as many Catholics want to know: should we wear a Rosary as a necklace? I did some research on the topic and here's my answer.

I write for Cora Evans, a blog on the life of a woman who is now considered a "servant of God." The purpose of the blog is to draw attention to the holy, loving and heroically selfless life of a woman we hope will be canonized in the near future. The blog brings readers to pray to and for this witness of Christ's love and to think about issues that many Catholics confront. One of them is the wearing of the Rosary around ones' neck. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote
Even at a young age, I understood that the Rosary is to be prayed and not worn. Why is that? 
Ginny Kibityz Moyer captures an answer quite well. She says, “The rosary isn’t jewelry; it’s a sacramental, which is an object meant to help bring about spiritual effects through the prayer or devotion it inspires. (Sacramentals don’t have any sort of magic power in and of themselves; the positive graces come through the prayers.) Many people argue that if you wear a rosary around your neck, you are treating it more like a fashion accessory than a sacramental and are thus distorting its intended purpose.” 
Ultimately, only the one who wears the Rosary can speak to why he or she is wearing it, but I think it’s important to understand—although a distinction: between jewelry and sacramental, it is an important one. Rosaries are never mere jewelry or “fashion accessories” and yet, I can understand how there might be some confusion and/or need for clarification. 
For example, when I went to purchase a gift for my God daughter’s First Holy Communion, one gift I considered was a Rosary ring or bracelet. Both include ten beads; they can help people count the decade of the Rosary as they pray. As one who often “prays on the go” both pieces of jewelry (which they are) can serve as helpful prayer resources. 
Again Kubitz Moyer adds some insight. She writes, “The only official Church document I could find that addressed this, even obliquely, was the Code of Canon Law, which says, “Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.” (1171) So it seems that it all depends on the intent of the wearer. If you’re wearing it as a way to deepen your prayer life, there shouldn’t be any problem with that.”

Catholicism, in its “both/and” approach allows us to find the sacred in everyday things. And yet, that outlook doesn’t mean to compromise what is in fact sacred. This may be a tension for some, but ultimately, I see it as an invitation to probe deeper into the mystery of God…to love the Incarnation…to connect with Our Lady and pray as you go—Rosary in hand or around my heart. 
You can see the rosary in this photo
I cannot speak to why Familia wore his Rosary, nor do I want to. But seeing this sacramental reminded me that athletes, especially those playing the World Series stand on a remarkable platform whereby they can evangelize and give witness to a life of faith. Daniel Murphy, Familia's teammate is an outstanding example; he has certainly been what he set out to be: a light for others.

I don't wear a cross around my neck, but I have often commented that I should. I hope that what it stands for is evidenced in how I live my life, whether or not I wear it. But wearing it could serve as the reminder that I need....

Photo Credits
McCutchen necklace
Jonathon Niese
Familia Rosary

Friday, October 23, 2015

Take Time for Paradise....or at least a Golf Scramble

In Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games, the late A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote, "It has long been my conviction that we can learn far more about the conditions, and values, of a society by contemplating how it chooses to play, to use its free time, to take its leisure, than by examining how it goes about it work. I am hardly the first to think so, and I trust I will not be the last." Giamatti was a philosopher, President of a university (Yale) and commissioner of MLB from 1988-1989. If anyone could determine this realization it is he.
And yet, what concerns me today is that adults my age, my colleagues and co-workers do not take time for leisure with others. Quite often it feels as though all we do is work and head home. I believe not using our free time for play—is detrimental to our society. 

I also believe that we have made play so constructed, regimented and specialized for young people that it becomes work. For an eight year old to renounce all other sport to specialize in one may increase the likelihood of success, but causes a change in attitude. It may remain a labor of love, but I see the emphasis on "labor" increasing.
This is my favorite photo from the day. Our principal with one of our captains.
He is one of the busier people I know. But he NEVER tells you that or complains about it.
That's what the truly busy people don't do.
These fears underscore one reason—among many—why I was tremendously grateful for the teachers, faculty and parents who showed up to play on the final day of the St. Ignatius junior varsity golf team's season. That's right, we finished our season: 9-1 and clinched the league title by besting the one team that beat us the day before. But I didn't want to conclude our season with just a league match. I wanted to end it doing what we do best...with the reason why girls join the team in the first play, to leisurely compete with one another and in this case, for the greater glory of God. More on that in a moment.

This posting will serve as my urging for all coaches to consider concluding your season in a similar way. Gather your athletes for one final meeting that involves play. Take time for paradise. Part of me thinks we can't afford not to...
John (on left) was the girls' coach last year. He will work with JV boys this year. He bring joy to all he meets.
This is what we did.
All girls were asked to invite a guest of their choice. I shared a list of faculty members who I know play golf. It was fun for me to hear from my golfers who they wanted to include in our scramble. They asked a number of their teachers, the principal and their counselors. All who were asked were touched by the invitation, regardless if they could attend or not. Those who played enjoyed their pairings and the day.

Four girls on the team brought their fathers. This was especially meaningful as these men were their teachers and their first coaches in golf. It's special to play a game with a family member, even more to compete with (not against) someone you love.
After welcome remarks, one of my golfers delivered her quote of the day. This is a ritual I implemented to commence practice and get girls' heads and hearts focused. One quote is sports and one is spiritual. More often than not, the golf quote relates to life; it was great to hear what insights on faith these young women find meaningful. Here were our quotes from that day!
Sports Quote:  Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding & maddening—& it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented. —Arnold Palmer  
Spiritual Quote: When God pushes edge, trust him fully, because only two things will happen. He will either catch you when you fall or teach you how to fly. 
Each golfer then introduced themselves, what year they are in school and their guest. I loved it when Rachel "This is my Dad, Theo. I got my athletic abilities and my blue eyes from him."

The team then presented their guests with their "psych buddy" gifts. During the season, two golfers work together to present their teammates with their own, unique psych buddy gift on the day of a match. These gifts have two parts: one is edible and one is golf related. This season, we ate our fair share of brownies and cookies. I also now have a handmade red and blue hair bow, numerous golf balls painted with our mascot's paw prints in our school colors and more. Psych buddy gifts prove that girls rule.
After explaining the rules of the scramble (each pairing had to use a JV girls' drive four times in the round, and circle that hole on the score card), we gathered for prayer. Parents often see their son or daughter praying as a team, but it's rare that they get to participate in it. We prayed for friends and family, we gave thanks for the opportunity to play sport, for safe transportation throughout the season and for new friends.  Holding hands we said the Prayer of Generosity, a prayer that all students at St. Ignatius know by heart. 

From that point, the games began. Faculty and parents were able to see the talent on our team. And girls on the team were able to see the abilities of their guests. One parent took photos for our team during a match and on this special day. I was so touched that he too would participate and share in our day of leisure using his gifts and talents.

I understand why Giamatti refers to sport as "paradise." To play and to make this time for leisure allowed a team that had worked together for two months to share who they are and what they have become with those they care about. It truly is the manifestation of the letters that our athletes have on their uniforms: AMDG. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam—For the Greater Glory of God. Paradise won't be much different than this day....
These smiles say it all. AMDG
Photo Credits:
Special Thanks to Tri Nguyen for the wonderful photos he took of this family/team. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

What I've Learned about Notre Dame from USC

A fellow alum once told me that USC and Notre Dame are probably more similar than I want to admit. We love our storied programs and let you know it. Our bands and our fight songs are renown; they are played and overplayed, loved and hated. He felt that alumni of each institution tend to be more conservative than not, and the student bodies at both schools are not as diverse as it should be. His observation stung. I realized he might be on to something. 

So, I did what any sports fan would do, I packed my bags and decided to perform my own investigative reporting. And this blog posting will point to three observations of each program that I believe speak to our differences—differences that define us.
Los Angeles, California
Every other Thanksgiving weekend, the Irish head west to play the men of Troy in at the Memorial Coliseum in South Central Los Angeles. The Coliseum is adjacent to the USC campus and the energy and excitement are always high. I have attended this contest no fewer than 10 times in my life and yet, last November three things caught my attention. They have stayed with me because they speak to me

Observation #1
It's incredible to realize that some of the world's greatest athletes have competed at this site is not one but two Olympic Games. The symbol of the Olympic rings beneath the name of the venue remains over one of the main entrances. And, the Olympic cauldron torch rises above a majestic peristyle that frames the east end of the stadium. 

Truly these symbols speak to the glory of athletics and the history of great competition. If I were a USC athlete or fan, I would be very proud of the fact that I have the opportunity to compete or observe contests on this sacred ground. There is nothing religious in these icons, images or architecture—but I do think there is a certain spirituality about the place. Call it the spirit of the Olympic Games, or of Troy....Fight On! 

Observation #2
The Coliseum can seat 93,000 people. Because of its sheer size, it's no surprise to me that the seats at the east end zone are roped off and unused. Last year, I noticed that the USC athletic department (and Legends) added on-field suits and premium clubs beneath the peristyle. But that's not what caught my attention at the Coliseum. It's what covered the empty seats.  And for the record: The Crossroads Campaign at Notre Dame was launched to fund the third renovation of Notre Dame stadium. These changes to the 85-year-old venue will bring suites and premium seating to South Bend too.

The unused seats are covered by massive banners that feature the name and retired jersey number of those athletes who have won the Heisman trophy. It's hard NOT to see these. Seven USC players have been awarded the Heisman. All of them (with the exception of Reggie Bush) have also their numbers retired by the Trojans.

Ironically, Notre Dame also has seven Heisman trophy winners, but their names will not be found inside Notre Dame Stadium on public display. You also won't see their numbers retired either. Football is considered by many to be the ultimate team sport. Even though individual athletes shine, it's impossible to win a game without the collective work of many athletes and the coaching staff. For that reason, the only name you will see on a jersey is the one of the school, and it's on the front.

USC is proud of its alumni and so it Notre Dame. We choose to recognize that difference.

Observation #3
In August, the University announced that it will include the addition of a video board atop the south end of Notre Dame stadium. Fans have mixed emotions about it. I can't wait. And yet, I understand the purists are concerned about how it might change the game experience. 

At USC, this video board is very helpful, if not necessary. The Coliseum is so big, it can be tough to see a lot of what happens on the field. But what you will also see is advertising as well as instant replay. However, reviewing a great run or catch isn't what bothered me—although it should have—Notre Dame had few to little highlights and the Trojans had a feast day; they beat us 49-14. 

What I called into question was the undue emphasis it put upon individual athletes in their achievements. Every time Trojan wide receiver George Farmer had a touchdown, I saw his name, number and a prerecorded victory dance on the big screen. When Cody Kessler completed a spectacular pass the words TOUCHDOWN dominated the screen only to be interrupted by KESSLER and his prerecorded dance moves. No need for excessive celebration on the field; I found it on the screen.

It will be interesting to see what the Irish choose to display on their video board next year. I have a strong suspicion it will be different. I hope so....
South Bend, Indiana
I graduated from Notre Dame in 1996—the final year of the House that Rockne built as it was created. The Notre Dame Stadium you visit today opened and was dedicated Labor Day weekend in 1997. I don't know why I was there, but I was. A poster from the dedication hangs in the garage at my parents' house. There is nothing else on the walls...

Observation #1
Over Labor Day weekend, I attended the opening game of the season with my former roommate and good friend, Erin. She pointed to something I had probably seen many times but never paid attention to before: a flagpole that rests inside the stadium.

Near the band in the southeast corner is just that: a white, single solitary flag pole. At the commencement of the game, the band raises the flag as it plays the National Anthem. The University professes to prioritize: God, Country, Notre Dame. The placement of this flagpole inside—not outside—the stadium is a visual reminder of that belief.

Observation #2

This isn't something that is seen but heard. During the third quarter of the game, the official announcer made note of Mass times at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for Sunday. Because the Texas game started at 7:30 pm, Sunday vigil masses took place before the game, but the faithful who wanted to worship on campus were well-informed of their options.

When I heard this, I thought to myself "Where else can you be reminded of our weekly obligation and the added bonus of Sunday evening vespers than at Notre Dame?!" And what I love most about this announcement is that its one that isn't irrelevant or meant to serve as a guilty reminder. If you don't believe me, see for yourself. The Basilica and dorm masses are well attended on game weekends. Maybe we're praying for a "W." As Lou Holtz once said, "Jesus doesn't care who wins a football game....but His mother does." 

Observation #3
For me to say "look up" is just too easy. When you do, from inside Notre Dame Stadium, you will see "Touchdown Jesus" on the south end....the Golden Dome and the spire of the Basilica forming a perfect trinity. But if you look down, on the field you will see one thing is lacking. It's found in many collegiate fields: color. Other than an interlocking ND, the only decor on the field is 9 hash marks inside each end zone. There are 18 in total (9 on each side) and each mark is at a 42-degree angle. The numbers add up: 1842. The year that Notre Dame was founded. The year it all began.

As written earlier, a rival is not to be taken for granted. They bring a different type of joy to sports. Just this past week, I delighted in the fact that the New York Mets ended the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2015 season. Never mind that they captured the National League West division title, I could now celebrate that they have been eliminated from the playoffs for 27 years and counting. 

More importantly, a good rival teaches you a lot about yourself. It highlights what you prioritize and what you stand for. It also makes winning that much sweeter and losses exceptionally harder. I never take beating USC for granted. It's a historic rivalry that defines my experience of college football. Fight on you Trojans.... Go Irish!

Photo Credits

USC Jerseys

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Different Kind of Soul Cycle: Women in Prison on the Road to Rehabilitation

Many people are aware that Pope Francis visited a prison on his historic visit to the United States. But what if his itinerary included at stop at the Riverside Correctional facility—a prison less than one mile down the road?  What would he find? One: women, two: a unique path toward rehabilitation and three: an opportunity for all of society to contribute to that process. Consider it a different kind of "soul cycle." Here's how.

As written in "Pope Francis Visits Prisoners in Philadelphia" the Holy Father said:

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society,” the pope said in the gymnasium of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. “All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation.” 
Pope Francis also rebuked society for not doing enough to rehabilitate prisoners. “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities,” the pope said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.”
It should go without saying two and a half years into his papacy that Pope Francis' actions speak louder than his words. Catholics are called to perform the corporal works of mercy, one of which is to visit the imprisoned. And the Holy Father has done so on several occasions. Yet, I think his words are equally striking. He reminds us that those in prison are called to work toward rehabilitation. 

Serving time ought to be a call toward rehabilitation—that may be found through prayer, meditation, education, counseling and well, even exercise. A recent story I heard on NPR, "Biking Behind Bars: Female Inmates Battle Weight Gain" reminded me how important breaking a sweat might be in that process.
I encourage you to listen to the five minute 'Weekend Edition" story. The corresponding article captures why exercise and proper nutrition are not to be underestimated in the rehabilitation of those behind bars.  Tauyuna English writes, "In a 2010 survey, women at Riverside gained about 36 pounds in a year, on average. But after some changes at the facility, that weight gain dropped to 26 pounds when the medical team checked again in 2015." 36 pounds! Although that number has dropped, dramatic weight gain has adverse effects on physical as well as mental health. As one of my students pointed out, many women in prison are mothers as well. Weight management, nutrition and diet are important to model to children.

And so is exercise. Fortunately for women at Riverside, a spin class is an option that many have taken to. NPR reports,

In 2011, biking advocates from the nonprofit group Gearing Up persuaded prison administrators to let them bring in bikes to teach indoor cycling. Founder Kristin Gavin says before that she had mentored ex-offenders out in the community.
Hearing this story reminded me that the opportunity to exercise is a gift that should not be taken for granted; it is linked to not only my physical ability but my freedom. Many people in the world are not free to exercise, run and play for a variety of reasons. (The fact that women must wear pants to their spin class is the simplest reminder of what I never think about. Pants would not be my first choice). Some may feel that these women renounced those freedoms when they wronged society, but again Pope Francis' words speak to what we as a society could do...and should do.
Setting an intention to leave behind depression
At the start of their spin class, women are asked to set an intention for the workout. Some exercise to leave behind prison, others to let out their frustration. Whether they know it or not, their commitment to exercise is an important step to getting on that right road. I hope to implement what I've learned from these women and set an intention at the beginning of my workout too. One of those will be a prayer of intention—for the Holy Father and for those we ought to visit. 

Photo Credits
Riverside Prison Spin Class
Pope Francis