Sunday, March 8, 2020

Hiding in Plain Sight: Madison Bumgarner

Unlike an allegory or most fables (thank you Aesop) the purpose of a tall tale is not to reveal a moral, personal or political truth. A tall tale is used for entertainment and for fun. Indeed, a campfire is better with one, two or ten of them. But, I don't see why a good tall tale cannot entertain and teach. And in the tall tale of "Mason Saunders," we have an interesting one, that also speaks to the spiritual life: the notion of hiding in plain sight. 
As written in one of the most popular of all tall tales, Paul Bunyan, An American Folk Tale,
A tall tale is a story about a person who is larger than life. The descriptions in the story are exaggerated – much greater than in real life and this is what makes the story funny. Long ago, the people who settled in undeveloped areas in America first told tall tales. After a hard day’s work, people gathered to tell each other funny stories. 
Each group of workers had its own tall tale hero. Paul Bunyan was a hero of North America’s lumberjacks, the workers who cut down trees. He was known for his strength, speed and skill. Tradition says he cleared forests from the northeastern United States to the Pacific Ocean.
Some people say Paul Bunyan was the creation of storytellers from the middle western Great Lakes area of the United States. Other people say the stories about him came from French Canada. San Francisco Giants fans know otherwise.
He was born in Hickory but raised in Lenoir, North Carolina. At the age of 18 he was chosen as the tenth pick in the overall draft. He earned earned three rings and was named the Most Valuable among them on the third try. He has ridden a horse inside the yard and wanted to down Market Street, but was encouraged not to do so for safety reasons. His face has even graced the cover of a national sports magazine when he was named the best in all of sport in 2014. To those in the Bay Area he is known as MadBum....but to those in rodeo he is Mason Saunders.

I could spin the yarn around Madison Bumgarner for weeks on end. And in all honesty, why not? The subject is a fascinating one. As a Giants fan, I recognize my bias but when in the last time you heard about a great athlete nearly compromising his or her career for another athletic passion incognito. Bo Jackson told us "football is just a hobby for Bo Jackson." But we knew Bo. According to the article that revealed Sauder's real identity, “No matter what hobbies I have, I take ’em serious,” Bumgarner said. “That’s just my personality. I don’t do anything just for fun, per se. I wish I did.” Serious enough that he competed in team rodeo roping as Mason—a shortened version of Madison, “something for my wife to call me when we were out in public to keep people from recognizing me" with the surname of Saunders— the maiden name of his wife, Ali. And won. 
It's hard for me to understand how MadBum was hiding in plain sight for this long. Athletes have detailed restrictions in terms of what they can and cannot do in the off-season. Any activity that puts their body at risk—skiing, sky-diving, the usage ATVs, motorcycle or car racing etc can be a violation of their contract. My sense is that rodeo-roping ought to be included in this list. What is interesting however, is that according to Meet Mason Saunders, the secret rodeo identity of Madison Bumgarner, those in the rodeo-roping community long knew of Saunders' true self. The rest of the world however never did.

Bumgarner wasn't really hiding, either. His photo openly and frequently posted on social media. Other than an alias, he didn't do much to hide out. His face, his stature and his passion are not unfamiliar. As noted in The Athletic (as well as the 2014 Sportsman of the Year article) "He’s practiced roping on everything from a statue of a bull at Scottsdale’s Fashion Square Mall to Jeremy Affeldt’s patio furniture." If I were asked to spot him in a line up, I am confident that 10 out of 10 times, I would succeed. Others here in SF could too.
So often in life, things are hiding in plain sight. The truth, what I have lost, something I's in front of my nose. What does it take for us to find it? I love this question. 

Just the other day, I heard from a friend I hadn't talked to in a long time. I went to reply to her e-mail and a book that she gave me 12 years ago, caught my attention. That book has been sitting there on the same book shelf in my classroom all year. Why did I only see it....or see it again, just now? 

Richard McBrien wrote that to be spiritual is to "understand there is more to life than what meets the eye." It's a different way to think about our vision and the spiritual life. To be spiritual is to recognize that in life we might see what is not in front of us. We might not even see what IS in front of us!  When either or both speak to us, when they catch our attention—pause, stop and consider the message and its meaning.
This is the photo that did him in.

It was a Facebook posting—a slightly blurry picture of Mason Saunders and his winning partner—broke this story, or rather gave birth to this new tall tale. Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball should thank Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan for doing so. This tall tale is a welcome change in the story and saga of the Houston Astros cheating scandal. How it all ends...both for Mason and for the Astros....where it will go...and what more we will learn? Let's gather around the campfire and share that too.  Bring to it stories of what you DO see and else might be hiding in plain sight. 

Photo Credits
on a horse

Mason Night
FB posting

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