Game 13: Coors Field, Colorado

No, this is not an aerial photo. This was the view from my seat. It’s where you sit when you’re buying tickets for a group of 24.

Every June, I lead my high school youth group on a trip to Colorado for a week. We call the trip “VERGE” and I always capitalize it and claim it’s an acronym, but it’s not – “verge” was just an awesome sounding word and it just looks more impressive when it’s in all caps.

We spend the first three days in Denver, serving at various ministry sites all around the city serving kids, veterans, the homeless, day laborers, etc. We also spend some time every year boxing up donated goods at World Vision headquarters*. The goal of the first three days of VERGE is to notice God’s action in the city of Denver. Sometimes it’s in the face of a homeless man, or in the dedication of a ministry site leader. Other times it’s seen in our group members themselves.

* – Something interesting/hilarious happened Monday at World Vision: we were boxing up “Broncos Super Bowl Champions” gear to ship off to Africa. If you remember, Peyton Manning malfunctioned and the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl this past year. So all the Broncos pre-made champs gear gets shipped overseas. I tweeted a photo of it, and it went viral. If you Google “Broncos World Vision” you’ll now get page after page of articles about my tweet. As of this post: 818 retweets and counting. For the first time in my life, I experienced the true power of social media.

After three days in Denver, we drive on to Buena Vista, CO, where we rock climb, whitewater raft, hike the continental divide and swim in hot springs. The location changes, but the purpose does not: we continue to look for where God is acting in the world around us.

Often times it’s in the beauty of the mountains and he fact that we get to play in and on them. It comes in the form of a sunrise or a thunderstorm. It comes in the form of encouraging words to one another while we try to conquer the climbing wall.

Each evening, we end our day doing two things: we take time to share where we saw God’s action around us that day. Then we take time to brag on how we saw God working through one another in the ministry sites in Denver and on the mountains and rivers in Buena Vista.

We all adopt the perspective that God is at work all around us, and if we are intentional about looking for his action, we will undoubtedly recognize him throughout our day. We don’t bring God to either place – he’s working whether we show up or not – but what an honor that he invites us to participate in his action every day.

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On Tuesday evening – Day 3 of our trip – we ended our day by talking in a Rockies game at Coors Field downtown. It was an awesome opportunity for me to synthesize VERGE with this ballpark tour and book project.

Most of my students don’t care about baseball, and even the ones that do don’t really care about a game between the Rockies and Diamondbacks. But they all know about this project, and a few of them were really excited to be a part of it with me.

One of my students in particular, Brennan, seemed pretty pumped to be coming along. Brennan is a brilliant dude. Full of life, energy, wisdom and leadership, he’s the type of student youth pastors love to have in the group because of his ability to unite a group. He has a cohesive personality that manages to draw a group closer together. He has this goofy selflessness about him that can draw attention not to himself, but to those around him. Long story short, Brennan’s an impressive guy.

Perhaps his best quality, however, is his inquisitive spirit. He asks terrific questions about life, Scripture, and just general knowledge stuff. He is always striving to not only learn more about the subject, but to go deeper relationally with God and others.

When we finally sat down in our seats, Brennan plopped down next to me and quickly started asking me great questions about the concept for this book.

I told him the general points: I believe that everything is spiritual; the ballpark is heaven on earth for me; I see all sorts of connections between baseball and spirituality.

“Like what?” he asked.

I asked him to try to come up with some connections himself, and after some thinking, he responded with a brilliant thought as baseball related to our evening VERGE conversations over the previous couple of days.

After an inning or two, he offered this*: “What if we viewed the game as ‘God’s Action’ in the world? And the fans have the opportunity to go to the game, or to stay home. The game is going to happen whether the fans come or not, but when they go to the game, they get to cheer and celebrate and participate in the action.”

* – This is paraphrased, not verbatim. In retrospect, I really wish I’d been recording the conversation.

And not only that, but the game is better for it. Have you ever been to a ballgame with something like 5,000 fans there? It’s depressing. There’s no buzz, there’s little cheering, and it certainly doesn’t feel lively. But the game plays on, whether there were fans there to participate in the action or not.

Fans have the ability to fuel the ballgame. The energy builds and the players can feel it.

I was just reading about Curtis Pride in Jonah Keri’s book, “Up, Up and Away” about the Montreal Expos. In his second career at-bat, Pride came in to pinch hit against the Phillies. The Expos were down 7-4, and with two men on base, he doubles to left-center field scoring both base runners to make it 7-6.

It chases the Phillies starting pitcher from the game, and while the change is happening, the fans give Pride a 5 minute standing ovation. They just keep cheering and cheering and cheering, but Curtis Pride can’t hear it.

Because Curtis Pride was 95% deaf.

While the pitching change is still taking place, the third base coach comes over and tells him to tip his cap to the Montreal fans because they’re screaming like crazy. So he does. And they go even crazier. The Expos would go on to win 8-7.

In the post game interview, Pride was asked if he could hear the cheering. He said no, but he could feel the vibration through the turf.

If the ballpark was empty, that story doesn’t happen. Maybe he still hits the double, and maybe they still comeback to win anyway, but the cheering and the vibrations and the story just isn’t the same. The fans get to participate in the on field action.

It was the same idea we’d been talking about: God is active in the world, and he is inviting us to grab a ticket to join him. And when we join in on the action, we create a buzz – more life – than there would be without our participation.

The final value that I have for VERGE is based in community. Something amazing happens when a group serves and adventures together. Suddenly relational barriers that had previously existed don’t matter anymore. Labels are stripped away. Cliques begin to melt into one another. There’s no room for bad blood when people rally around a common goal.

Service brings people together.

Adventure brings people together.

Baseball brings people together.

The jerk that cut you off on the I-70 headed to the ballpark is now the recipient of your high five in Section 435. The family member who annoys the crud out of you is now joining you in chants and cheers. The ballplayers themselves need each other too.

We’ve all seen that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s playing all the positions at the same time, right? The pitcher, Bugs Bunny, winds up and throws to the catcher, Bugs Bunny. The ball gets creamed and Bugs runs out of the Polo Grounds and takes a taxi to the Statue of Liberty and catches the ball. Bugs is the entire offense too, hitting home run after home run.

It’s funny because it’s impossible. Baseball needs a team.

A catcher needs a pitcher. The pitcher needs a catcher. The fielders need a batter, and the batter needs a pitcher.

Baseball cannot be an individual sport. You can’t have some freak athlete that plays all positions and takes over a game. In other sports, you can have a ball hog who does everything for the team. But in baseball, it isn’t physically possible. Even a pitcher who throws a perfect game needed the catcher and his fielders there to record the outs.

Not only that, but baseball is unselfish. Bunting and sacrifice flys – batters give away an at bat to advance a runner for the betterment of the team. They’ll participate in a hit and run, relying on the other to do their part. They’ll take a seat in the 8th inning so a faster player can run for them. They’ll come in to pitch to one batter and then leave because they know that somebody else can get the next guy.

Baseball isn’t about heroics. It’s about coming together and playing as a team. And after every team win, the players slap hands and congratulate each other.

Baseball brings people – fans and players – together.

The game of baseball reinforces the same goals of VERGE: noticing and participating in God’s action, which ultimately brings us closer together.

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That’s the best picture I got of our group at the game. Unfortunately, we were so far away, the stadium lights couldn’t shine on us. I did get this photo of all the guys in the top row of the rock pile…

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Game Notes:

To be honest, I didn’t get to focus on the game very much. I wanted to hang with my students as much as possible. Plus, we were so far away from home plate it would take a second or so for the crack of the bat to travel all the way out to us. I’d look up to the action just in time to see the first baseman catch the ball from…I couldn’t tell where it had come from.

The Rockies lost though, 4-2.

Colorado had a great April and May, but they had lost 8 of their last 10 and 14 of their last 20. They went from being 22-14 and tied for 1st place in the NL West on May 8 to being an even 28-28 for our game on June 3.

It was a 0-0 ballgame before Nick Evans and Chris Owings hit back-to-back solo homers off Jorge De La Rosa in the 4th. The D-Backs would add another in the 4th to make it 3-0.

The Rockies’ DJ LaMahieu homered in the 5th off of D-Backs starter Chase Anderson. It was the only run Anderson allowed in 6 innings.

After the Diamondbacks added another run in the 8th, the Rockies mounted a mini-comeback in the 9th. Troy Tulowitzki homered on a deep jack to left center, and Corey Dickerson singled to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out. But Will Rosario flew out to CF and Charlie Culberson and LeMahieu both struck out to end the game. Buzzkill.

Thirteen Down. Seventeen to go.

Up Next: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

-apc.

Game 7: Chase Field, Arizona

The weather has been a roller coaster for me this week, and I haven’t even been in Kansas City.

Atlanta was 80 degrees and sweaty.

Arlington was 40 degrees and partly windy.

Houston was 70 degrees and mostly perfect.

Phoenix was 95 degrees and with zero cloud relief…but that didn’t matter under the dome of Chase Field.

I had never been to a domed ballpark before yesterday. Chase Field, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof, and I was disappointed to see it was closed yesterday when we landed in Phoenix. Turns out, it was wonderful. I’m now huge supporter of the climate controlled ballpark.

photo-23Chase Field is awesome. Of the seven ballparks I’ve been to so far this season, Chase Field is in the conversation for the most impressive. Busch Stadium is the only real competition so far. If we’re talking about the most beautiful ballpark so far, I might (unbiasedly) give it to Kauffman Stadium. But most impressive goes to Chase as of right now.

Reason #1: There’s a swimming pool beyond the RCF wall.

Reason #2: It is huge, but not so huge that it didn’t feel intimate still.

Reason #3: The concessions had super cheap deals: $4 beers, $1.50 hot dogs, corn dogs, popcorn and small cokes.

Reason #4: A covered outdoor area on one side of the building is the perfect place to hang out before and after the game.

photo-25Reason #5: The Legends Race. Former D-Backs players with giant heads race around the warning track between innings: Randy Johnson is the best, although it wasn’t his night as you can see in the photo here. Matt Williams won the race yesterday, but that’s not the point. The point is it’s hilarious.

Reason #6: Free programs with the scorecard in side! I’m keeping score wherever I go; sometimes the scorecard is inside the program (which costs around $5), and sometimes it’s sold individually (and it’s usually a buck). But Chase just gives me away for free.

All in all, Chase just impressed me.

My friend Dan, who joined me in Houston on Tuesday, lives in Phoenix, so we flew there together yesterday morning and stayed at his apartment downtown within walking distance of Chase Field. He moved to PHX from Kansas City about 4 months ago. He’s a huge Royals fan, but he’s decided to adopt the Diamondbacks as his favorite National League team. But he still bleeds powder blue.

I’ve often thought about what would happen to my baseball loyalties if I moved to a different city. If I lived in LA would I become a Dodgers fan or an Angels fan or neither or both? Would I become a Tigers fan if I left for Detroit? What would happen to my allegiances if I ended up in Chicago?

I could probably lump teams into three different categories based on how likely I would be to adopt them or not. Those categories: adopt, follow and zero interest.

If I moved to their respective cities, these are the teams I feel like I would adopt whether immediately or over time…

  • Chicago Cubs
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Houston Astros
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Baltimore Orioles

I’m a sucker for old National League franchises for some reason. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Pirates all fall into this category. Even though I’m a Cardinals fan, I’ve spent enough time in Wrigleyville to know how infectious their atmosphere truly is. And the Pirates have been the NL version of the Royals until making the NLDS last year. And I have a weird thing for Baltimore for some reason.

The Red Sox would be hard to deny if I wound up in Boston if only because of Fenway Park. And since I was born in Houston and my parents lived there for a few years, I could probably find myself picking up a gorgeous Nolan Ryan 1980’s sunset uniforms. Might need to get one of those anyway, actually.

There’s a long list of teams that I think I would start to follow, even if I didn’t really ultimately care about their success. The majority of teams fall under this list, and the D-Backs probably would too. I’d wait until the Cardinals came to town and go to the entire series. I couldn’t make them my own. Here’s the whole list of teams I’d follow but not adopt…

  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • New York Mets
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Colorado Rockies
  • Washington Nationals
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Miami Marlins
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Seattle Mariners
  • San Diego Padres
  • Texas Rangers
  • Toronto Blue Jays

But the final category – the “zero interest” group – would be the teams that even if I lived there, I would openly root against them still. Those teams are…

  • Cleveland Indians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • New York Yankees
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Chicago White Sox

So, basically the entire AL Central. I’ve grown up watching all four of these teams beat the crud out of the Royals. So it would be impossible for me to do anything but root against them. And the Yankees. Because they’re the Yankees.

So there are 6 clubs that I could probably adopt, 5 clubs I could never adopt, and 17 teams I could follow closely and kinda support if I moved there.

But there’s a difference between “adoption” and “conversion”. I don’t think I could “convert” to any other MLB team anywhere, no matter how compelling they are.

The difference: forsaking your former team. Dan’s move to Arizona didn’t force him to ditch his Royals fandom. If it had – maybe if the Diamondbacks were in the AL instead of the NL – he never would’ve gone ahead and signed up for a Diamondbacks Visa credit card. He would’ve kept his Royals love, and merely followed the D-Backs instead.

Conversion is a huge deal. It’s more than simply supporting an alternative perspective. It’s simultaneously adopting a new way of life while giving up your old way of life. It’s a complete transformation, and it isn’t something anyone is able to step into half-heartedly. Conversion requires an entirely new lifestyle, and leaving behind the old is significantly more difficult than merely adopting something new.

What are the things we have committed to believing in and following? Have we allowed our beliefs to completely transform us? Or do we hold on to our old lifestyle?

And if we do hang on to our old lifestyle, have we really converted to our new way of life? Or have we merely adopted it as an addendum to what we already believe?

We left the game – the Mets completed their sweep of the D-Backs – and went to a sports bar around the corner to watch the Royals game that was just starting (which ended awesomely), and I realized that no matter how many games Dan or I go to in other ballparks, we’ll likely never fully convert from our identity as fans.

Game Notes:

The Mets looked pretty solid against the now 4-14 Diamondbacks. Their starter, Dillon Gee, was perfect through 4.2 IP before Marty Prado snapped Gee’s perfection with a double in the 5th. Gee ended 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 6 K.

Prado ended 3-4. His fellow infielder, Cliff Pennington, who has a perfect name to be an NPR personality, went 0-4 with 4 fly balls to LF.

Until the 9th inning, Arizona did absolutely nothing offensively, and it made for an extremely quick game overall. Jose Valverde came in to pitch the 9th and gave up back to back solo homers to Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt. I always love it when Goldy does something good because I have about 15 of his Bowman rookie card. But the D-Backs folded after those two solo shots, losing 5-2.

The Mets, now 8-7, stole 4 bases: Eric Young Jr. swiped two, while the Daniel Murphy and David Wright both picked up 1. Lots of Mets fans there too. I guess living in an AL city has me thinking only of the Yankees as having tons of fans everywhere, but I guess Mets fans do too. Attendance was nearly 20k, and I bet 5k were cheering for the New York sweep.

Seven down. Twenty-three to go.

Next up: San Diego Padres.

-apc.