Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Devil or Dusty? Can a Fan Cheer for the Houston Astros?

On January 10, 2011 I stood in some San Francisco bar next a man who is arguably the coolest person I have ever met. I know the date because I was there to watch the BCS national championship football game. Auburn beat Oregon 22-19. However, I remember the evening because that cool cat who walked in with his fedora in hand, wearing browline glasses long before they were trendy again was none other than Johnnie B. Baker Jr. For those in LA, San Francisco, Washington DC and now Houston, that is the proper name for none other than Dusty Baker—the manager of the AL Championship team, the Houston Astros.

At 72 years young, Baker is the second oldest active manager in MLB (Tony LaRussa, skipper for the Chicago White Sox, is 77). The last time Dusty managed a World Series game was in 2002, which San Francisco Giants fans remember all too well. The team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels, and their rally monkey, do too. That October Classic however, is not the problem. No, the quandary that Baker presents for those of us who love him and the magic he brought to the Bay is this: Can I cheer for the Houston Astros because I want to see Baker succeed? Or if I do, am I cheering for the Devil himself? Thoughts?!

Baker has been named Manager of the Year three times, and each one of them has been with the orange and black, Under his leadership the Giants won the division two times. He brought us to a Game 6 and to Game 7 of the World Series. It still hurts, but only because he took us so far. Here in the Bay, we referred to his magic as "Dustiny." His son was the bat boy that J.T. Snow saved from harm's way. It's hard not to want to see him succeed....unless of course you realize who he is leading.

In 2017 and 2018 the Houston Astros used technology—as fancy and sophisticated as hitting a garbage can— to steal signs of opposing teams. Their blatant and extensive violation of the rules AND their 2017 World Series championship has left most baseball fans disgusted and disillusioned. The punishment from MLB in no way fit the crime. Although no titles were stripped, the tarnish has yet to fade. And yet, here they just three years later. How can that be? 

Well, Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update had an answer: the Devil. Replete with red horns, cape and pitchfork in hand, the devil aka Jason Sudeikis admits, "the last few years have been pretty good for ole Beelzebub." He adds, "I've been sticking my fork into sports. You saw that the Astros won. They shouldn't have." Sports fan can't help but know...and understand. 

This makes cheering for Dusty's team tough, and yet—there he is...still looking sharp in sunglasses, toothpick in tow, and getting the job done. But why? 

Given the extent of the team's sign-stealing scandal, most baseball pundits wondered how anyone could step into Houston's dugout. They were forced to clean house—both the manager and the GM were fired. But, only a brave and willing soul could step in and step up to the challenge and opportunity to resurrect this team. Dusty Baker was an is the man. 

Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post, wrote what we all know to be true.

When the Houston Astros named Dusty Baker their manager in January 2020, the stench from the team’s infamous sign-stealing scandal, uncovered two months prior, was still overwhelming. In hiring one of the most well-liked, well-respected and well-rounded figures in the game at such a low point for the franchise, the Astros barely concealed what Baker’s true purpose was to be in Houston.

He wasn’t there to be a great field general. He was there to be an air-freshener. Everyone knew it, most of all Baker, who took the job anyway. If the Astros were going to use him to achieve their aims, he could also use them to achieve his. It was, both in concept and in the way it ultimately played out, a win-win scenario.

While I read countless articles about why the Astros hired Dusty, I found little to no information about why Dusty chose Houston. This bothered me until I added it up. This is just one thing that cool people do.—they have the ability to leave you guessing...and wondering. You may or may not be right. It's only for them to know. They appear stoic, short: cool.

I have a hunch this is exactly how Dusty Baker walked into that dugout in Houston on Opening Day and Game 1 of the 2021 WS. Stay calm, be cool. Build consensus. Work hard. Win big. 

Devil or Dusty? Dusty all the way. Besides, the Devil hates cool....

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Beyond Jamba Juice: A Spiritual Boost

Was it the late '90s or the early 2000s? The era when Jamba Juice was it. I got gift cards for this smoothie shop from students and parents, in gratitude for coaching, you name it. Rather than running on caffeine, I was alive and kicking with Vitamin A, B and C. 

But a few weeks ago, I went to Jamba for the first time in 10 years plus. Upon making my choice, the sales associate asked me, "Do you want a boost?" For some reason, this question amused me. What a good marketing ploy, I thought. I can pay a little more for a few added nutrients, vitamins and minerals aka a "Boost." Why not, right?

I started to play with the idea of a boost. Jamba's selling and I'm buying. But I began to wonder: What other things in my life give me a boost? A boost of energy. A boost of joy. A spiritual boost. I need one. We all do.

This question became a journal prompt in Sports and Spirituality. What is a spiritual boost for you? What, if anything, gives your spiritual life a boost? It was easy to ask because I have found so many answers in both domains. Here are but a few.


  • Every morning I take my cup of fresh, hot coffee to my desk. I open my laptop computer and read the Daily Reflection from Dynamic Catholic. The image and message serve as a spiritual start to my day. The words resonate with me and my heart. I read this briefest of reflections and feel grateful or challenged. #StarterBoost

  • Today with Moreau: After my #StarterBoost, I read the news. I then move to my work email where I find a daily message with words from the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Father Basil Moreau, CSC lived in 19th century France. His words are timeless, poignant and provide perspective. In many ways we have changed. In other ways, humanity has not.

    Here are but three examples:

    • Those who neglect study will never acquire the kind of amount of  knowledge necessary for the proper fulfillment of their duties. (Letters)
    • All those who have been entrusted with the admirable task of education should unite in a spirit of zeal and devotedness.  (Letters)
    • While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for eternal life.  (Letters)


  • My team played golf at CordeValle on one of the hottest afternoons this Fall. We all found comfort and beauty in the shade of the Oak tree. Looking at the majesty of God's's just so California! My favorite tree can't help but give me a spiritual boost.
  • Do you like the San Diego Padres new retro unis? The yellow and brown? It's bold! It's bad. But, it is comprised of something that gives me a spiritual boost: color. I hate to admit it, but Dodger blue—it's bad, too. Only this bad is good. 

  • Although I am posting this last, the CBS Sunday Morning Series "Football Field of Dreams" is the primary example that emerges as a spiritual boost. A friend shared this video clip with me and I was so inspired, I shared it with my golf team. We often complain about the burrowing animals and holes at Shoreline golf course. Our challenges pale in comparison to this team's. 
    • The tiny town of Branson, Colorado, was proud of its football team, but what many found offensive was their football field, dubbed the worst in America. So, the players and students threw a "Hail Mary" pass to raise funds for a field without gopher holes and grass as sharp as cactus. Correspondent Steve Hartman reports on how Branson's Bearcats found themselves back in the game.

Check it out! You'll certainly get a spiritual shot in the arm.

We live in a time when many people are talking about a boost of a the COVID-19 vaccine. Who will get one? When? As I hope and pray for more people to get their first, second or booster shot, I invite all of us to think of the spiritual boosts we give and that we get. Side effects? Stronger spirits, gratitude and appreciation. Sounds like soul food to me!

Photo Credits
Football Field of Dreams
Jamba J
Padres Brown is Back
Prayer as Relationship

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Fellowship of Female Coaches and a Nod to Alyssa Nakken

When Alyssa Nakken was hired to the San Francisco Giants' coaching staff in January 2020, she became the first woman to hold a coaching position on an MLB team. While her official title is assistant coach, the former Sac State softball player has also had the opportunity to coach first base. In her role, she has focused on "high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team." Given the tremendous success of the 2021 squad, it's safe to say she's done something right. 

I respect and admire Alyssa Nakken. I would love to hear her perspective on the season. But, even with one of the most unique perspectives on the game, I wouldn't want Nakken's job. I don't envy her. Yes, the Giants won the National League West and set a new record with 107 wins, BUT Nakken works alone. I don't think I could do it. 

To be fair, Nakken isn't completely solo. She is one of 13 coaches on Gabe Kapler's staff. She is often seen in and around batting practice. If you're wondering why you didn't see her more often, that might be because MLB teams are limited to seven coaches in the dugout. Regardless, Nakken is the only female coach in orange and black. 

This season, MLB will had a record 23 female coaches in its lineup -- either on the field or in professional-development roles. This is good for baseball and it's good for women, but it still can't be easy.

Coaching is incredibly demanding. The hours, energy and focus that it requires are unrelenting. The days are long but sometimes the nights are even longer. Just this year, I have laid awake in bed thinking through the struggles of many of the student athletes on my team. There comes a point in every season when the sleep deprivation and lack of exercise—not to mention the reminder I give to students that their essays will be returned by Easter—prompt me to consider Why I continue to do this... How I can continue to do this... and Should I? 

These questions weigh on coaches. I don't like to complain. A lot of jobs are demanding, but these questions persist. They press. The are real. Fortunately, I found much more than the answers I was seeking. I found comfort, support, and mutual understanding from you guess it—other female coaches. While I do believe I share a bond with many coaches, especially those who work with athletes who play an individual sport as part of team, there is something very special about my female colleagues.

I believe that women carry things differently than men. Female coaches take on the challenge of their role and responsibilities in ways that only we understand. So, rather than give up or give in, complain or cry, I decided we needed to come together. Community. 

The result was an evening gathering that I hope other Athletic Departments and teams will replicate: An Evening for In-Season Coaches.

I hope to organize this event for our winter and spring sport coaches. I didn't want my fellow female coaches to ride out the season, or worse—not come back next year. I was encouraged by the responses I got to the invitation and for this first gathering nine coaches gathered at the table for fellowship at a local Mexican restaurant. Yes, A certain popular beverage was available in pitchers. Chips and salsa too. We began with a prayer by Elizabeth Blue: 

God grant me the insight to see the potential in every player; patience to encourage improvement; and character to always set a winning example.
May those I coach always see you in my life, and be brought closer to You through me.In your precious name, I pray. Amen

After informal introductions, we discussed the following questions.

  • What have been some of the challenges you and your team have faced this season?
  • What are the graces?
  • Is there a “life hack” you can share? A tip for work/life balance?!
  • What are is a goal you have between now and the end of the season?

I provided Some Events and Resources Worth Sharing:

  • Yoga for Coaches: led by Mary and Courtney Ogren

  • Silk Speaker Series Presents Kristi Yamaguchi & Michelle Wie West
    October 17, 2021 from 5:00 PM-6:15 
    University of San Francisco in person OR virtual

  • Breakthrough Summit: Tuesday, December 14
    Come to the conference room in the Athletics Office for Coffee and Scones and/or bring your lunch to watch the Virtual Summit.

  • 9:00—9:45: Welcome & Candid Conversation with Tara VanDerveer & Dr. Condoleezza Rice
  • 12:10—12:45: 1:1 Interview with Julie Foudy

  • An Open Letter About Female Coaches, by Pau Gasol

The female coaches left the gathering feeling affirmed and recharged. Those questions we may have brought to the table found several answers. For me, one of the graces was just the realization that we are not alone.

I hope Alyssa Nakken won't be for long, either.... I say that both for her and for MLB. I would imagine she has found a sorority with and among those other female coaches and support from the Giants, her colleagues and more. GO Giants!

Photo Credits

Thursday, October 14, 2021

One Way to Discuss Spirituality of Sports.... Thank you, Brandon Crawford

This message is for all the teachers who are sports fans. Are you dying to talk to your students about last night's game but not sure how? Are you seeking a fun way to integrate your passion? Justify losing the curriculum you will not cover because it's Orange October (insert your team/their motto here). With a class like Sports and Spirituality, I may not share your struggle but I still want to make the conversation a valuable one. Here's a thought.

Many teachers begin class with a journal prompt, a starter activity or thought of the day. Without a doubt, a predictable, formatted, content-based beginning of class activity can be used to achieve one of several goals. For example, beginning of class activities have previously been used to gain student attention, provide accountability, review material, engage with new content, or establish routines. To gain students’ attention, many teachers use multi-media, hands-on activities, surprising events, humor, or stories to appeal to students’ emotions (Davis, 2009). I like to use a singular photograph and get those creative juices flowing. Here's a good one.

On Monday, October 11, with the series tied at one game a piece, the San Francisco Giants returned to Dodger Stadium for Game 3 of the National League Division Series Championship. My Giants prevailed by beating their rival of 130 years 1-0. That W did not happen without the stellar defense of All-Star first baseman Brandon Crawford.

With two runners aboard and two outs, Dodgers' right fielder Mookie Betts hit a liner that seemed destined for left field, which would have tied the game 1-1, but Craw "perfectly timed his leap and got all sorts of airtime to pull the ball out of the air." Call it instincts, call it hops, I called it magnificent.

After the game, the Giants posted this photo to their social media page. The moment was exhilarating. The video replay of it is incredible. And the photo? Stupendous. I put it into my keynote presentation and asked my students to partner up. Their task: write a caption for this snapshot.

Some photos speak for themselves. I wanted to let my students speak to this one. With a caption less is more. Brevity is not alway their friend.

Even though the majority of my kids knew the context—more than I thought actually watched it live—they struggled to put a quip, a pithy remark or adequate description from pen to paper. A few students took a stab. One or two prevailed! I'll let you guess which ones.

  • Reach for the Series
  • There's more than gold in that glove
  • Jump
  • Baller
  • Sometimes seeing IS believing
  • He should have been a Spartan (that's one of mine...DLS!)

I wrote "Transcendent." What would you say?

After this activity, I asked my students to open our text to the essay "For the Love of the Game." One of my students read for us the designated verse from the chapter "Celebrating the Body." In it, Richard Gaillardetz writes,

A healthy appreciation for the goodness of the body opens us reflection on how the athletes' experience of embodiment can become the occasion for the encounter with the divine. Many athletes will describe a heightened bodily awareness in sport that, precisely in its bodiliness, enables an experience of transcendence.
It's always a good day in the classroom when what we read can speak for what we love, experience, witness, and seek to understand. What is an experience of transcendence? What might it mean to encounter the divine? And what does it mean to have a heightened bodily awareness? Again, thank you, Brandon Crawford.

One of the many reasons I love post-season sports—especially baseball is because every game is so significant. Every at bat, every out—each one is worth paying attention to. I find that very act to be a spiritual discipline. So let's fire it up! Sports and Spirituality is taking the field at Oracle Park tonight. First pitch: 6:07 p.m. Go Giants!

Photo Credits
B-Craw and High Five

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Good News: The Importance of the Hall of Fame

You don't need to hear it from me, we all know we live in challenging times. If it's not the political division and polarization that is dividing our country or living with and through a pandemic, it's the rising costs of gas and food, the effects of social media on teenagers... We are tired. Many are weary. What to do? The answer is simple: share the good news of Sports and Spirituality.

The Gospel is the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is available to anyone and everyone— thanks be to God. In the spiritual life, it is important to hear, pray with and pay attention to the words of everlasting life. They are as relevant and important today as they were 2,000 years ago. I was reminded of that in today's second reading.

In sports, the good news extends far beyonds the wins and the lessons learned from the losses. Though it's been a joy to celebrate the success of the San Francisco Giants, I would like to share where I found an antidote to despair, a wellspring of inspiration that lifted my spirits and left me thinking more about the importance of community and the strife for excellence: The Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration at the Olympic Club.

I have attended this evening event since 2018, when Jill Costello—a former coxswain that I coached—was inducted, posthumously. I am very proud to have been one of many people who submitted her profile for induction. As an invested club member, sports fan and student of history I have always found this evening to be interesting and inspiring. Here's why.
As written in the program, 

The purpose of the Olympic Club's Hall of Fame is to recognize and to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves on behalf of The Olympic Club in at least one of the following categories: (1) athletic achievement, (2) coaching and development of Club athletes, or (3) significant distinguished service to the Club.

There are currently 86 individuals and eight teams representing 20 sports in the Hall of Fame, as well as 23 charter members. Their stories emphasize not only the hard work and commitment necessary to hear greatness, but also the importance of the Club in their development. 

And those stories are exactly what we need—what I need to hear.

To hear the story of each inductee is to be reminded that no one achieves greatness alone. Whether the honoree was part of an individual or a team sport, they recognized family members, coaches, teammates and friends who supported them along the way. Each member of the Hall of Fame overcame adversity. No one was a stranger to failure or set backs. And yet, the Hall of Fame Class of 2021 triumphed in their own way. Their grit, determination, sense of humor, their memories and stories made victory, excellence and triumph a reality. They did it! I dare say we are all better for it.

The evening begins with a reception that is open to all members. At this reception, I was able to congratulate the inductees, many who I did not know. It didn't matter. I ran into friends who were happy to introduce me—what an honor. Each  one was gracious and welcoming. It must be humbling to be in that type of spotlight. I loved seeing just how many club members came out for each individual. This is community at its best.

The official program was hosted by Brian Murphy, of Murph and Mac, my morning sports talk radio show on KNBR—the Giants flagship station. When you spend an hour listening to a person every morning, it's hard not to feel like you know him or her very well. I thanked Murph for emceeing the event and for the excitement he gets in his voice when he talks about the 2021 SF Giants. He set the tone on this evening just as he does on 104.5/680. Thanks Murph!

As meaningful as it was to come together even during this phase of COVID, the good news is the story of each honoree. I will profile but three (as featured in the photo at the top)

Margery Meyer, inducted for swimming "did not start competitive swinnging until 1987 at the age of 64 at the encouragement of her daughter, Marguerite. She later remarked I found something lurking deep that gave birth to something in me... a potential I didn't know I had. I got a taste of it, and away I went!"

At 21, Al Sandoval "started playing handball at the historic courts in Golden Gate Park the Olympic club recruited him in 1980 his fellow Hambel players were mark on his legendary intensity on the court, where he lived “in the zone“ and intermittent hyper focused sometimes spiritual state of mind where anything is possible. Sandoval‘s intense focus is contagious, elevating his doubles partner‘s games above their school level he refuses to concede that a higher ranked player could beat him."

And, I have had the great pleasure of playing golf with the highly decorated, incredibly talented Patricia A. Cornett, MD. "She walked on to the Stanford University golf team and was eventually one of the first six women at Stanford to receive a scholarship. Cornett helped lead Stanford to conference titles in 1975 and 1976 and was a WGCA All-American first team selection in 1975. She competed in four national collegiate championships, with third and eighth place finishes. She then went on to earn her medical degree at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Over the years, she has balanced her professional and golf careers admirably; she was once ranked number seven in Golf Digest's Top 100 golfer doctors in America, one of only two women recognized."

These are but three snapshots into the new faces that decorate the Olympic Club's Hall of Fame The others are Commodore Cochran, Track and Field, Russell A. Hafferkamp, Water Polo,  Peter Varellas, Water Polo, and the 2015 Women's Basketball Team

Schools and communities throughout the country have their own Hall of Fame ceremonies and events. Please don't lose the commitment to honoring our past through celebration today. It is Good News. Thanks be to God for these people and all those who have brought them to this ring of honor. The significance of this annual event is not lost on me or anyone who was able to attend. Congratulations to all!

Photo Credits: 
All photos are from @OlyClub

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The 2021 San Francisco Giants Remind to ask the Question: WHY?

The San Francisco Giants won the National League West for the first time since 2012. Go Giants! In the eight years since their last title, the Orange and Black's heated rival the Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged guessed it: eight times. And in that time, the Dodgers have won one World Series, three National League pennants and with one of the highest payrolls in all of MLB, endured my taunts such as "The Giants prove the West cannot be bought it must be won." Ah baseball. 

To have the Giants back in the post-season has brought a much needed energy and excitement to the City by the Bay. The autumn skies certainly have a hint of something new. Yes, it's Orange October and with a class like Sports and Spirituality I have an opportunity, if not an obligation to talk about it. But why? That is exactly the reason I can and do. The 2021 San Francisco Giants have reminded just how important and fun it is to ask "Why?"

In Athletics, we ask "The why" on a regular basis. As a department, we have a list of reasons why students ought to play high school sports. We invite our student athletes to know their "why" and share it with their teammates. We ask coaches to consider why they coach; there are many reasons not to. Thank you, coaches! But this isn't the why of which I speak. This why is a different one.

I just love this photo of the Giants, on the field, inside Oracle Park. I included it in my presentation and shared it with my class. "What do you think? I asked? Pretty exciting, stuff huh?"

Rather than chaps or cheers, a spirited Go Giants! or even a "hell yeah," one student said "overrated!!" He said this not once but twice. Another student said "They suck!" I do have one Dodger fan in this particular class, but he wasn't the one who said it. I stood there totally confused.

To the student who yelled "overrated!" I said, "What team do you follow?" He told me "the Padres." "Interesting," I said. "Many picked them or the Dodgers to win the Division. So much for overrated." At that moment, I clicked to my next slide which had the stat from ESPN. I read it out loud. "Wow, ESPN picked them to win 70 games. If you put money on this team before the season, you would have an incredible payout right now." 

The next slide had the team with the number 107. I informed the student who thought the Giants suck that this is the most wins by any Giants team in the history of the organization. I looked to the lone Dodger fan and said "the Dodgers had 106 wins, which is impressive too. Both teams were 23-7 in their final 30 games. That's a winning percentage of .767. I mean this with sincerity, it must have been frustrating to be a Dodger fan. That's great baseball."

In order to not lose the entire class I added, "I know some of you are thinking of the Golden State Warriors. Yes, they won the most games in the history of the NBA but didn't win the Championship, so, you're right... nothing is a given. But, I don't think this team was overrated. They don't suck. Instead, I hope the question you are asking or that we should be asking is "WHY?!!! or How?! Why was this team so good? How did they do it? Now that's an exciting question!"

The answer to that question is the story of a season. I think it is what makes life interesting. It is certainly worth discussion because apples to apples the Giants are NOT like the Dodgers. While there are no gaps on the Dodger line-up, the G-men feature a lot of new names. I prefer to say that over "no -names." 

Thus, the lesson began. I shared but four reasons WHY this team is so good. Three of them were "intangibles" named by the manager, Gabe Kapler. The fourth is about him. 

As written on Yahoo! Sports, "Kapler credited his players for showing toughness and grit, and for having the vision for making the NL West title the goal when nobody around the game thought they could compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

"We all knew what the projections were and what the industry thought of us as a club. There were some intangibles that those viewpoints and those projections failed to take into consideration. The first intangible is just toughness. We had so many points during this season where it would have been easy for us to quit and we never did. We battled back.

Grit: "Another intangible it didn't account for is grit. A lot of people in this group got a little bit beat up this season. We had some injuries. We had some guys who were struggling for long periods of time, and they just got back to work every single day. They stuck with their process, they got stronger, and they came back better, and because of that we're standing where we are today. 

Vision: "The final intangible and probably the most important one is vision. At the outset of spring training I was thinking about setting expectations for this group, what we could come to expect for this season. I knew we had a lot of talent. But I wasn't sure. We have some veteran players who said we want to win the National League West. So at that point, this entire group surrounded that vision and made it a goal. We never came off that goal, and that's why I feel that pride today in this group. I'm so grateful to each and every one of you and everyone here who supported us this evening. Thank you."

Thank you, Coach!

A lot of fans were dubious of Farhan Zaidi's choice to hire Gabe Kapler. Bruce Bochy certainly left big shoes to fill and Kapler did not have success in Philadelphia. The success of this season however is inextricably tied to one hallmark of his managerial style: total and complete preparation. Kapler is known for over-preparation. From spring training through the post-season, no one is more prepared that Kap. The team, the fans are privy to its dividends. 

I told my students to think about their own coaches and teachers who are always prepared. Does that class? that season? each practice feel different? I think you can tell the difference. I then invited them and myself to think about toughness, grit and vision. Are those characteristics of their own teams? Would your teammate or coach identify that intangible in you?

There are many other reasons why the San Francisco Giants had a great season. I love hearing what other have to say in answer to that question "Why?" And it is a question—as a teacher—I don't want to stop asking of my students. In fact, I wish I had asked my students WHY they thought they were overrated....or WHY they think the Giants suck. I'm curious to know what they would have said. In the meantime, there is still work to be done for this team. I will look for evidence of those attributes along the way.