Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Thoughts on Star Power: Thank you, Fernando Tatis, Jr.

I settled into my seat, all but 12 rows up from the field inside Petco Park, home of the Padres. I delighted in watching an evening game with my good friend Cort.and the fact that I didn't need more than two layers to take it all in. Thank you, San Diego! From our perch, it was hard not to look at just one player: Fernando Tatis, Jr. Even with all the action on the field, I couldn't avert my gaze from the All-Star Dominican ball player. Tatis, who moved from short stop to right field ran quickly to his post in the outfield. He caught balls at the fence and at the foul line in front of us. He jumped, he hustled, he flicked the ball to his fans. He made it all look so easy. 

I turned to Cort and said, "He looks like he could be a wide receiver." I pulled out my phone to get his stats: 6'3" and 217 lbs. The man has wheels. Truly, he is a five-tool player. In 2020, ESPN ranked him as "the most entertaining MLB player." Agreed. In between innings, the screens featured fans and their  personalized signs for "El NiƱo." One woman declared her love for him—and that she was single. He brought additional energy to a place that is already pumping. I left the yard that night and realized what I saw. It's a quality you just can't manufacture. You have it or you don't. It's Star Power. And after teaching Sophomore scripture, I'm more convinced than ever that Jesus had it, too.

What exactly is Star Power? Turns out it has a definition in! Star Power is allure and charisma. Some link star power to glamour, but I liken it to talent, confidence, magnetism and more. It's notable presence. It's not rare, but it's not common either.

Christology, a required course for all tenth graders, examines the humanity and divinity of Christ. With more emphasis on a lower Christology, studying Jesus of Nazareth as a human being was indeed fascinating. An itinerant preacher—this Jesus of History—had to have star power. Think about it. The word was out. He drew sizable crowds; he made fishers of men. He spoke to those on the margins—the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene to name a few. In doing so, those margins were no more.

Part of Jesus' star power may be attributed to the fact He was a teacher like no other. He taught with authority and conviction. Long before there were master classes, Jesus is and was the master teacher. His examples were practical, yet quixotic. Even subversive. His apostles left their families and homes to "Come and follow me!"

Beyond His actions—miracles of healing, exorcisms and command over nature, I keep thinking Jesus had to have star power because—to be blunt—we must assume he was average looking. Why do I make that assumption? As noted in the movie The Face —Jesus in Art

Christ's image, often different, yet always familiar has appeared in the art of cultures for nearly two millennia. But, there are no known portraits while he was alive or even contemporary descriptions of his physical appearance.
If he was notably handsome or rather tall...if Jesus had a distinctive or exquisite feature, we would have heard about it. I say this because the Gospels are not remiss of other descriptors. For example, we know that Nicodemus is short in stature and that John the Baptist was unkept—he wore clothing made of camel's hair. I have seen images of Jesus my entire life. I never considered what impression his physicality made on his audience. And yet, the absence of this information suggests to me, his star power was super strong.

He had to have a positive energy. My sense is that he looked people in the eye—and did so with compassion. I also think he had a deep awareness of who stood in his midst and the impact He had. Talk about a positive presence...

My recent experience of seeing Fernando Tatis, Jr. on the field after a year of learning studying and teaching the historical and personal Jesus gave me the opportunity think a little more about Star Power. Seeing an example up close and personal led me to consider, Is it something anyone can have/develop?! Or, is it just something—as the name suggests—is a power of certain people. 

My sense is yes and no. If it's something you want, first consider: What is your passion? And, where the place where your gifts and talents shine? From there, reflect on what you are like in that (sacred) space. In what ways do you shine? Perhaps your star power will shine through.

I think it's a great descriptor? I think Star Power is real. I say go for it! Develop it and change in the world in the process. I have but one suggestion/requirement: do it in the wya only YOU can. Time for nothing less....

Photo Credits
Star Power
John Legend
With boy

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Seek and Ye Shall Find: A Case for the 4th of July Scavenger Hunt

I don't have a favorite color or song, movie, athlete, saint or Springsteen album (no wait, I do. I'm a River girl, but Darkness on the Edge of Town is my #1). Instead, I create prized groupings e.g. my three favorite foods, five greats in sports, two best duos in all of music. I do however have a favorite holiday: the 4th of July. I love summer, birthday parties and the idea of America. USA! 

Like anything we love, we make time to honor and celebrate the occasion accordingly and appropriately. For me, that means kick starting the day with a parade. And the purpose of this post is to help you enjoy the best way to start this red, white and blue feast day in a new way— with a fun activity for you, your family and friends: the Sports and Spirituality Scavenger Hunt.

I first attended the Kiwanis Danville 4th of July parade when I was in high school and have only missed a few ever since. As noted on their website, "The parade attracts 30,000-40,000 spectators each year and is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate America's birth." I love the ritual of putting chairs out the night before on Hartz Avenue, planning what to wear, looking forward to who and what I will see, hear, taste, and smell. The 4th of July parade costs nothing and is a wonderful way to come together. Thank you, Danville. Thank you, Kiwanis!

No parade is ever the same. While I see many of the same families and friends from year to year, there are always surprises. For example, Clorox is a company whose headquarters are in Oakland, a city not far from Danville. Almost 10 years ago, they had a float promoting one of their products, Kingsford charcoal. This featured a life sized grill and inside was a woman singing "This grill is on fire," a play on Alicia Keys' hit song. Sing it, Clorox! Nice job on the advertising!

Furthermore, a friend and I began to notice how many Americans wear basketball jerseys to the parade. I asked him "What possessed that guy to get up this morning and say I'm going James Worthy today. I mean, part of me gets it—Worthy is a legend but this is not Laker country. There's no patriotic connection to that look." We started to look at what else others were wearing—high school football jerseys, not enough Notre Dame, Uncle Sam hats and even a Bush/Quayle '88 shirt. From year to year, we noticed that certain patterns and/or people emerged—there's always someone on stilts, another is dressed as Rosie the Riveter and Olympics gear never goes out of style (sometimes, the uglier it gets, the better it is!) 

With my nieces in tow, I decided these observations needed to be systematized. And, as a teacher I knew the way to do that: the Scavenger Hunt. 

I found that the parade has a fair bit of downtime. Sometimes floats, cars and horses stall. I figured why not take advantage of our time together to seek and find. I created a list of likely 4th of July items to check off, but there's a twist. This scavenger hunt is sports and spirituality style. Why not give this a go with the way both connect to this national holiday.

In creating a scavenger hunt, a sports and spirituality checklist, I found that my nieces and I paid better attention to what is on display and around us. It's fun to check off an item . Each one pertains to either the holiday, to sports or to spirituality. A pretty good trinity if you ask me. 

ORDER HERE: Excited to share: 4th of July Scavenger Hunt: Sports and Spirituality Style!  #independenceday #blue #scavengerhunt #4thofjuly #parade #sports #spirituality #faith

Matthew's Gospel reminds us, "seek and ye shall find." I need to be reminded of these words as I am easily distracted. I take my eye off the ball. I lose sight of the (bigger) picture. "Seeking" is a spiritual discipline worth practicing. Here's one way to start...Happy 247th birthday, America!

Order here for PDF file or here for Hard Copy options

Photo Credits

Thursday, June 15, 2023

A Few Tips for Visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture—Sports and Spirituality Style

On my recent trip to our nation's capital, I finally made it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This outstanding museum is "a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives, and how it helped us shape this nation." As an American, an American Studies major, a Catholic Christian, a teacher and a sports fan, I was excited to visit, observe, read, learn, question, participate and share in the experience from those lenses to name a few. For those who have not been to the NMAAHC and even for those who have, I would like to offer but a few suggestions and ideas from which to navigate your own experience—Sports and Spirituality style.

Although the museum opened under the Obama administration—on September 24, 2016, it remains difficult to get in—unless you are someone who, unlike me, is known for planning in advance. As written on their websiteThe National Museum of African American History and Culture is open daily to the public. Free timed-entry passes are required for entry.

Travel websites will offer different information, but this was my experience as of June 8, 2023. The daily timed-entry pass was not released at 6:00 a.m. OR at 6:30 a.m. I kept that window open on my computer and at approximately 8:15 a.m. (all times are Eastern) tickets for every half hour window on the day were available. I chose to go when the museum opened at 10:00 a.m. I arrived at 10:15 a.m. after getting off at the Smithsonian Metro stop (Metro Center is not far. Smithsonian was very close) I was not asked to show my ticket upon entry....

A long time fan of Ragtime music, I loved seeing this tribute to Scott Joplin

How to Tour
The museum's website notes "Please be aware that touring the History Galleries in their entirety will take approximately 2 hours, and will require about 1 mile of walking." I hate to disagree with a Smithsonian curator, but a two hour time stamp on the entirety of this museum's collection is a gross underestimate. Rather, I think the average patron has but two hours in them to give what is presented in light of the attention it demands. The content of the NMAAHC is heavy. It is rich and vibrant, tragic and inspiring. It is difficult to muster the emotional energy to see it all, let alone in 120 minutes.

As the front desk recommends, yes, visit the Slavery and Freedom 1400-1877 (the history of slavery). I learned so much and this context cannot be divorced from the larger experience of what this museum offers. Depending on how long it takes you to navigate this floor (the museum begins three floors underground and patrons ascend each respective level while discovering a new theme/focus), I recommend seeking out the exhibits that speak to you and your lens on the world. What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? Music? Religion? Architecture? Historical figures? Leadership? It is worthwhile to either read the website in advance or spend a few minutes reviewing the museum pamphlet in order to familiarize yourself with what is on display and where. For example, I spent far too much time on the lower levels. I went upstairs only to find two significant exhibits—one on sports and one about music. I was tired but I didn't want to miss out. I didn't.

If you are an extrovert like me, go to the museum with a friend or colleague. I need to process what I see with another person. I do better when I can share what I am thinking and feeling. I have and hold questions. I like unpacking those with another person.

I will be using this icon, featuring John the Baptist in my Christology course.

Before you go, read. Read a book about African American culture, an African American leader or contributor to society. Listen to a podcast about Black identity or politics. In other words bring something from the outside world—your world—or recent value and interest into the museum. This educational discipline will allow you to make connections between what you are learning and what is before you.

For example, as noted in my blog post: A Wrinkle in the Debate: Who is the G.O.A.T.? Thank you, John Thompson
In preparation for my travels to Washington DC, I picked up "I Came As a Shadow," the autobiography of legendary Georgetown basketball coach—John Thompson. As my mother's daughter, I wanted to read more about a place I'm visiting; sports is always my preferred point of entry.

The exhibit Sports: Leveling the Playing Field profiles not only individual athletes as "Exhibition Luminaries." Thompson wrote "This is one of the dangerous things with athletes. Athletes don't choose to be role models. The public chooses them. Setting an example is part of an athlete's responsibility, particularly with African Americans because there are still not enough examples for Black kids of pathways to success other than sports." Framing these profiles in this context offered a valuable and weighty perspective. 

I hope that Thompson would value this exhibit, as it aims to explore "the contributions of athletes, both on and off the field. Some athletes have been symbolic figures of black ability, while others have taken their activism beyond the court to the courtroom, boardroom and the newsroom." I think it succeeded in its approach to looking at these "role models" in their efforts in 
Social Activism and Breaking the Color Line. I hope you will see for yourself. 

While there was a particular focus 
on Black American contributions to basketball, football, baseball and the Olympic games, what I appreciated most was the display on Althea Gibson who excelled at both tennis and golf. While I personally believe Jackie Joyner-Kersee ought to be on the female Mt. Rushmore, perhaps Gibson should be too. Thoughts?! And talk about breaking a color barrier...

The Contemplative Court on the ground floor.

After reascending to the ground floor, take a moment to enter the Contemplative Court. This is a proper space to pause for prayer and quiet reflection. Truly, it is worth taking but a few moments to offer prayers for peace and reconciliation, of healing and forgiveness. Pray for those who were enslaved and for those who fought for their freedom. Pray for a world that is open to learning about a difficult past in the hope of building a better today and tomorrow. At times, I stood in awe of the fortitude, integrity, courage and determination of countless, named and unknown men and women who fought for equality and respect, their basic human rights and  much, much more. This museum is one, among the many, we are blessed to have in the heart of our nation's capital.

Photo Credits
I took all of these!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A Wrinkle in the Debate: Who is the G.O.A.T.? Thank you, John Thompson

In preparation for my travels to Washington DC, I picked up "I Came As a Shadow," the autobiography of John Thompson at my local library. As my mother's daughter, I wanted to read more about a place I'm visiting; sports is always my preferred point of entry.

John Thompson was a native of Washington DC, a Catholic who was devoted to Our Lady, a coach, father, grandfather and champion. He died on August 30, 2020. Thompson is known as Georgetown University's legendary coach. He became the first Black-American head coach to win a major collegiate championship in basketball when he led the Hoyas to the NCAA Division I national championship in 1984. The setting of his story is our nation's capital through and through. However, what I did not expect was the way Thompson's message would resonate and reveal a truth about women's sports—one that I learned en route to Washington. Here it is.

If there's one topic—one question sports fans love to discuss, debate and defend, it's Who is the G.O.A.T? What athletes are on your Mount Rushmore? Who are the Top 10 athletes of all time?  Thompson presented an important point-of-view. His wrinkle, a real quagmire, offers an important truth worth careful consideration.

In Chapter Two: The Rabbit, Thompson tells the story of  his hero, his friend and who he believes to be among the very greatest, DC native Elgin Baylor. Affectionately known as "The Rabbit," Baylor was born seven years before Thompson. While The Rabbit played at Spingarn High School, JT played at Archbishop Carroll High School, on an integrated team (but one that still had quotas). Both men, however, developed were formed and performed on the city's public courts. Thompson writes,

The competition on the playgrounds was a lot tougher than at school no question. So many terrific Black players didn't get an opportunity to play organized ball. Think about the fact that someone as incredible as Elgin Baylor didn't get recruited out of high school, and would end up at some obscure college in Idaho basically by accident before he went to Seattle University. 
Lots of other guys could have been outstanding in college or the pros. One cat named Chicken Breast could really get it done. I have no idea what his given name was, but everybody knew Chicken Breast. Another very tough player was Gary Mays, who had one arm and was known as Bandit. You heard that right: Gary had one arm, but if there were fifty guys at the park and they chose sides, Gary was always on the court. The tiny scoring guard Wil Jones could have been great in the NBA. Little Wil was a shooter's shooter, talked a whole lot of trash, and always backed it up. 
I could go on and on about all the great players you never heard of. That's one reason I laugh at people who argue about this or that player being the "greatest of all time." Some of the best basketball players in history never got the opportunity to put on a uniform. And yes, I saw both Michael Jordan and Bill Russell play, up close and personal. But we'll never know what some of these other guys could have been. 

I read these words and I know they are true. Willie Mays said so much about his own father, who taught him to play baseball, but didn't have the chance to take his talent beyond regional play in Alabama (Say Hey! Willie Mays HBO Series is worth watching). As a sports fan, an American and a human being, I can't help but mourn what we lost....what we never saw....what we all missed out on. Sadly, this truth is not limited just to people of color.

On Saturday, June 3 of reunion weekend at the University of Notre Dame, the alumni group, Notre Dame Women Connect hosted an event "Champions and Champagne." This gathering brought alumnae together to raise a glass and celebrate and learn from the women who work in athletics to help female student athletes become champions. Our panel featured Kayla Miller, NILI Athlete Marketing Manager, 
Caroline Powers Ellis, Head Coach Women's Golf and Alex Bechard, Director of Sports Nutrition. 

Our moderator, Kristin Sheehan—Director of Play Like a Champion Today and a monogram award winner herself (varsity cheer) asked each respondent to name and tell us about their favorite female athlete. Alex said "beyond the celebrity athletes: Serena and Venus Williams, I would have to say my mom. She didn't really have a chance to compete in the way that women do today, but she was and still is an outstanding athlete." Caroline, who played golf professionally said "My cousin. She is ten years older than me and she had a career in professional athletics before me. I learned so much from her on what it takes to play at the highest level." Kayla added, "I'm someone who grew up watching Mia Hamm. At the age of five, I wanted to be just like her."

In their responses, I was reminded of the importance of role models, who can show us how to work, overcome, stay strong and make an impact. But I was also reminded of the fact that like Alex's mom, too many weren't given that chance. Fortunately, the story for women in sport is much different today. To a large degree, we write our own...but for too long, that story was short. The G.O.A.T. debate rarely includes a woman. Why shouldn't Mt. Rushmore have the face of a female athlete? (or President?!) I hope some women do crack that Top 10, or rather, let's create our own.

I want to very clear, I have no intention of conflating racism and sexism. "I Came as Shadow,"  attests to the nuances, dynamics and the reality of racism—in DC, in basketball and beyond. As Bill McGarvey writes,  "The game was never the objective for Thompson; it was just the instrument. Basketball became a way of kicking down a door that had been closed to Black people." 

Thompson adds, "It was a way for me to express that we don't have to act apologetic for obtaining what God intended us to have, and that we should be recognized more for our minds than our bodies." I think women can understand that...whether or not they are in sports.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Two Words, One Rally Cry, Remembering Humm Baby—Roger Craig

The death of a great athlete or coach prompts personal, local, communal, and for some— a national response. Tributes recall their accomplishments and achievements, greatest wins and toughest losses. For others, it's a laundry list of stats, what they did first...or last. For all, it's the sharing of stories or speeches, a replay of the highlight reels, memories and more. And for the late San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig, it's two words: Humm Baby.

For those seeking "Inside Baseball," Roger Craig was a Durham, N.C., native who joined the Giants in 1985—in what was the final weeks of a 62-100 season. He immediately endeared himself to fans with his folksy charm, Southern accent and "Humm Baby." 

In the article, Roger Craig, beloved former Giants manager, dies at 93
The Athletic reports

The “Humm baby” nickname he gave to a third-string catcher, Brad Gulden, became a beloved phrase to a generation of Bay Area baseball fans.

“It symbolizes to me something special because he didn’t have a lot of talent, but he gave you 180 percent,” Craig told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006. “That’s the way Brad (was). Humm-baby.”

The phrase later came to apply to the entire team, and especially, to Craig himself. 

His catchphrase, “Humm baby,” caught on and became a rallying cry for the team and the fans, who were desperate for something, anything to get excited about. His style of managing was unorthodox, with suicide squeezes becoming the norm and the deadly split-finger fastball taking over the staff. 

It was fun. Fun! Imagine that, the Giants playing a fun brand of baseball. In 1987, he managed the first NL West winner since 1971, and in 1989, he was the skipper for the pennant-winning team in the earthquake World Series.  

What might be just as important about Craig's unorthodox managing style is the way that Humm Baby was implemented off the field. 

If you only believe that games are won on the field, then pay no mind. If, however, you think there's more—here's a story for you.

In late September, 1989, I got my Dad to take me to the 'Stick to not only go to a Giants game but to secure the giveaway. A poster. The Pacific Sock Exchange. Two men, one black, one white wore suits in the locker room with baseball bats on their respective shoulders. This dynamic duo, first baseman Will Clark and left fielder Kevin Mitchell though different, made Humm Baby work. I loved both players. 
With their offensive ability at the plate, the Giants stock was rising.

Kevin Mitchell was the National League MVP in 1989. Though he arrived in 1987, he made an indelible mark on April 4, 1989 with his barehanded grab in left on Ozzie Smith's pop fly. (If you've never seen it, stop reading and watch now).With Clark batting three and Mitch in the clean up spot, the Pacific Stock Exchange led the orange and black to the World Series.

But, none of this would have happened without Humm Baby. In her book Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry, Joan Ryan offers a story of what that means in the clubhouse..and not on the diamond between the Craig— the manager and Mitchell, his star player.

One day Mitch was checking the daily lineup card Craig had just posted in the clubhouse. “How come Skip [Craig] puts my name up there without knowing how I feel?” he asked Krukow. The question was a bizarre one. It was not the practice of managers to check with players on their availability to play. If a player was hurt or sick, the trainer would let the manager know. Otherwise it was assumed he was good to go. Krukow could have explained this to Mitch. Instead, he took it to Craig. 

Good managers have partners in the clubhouse. Over a long season, players know other players in ways a manager never can. (“We’d joke that you can sit down in the shitter and look at the feet next to you in the stall and know who it is,” Krukow said.) He knew Mitch wasn’t looking for an answer from him. He needed something only Craig could give. 

Before the lineup was posted the next day, Krukow watched Craig stop at Mitch’s locker and ask how he felt. He did this every game from then on. “I was up late last night,” Mitch would answer. Or, “My legs are really aching, Skip.” To which Craig unfailingly replied, “Mitch, we need you.” And Mitch would play, as Craig knew he would. 

This was a guy who once dislocated his finger taking grounders in batting practice, yanked it back in place, and took more grounders. Craig knew Mitch just needed to know he cared. The gesture took a minute of the manager’s day. 

Some players grumbled that Craig coddled Mitch. But if the so-called coddling made him a better player, it wasn’t coddling. It was smart managing. “I did some special things for Mitch,” Craig told me a few years ago when I visited him at his home in Borrego Springs, east of San Diego.

“He was so important to us. And such a sweet kid. I just loved him. If you don’t handle him right, he’s going to crawl into his shell.” Craig was tending his garden. The proof was in the numbers. In sixty-two games with the Padres and manager Larry Bowa in the first half of the season, Mitch hit .245 with seven home runs and twenty-six RBIs. In sixty-nine games with the Giants and Craig in the second half, he hit .306 with fifteen home runs and forty-four RBIs. And the best was yet to come.

Smart managing. Tending a garden. Showing care. THAT'S Humm Baby. That's the legacy of Roger Craig, who brought much more than an NL Pennant to San Francisco. He brought two unlikely words that when paired together, meant much more. It's not only what we do front stage that matters, it's how we operate back stage, too. It's what we see in other people and how we treat them, what we think is possible and what we can give that makes things go...that catches fire...that prompts and creates something entirely new..and fun.

In 1990, the San Francisco Giants motto was "Humm Baby! Let's do it again..."  Let's....

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May they rest in peace. Humm Baby. Amen.

Photo Credits
Pacific Sock
Humm Baby Kid

Ryan, Joan. Intangibles (pp. 193-194). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.