Friday, December 31, 2021

My 22 for 2022

Embracing Gretchen Rubin's 21 for 2021—reading for pleasure for 21 minutes a day—is, hands down, the best thing I did this past year. I began 90% of my days by reading for 21 minutes. The timer on my iPhone defaults to 21:22. We don't call it smart technology for nothing! If I had to choose between a morning walk and reading, I went with those 21 minutes and my book or magazine. I can make a strong argument that this literary discipline became a spiritual one. This happy habit will not go away. Thank you Gretch! 

While getting destroyed on the Lake course during my Christmas Eve round
with Monica, I came up my idea for 2022. Hoping it will help me play better on this course, damn it.

Rubin is the New York Times best selling author of The Happiness Project and co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, Happier. Since 2020 she has challenged her followers to implement a personal habit that plays with that number of the year—walk for 20 minutes a day in 2020 and in 2021, read for 21 straight minutes. For Rubin, reading 21 minutes is anything but a challenge. This is a woman who posts a monthly photo of a stack of books she has eaten for breakfast. Yes, I gaze at her reading lists with envy. I find myself asking how she does it, but thanks to this daily habit, I have a better understanding.

What reading with a timer taught me is that while I thought I had a good habit of reading before, I didn't. I approached daily reading blindly, which is fine. But truth be told, I was selling myself short. I probably read for 10 to 12 minutes at most, but reading for a full 21 took me much further and deeper into the text. Many times, I wanted to hit reset for an added 21:22 Work and other obligations always call. My brother has told me to keep a journal list of the books I have read; it will only encourage me to read more. 

As a teacher and a writer, the words of Heather Treseler invited me to think differently about my 21 for 2021. In the article "My Search for Elizabeth Bishop" she writes 

At the university where I have up to 150 students and advisees each year, I have learned that getting my students to write better is, in part, a matter of helping them figure out what to read. In a world of clickbait and newsfeeds, I want them to have the necessary pleasure of rapt absorption, deep engagement that comes from being “too shy to stop” in books and the worlds they open. These reflexes — of imagination and reflection — ensure we are thinkers, not simply information consumers whose interests are carefully mapped and mercilessly merchandised."

Her realization gave me pause to think about the reading I do and the reading I encourage in the classroom. For example. in Sports and Spirituality, we tackled a challenging and lengthy essay with the "Silent 10"—10 minutes of sustained silent reading. It took some arm wrestling, but eventually each one settled into the routine. And yes, they probably heard more about my 21 for 2021 both directly and indirectly. I couldn't help but share excerpts of my latest book "Rafa: The Autobiography of Rafael Nadal" as so many of his stories and insights resonate with the curriculum....and I was proud that I carried this through! 

Rubin's 22 for 2022 challenge is 22 minutes of rest. The reveal—featured on Episode 357— explains its importance.

Research shows that rest is an essential element of working well and working smart. Rest helps us to think and increase our productivity; rest can refresh the mind and replenish mental energy. Research also suggests also that taking regular breaks raises your level of engagement which, in turn, is highly correlated with productivity. It also boosts creativity by helping people make unexpected connections and stay open to different possibilities.

I can't and won't argue with the importance of rest. I appreciate that she has listed the many forms that rest can take, providing a number of ways one can achieve this goal. We might be a better society, and definitely a better high school if we practiced 22 for 2022. However, I'm not willing to commit. Sorry Gretch.

Instead, I will most likely read for 22 in 2022 and...drum roll.... my goal is to play 22 new golf courses in 2022. This will be a fun and interesting challenge, and it's one I know I can accomplish as I will be paying greens fees at 12 new ones in Ireland in July. God willing! I am excited for the new places and perspectives I will gain by hitting the same ball (more or less) with my same clubs on new links. 

And, being that I don't write and teach about Sports and Spirituality—but actually live it!—my goal is to attend Mass at 22 new Catholic churches. I am committed to Sunday mass at my parish but I always enjoy the opportunity to pray with a new community in a different, often historic, and beautiful setting.

Similar to my tracking the books I read, I look forward to doing the same with my golf courses and Catholic parishes.

I don't know a person who isn't hopeful that 2022 will be a gentler, kinder, healthier and happier year. 22 is my lucky number. It's my favorite number. Beyond books, golf and communal worship, I am excited for the blessings it will bring. Happy New Year!

Photo Credits

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Freeman Era: Principles and More

In case the advent of a pandemic hasn't convinced you that life can change in the blink of an eye, look no further than Notre Dame Football. On December 14, 2020 Irish fans lamented the loss of their Defensive Coordinator, Clark Lea, when he was named head coach at his alma mater, Vanderbilt University. As written in Notre Dame Football: Top 3 candidates to replace Clark Lea as defensive coordinator, "the Irish would be wise to pursue Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Freeman has been one of the fastest risers in the country and is regarded as one of the brightest young football minds in college football." Less than a year later, Freeman, 35, was named as the 32nd head coach in program history. 

Let the Freeman era begin.

The purpose of this post is not to comment on Coach Kelly, his contributions over 12 years time, the culture he established, or the way he left (I still can't believe less than 48 hours after seeing him coach at Stanford, he signed with LSU....see opening line for point made!) but instead to celebrate what we—those of us who love Notre Dame football—are about to enter into. And, whether or not you are a fan of the Irish, I would like to point the way toward what and who I believe is a "Force for Good."

There has been so much excitement around the hiring of Marcus Freeman that I was dying to know if the Alumni Association would find a way to feature him in Sacred Spaces of Notre Dame: A Daily Advent Journey. As mentioned in The Best Way to Pray during Advent: Can you name a sacred place? this is a beautiful, creative resource for prayer. I was hopeful. I sensed his willingness to share his faith. And to my utter delight, on December 20, I came to learn that the sacred space for Coach Freeman is the God, Country and Notre Dame door at the east entrance of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

He said, “When I arrived at Notre Dame a little less than a year ago, this was one place that I was able to connect with immediately. Stepping anywhere near the Basilica brings me to a place of peace, but this door in particular is one spot that speaks to me. Each of these words — God, Country, Notre Dame — hold a special place in my heart, and when I pass through this door, I am immediately grateful for all of the blessings they represent that have brought me to this University.”

Coach Freeman's testimony was not surprising to me. From "The Freeman Era," I gained a sense of his values and character. One of my favorite scenes features University President, Rev John Jenkins, C.S.C. talking to him, via Zoom from Rome. I love Jenkins' question. He asked, "What attracted you to coaching? Why do coach? What do you like it?  How did you come into it?" To me, it's a worthy one from one school leader to another. 

Freeman admitted that he wanted to play in the NFL for a long time. "All of a sudden you realize you can't do it and so you say hey I want to get into coaching. That's cool, that's fun. You get to be on the sidelines and around the game, but quickly I realized that is not where you get your satisfaction. You get that through helping young people to reach goals. It's about making time to make sure these young people do everything in their power to reach their goals. What drives me to to coach?  It's about serving. I plan on leading this team with an unwavering standard. We will call it the golden standard: 

  1. Challenge Everything—challenge normalcy
  2. Unit Strength—this means love. It's what turns players into a team.
  3. Competitive Spirit—developing a winners mindset

In the "10 Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching" William Byron writes "Principles, once internalized, lead to something. They prompt activity, impel motion, direct choices. A principled person always has a place to stand, knows where he or she is coming from and likely to end up. Principles always lead the person who possesses them somewhere, for some purpose, to do something, or choose not to."

I always give my head coach the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. In Coach Freeman, I find a principled person...a man of principle. If it's not God, Country, Notre Dame, it's the golden standard.

At the conclusion of Freeman's Sacred Space reflection, he says. "So in this season of Advent, as we come together to celebrate Christ’s birth, think of your places of belonging. How do they allow for reflection, humility and gratitude, serving as reminders of where you’ve been and what you’re striving toward?"

Grateful to share a place of belonging. Grateful to celebrate the birth of Christ. And that some changes, though quick and unexpected are life giving. Welcome Coach Freeman and family. Merry Christmas!

Photo Credits
Freeman family

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

How Does Someone Become a More Interesting Person? One Good Answer

Given that Dos Equis retired its "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign in 2018, the title is up for grabs. Perhaps this is why Matthew Kelly, an internationally acclaimed speaker, author, and the founder of The Dynamic Catholic Institute created a video that helps someone become a more interesting person. No beer required.

Upon hearing a friend say "I don't feel very interesting," Kelly started to wonder, "How does someone become a more interesting person?" Whether a person is interesting is in no way predetermined. Fixed mindset be gone! I like his question; I find it invitational and empowering. Should we want to be an interesting person, the opportunity awaits. But how? 

The search led Kelly to think about the most interesting people he knows. He realized a singular question has served him best in the conversations he has had with said people: What are you reading at the moment? Don't know where I rank on the interesting scale but I think my answer is compelling—if you're a sports fan. I am reading "Rafa" The Autobiography of Rafael Nadal. At the conclusion of each year, President Barack Obama posts his favorite books of the year. Safe to say he is an interesting person!

In recent times, Matthew Kelly has discovered people don't read books. Though I am not surprised to hear that we are reading less and less, I find it alarming that this is true even among those considered the most interesting! 

Given that reality, Kelly developed another mechanism to determine what makes a person interesting. He now asks "What's your favorite podcast?" The New York Times finds this question a worthy one as they posted their 10 Best Podcasts for 2021. Check it out for "
Shows about Chippendales, a notorious Hollywood bomb, the search for the perfect pasta shape and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 are among those worthy of your attention.A personal take on divorce. A love letter to Puerto Rico. These shows are among our pop culture reporter’s favorites of the year."

If I was to offer one suggestion for The New York Times of Catholic journalism, I hope it would include Faith Fondue! 

Faith Fondue is a new podcast by author and speaker Haley DeMaria and teachers and blogger Anne Stricherz. Faith Fondue features a melting pot of topics, ignited the flame of faith and guided the Holy Spirit. No politics, as fondue is a Swiss cheese, and therefore neutral. Anne & Haley are equal opportunity prayers; we pray for everyone. Hit that purple airwaves icon on your iPhone or desktop and you can access it!

I think it's pretty interesting. It has three "chapters." We begin with "The Flame"—what's hot. The "meat" of our program can be found in our "Spiritual Stew." From what we have cooked, we garner "Take-Aways." Lessons learned, ideas to sow, questions to answer. I believe Haley and I create something that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Kelly concludes with his belief: If you want to become a more interesting person, get interested. Get interested! Ignite your curiosity! Keep learning.

I don't think we can ever learn enough about God. There is so much to know about discipleship and the holy life. What does it mean to be Catholic? I hope Faith Fondue is but one way to get interested....and become more interesting.

Photo Credits
Most Interesting Man in the World
Best Podcasts
Obama's Reading List: Instagram

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sports and Spirituality Review: ND Magazine, Fall 2021

The chilly temperature and the atmospheric river that has hit the San Francisco Bay Area make it hard to believe it's still Fall. And yet, winter and its solstice is still a week away. All of this allows me to "have a good read, and a good feed" on the Fall 2021 issue of Notre Dame Magazine. 

Per custom of this blog, I navigate through this great publication and point the way toward the essays, short stories, poems and photos that speak of Sports and Spirituality.  I hope this will help you to curl up with a good paper copy or your iPad and enjoy!

Rockne and the Four Horseman's last ride by Clayton Trutor
Each issue of ND Magazine begins with a section entitled "Notre Dame Avenue" and includes a column entitled "Echoes: A Look Back at campus past." The Fall reflection reports,

The last time Knute Rockne ever coached a Notre Dame football team was also the last time the Four Horsemen ever suited up for the Fighting Irish.

The five men came together for a December 14, 1930, exhibition game at New York City’s famed Polo Grounds. Six years earlier, that spacious haunt on the western shore of the Harlem River had been the site of the Horsemen’s legendary 13-7 victory over Army.

It was that 1924 game that prompted sportswriter Grantland Rice to pen his famous lead: “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.

In case the three opening lines don't lure you in, perhaps this fact will: "The New York team had just finished its season in second place in the 11-team NFL and drew the second-best gate receipts of any team in the league. Nevertheless, the contest against the Irish graduates overshadowed the other dates on their calendar."

"More than 50,000 fans gathered that Sunday in upper Manhattan to watch the “Notre Dame All-Stars.” Not the hometown Giants. According to contemporary accounts, the crowd greeted Rockne’s team with raucous applause while the Giants came out of the cavernous stadium’s first base dugouts to little notice."

Incredible. Go Irish!

Deaths in the Family: J. Eric Smithburn
I was always curious about the talents, interests and experiences of my beloved teachers. Reading about Law professor emeritus J. Eric Smithburn who died at age 76, I had to wonder if he ever spoke about his own success in sports. 

"Athletics were a central part of his life. Smithburn played basketball in high school and rugby as an adult, including a tour on a men’s team that competed internationally in the early 1980s. In 1969, he signed a contract to play for the Indianapolis Capitols, a team in the pro Continental Football League, but canceled it to go to law school." 

If you had Professor Smithburn, please weigh in. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

Dog Days by John Rosengren
At the conclusion of each Sports and Spirituality class, I ask my students "What is a sport you would like to learn more about? or discuss?" Invariably, one senior lists "Iditarod." I never know if they are completely serious or if they are showing off their knowledge of a niche sport.

With my class concluding at the semester, I already know I have avoided this answer. Why? How? I shared an excerpt from "Dog Days: A veterinarian treks to America's final frontier to tend the huskies who mush 1,000 miles across Alaska in the grueling Iditarod."

The reason it was worth mentioning, aside from the fact it's fascinating is that we discussed the usage of Performance Enhancing Drugs quite a bit in class. This piece offers another perspective to that conversation--who uses them and why!

Novice Boxer by Patrick Griffin '87
If I were to teach Sports and Spirituality to adults, this article would be included in that cannon. Written by an alum who taught "Boxing in America" during the 2021 winter session—thanks COVID— Griffin decided in his early 50s that he would try to learn to box. He writes, "I had never done it before. Now I liken my time mastering this craft, and all the physical work, to a pilgrimage. I do my roadwork in the mornings, box in the afternoons and then — when Nate thinks I am ready — I fight. For real. Cue the Rocky training montage."

He adds, "Why would I ever do this? If I am honest, I have been searching for something more than just managing an MLC (Midlife Crisis). For starters, I am not the sort to “experience” — what an ugly, therapeutic word — such a thing. I may be many things, but a narcissist is not one of them."

"I didn’t really want to admit it, but maybe I am trying to find God. And this seemed to be the only way I had left." 

He had me at not being a narcissist. 

Great piece—rich in religious imagery and dripping in spiritual symbolism. 
The strength of sprinters Gail Devers and Gwen Torrence from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, inspired Monique White '82 so much that she did more than start running. She set a goal—a big one: to run 50 marathons or half-marathons in 50 countries before she turned 50 — a pursuit she dubbed #MoniqueRuns50

From White, we can learn much more than the power and example of achieving a goal. Success requires flexibility and reassessment. And why not? a personal goal is one we set for ourselves. Staying true to that, can and does inspire others. 

White said, “Just like it says in the Bible: The race isn’t given to the swift, but to the one who endures. . . . Getting through the tough parts, getting over the hurdles, often encourages somebody else.” (~ Hebrews 12:11) And sometimes even yourself.

Thank you, Monique!
Alter Ego by Robert Schmul '70
Enjoy this double bio-piece. I'm not sure if I learned more about Ron Reagan or about George Gipp. For example, I had no idea The Gipp was "the first Notre Dame All-American, Gipp played on offense and defense, becoming a triple threat with the ball for his running, passing and kicking. In 1920, his senior season, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry, still a University record."

Furthermore, "Reagan “knew that playing Gipp could steal the show,” in the judgment of biographer Bob Spitz. “Never mind that George Gipp was a reprobate who drank, smoked, hustled pool, rarely practiced with the team, bet on Notre Dame games, and was expelled from the university for misconduct. In the movie version, he’d be a saint,” Spitz wrote in Reagan: An American Journey. Indeed, the Hollywood portrayal gave Gipp a status almost rivaling Rockne’s." 

I'll let you read it for yourself and tell me....
Domers in the News and Creative Works
A University-record nine athletes who have Notre Dame connections earned medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this past summer, more than doubling the previous best of four set at the Athens games in 2004 and repeated at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. . . .You can read a little bit about each on them here. And the reason I didn't know how to cheer for in the 2021 NBA Finals.

ND Magazine winds down with Cross Currents. This issue features a number of short stories that respond to the prompt "What I learned at..."

....the concession stand 
....the golf course
are worth reading. I would love to see that oversized blue Cubs jacket.

Thank you Notre Dame Magazine for continuing to offer a great read, and a fantastic feed. My mind and my soul are nourished!

Photo Credits
All from ND Magazine

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Best Way to Pray during Advent: Can you name a sacred place?

The liturgical season of Advent offers an abundance of beautiful, creative prayer resources. I can't think of a single religious organization that doesn't try to make its mark during this holy time. Is there one that stands out among the others in your inbox?  

For me, it's "Sacred Places of Notre Dame: An Advent Journey." Every afternoon, I receive a text message with a link to a video featuring a student, faculty member, or administrator who names and describes a campus location sacred to them. As written by the Alumni Association, "These places range from chapels and courtyards to libraries and locker rooms—and each one invites us to strengthen our faith and deepen our appreciation for our beloved campus." For those who love Notre Dame, these are a treasure trove of profiles and people, memories and messages. For those unaffiliated with ND, I think it's fair to ask, Are they relevant and relatable? Absolutely. Is their meaning lost? Definitely not. Here's why.

The very question—asking a person at any age to name a sacred place and articulate how/ why it is holy ground— is important. To me, hearing how an everyday place like the locker room, volleyball court or a small meeting room is the space where a person connects with God is both interesting and inspiring. Every testimony offers me spiritual nourishment. Each speaker raises questions we are all called to consider. What a great way to be with the Word of God during this season of waiting.

If I were featured (yes, that's a hint!), it wouldn't be hard for me to name a sacred place at Notre Dame. However, I say that because I've witnessed fellow alumni give their own testimony for the past three years. If I had been asked before viewing and praying with this resource, I hope I would know. But would I? Would you?  

While this Advent production is rooted in Notre Dame, it's bigger than that. It has to be. Why? The students will come and go, but the campus will remain. And yet, that same campus is ever changing, always growing. It is both tradition and innovation, history and what is to be. God's Word and God's presence, however, do not change. You could ask this same question in your school community or parish—and I do. It connects my own students to their campus in a special way. 

So let me share the three videos that I have played in class for my seniors. From them you will see why this is not only my favorite Advent prayer resource, it is also my favorite way to conclude the Fall semester of Sports and Spirituality. I have shown what is posted below and I invite my students to pray with the questions...and create their own. On our final day of class, we will join other Religious Studies classes for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Maybe one priest will be available in a small meeting room too. Peace.
Charity McDowell, a sophomore and science pre-professional major from Indianapolis, brings her faith to the courts on the Notre Dame volleyball team.

“To me, this is home, the place where my team and I work together as we strive toward our goal of excellence. Every day, we show up to improve and compete, but doing so as one team. These are lifelong friendships that we are building on this court, and that is very special to me. In a similar way, this place also allows me to strengthen my relationship with God.”

As we celebrate this Advent season, consider the places in your lives where you spend the most time. How can we transform these places, however familiar they might be, into our own places of prayer, so that we may glorify God in all that we do?
Josh Lugg, graduate student offensive lineman for the Fighting Irish.

“Putting on my knee braces, pants, pads, jersey and cleats can be a process, but it gives me time to mentally rest and spend time with God before flipping that switch to a fearless, competitive mindset. In a similar way, just as I have strengthened my relationship with God here, it is also a place for me to build relationships with my teammates.”

As we prepare for the birth of our Lord this Advent season, where are our places of preparation? How do they strengthen our courage and perseverance to take on the daily work we are given, so that we may glorify God in all that we do?
Assistant Director of Pastoral Care Outreach Rev. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., brings the sacraments to the students of Notre Dame.

“When I come to this room, I quiet myself down in preparation to hear confessions and to reunite those seeking reconciliation into God’s unconditional mercy and grace. At this moment I am able to help each student more fully accept God’s relentless forgiveness. Being with the students in this way is a great and wonderful blessing for me. It is to journey with them on their path towards holiness. The short time each week I have to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation in this simple room is a gift.”

In this season of Advent, how we can serve those around us as a representative of Christ’s mercy and grace in the everyday surroundings where we may find ourselves?

Photo Credits

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

What Coaches and Leaders Can Learn from the NL Manager of the Year: Gabe Kapler

Earlier this week, I wrote a tribute to a great Jesuit priest, an exceptional human being, Rev. Tony Sauer, SJ who died on Sunday, November 28. The world lost a legend. Reflecting upon his life prompted me to write the post: Remembering Father Tony Sauer, SJ: Hope, Humanity, and Holiness. As of this moment, over 1,200 have read that blog, by far most unique views Sports and Spirituality has received in 12 years time. It speaks to Tony—who he was and what he meant to others. And what a subject!  

Not knowing where I ought to take this blog next, I figured Why not highlight another exemplary San Francisco leader? Though these men are apples and oranges, both men found success in their work because of something critically important to leadership, in relationships, and toward the accomplishment of a goal: communication. 

Father Tony was an outstanding homilist and public speaker. Because he was authentic, erudite, prepared and thoughtful—his audience was always happy to listen and learn. I still remember some of what he taught us about the Gospel through the spoken word. He was also a prolific letter writer. Like many of the greats in US History—Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush—he understood the power of pen, paper and stamp!

I started writing this blog shortly after Kapler was named National League Manager of the Year. It seems odd to connect him to a Catholic priest. Nonetheless, he offers so much for coaches and other leaders to learn from. Enjoy!

Though well deserved, it's hard to get too excited about the announcement of MLB's Executive of the year. Yes, even though the 2021 honoree is the President of Operations for my San Francisco Giants, this distinction speaks to the business side of baseball vs. the down and dirty, hands on way they play the game. But the orange and black got to celebrate one day later. In a surprise to absolutely no one Gabe Kapler was named the NL Manager of the year. Congratulations Kap...and bigger congrats to Fahan for hiring him.

When hired in in 2019, Kapler knew he had big shoes and a big cap to fill. As the 37th manager of the Giants, he took over for the three-time championship skipper Bruce Bochy (size 8 1/8 hat). Kapler was appointed to this leadership role after being fired for failing to take the Philadelphia Phillies—a talented club— to the post-season two years in a row. 

In a surprise to just about everyone, the Giants chose Kapler among the candidates. The media was skeptical.  Fans were too. This decision left my friend Kevin believing Farhan was a plant by the Dodgers. We held our breath but not our tongues. Two years later, a new story has emerged. 

Though the Giants failed to make the COVID-post season by one game, one year later they won the NL West for the first time in 9 years. Under Kapler the team also won a record 107 games. In doing so, he received 28 out of 30 first place votes for Manager of the year. 

I hope you are wondering How? How did he do it? or maybe you are asking Why? Why did he succeed? From what I have read and heard on the radio, I would like to offer a few answers. Fellow coaches, take note. Leaders pay heed. Fans, thank God. 
1. Communication
Time and again, I have heard Kapler is an excellent communicator. 

MLB writes, "Kapler was praised by his players for maintaining open lines of communication with them throughout the regular season, an important aspect for any manager, but it was especially important given the way the Giants utilized their entire roster in order to optimize every possible matchup. San Francisco shattered the record for pinch-hit appearances as Kapler exploited right-left matchups aggressively."

I don't know what relationship doesn't benefit from good communication. In the Athletics office at St Francis where I work, we encourage coaches to over-communicate. Don't assume what athletes, teams or parents know. It's important to reach out and do so regularly through our words—both written and spoken, shared and promoted. Clearly, Kapler found the right tools for make the lines of communication open and strong. 

2. Become a good listener.
Over the years, Kapler said, he has learned to listen more intently to the needs of his players and use the information to inform his in-game decisions. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “I think I’ve really started to respect, understand and appreciate the feedback that I’m getting from players on a regular basis,” he said. “I really trust our players.”  That ability to listen has led to a hallmark of Kapler's style of leader and what is interesting to me is that it has led to...

3. Trust
As written in Gabe Kapler opens up about initial perception when Giants hired him, Kapler admits, “my goal was and continues to be to earn trust over the course of time. You don’t earn it in the first conversation. You earn it through consistent work and loyalty over a period of years. I think we’re off to a good start of building that foundation of trust, and I think we have to continue to build on it if we want to keep this level of excitement going about the Giants.” 

Trust is never a given. Quite often it is something we feel must be earned. When it is broken, or shattered (think of the image of a mirror) it takes time to We all thrive when when members of a team feel that they can be trusted and when they trust one another.
4. Welcoming and Promoting Diversity
As told by Steve Gilbert, "I also feel like we've built one of the most diverse staffs in baseball," Kapler said. "And if there's anything that I think is worthy of being emulated, it's that. It's getting a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and baseball upbringings into our group so that every player on our club has somebody to connect with and somebody to relate to. I believe that diversity is critically important in baseball and [so is] helping people from marginalized groups get into decision-making positions in baseball. Part of the reason I think that's important is because I think a more diverse group of people, of humans, make better decisions as a group."

While some might credit Tom Brady with bringing a Super Bowl trophy to Tampa Bay, football insiders give credit to Bruce Arians and the diversity of the Buccaneers staff—one the field and in the front office. Kapler hired the first female coach in MLB, Alyssa Nakken. Looks like one good decisions led to many more! 

5. Focus—Intentionality and Purpose
And here in San Francisco, our local news was proud to report what Kapler had to say. "I have to be putting one foot in front of the other and focused on the job that I have in front of me," he said. "There just isn't enough energy to be doing anything else. Last couple years I've been really focused on helping to build that environment that I mentioned. And we're doing it with a lot of great people in this organization in San Francisco -- in the front office and everybody under the clubhouse roof, but also [people] across the organization who have been working really hard to put together a really excellent baseball operations department. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we've taken some pretty big steps in the last couple years."

The great enemy of excellence just might be distraction. Kapler nails it when he speaks of the need to keep our energy focused and channeled toward a specific goal.  His words are a great reminder for me as a leader of a team in the classroom.
6. Growth and Development for All
“My goal is obviously to support the players and what their goals are, create an environment that’s helpful for players to grow and develop and for staff members to also grow and develop,” Kapler said after winning the award.

I became a good teacher at St. Ignatius, where I taught for 16 years because of my fellow colleagues and the school's emphasis on professional development. The benefits from those classes, courses and retreats bore fruit in the classroom, the relationships I developed with teachers at SI and other schools and creative ventures (like this blog). 

Because of his ability to successfully fundraise, Father Tony and SI were able to provide opportunities for professional development at little to not cost to faculty. I availed myself to and appreciated these opportunities. I am so grateful. 

The world says "invest in yourself." I get it. And yet, two great leaders invested in themselves and in others. The result? No communication necessary. It speaks for itself.

Photo Credits

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Remembering Father Tony Sauer, SJ: Hope, Humanity and Holiness

The familiar sights and sounds of Advent greeted the faithful at Mass today. "O Come O Come Emanuel" was the entrance antiphon as we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. This purple candle, sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” symbolizes hope. Hope is the theme we are called to pray with this week.

But a few hours later, I got word that Father Anthony P. Sauer, SJ president at St. Ignatius College Prep from 1979 to 2006, died this morning. Though deeply saddened, I found peace in thinking how fitting. There is no better theme to describe who Father Sauer was and what he brought to students, families, colleagues and me. With Tony, hope sprang eternal.

I would like to say that I would take a bullet for Tony, but that just wouldn't be necessary. Why? I am sincere when I write I know no less than 100 people who would. Literally. Tony was a scholar, "so human and so holy" (to use the description that fellow Jesuit, James Martin has written to describe Thomas Merton).

In the days and weeks to come, much will be said and written about "Tone Babes." I would like to offer but a few recollections and remembrances of a man who changed me life (I am certain no less than 10,000 people would say that). What you see here is what I learned from his example and his leadership. 

The Power and Example of "Yes."
As many people have written about the power of "yes," it's quite possible there is more out there about the power of "no." For example, a friend said  to me recently, "my 20s was all about saying yes to invitations and opportunities. As I got into my 30s, I realized how important it was to say no."  I understand and yet, Tony did not live his life that way.

Tony always carried a small booklet—a pocket calendar—in his left breast pocket with pen or pencil in tow. This was his point of reference for where he needed to be and whom he needed to serve. 

Tony availed himself to sacramental ministry willingly and generously. He did this at St. Stephen's parish and at St. Ignatius College Prep. He was at hundreds of athletic contests, fundraisers and Friday Morning Liturgies. 

I remember countless times, Tony would encourage students to receive the Blood of Christ as well as the Eucharist. Many times when he was giving the Body of Christ he would tell a student he saw their grandparent over the weekend or at Bingo.

I will never forget a friend who found himself in a harried situation. The Godparents of his first born child flew into San Francisco for the baptism. With priests in short supply and high demand, the pastor asked if they could simply baptize the baby the next day and cancel the vigil service. Knowing how his wife had planned carefully for the christening, my friend went to Tony desperate to hear the word "yes." 

When he asked Tony if he could pinch hit, Tony pulled the calendar out of his pocket, looked at his schedule and wrote it down. He said, "See you at St. Agnes at what time? Got it." 

That story has stayed with me because we might not know the impact of a simple "yes." So many times, I fall into the temptation of protecting my schedule and organizing my day. Tony's generosity, availability and willingness to serve is just one reason he is beloved.

The Ministry of Letter Writing
Tony must have learned penmanship from his father, Kearney Sauer who was a medical doctor in Los Angeles. Although that  chicken scratch was tough to read, Tony Sauer hand wrote letters to every student and faculty member who went on a Kairos retreat. That = THOUSANDS of cookies.

He wrote thank you notes and kept regular correspondence with alumni, benefactors and friends, offering words of congratulations, condolence and more. His stationery featured a poem and his words were no different. 

To receive a letter from Tony was a gift for his words were heartfelt and sincere. I wouldn't be surprised if he taught this importance of that virtue—sincerity—in his AP English class (or in any FML homily!). I have a feeling Jack London and Tony are enjoying a malt Scotch right now.

One the More Powerful Messages
What do you get when you combine sincerity and the power of the pen? A message you will never forget.

Like many people, Tony struggled with his relationship to alcohol. I know this because he told the SI faculty himself. He wrote an email to us that said,  "I am leaving for an indefinite period of time to live at a rehab facility to work on my relationship with alcohol. I humbly ask for your prayers." His words were poignant, direct and sincere. So human. So holy.

In a world where people often deny or struggle to face this disease, Tony modeled for all of us the beauty of honesty and humility. He is one of the few people who named his plight without an excuse, recourse or blame. The unintended consequences of his message is that it left all of those who care about him with understanding, with compassion and with hope. The truth really does set us free. 

Don't Lose Hope, Don't Ever Lose Hope
I swear he wasn't quoting Jim Valvano....or maybe he was. 

For the purpose of context, I came to SI by way of athletics! I coached novice crew while I was still teaching at Moreau Catholic. I was so drawn to the community that I applied for a teaching position, as the academic dean anticipated two openings in the Religious Studies department. A series of events changed the numbers and still I found myself waiting for an official "yes" or "no." The holding pattern was fairly grueling.

Like most coaches, I attended the end of the year banquet—once held at the iconic House of Prime Rib—not knowing what my future would be. I found myself sitting at a table across from then principal Charlie Dullea, and back to back from Father Tony. 

At the end of the night, Charlie spoke candidly about the likelihood of a position opening for me. He said, "There's maybe a 25% chance it will work out. Be sure to apply next year." I left the dinner deflated but appreciative of his practical approach. He too spoke the truth. 

But a few minutes later, Tony walked out of the restaurant and was waiting for the Jesuit community's Jetta to pull up from the valet. He asked me where things were in the process. I told him what the principal had relayed to me but moments earlier. 

He looked at me and said "Don't give up hope. Never give up hope." He gave me a hug, got into that car with its personalized license plates that read "We Are SI" and drove away. 

The next day, the academic dean called me and said she had an opening. Four sections of Ethics, Morality and Social Justice. I taught that same course for 16 years in a row.

What kind of person leaves another with words such as those: "Don't give up hope. Never give up hope?!" Tony Sauer, SJ is who. His legacy is characterized by it. Hope. Sincerity. Generosity.Poetry.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You truly are, truly were a man for and with others.

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I encourage you to share your own life lessons from Father Tony here.
There are innumerable outtakes as well. Those are to be shared at his wake and along San Francisco's own Sunset Blvd.

Photo Credits
Blessing of SI student
Tony Sauer, SJ

Thursday, November 18, 2021

One of the Most Powerful Influences in our Culture: NFL Sundays

I traveled to Los Angeles this past weekend to visit a sports stadium. That's right, I booked a flight, hotel room and rental car all to check out the sleek, shiny, futuristic and magnificent SoFi Stadium. This $5 billion venture, rose from the ashes of the Betfair Hollywood Racetrack. It stands but a few miles from LAX in Inglewood, California. It is the home of not one but two NFL teams—the Chargers and the Rams—and Super Bowl LVI. The entire experience was well worth it—not just for what I saw and experienced but for what it has me thinking a little bit more about, as a sports fan and a Catholic Christian.

In the article "Good Sports," Rabbi Martin Seigel writes

If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct.

Past civilizations left behind colossal cathedrals to glorify God because for them ultimate power resided in religion. We will leave behind colossal sport stadiums, because these are, for many, our cathedrals. Sport is our shared religion.

This truth was made self evident during my time at SoFi. Not having any particular allegiance to either team allowed me to take in the experience a with a bit of objectivity. Without any skin in the game, I need not defend my team or fan base. I didn't have to explain or justify who or what I saw or what I heard. Rather I was able to observe and take note of this "powerful influence in our culture." 

I do love this tradition at the start of the game.
Some players take a knee in the end zone as a moment of silence.

To attend an NFL is to be a part of great, grand performance. It is entertaining and competitive, ostentatious and problematic. For those who think the American football is going away or that the NFL is in a bad place right now, think again. Perhaps you haven't been to a game recently. It will speak for itself....

What happened on the field is remarkable and it should be. These athletes are professionals. The level of competition truly is elite; it is a jump from what I see weekly when I watch Notre Dame / college football. The degree of marketing and hype, as well as the army of people both on an off the field is Fahrenheit 451. It is truly a multi-million dollar adventure...from start to finish. 

I was struck by the loyalty and passion of NFL fans. The 70,000 people in attendance were loud and proud. The stadium was a sea of purple and gold vs. baby blue. I saw hundreds of others in green and gold sporting the college jersey of franchise QB and Oregon Duck, Justin Herbert. Representing what must be the tallest fan base in the NFL, Vikings fans donned shirts that said "Skol!" (Cheers) and hats with horns.  These men, women and children cheered and jeered. They stood, they sat, they danced and made friends and enemies with those around them. 

My expectations for Chargers fans were lowered since the team moved to LA from San Diego. I went into SoFi expecting 70% of the fans to be from the visiting team. I was wrong. I couldn't believe their passion. And yet, I wonder how long Los Angeles can and will keep this franchise in town.

But what might be the most striking sight at SoFi isn't the futuristic roof or the massive, double sided scoreboard. Nor is it the view of greater Los Angeles, the palm trees, or sunset on the strip. What made me pause was what I saw across the street at Kareem Court: the Los Angeles Forum. Once home of the Showtime Lakers, this venue, has hosted legendary concerts and past championship games. 

To see it through the eyes of 2021, one must wonder: Was this possibly a destination? An indoor arena without windows, it looks like a circus tent. I asked myself, Were fans in the past  content with the game and athletes alone? How our cathedrals have changed.

Following the game, Vikings won 27-20, I headed to Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I have long wanted to attend a service at this Jesuit parish because I have heard about this community and their outreach to the poor and needy, the gay community and others. 

I loved the music and the warm welcomes I received. The preaching was outstanding and those in the congregation were remarkably prayerful. I was humbled by the attention and stillness of those seated near me; I would like them to know they helped me to pray better.

This beautiful church, built in 1928 can seat up to 1,400 people. I would guess that maybe 100 were in attendance for the 5:30 p.m. mass. Given the spiritual uplift and religious boost I gained from my visit to this faithful community, I left wishing more people had availed themselves to this opportunity.

In "Good Sports," Rabbi Seigel asks, "What power does sport manifest that has made it the “religion” of many contemporary people?" He is asking the right question. In the article, he offers five answers. Following my visit at SoFi stadium and to Blessed Sacrament, I have a few of my own...and more questions. Let's discuss.

Final Thought. In the spirit of full Disclosure: I was cheering the "home" team. Why? Two former ND players--Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill #BoltUp every Sunday.

Photo Credits
Inside the stadium
Charger Fans
Church of the Blessed Sacrament

Thursday, November 11, 2021

7 Things You Might Not Know About Buster Posey

The Atlanta Braves defeat of the Houston Astros in Game 6 brought the first World Series title back to Atlanta for the first time in 26 years. It also brought the conclusion of the 2021 season which always leaves me a little remiss. I find myself in search for a new normal the day after the Fall Classic. I carry feelings of malaise and sadness. Maybe I shouldn't, but that's what baseball does to its fans. 

This year, the mourning was punctuated by big news: Gerald "Buster" Posey, the 5-time all star catcher on my San Francisco Giants announced his retirement. Though fans were happy for #28 and his family, it is more than bittersweet. We carry grateful hearts, but tender hearts.

In the days since his breaking news, there have been no shortage of personal testimonies far and wide of what Buster Posey has meant to baseball and to the only MLB team he has ever played for. Fans here know a lot about him. I'll take a shot and offer 7 things you might not know... Enjoy!

1. Hails from the same small town as Luke Bryan
Although Buster Posey's walk-up song was the country hit "Burning Man" by Dierks Bentley, he could have had one by fellow Leesburg, GA native Luke Bryan. The country mega-star and the baseball all-star both graduated from Lee County High School. For a town of not quite 3,000 people, these men have certainly put it on the map. 

2. Is a lifelong Braves fan
I don't know Posey's competitive mindset well enough to know if it allowed for him to cheer for a team that wasn't his own in the post-season. However, given that he grew up a Braves fan (which is a surprise to no one) their victory might be—to him—the second best outcome to the 2021 season. 

In his open letter to Giants fans, he recalls the significance of that connection. He said,

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories from different fans about what the Giants mean to them. Or, what baseball means to them. When I think back on those stories, there’s usually one common denominator -- family and friends. When I was a child, one of my earliest baseball memories was Sid Bream of the Atlanta Braves sliding into home plate to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Seven of the NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series. To be able to share in the joy with my grandad that Christmas as he proudly displayed a picture of Sid Bream sliding into home on his t-shirt is a memory that I’ll never forget.

Thanks Buster for the memories you have provided to countless families and friends!

3. Gave me two unplanned school holidays!
I know there are teachers who are still miffed that they missed that singular day of instruction (I'm seriously not kidding), but I would personally like to thank Buster for giving me and my students not one, but two unplanned school holidays. How? 

When the Giants won their first World Series title in 2010, half of the student body at St. Ignatius College Prep was absent from school. Why? They accompanied their families and friends, wearing orange and black, standing all along Market Street for the raucous victory parade.

Thanks to the WCAL III Cross Country meet, I was unable to attend. I considered at least 1000 iterations of how I could get myself near City Hall for but 15 minutes of the ceremony between class and coaching. It wasn't meant to be—that is until two years later, when the Giants did it again.

Rather than keeping the deans and attendance office from hearing false excuses and taking not of 1,400 kids, the administration decided to cancel classes. Thank you SI! and thank you for doing it again in 2014.

I would like for it to be known, I went to Bob's Donuts and purchased an apple fritter as my parade breakfast. Victory tastes so sweet.

4. Should be known for this personal motto: Why Not?
In what has to be my FAVORITE Buster story, Mike Krukow recalled riding in the elevator after the Giants defeated the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS. For the sake of context, this feat was unexpected. The Phillies had a pitching rotation like no other and were coming in off a loss in the 2009 World Series. 

Before he stepped out to go to his room, Kruk turned to Buster and said "Enjoy this, it doesn't happen very often." 

To which Buster replied. "Why not?"

Great question, Buster. You obviously put some teeth behind that...

5. Is the third best San Francisco Giant of all time?
My dad read an article in claiming that Buster as the third best SF Giant of all time. He was incredulous, nearly irate. He put down the local rag and said to not have Willie McCovey as number three is short-sighted...and wrong.

I ran this idea by another friend who replied, "But WillieMac didn't win it all. Hard to make an argument against three rings!"

And how we wish it were four.

Sports fans live for spars such as these. I personally think Madison Baumgarner might be #3. You?

6. Played four sports in high school and all nine positions in a collegiate game
Nothing really surprises me about this fun fact other than one sport isn't what I was expecting: soccer. My guess would have been the sport mentioned below. The others were what you can expect: football, basketball and baseball. Which leads me to wonder what position he played in each, given that he played all nine in a FSU baseball game.

7. Is an avid golfer
Look at this baseball swing and this fun fact should be a surprise to no one. Although golf was not one of the four sports that Posey played in high school, he began playing at the age of nine or ten.

In 2011, one year after winning his first World Series championship, he played Augusta National. Spoils to the victors!

In 2015, again, one year after winning a World Series championship Posey and his teammate Matt Cain were invited to play in 2015 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am. How's that for playing two top five courses in America. 

And when asked by 
PGATOUR.COM: If you could play with any player on the PGA TOUR, who would you like to tee it up with? He said, "That’s an easy answer. I think I have to go with Rory. I got a chance to meet him; he was in the clubhouse a few years ago. He’s not a very big guy and he just bombs it. And has great balance after every swing. He’d be fun to watch."

In Conclusion
Thank you Buster for your leadership, your talent and grace. We were lucky to have you in Major League Baseball as a Giant your entire career. Godspeed and God Bless

Photo Credit
Fare Thee Well
Cain and Posey
2004 Photo