Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Saint, A Cathedral and a Holy Day of Obligation: Remembering Willie McCovey

On October 31 at 4:04 pm with family and friends at his side, the great Wille Lee McCovey, died. #44 should have only played for one team: the Giants because that is what he was. Standing 6'4" and 220 lbs in his prime, Willie Mac was larger than life. Long arms, quick hands, my dad believes he has never seen another ballplayer hit the ball harder—not even Barry Bonds. In 1986, he became just the 16th individual to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His legacy will live on among Giants fans as the waterway behind AT&T park is named McCovey Cove—a place I felt obligated to visit today. I wanted to pay my respects and see how other Giants fans were, too. The day couldn't have been any more beautiful. No wind, a perfect sky and one of MLB's greatest cathedrals in the background, I realized the truths of Sports and Spirituality come to us when we come to them. Here's how....
In the Catholic faith, the first day of November isn't an ordinary day. It is the Feast of All Saints—a day to honor the "saints, known and unknown who are now with God in heaven." On Halloween—"All Hallow's Eve"—I prepared my students for All Hallow's Day by teaching the religious roots of this informal triduum, which concludes with All Souls' Day on November 2. I asked them to pray for the souls in purgatory and in thanksgiving for the holy men and women in our own lives who are saints. I added that All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation. Aware of the formality of the term "obligation," I put all of it in the context of Sports and Spirituality
A true cathedral in MLB, flags flew at half mast to honor #44
On a Keynote slide, I placed the following information 
  • Holiday = Old English for Holy Day
  • Obligation: Athletes are quite familiar with obligations.
  • What are some of the obligations of your sport? 
Your team?
  • What are the obligations of your faith 
I said one obligation of being a Catholic is that we gather as a community to worship. The Church has decided that certain days of the year are holy days—days to come together as one to celebrate and remember. I urged my students to give but 25 minutes at lunch attend Mass on the Feast of All Saints. "It's a spiritual shot in the arm," I said, and "you get to spend time with the Lord."
The school where I work is such a large community that I can go without seeing my colleagues and former students for weeks at a time. Consequently, I don't take for granted the times I do see coworkers who I also value as friends. I sat next to one of them at today's Mass. After the final blessing, I shared with this lifelong Giants fan my sadness at the passing of Willie McCovey. He responded by telling me that he wanted to go McCovey Cove to place flowers at the statue. We shared a few stories we knew about "Stretch" and we parted ways.

I thought more about his beautiful desire; I love that he wanted to bring flowers for a man he never met, but who we feel as though we know. I think it's so important for people to go to public places to venerate, honor and remember. Rituals and traditions lead and guide us in times of joy and sorrow, in loss and in life. The funny thing is however, I wouldn't have thought about going to McCovey Cove on my own. I needed the obligation of my faith—which called me to Mass—to send me elsewhere. And, once I decided to go to ATT Park, I realized that one obligation led to another—both of which are life-giving, transcendent and beautiful.

The local Sports Talk Radio show commented on the fact that Willie Mac died on Halloween—a day characterized by the colors orange and black—the same colors as the San Francisco Giants. I would like to add that the communal honoring of his number, his name and his legacy began on the Feast of All Saints. I have a strong suspicion that Willie McCovey, a man from Mobile Alabama—a place that claims to have the original Mardi Gras—has heard "When the Saints Go Marching In" loud and clear tonight.

We love you Willie McCovey. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us in a beautiful game. I am so proud to be a fan to a team that honors the type of athlete you were and chose to be. The Willie Mac Award goes to the player who demonstrates quiet leadership but it's also for us, the fans. We need your example and inspiration; it will not be forgotten.May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him Lord and May He Rest in Peace. Amen.

Photo credits: no need for any, I took all of them today 11/1/18

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