Ernie Banks

erniebanksbaseballrookiecardThis is basically a response to Joe Posnanski’s post from yesterday. Over the past few months he’s slowly been leaking his “Top 100 Ballplayers of All-Time” list – which I highly recommend if you haven’t been following along. He’s been counting down from 100; he’s now at 55. So check in now, because the best is yet to come.

Number 55 on his list is Ernie Banks.

Mr. Cub.

Mr. Sunshine.

Everybody loved Ernie Banks because he was pretty much impossible to dislike. He was constantly smiling and played with a joy that goes unmatched to this day. He is most well known for his catchphrase “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…let’s play two!”

Here’s a section from Joe’s post:

And he expressed that joy for baseball in everything he did — in the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he played every single game, the way he made it feel like he was exactly where he wanted to be — no place on earth would be better.

“Maybe it’s sacrilege but I believe Banks was a con artist,” John Roseboro said. “No one smiles all the time, naturally, unless they’re putting you on and putting you on. Every day of our lives isn’t a good one.”

Only it was for Ernie Banks. Every day was a good day.

Two main comments I want to make about this and then I’ll be done with this blog for the day.

First, I want to touch on the tension that Roseboro mentions in that quote. I struggle with this regularly being on staff at a church and working with students. There are some days when I just don’t really feel very chipper. Especially in January* when getting out of bed sometimes feels like the most difficult part of my day.

* – Aren’t we all thankful that today is the last day of this retched month? Although, we’re supposed to get some seriously miserable weather tomorrow and into next week too. Woof. Six days until Spring Training…

To quote Mary J. Blige: “It ain’t all roses.”

Or to quote Kid President, “Some days you’ll get ice cream, and some days you won’t.”

And sometimes, if I’m honest, I have to put on a face and act more excited to take on the day than I truly am. I adopt a facade and smile and converse as if life is wonderful when it’s not. I think we all do that sometimes.

However, I also think something amazing happens when we fake it: we start to believe it ourselves.

Is our quality of life directly correlated to our attitude toward life?

One of the principles I believe in strongly – and I’m certain Ernie Banks did as well – is that if your attitude stinks, you’re going to have a terrible experience, but if you maintain a positive attitude, you’re going to have a positive experience. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy almost.

Granted there are times when this isn’t the case. Posnanski goes on to tell a story from Buck O’Neill of a doubleheader Banks played in 1962 when the Cubs were playing the Astros in the extreme August humidity of Houston. Miserable weather aside, Mr. Sunshine approached the game the same way he always did: overly positive and joyful.

He struck out three times in the first game.

And then he fainted before the second game.

And then he recovered enough to pinch hit in the ninth inning with the scored tied 5-5. Don McMahon struck him out.

“Beautiful day, Ernie?” Buck asked him in the clubhouse after the doubleheader and he had this mischievous smile on his face. Banks was crumpled by his locker and he was so exhausted and drained by the heat that he could barely look up. But then he too smiled.

“They’re all beautiful days, Buck,” he said. “Just that some days are more beautiful than others.”

Sometimes life hands you lemons, and sometimes life hands you grenades. Or, to toss in an overly utilized baseball cliche, sometimes life throws you a curveball.* I love Ernie’s response to Buck. Some days are just more beautiful than others, but I admire his consistent attitude. Even on the worst days, Banks still brought his same positive outlook on life.

* – It’s amazing how often baseball cliches get utilized in our American society. Which is worse: baseball cliches, or Christian cliches?

Okay that’s the first thing I want to say. Here’s the second:

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are living and those who are perishing.” [2 Corinthians 2:15]

That’s my favorite verse. And I think Ernie’s approach to baseball speaks to it greatly. Everyone loved Ernie Banks – even those who hated the Cubs, couldn’t hate Ernie Banks. He was just too likable.

He had an the aroma of joy that permeated out into everything he did – “the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he approached every single game” – his presence of joy was always there. His smile was his trademark.

What if we approached life as Christians the same way Ernie Banks approached baseball?

Is our faith, hope and love permeating into the world around us? Are we living life with an attitude that positively influences everyone we meet?

Just some thoughts on Ernie Banks. Who knows? Maybe stuff like this will find its way into my book

-apc.

UPDATE: Turns out I wrote this on Ernie Banks’ birthday. Didn’t even know.

The Value of Scorekeeping

photo 3

This is the visitor’s side of my scorecard from the 2012 NLDS Game 2: Nationals @ Cardinals. October 8, 2012…see below for a couple game notes.**

Does anyone actually keep score anymore?

The first person you encounter inside the ballpark is almost always some individual behind a kiosk of some sort selling programs, scorecards and $1 pencils. There’s never a line at these stations in my experience. Typically, they only serve to split the flow of pedestrian traffic in two. Some go left, some go right, and a very small percentage actually stop to pay for the utensils necessary to keep score.

Jim Caple at ESPN wrote an awesome piece this past fall about the art of scorekeeping. He argues that this practice has slowly gone by the wayside and very few individuals take the time to follow every play and document it themselves. Is it the rise of technology that has led to this decline? Of course, I can just hop on my phone and scroll through an entire game in a heartbeat. At my fingertips, I can recall the entire play-by-play…whether I watched the game or not.

But that’s not the point of scorekeeping, really.

Keeping score is a personal art form. Whenever I pick up a scorecard and pencil – which, admittedly, I only do about 50% of the time I go to the park – I find myself very stingy about who can mark in my scorecard. I’m not going to get up mid-inning and allow whoever is sitting next to me to keep track for me. It’s not the same. The marks will look different. There are a million ways to keep score, and there’s no telling if they’ll do it the way I do it.

It has to look consistent and it has to look good. Artists don’t randomly hand over their easels for someone else to paint on while they go to the bathroom. And writers don’t let someone else fill in for a paragraph while they go grab a corndog.

Maybe those are exaggerations, but the value is the same. Scorekeeping is an extension of the self in a new form. The handwriting of the player names on the left side has to be impeccable – at minimum it has to look consistent – and God forbid you ever have to break out the eraser and mar the whole program. Might as well go buy a new one and start from scratch.

There’s pressure to make it look nice. It’s a work of art. A sketchbook. At minimum it should be crisp, clean and legible: decipherable at a single glance.

At least, that’s how I like it to look. Perhaps others are less meticulous about their scorecards, but I suspect mine is a pretty common tale.

Besides, what if something great happens while you’re off taking a leak? What if I miss something? I have to be able to draw a little asterisk or draw an arrow with a short note in the margin – I can’t leave that up to someone else. That’s my work of art and I’m the one recording the memories.

Sure I can look at a play-by-play on my phone or computer and remember what happened. But there’s no way of remembering how mad you were when your guy slapped into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play, or how ecstatic you were when your opponent struck out looking with the bases juiced. These things you can read in the subtleties of the scorecard. Sometimes it’s found in the amount of pressure you drew the line to signify the end of the inning. Or maybe it’s more obvious – you could include a small “!” as a way of marking the moment.

But it’s not simply about seeing the details of the game. It’s about intentionally marking a memory. It’s also about following the game more intentionally. It’s about being fully present to the moment so you can fully cherish the outcome later.

I don’t have the perfect scorekeeping style – I’m self conscious of my scorecards in the same way I’m a tiny bit nervous every time I click “Publish” on these blogs. It’s a small piece of myself that can now be found outside of myself. My thoughts are recorded for others to read, react, ridicule and respond.

Someone could look at my scorecard and incredulously remark, “Oh, you keep score like THAT?” Weird.

It’s true. It’s about more than recording events. It’s about being present to the game and participating in the memory making.

This summer, I am committing to keeping score at every baseball game I attend. Especially in light of my new book project, I want to be fully present and attentive.

But not only to the game, but to my surroundings as well.

Let’s say there’s a streaker part way through the 4th inning of a game. First of all, hilarious, but also it’s a detail that adds to the story overall. Things like that will be marked and remembered.

Or let’s say Relish beats out Ketchup and Mustard and wins the hot dog race out at Kauffman Stadium. Depending on the course of the game, that could be the highlight of the evening of me. Better to remember a Relish victory than a home team defeat, in my opinion. You better believe that will be marked and remembered as well.

Or even if a fan I’m with hollers something particularly hilarious during the game. I especially look forward to this when I’m in Philadelphia in late June. Phillies fans (and Eagles fans and 76ers fans) are known for being relentlessly brutal to their own teams at times. If there was a contest to see which team’s fans booed their own players most, I guarantee Phillies fans would dominate. I want to remember things like that. Thus, I keep score.

One of my favorite moments in games is when there’s a foul ball duel happening between the batter and the pitcher. This pesky hitter keeps fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch; it becomes a head game – mental rock-paper-sissors guessing what pitch is coming next. Moments like this turn into a series of tallies next to an at bat documenting the number of pitches someone has thrown and how epic the stand off became. You don’t notice these face-offs on your smartphone. You remember them by marking them in your scorecard, and in your mind.

There is something tactile and connecting about keeping score. It draws us deeper into the game and heightens the memories. The game never draws out and feels boring, and it never passes you by without you noticing.

Scorekeeping maintains your presence. It allows you to actively participate in the experience of watching a baseball game. Suddenly you’re not simply being entertained, but you are joining in the proceedings yourself.

Maybe it’s not for you. Or maybe you were never taught how. The good news: there’s no wrong way to do it. Whatever works for you is all that matters.

-apc.

** – A couple interesting notes from the scorecard at the top: Garcia left the game after two innings with an injury which led to a carousel of pitchers and pinch-hitters to deal with. Always an adventure. Also, just looking at the name Suzuki on this card reminds me of these two Cardinals fans sitting next to me who kept making fun of his dramatics behind the plate. and this was the official emergence of Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th inning of this game: K, K, fluke 1B, K. Washington was completely overmatched. Cardinals smoked them 12-4.

Ballpark Tour 2014: Personal Hermeneutics

busch wrigley kThis is the third post related to my new project: visiting all 30 MLB ballparks this season and writing a book about the experience in the context of spirituality. Click these links to read the first two posts: announcing the project and how i created my itinerary. If you haven’t already, go pre-pre-order my book and help fund this project. Thanks errrbody!

I was sitting with a few of my friends in the cheapest seats available at Kauffman Stadium. Way up in the 400 sections. It was a gorgeous Thursday afternoon game. It was one of those games where you step outside in the morning and immediately start calling the people you have afternoon meetings with asking to reschedule because “something came up.”

The Twins were in town, and the fan split was pretty much even. Half KC. Half Minn. It’s crazy: Twins fans always seemed to have a strong contingency at Royals games before they moved to Target Field in 2010. They must’ve been itching for some fresh air outside the Metrodome. I don’t know if their traveling has dropped off since they made the switch, but I’m pretty sure this game was 2008 or 2009.

Despite the near-50/50 split, we were in a crowd of mostly Royals fans with the exception of a dad and his son a few rows down from us. The kid was probably 8 years old. He was eating Cracker Jack* and wearing a Joe Mauer #7 jersey. The dad was wearing Kirby Puckett’s #34.

* – “Cracker Jack” is plural, by the way. File that under “Things I Learned from Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

A Twins player was batting with two outs – I honestly don’t remember who it was, but lets say it was Delmon Young – and he struck out looking on a knee-buckling curve. Half of the crowd erupted in cheers. I was right with them and shouted out, “Sit down Delmon! Try taking the bat off your shoulder next time!”

The kid down in front of me – the Twins fan – turns around, and squints up in my direction looking simultaneously perplexed and furious.

The Royals come to bat. The first hitter up, Joey Gathright, singles and the Royals chatter raises up a notch. I clap my hands a few times and holler something down to the runner on first base. The whole section is into it. The next batter doubles, and Gathright – who is insanely fast – scores easily from first base. We go bananas.

I pause from my cheering when I notice the kid in the Mauer jersey turned around again. This time he’s giving me a serious death stare. I make eye contact with him and he gasps, panics and abruptly turns back around as if I was the South Bend Shovel Slayer. Then he taps his dad on the shoulder and gestures back toward our group. His dad laughs, shakes his head a bit and pats him on the shoulder.

The kid takes another quick glance back at me then turns his attention back to the game.

I nudge my buddies and clue them in to the kid’s antics. We start experimenting with our shouts starting with the general, “Here we go, Royals!” to more specific comments directed at the Twins players with funny names like “Nick Punto” and “Boof Bonser”. We space the comments out every few minutes so that the Puckett/Mauer Family doesn’t get wise and figure out what we’re doing.

And the kid turns around every single time.

And every time he wields the same puzzled stare.

And then it hits me: he doesn’t understand why I’m not rooting for the Twins too.

I imagine this kid’s whole life has been Twins baseball, and I wonder if he’s ever encountered fans of another team. He’s probably angry that we are cheering against his team, and it probably doesn’t really make sense why anyone would do something so ridiculous. He’s probably wondering why would anyone do something silly like that? The Twins are the best, after all. He’s been raised a Twins fan, and that’s all he knows. I wonder if he’s discovering for the first time that there are other ways of cheering besides his own.

And you know what, we’re all like Kid Mauer.

It might not be the Twins, and we’ve probably (hopefully) encountered alternative perspectives by now, but depending on our family of origin and where we grew up, we have learned certain ways of thinking, certain values and beliefs. From the moment we enter the world we begin a sequence of sampling, testing and drawing conclusions on the world around us. The team we root for is rarely a conscious decision on our own part. Most of us have been groomed in our ways by our family history and our geographical location.

For example, I was raised a Cardinals fan in Kansas City.

My great-grandfather was a Cardinals fan living in the bootheel of Missouri. He raise my grandpa to cheer for Stan Musial, Red Schoendiest and Dizzy Dean. Then Grandpa raised my dad in the years of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. And sure enough, I was raised in the days of Willie McGee, Jack Clark and, one of my top two all-time favorites, Ozzie Smith*.

* – Alongside Bo Jackson, if you MUST know…more on that very soon.

Cardinals baseball was life for me in the 80s and 90s. It was all I knew. And as such, there is a list of qualities I bring to the game of baseball when I’m rooting for the Cardinals. For example, Cardinals fans are expected to…

  • hate/make fun of the Cubs
  • label myself as one of the “Best Fans in Baseball”
  • hate the Reds too
  • whine about Dan Denkinger the 1985 World Series
  • brag about the 11 World Series championships
  • root for and defend their allegiance no matter what

I have adopted all of these during my life at some point. These don’t make me a better person or a worse person, they’re simply undercurrents of being a Cardinals fan. Probably overgeneralized, sure. And I’m sure you have more scathing things to add to this list of you’re a STL hater, and I’m sure you’re offended by it if you’re an STL lover.

But then I grew up in Kansas City. And with every passing day, I become a bigger KC Royals fan. I don’t know the history of the Royals like I do the Cardinals, but over time I’ve grown to love this team. Through all it’s futility over the last 20 years, I have come out rooting harder than ever. In fact, I’m often asked, “If there’s a 1985 rematch – STL vs. KC – who would you root for?” And today, my answer is easy: I’d be for my hometown team. Mostly because I’ve seen the Cardinals play in the World Series a few times now and win a couple. But also because the Royals fan in me wants it more.

But my Royals fandom has established a totally different outlook on the game and how I approach it. Pretty much all Royals fans…

  • complain about teams with larger payrolls
  • loathe the Yankees and everything they stand for
  • begin every new season with unfounded hope
  • brace for imminent disappointment
  • expect a different manager every few seasons
  • hate the St. Louis Cardinals
  • root for and defend their allegiance no matter what

Obviously, I have never hated the Cardinals because of how I was raised, but the rest of these are accurate. I gripe all the time about the unfairness of our small market in Kansas City. What if the Royals could sign elite players to $100M contracts over 6 years? The Yankees do it with little hesitation. It drives us all nuts. It’s an unfair game! Unlike the Cards, there aren’t many “Royals haters” out there, so it should be easy to look at this list, shrug and agree these all make some sense.

All of that is to say – I have a certain set of values, memories, allegiances and enemies based on where I was raised and by whom. And now, when I walk into a stadium, I bring my own personal hermeneutic with me.

Personal Herme-whaaaaaaat?

When we read any text – billboards, headlines, Scripture, novels – we bring with us our own memories, emotions, histories and traditions. We each have our own point of view. When Yankees, Royals, Orioles and Cubs fans read the headline, “Masahiro Tanaka to Yanks for $155M,” they each have a different reaction. Something like…

  • Yankees: “Aw yeah! We got him! Welcome to the Bronx, Tanaka! Let’s bring home championship #28!”
  • Royals: “Zero surprise. Typical Yankee payroll nonsense. Grrrr.”
  • Orioles: “Oh great. Now we have to face that guy 5 times this year. So long AL East division race.”
  • Cubs: “Dang. I really thought we were going to bid enough to sign that guy. Not that it would matter.”

Picture it like a pair of sunglasses. I see the world a certain way because I’m Caucasian, in my 20s, American, Christian, married, from the Midwest, attended the public school system in an upper-middle class setting – you get it. I also bring psychosocial dynamics from my family of origin, both positive and negative. I bring years of relationships, conversations, histories and memories. Joy and sorrow. Celebrations and tragedies. It’s not necessarily good, bad, ugly or beautiful. It just is.

Our personal hermeneutic informs how we naturally interpret everything based on life’s experiences.

If we each have our own personal hermeneutic, when we have a shared experience, our reaction to that experience is naturally going to differ from person to person.

Hence, why I got fired up when Gathright scored, and why Kid Mauer wanted to throw his Jack in my face. Only I was self-aware enough to realize the dynamics happening between us as rival fans. The kid was not. He was experiencing a clash of personal hermeneutics, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.

I think self-awareness is so underrated in today’s world. Amid the informational noise of social media, technology, television and entertainment, I think we’ve become distracted from actually discovering who we are and what has impacted our identity, and our personal hermeneutic. We also forget to consider how our perspective and our reactions, rub up against the perspectives of those around us.

Throughout this project, I want my experiences in each ballpark to be as authentic as possible. I want to understand and experience these games based on the personal hermeneutic of those around me.

Buck O’Neil, the former Negro Leagues star and later scout and coach for the Cubs and Royals, used to always root for the home team. No matter the team, he was there to support the fans that came out to cheer for their team that day.  Nobody likes to celebrate while everyone else is glum. You go to cheer for the home team; at least, that was his motto.

In his book, The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski tells a story of Buck leaving a game in Houston disappointed because the Cubs had beat them. “Buck should have been happy with the result, since he had worked with the Cubs organization for more than thirty years. But we were in Houston, and Buck always wanted the home team to win. He never did like seeing the home fans sad.”

One of my disciplines as I enter into this crazy ballpark tour, is to adopt Buck’s mindset. I will try my best to remove my personal hermeneutic and approach the game from the perspective of the individuals I’m sitting among at each venue. In other words, I’m rooting for the home team.

I want to be self-aware enough to understand what it is that I am bringing into each of these games and leave it at the door. I want to enter the gates expecting to experience community and friendship and camaraderie in new environments and without the baggage I bring along. I want to ditch my Kansas City/Cardinals sunglasses and put on a different pair at every game.

It will also give me a better gauge of what it is truly like to be a fan of these teams. Will I step into Fenway Park and allow the history and legend to permeate my soul? Can I enter Yankee Stadium without wrecking the experience with my pre-conceived judgements of Royals fandom?

But…will I root against my own teams?

If you saw my itinerary in my last post, you’ll notice two major emotional conflicts for me in the first and last games on the list. March 31: STL @ CIN and September 24: KC @ CLE. Somehow, someway, I’m going to have to ignore the tension I already feel, and enter Opening Day as a Reds fan. I can do that for one game, right? There are 162, and one game isn’t going to make a difference, right?! It’s a tall order, but I’m going to try my best. By far the more difficult task will be the Cleveland game. I just hope* the Royals have locked up a playoff spot by late September. Otherwise this may be a struggle.

* – there I go with my excessive Royals hopes again.

So as you follow me along the journey, and you see an Instagram update from U.S. Cellular Field, and it says “Go Sox!*,” please, refrain from blasting me with hateful texts and murderous tweets. Don’t look at me like Kid Mauer did on that beautiful Thursday at The K. Try to understand there’s a larger purpose behind it all. And if I have to shelf my fandom for a day to more securely put myself in another’s shoes, so be it.

* – Even as I typed this, I struggled to write the entire name of my least favorite team in the entire MLB. I panicked and just said “Sox”. Help me, Lord, to overcome.

I hope you understand. And I hope I can be remotely successful.

-apc.

Past posts on my project…
APC is Writing a Book
The Itinerary
Kickstarter Campaign

Ballpark Tour 2014: The Itinerary

MLB-teams-map

A couple days ago, I broke the news that I am writing a book. I’ll be spending the 2014 Major League Baseball season traveling the country visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. This experience, I hope, will provide a skeleton outline of my book, and the countless stories will be the backbone. For more information on my project and why I’m doing it, check out my Kickstarter and consider helping me fundraise by pre-pre-ordering the book before 3/1.

So this trip. Its going to be nuts. Even now that the Kickstarter has launched and that I’m under contract with a publisher, I’m struggling to comprehend the fact that I’ll be traveling to 30 different cities within 6 months.* It seems impossible, yet I look at my calendar and there it is. All 30 cities in one MLB season. It looks foolproof and easy on paper…not unlike my fantasy football team this year. Hopefully this pans out better than that did.

* – Throw a trip to Myanmar in there too. I’ll be traveling there in March for two weeks with my CBTS seminary cohort taking classes at the Myanmar Institute of Theology. Yep, that’s MIT.

Want to hear something even crazier? When I first had this idea, I wanted to do all 30 of these games in 30 days. It’s doable, and it’s been done before. But as I thought about the writing process and I pictured myself coming home exhausted, sleeping for eighteen consecutive hours, waking up and trying to write a book…and spending most of my time asking myself, “wait, where was Game 6 again? Oh yeah, San Diego. And who were they playing? Oh gosh, maybe Washington? Colorado? Dodgers? Shoot I don’t remember.”

So I wised up. And I spread it out over the entire season. Here’s a look at my current itinerary:

  • March 31: STL @ CIN
  • April 11: WAS @ ATL
  • April 14: SEA @ TEX 
  • April 15: KC @ HOU
  • April 16: NYM @ ARI
  • April 17: COL @ SD
  • May 7: NYY @ LAA
  • May 8: SF @ LAD 
  • May 10: KC @ SEA 
  • May 11: WAS @ OAK 
  • May 12: ATL @ SF 
  • May 18: BAL @ KC
  • June 3: ARI @ COL
  • June 25: OAK @ NYM 
  • June 26: MIA @ PHI
  • June 27: BOS @ NYY 
  • June 30: CHC @ BOS
  • July 1: COL @ WAS 
  • July 2: TEX @ BAL
  • July 18: TB @ MIN
  • Aug 5: BOS @ STL 
  • Aug 6: TEX @ CWS 
  • Aug 7: SF @ MIL 
  • Aug 8: TB @ CHC
  • Sept 17: NYY @ TB 
  • Sept 18: WAS @ MIA
  • Sept 21: MIL @ PIT
  • Sept 22: SEA @ TOR
  • Sept 23: CWS @ DET 
  • Sept 24: KC @ CLE

(It’s okay if you just scrolled through all that quickly without really looking at it. I understand.)

Not only will spreading it out make the entire project more manageable, but I imagine the storylines will be way more enjoyable as well. I’ll get to follow teams from start to finish. If this was the 2013 season, I’d remember how terrible the Dodgers were early, and how Don Mattingly was on the hot seat for his job, but then the Human Firecracker, Yasiel Puig, showed up and Hanley Ramirez got healthy and the Dodgers went on a tear and became one of the NL’s top teams. Storylines like that.

By spreading it out, the entire season comes better info focus. By zooming out, the stories become larger and the entire journey is able to gain more momentum.

The toughest part of creating the itinerary is maneuvering through the MLB schedule itself. On any given day of the week, only half the teams are playing at home. Throw in off-days and an All-Star break, and there’s something like a 40% chance* that any given team is actually playing in the city between Opening Day and the end of the season.

* – Just did the math…between March 31 and September 28 there are 210 days and each team only has 81 home games. Which makes it a 38.6% chance the team is in town. Basically, I nailed it.

So where to begin my scheduling?

Obviously I have to take my own personal schedule into account – I’m still working full-time and taking classes full-time through May and beginning again in August – but the best place to begin, I discovered, was finding the times where nearby teams were in town at the same time. I clustered teams together into a few geographical groups…

Chicago +1: Cubs, White Sox. Brewers
The Californians: Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres
The East Coast: Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Red Sox
Florida: Rays, Marlins
Lake Erie: Tigers, Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates
Texas: Astros, Rangers
Middle of Nowhere*: Mariners, Rockies, Braves, Diamondbacks, Minnesota
Missouri…ish: Cardinals, Royals, Cincinnati

* – also a terrific Hanson album. #mmmbop

I knew I wanted to go to Cincinnati for Opening Day – the Reds have a long history of doing Opening Day (more on that later), and it served as the “official” OD location each year until recently. And since I live in Kansas City and St. Louis is only a few hours away, the “Missourish” section was easiest and most flexible. I decided to begin by finding the dates for the most difficult trips first.

One thing I discovered very early: cities with multiple MLB teams don’t schedule them at the same time. In order to hit two teams in one trip, I had to catch the last game of one series and the first game of the next. For Chicago, having Milwaukee in the mix, that was the most difficult task. I found my answer on August 6-8: the last game of the White Sox series, a Thursday afternoon game up in Milwaukee, and the first game of a Cubs series. Book it.

Then I checked out SF/OAK & LAD/LAA. Found both sets ending and beginning series right by each other in early May. Stuck a quick flight to Seattle in the middle…book it.

Then I went searching for NYY/NYM & BAL/WAS. Found the former in late June, the latter on the first two days of July. I squeezed Philly and Boston in between…book it.

I had a couple different possibilities for the Lake Erie group. I could hit the west side cities – Cleveland and Detroit – as a part of the Chicago trio. I could hit Toronto and Pittsburgh in between the New York and Baltimore/DC sections too. There was some flexibility there.

Then I looked at the teams I was dealing with and realized the right answer: I need to visit these games in September. As a fan of both the Cardinals and the Royals, I’ve watched the AL and NL Central compete over the last few years and know it will be a dogfight for the last two wild card games – Cleveland*, Detroit, Pittsburgh…and if Toronto can have a bounce back year anything like last year’s Red Sox did, it should be the perfect storm of drama leading up to the playoffs. And with all four teams playing home games the second to last week of the season, that’s where I want to be as the season is winding down….book it.

* – Especially if my Royals are fighting for a spot too, that last game in Cleveland could get pretty exciting.

Then I noticed that Tampa and Miami were playing back to back just a couple days before the Lake Erie tour…book it.

Here’s something funny: it took me months – months! – to remember that i was already going to Denver in June with my youth group. Duh! Sure enough, the Rockies were in town the exact days we were going to be there. Guess what students?! I just figured out what our evening excursion is going to be on June 3…book it.

So that leaves the two Texas teams, 60% of the Middle of Nowheres and the Padres. What do I do with a smörgåsbord like that? Solution: bunch em all together, get em out of the way early, and move from east to west so I’m gaining hours and not losing them.

I found a stretch in April that worked out almost perfectly: Atlanta to Arlington to Houston to Phoenix to San Diego. Six days. Five games. Book it.

That just leaves Minnesota.

And I am NOT going there until it is nice and toasty this summer. Did you guys hear it was -36F there yesterday morning?! Why does anyone live there?! I just don’t understand how that’s possible. But wait a minute…where’s the All-Star Game this year?

Minnesota.

Ooooooo. So tempting. We’ll see if I can make that happen, but if not, the Twins are for sure in town the weekend immediately after the ASG so that can serve as a safety net regardless of if I can figure out a way to finagle my way into the ASG or not. Also, I’m still uncertain whether going to the All-Star Game at Target Field actually counts – it completes the ballpark requirement, but I won’t even see the Twins play! So I might end up spending a few days there and hitting both just to make sure I’m covered.

Plus the closest IKEA is in Minneapolis*, so….book it.

* – That is, until September 2014, when we finally get one in Kansas City! I hear we’re getting color television soon too. And Creed was just here a few months ago. Look out world.

So there you have it. The itinerary split up into major sections…

1. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)
2. The West Coast (May 7-13)
3. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
4. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
5. Florida & Lake Erie (September 17-24)

…with a few single game additions in between…

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. Dressed to the Nines Day*, Kansas City (May 18)
3. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)
4. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
5. World Series Rematch*, St. Louis (Aug 5)

* – More on these later. For now, you can get some more info in these two places: Dressed to the Nines Day on Facebook and this Instagram post from before Game 4.

And when you put it all together it looks a lot like a Table of Contents. Interesting.

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)

3. The West Coast (May 7-13)
4. Dressed to the Nines Day, Kansas City (May 18)
5. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)

6. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
7. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
8. World Series Rematch, St. Louis (Aug 5)

9. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
10. Florida + Lake Erie (September 17-24)

So there you have it. My itinerary and how it came about.

It may not stay all the same. (Read: it probably won’t all stay the same.) There may be opportunities along the way to hit games earlier or later than planned. There also might be a missed flight or flat tire or death or dismemberment that may throw a wrench in the whole thing…sorta like my fantasy football team when half the team gets injured. Things will happen outside my control, and I hope those make for some of the best moments in the whole book.

Or, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, “The road emerged only as I walked it.”

-apc.

PS – Thanks to everyone who has pledged to this project so far – I’m 17% of the way to my goal in just 2 days – and thanks in advance to those of you who are going to follow this link and help me out by pre-pre-ordering the book.

Image cred: http://moneyqanda.com/major-league-baseball-stadiums/

Baseball and Spirituality: APC is writing a book!!!

photo-mainOkay everyone. I’ve got some killer news to share…

I’m writing a book exploring the spirituality of baseball.

…but wait, it gets better…

To create a narrative framework for this project, during the 2014 MLB season I will be traveling the country visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. These stories will be the foundation for the resulting book.

…HOLY SMOKES. THIS IS HUGE.

I’ve been exploring this possibility for about a year now. Researching, studying, making connections between the two in my brain and putting together short sample pieces in hopes that this could actually come to fruition. A few months ago, I put up a pseudo-cryptic post asking for research suggestions, and then last week I posted on Instagram a photo of Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati utilizing the hashtag: #ballparktour2014.

Then this past week I got confirmation from The House Studio, a publisher in Kansas City, that they want to partner with me on this project and help create and produce this book.

So this isn’t just a hypothetical dream anymore. It’s happening. And it’s happening soon.

Something even cooler about this project: my seminary, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, is letting me utilize this book as my capstone project to complete the program and finish my Master’s of Divinity. Pretty awesome, huh?

I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign as a way of doing some fundraising, but more importantly help market the book. Assuming I reach my fundraising goal, you can pre-pre-order the book by contributing to the campaign.

That’s all I’ll say about it for now, but expect updates, news, tweets, blogs and more to start popping up from me all over the place. Thanks for helping me out everyone. I’m so thankful for each of you and can’t wait to get rolling. It’s going to be an exciting 2014!!

Here we go!

-apc.

yaz-ee-el pweeg.

NLCS_Cardinals_Dodgers_Baseball-0e50f-7532Yasiel Puig came out of nowhere, and even now, months after his major league debut, people still aren’t totally sure how to say his name. It is pronounced “pew” or “poo”? and is it “ig”,”egg” or “eeg”? I’ve heard it every which way all season long. Just yesterday I heard Mike Shannon – the Cardinals syllable-slurring-and-possibly-inebriated radio broadcaster on KMOX – just say “pig”. And his first name isn’t any picnic either. Are there three syllables or two? I honestly don’t know.

I pronounce it  “Yaz-ee-el Pweeg” – long “e” in the middle of both names – and I think that’s right, but I’m no where near confident enough to make a wager on it.

Regardless of pronunciation, the dude can play. He is one of the quickest players I’ve seen. The 22-year-old Cuban somehow got a glove on that flare David Freese hit out in shallow right field that I thought was headed down into the corner for a triple. He was an inch from catching it. And how about his big hit from last night? Despite celebrating at the plate and not running hard out of the batters box, he somehow legged out a stand up triple with absolutely no play. He can change the game with his speed.

He can also hit. Say what you will about the Dodgers resurgence – whether it was all Puig’s doing or whether he was the product of being called up at the same time Hanley Ramirez came off the DL – and sure, he was 0-10 with 6 K’s in the NLCS going into last night’s game. Every player has ups and downs. But you don’t hit .319 and slug .534 in 104 games as a rookie unless you’ve got something special.

And that something special he has: passion. This dude loves to play this game. He’s a competitor, he is having fun, and he loves to play the game of baseball. Following last night’s game, he explained through a translator, “I was able to get back to really having fun. That’s all it really is for me, is having fun playing the game.”

You can tell his teammates love him too. Most, including manager Don Mattingly, will roll their eyes at his antics, but always with a giant smile. It’s just Puig being Puig.

All season long his passion has drawn the ridicule of fans, players and members of the media. He’s a polarizing personality, so this stuff is bound to happen. This morning’s headline is “Beltran irked by Puig’s antics.” And I can’t blame the guy. I watched Puig hit that triple, celebrating twice on a single trip around the bases, and probably muttered something derogatory under my breath too. I am a Cards fan, after all. The comments are surprising coming from Beltran, who after Game 1 was being made fun of by teammates for being unnaturally calm prior to his walkoff single in the Cardinals 3-2 win.

“It’s like you’ve got to put a mirror under his nose to check if he’s breathing, he’s so calm, cool and relaxed,” said Matt Carpenter after that game, “It’s like jazz music is playing in his head.” No wonder Beltran is annoyed by Puig; the two couldn’t be more different in their playing style.

If I were a Dodgers fan, I’d love the guy. Not saying I’d already be rocking his #66 jersey, but I would certainly be defending my guy from the criticism he’s drawn over the past season. He has the ability to make his teammates better. He’s the type of guy that, when his passion is channeled healthily, can energize and excite a team towards winning. His energy is infectious.

Besides, at the end of the day, he’s just having fun. And isn’t that the whole point of baseball anyway? In an age where massive contracts and player demands are so prevalent, it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about just having fun. Of course, he is a rookie, so it will be interesting to see how his perspective changes when he has an opportunity to make some serious dough. But for right now, it’s a nice thing to hear. (UPDATE: You gotta read this Sports Pickle article on Puig. Hilarious.)

Like I said, if I were a Dodgers fan, I’d love Yasiel Puig.

But I’m not a Dodgers fan.

Here’s my only real problem with Puig: his passion clouds his ability to play the game intelligently. So far this season, his antics have largely helped rather than hurt the Dodgers season and playoff run. He has been a lightning rod, a spark plug, whatever you want to call him, and that has turned this Dodgers team into a winner. But there have been moments where his ability to negatively impact the game have surfaced.

The first was June 11. In a game against the Diamondbacks, Puig was hit in the face with an Ian Kennedy fastball and somehow stayed in the game. An inning later, there was a bench clearing brawl when Kennedy hit pitcher Zack Greinke too. Puig can be seen right in the middle of it all. He’s one of the first ones to get into Kennedy’s face. He can be seen throwing punches, pushing players and truly seeking out opportunities to fight. Here’s a video of the brawl.

Eight players were suspended, but miraculously, Puig wasn’t one of them.

Then on two different occasions – June 27 and July 3 – his reckless playing style ran him into two different outfield walls. The first play took him full tilt into the right field wall on a home run. The second play (which he made) injured his hip and he would later have to leave the game.

Then on August 24, Don Mattingly said something interesting

“He’s an energetic young player with such passion. Sometimes he goes out if control. But it’s never malicious. It’s never, ‘I’m missing the cutoff man because I want to.’ I don’t want to break this kid’s spirit. I like him playing the way he plays. But like with anybody else, I just want him to play intelligently.”

Then just a few days later, Mattingly benched him for doing exactly what he was afraid might happen: his passion was getting in the way of his ability to make small intelligent plays that impact the game negatively. In this case, he didn’t slide to break up a double play.

And then last night, in the wake of his headline-stealing performance, he did the exact same thing.

Puig hit a leadoff single to get the Dodgers going in the bottom of the 7th. Then Juan Uribe hit a slow grounder to the shortstop, and Puig nonchalantly jogged through the bag at second. Uribe was doubled up at first, and then AJ Ellis grounded out to end the inning. Not saying it would’ve made a difference, but when you play 162 games plus a potential dozen or so playoff games, little things like that are what lead to one or two small losses along the way.

Baseball is a game of inches, and players have to do whatever they can to make sure those inches are in their favor.

For example, last night, Jon Jay missed three fly balls to centerfield that could have been caught if he had played them properly. (Check my three tweets 1, 2, and 3 – from last night for more on that fiasco. Grr.) None of them were errors, but they led to all three Dodger runs. If he makes those plays, who knows how the game finishes? It’s the little things that go unnoticed and aren’t found in the box score that often swing an entire game.

The minutia of baseball is crucial to success, and Yasiel Puig’s reckless abandon, while exciting, puts the minutia in jeopardy.

Sure, it will be overshadowed by his triple and the way he energized a team that had been near-comatose in St. Louis. As has been the case all year, his little errors in judgement aren’t leading to Dodger losses…yet. When they do, it will be interesting to see how the Dodger faithful react to the same passion and antics that are ticking off his competition and rival fan bases today.

If he shores up those fundamentals, he’s got another fan out of me. Until then, I’m with Beltran.

-apc.

photo credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

i am researching spirituality and baseball, and i need your help.

creationover the past six months or so, i have gone on a complete baseball book binge. i am in the early phases of doing extensive research on the topics of baseball and spirituality. i believe there are countless connections to be made between the two, and i hope to explore those intersections in the future. this is just a quick sampling, but for example…

  • what can opening day in major league baseball teach us about our perspective of hope in the world?
  • how does tradition influence both our fandom and how we understand God and how we approach Scripture?
  • what can we learn about sacred space from ballparks like wrigley field and fenway park?
  • what are blessings and curses, and what involvement does God have in them?
  • how do faith and doubt get played out in our life as fans and as spiritual beings?
  • theologically speaking, what is the importance of playing games like baseball at all?
  • what is the role of storytelling in all of this? how do we tell stories and why are they necessary?
  • what is the importance family systems and self-differentiation in the life of a baseball fan and as a human being?
  • what role do myth and history play in both baseball and spiritual life?
  • what can we learn about the importance of community and camaraderie from ballplayers and fans?
  • does God even care about winning or losing?

as a seminary student, i’m right in the middle of my theological education, but i am working hard to educate myself on the game of baseball as well: histories, biographies, stories, movies, essays, fiction and non-fiction. if you follow me on twitter, you know that baseball is pretty much all i have anything to say anything about nowadays. (also, on a somewhat funny side note: i’ve lost 11 twitter followers in the past two weeks. october baseball has that effect, and i refuse to apologize about single mindedness.)

anyway. here’s what i need from you guys – resource suggestions. as you read the questions above, what books (theological or baseball-related) come to mind? what baseball memories do these questions conjure in your mind? or maybe you have other questions that i didn’t include here, what are they?

here’s a list of the baseball books i’ve already got in my initial arsenal…

The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract – Bill James
The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion and American Culture – Christopher H. Evens & William R. Herzog II
Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game – George Vecsey
The Machine – Joe Posnanski
The Soul of Baseball – Joe Posnanski
The Head Game – Baseball Seen from the Pitcher’s Mound – Roger Kahn
The Boys of Summer – Roger Kahn
Baseball as a Road to God – John Sexton
The Natural – Bernard Malamud
The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbauch
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – Michael Lewis
The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. – Robert Coover
Shoeless Joe – W.P. Kinsella
The Physics of Baseball – Robert K. Adair, Ph.D.
The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told – Jeff Silverman
The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stitches – Zack Hample
30 Ballparks in 30 Days: A Journey from the Road – Travis Greene
Up, Up and Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos – Jonah Keri (pre-ordered)
The Kevin Costner Baseball Trilogy

obviously this is nothing close to a completely holistic list, so which ones am i missing? so fellow baseball fans…what do i need to read? any favorites of yours? what major books am i leaving out?

…and ministry, theology, church friends…what resources would you recommend as i explore these questions?

thanks everyone. excited to see where this research goes!

-apc.

photo source: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq/files/2008/04/creation.jpg