Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Health and Jesus, er um God, er um Whoever, er um Whatever

OK, this is going to be a long one. But mainly because it's 2, yes 2, 2 posts in one. Wait, that was a mint gum thing wasn't it?
I ventured onto Cathy's blog tonight, something I have only done once before. I don't know why, it just seems kind of private, and I don't want her holding back because she's afraid I'll read something she doesn't want me to.
Tonight however I'm writing in the hospital room where we have lived now for the past 2 weeks. We have been on a roller coaster ride since we got here, with several instances of uncertainty and fear about what might be happening and it seemed okay to see if she had been writing anything lately. I'll get back to our adventures in Hospital Land soon, but that's not what got me writing tonight
It turns out that the last time she had written was over a month ago, and she was relating some thoughts she had experienced with regard to me and the rest of the family and how we would still be here and would get by after she is gone. Not the kind of thing you want to dwell on constantly, but certainly a normal line of thought given her prognosis. There was 1 comment to her post, from an anonymous writer. This person thought Cathy was thinking too much, and about the wrong things. That Cathy should find Jesus and her life would be better.
I posted the following comment -

Interesting, the idea that changing the way you refer to God can somehow make your illness go away. If God decides to invoke a miracle, which is incredibly unlikely, he will do it regardless of what name you call him by. I'm absolutely positive that if you look at the instances of "miraculous recoveries" you would find equal numbers of beneficiaries from all walks of faith, and probably some from people with no faith. Although I really question how many people truly have NO faith. I think most that claim that just don't have a name for their belief, so they don't acknowledge that it exists. And I did say most, not all.
God has made a lot of lives better through Jesus. He's also made a lot of lives better through other avenues. I tend to give him credit for making possible all the good things that go on in our world. It seems unlikely to me that if good things happen to someone who hasn't "found" Jesus, someone besides God must be responsible. I certainly don't consider the undisputed fact that sometimes bad things happen to Christians to be proof that God doesn't like Christianity.
And as for thinking about the right things - I do think one can dwell on the negative aspects of life too much. But the truth is we all have thought at one time or another about life after we have gone, and how the people and the world we know will react to our departure. At least I have, and I think it creeps in there a little more often as we age. So if one knows that one's life is, in all likelihood, not going to be as long as one would hope, it seems only natural that you would think these thoughts even more often. And the best way to get past them is to voice them so you can move on to better thoughts, instead of suppressing them and have them stay under the surface, always there.
Then again, what do I know?
Maybe I think too much as well.

OK, so that's a long comment. But I really wanted to say so much more. I condensed almost every aspect of what I was saying as I wrote that. I didn't mention that if one gives God credit for all the good stuff, you kind of have to give him credit for the bad as well. Oh, I know, there's the old Satan thing you can lay that off on, but seriously now. Are you going to tell me you believe there's another God out there as powerful as "your" God, which he would have to be if he can make things happen that God doesn't want to happen. No, I kind of think that God created all these wondrous possibilities, and that he created a perfectly balanced universe, meaning that the wondrous possibilities automatically necessitate some not so wondrous possibilities.
And another thing. I used the old "he" term for God. It's just easier and flows better if you use either he or she instead of placing the word God, or G*d, or Adonai, or whatever, in a single sentence 3 or 4 times. Maybe I should have used "she" to make a point, I often do, but it seemed a little combative, which I was not trying to be. The thing is, I don't visualize God as a "he" or a "she" or even as a carbon based life form at all. I don't buy the whole "made us in his image" thing. To give God physical characteristics seems actually a little condescending to me.
And that is also why I can't buy the Christian philosophy of "believe that Jesus is my Son or you will rot in Hell". Forget the argument about whether he is or isn't. That's another post entirely.
But if he is, I still wouldn't assign the VERY human trait of vanity to God. And that's what that philosophy sounds like me. "Do it my way or suffer eternally". Doesn't even sound "Christian." Sounds "Bushian", maybe, but that's another post as well. Sounds angry, hateful, arrogant, and vengeful. All of which seem like very human characteristics. None of which sound like the God I commune with. Of course I have a rather eccentric view of God, one that I will not delve into right now. Suffice to say that it encompasses a lot of beliefs and science as well. I do consider myself to be part of the Jewish community, but one reason I do so is that Judaism allows me space to have my own beliefs without ostracizing me or condemning me for thinking for myself and developing my own unique relationship with God.
Then again, maybe I just think too much

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Title of This Post Is : A Title!

After, let's see, about 18 years of involvement in Little League Baseball, and 15 years as a manager, a team I coach has brought home a district title.
District Champions. It has such a nice ring.
On Sunday afternoon my Big League team, that's the 16 - 18 year olds, went to Walkertown and beat them 8-6 to end our season at 14-2. The game had been started the week before and called due to rain in the top of the second inning with us down 2 - 0 and 2 outs in our half of the inning. I will not repeat the details of our season, the build-up to this game, or the reason we were playing a district title game after the end of the Big League World Series. If you haven't done so, you should read the post just before this one. Suffice to say that if Walkertown had won this game, we would have been tied for the season and would have played a "playoff" game immediately afterward.
Mmmmm, 1-game playoff. Familiar and not very comforting territory for Red Sox fans.
The completion did not start at all well. In the original start, we had a man at the plate with no one on base, 2 outs, and a 2-2 count when a huge bolt of lightening hit nearby and the umps cleared the field. It never cleared up and we were sent home after an hour wait.
When we resumed last Sunday, the player at bat was not at this game. So I had to send a poor kid up with 2 outs and 2 strikes who wasn't even in the game the previous time. The home team, Walkertown, took the field, went through all their warm-ups, and then ran right back into their dugout after my batter looked at a called strike 3 on the first pitch of the day. Not a very common occurance I'm sure.
In the bottom of the 2nd inning Walkertown scored 2 more and we were down 4 - 0. We pushed 1 across in the top of the 3rd, but they got it back with a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th. At the beginning of the 5th inning, down 5 - 1, I found myself in a good spot with my lead-off hitter up first. I called my first 5 batters out in front of the dugout and told them I did not want to have to play a second game, that I needed them to get serious right now. I told them not to give in to the ego thing and try to match the guy's home run with one of their own. Just get me some baserunners I said, quit chasing the high shit he was throwing, take the walk if he wouldn't bring it down, and hit line drives if he did. The first man walked, the next 4 got singles. During the 5th man's at-bat, with men on 2nd and 3rd, he asked for time as the pitcher, who had gone to a wind-up, was starting his motion. The umpire apparently thought it was too late to do so and said nothing. But their pitcher stopped mid-motion and stepped back - Balk! 1-run game! My man then ripped a single to tie it, and the next man added a 5th straight hit just for good measure.
Now tied with 2 on, their guy hit our next batter to load 'em up, and that was it for him. We proceeded to score 3 more off of his relief on an error, a walk and an RBI groundout.
They scored 1 more in the bottom of that 5th inning, and I started warming up my closer. But my starter made it through the 6th with no more damage and I was able to bring in my closer in the end to face their 2, 3, and 4 hitters. He struck out the 1st, got the next one to ground out right back to himself, and struck out the last one for an emphatic victory. Playoff game my ass!
I said at the beginning that "a team I coached" had won a championship, not that I had. That's really how I feel. I do keep referring to it as "my" first title, but these guys did this themselves. All I did was make sure that they were having fun, at least as much as possible. And it's interesting how many parents have mentioned to me that this was the 1st time their son had fun playing for a team in several years, since they started high school in most cases. I guess these high school coaches are so absorbed in their image and their win-loss record that they push the kids past the point of it being any fun at all. They say they are trying to give the kid a chance to "make it" but seriously, almost none, if any at all, of these kids will even play college ball, forget pro ball. It's a game. They love the game already or they wouldn't be there. Don't take that love away from them. If they have the tools, they'll get their shot. Baseball has the most all-encompassing system of finding talent that exists. I can't tell you how many scouts I've met myself at various USSSA or showcase events, just checking out some kid they heard something about and looking over everyone else while they're there. So we just made sure they were having a good time, instead of making them feel like they were at boot camp or something. Don't get me wrong, we expected 100% effort, and let them know when we felt like we weren't getting it. And we worked them at practice, hard. But then we let them be loose and we trusted them to do their sprints and such themselves, instead of standing there counting them out ourselves. I think they really responded well to that trust and to our recognition of the fact that they were here to play a game, not to further a career.
I am extremely proud of them, and also proud of whatever small part I was able to play in bringing them together as a team.
On Monday, following the big game, my wife was admitted to the hospital once again. That will be covered in my next post. I've been here with her ever since, and have not felt particularily celebratory, so that's why I'm just now getting this posted. However, on Thursday I was able to leave her long enough to go to our field and bask in our success for a while. We gathered the team and had a Home-Run Derby, which was won by one of the weaker hitters on our team, a kid we often DH'ed for. That was a wonderful surprise. Then we unfurled our championship banner, handed out our pins, took some pictures and marched over to the flag poles in the commons area. There we took down the '03 banner, which was the last time any team from our league had won a district title, and raised up our new trophy flag. It was incredibly satisfying.
I am obligated to point out that winning a Big League title is easier than winning a district title at the younger ages, simply because there is less competition. Only 4 other leagues in our district fielded a team this year, compared to the 21 teams that were entered in the 12 year-old tournament this year. I have coached a runner-up team twice in that age group and finished third once.
However, even though those runner-up efforts may have been more difficult achievements in the strictest sense, they do not compare with seeing that flag flying as I turn into the complex. Finally, the job was finished instead of just getting close.
Fourteen wins, three of them against arch-rival Kernersville, only two losses, and a district championship. This was indeed a special season and I will not forget it, nor will I forget this special group of young men who made it happen.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Big League Baseball

As everyone who knows me at all knows, much too well, I coach Little League baseball. Right now I'm coaching our Big League Team, 16-18 yr-olds. We are at the end of a remarkable season, my best ever as a coach. We are 13 - 2 and in first place in our district. Last Sunday we swept a double-header against East Surry in what was supposed to be the final day of the season. We should be hoisting a District Championship Banner as we speak, the first for a team I've coached in my 16 years or so as a head coach.

We have beaten our arch-nemesis, Kernersville, 3 out of 4 games. And to make it sweeter, one of those wins was after K-ville pulled one of their typical stunts and brought in a bunch of ringers from the local American Legion team after their season had ended. They added 3 All-Conference players, 2 of whom were also All-State, and 1 of whom is a damn All-American signed to play at LSU, no less. You will probably see Tyler Hanover on someone's draft list in a few years, and you read it here first. When they showed up at our field with those 3, and several other newer, stronger, faces as well, my guys were taken aback, but just for a minute or two. Much to my liking, they then said, in effect, "Bring it on, suckers. If you're so scared you have to trade in your whole team, we'll take that as a compliment, and still kick your ass." Kernersville won that game, but it was close, 7 - 4. My pitchers kept Hanover to a 1 for 4 day, and we had them on the ropes before we made a couple of late game errors, then my pitcher reached his limit under the LL pitch count rule. My reliever promptly walked in their last 2 runs. A few days later we went to their place and beat them 7 - 5, even with their beefed up squad.

Here's where it gets tricky. We are 13-2. Walkertown has lost 4 games now, including 2 they lost to us. They did beat us once. We also started a 4th game in the last week of the season at their place that was rained out after 1 inning, with them leading already 2 - 0. We tried to reschedule that game but have had a hard time due to guys being gone after the season was supposed to end, and several guys who have started football practice for their schools. I had assumed that it was no big deal because we had 1st place locked up regardless. Now I've found out different.

It turns out, when Walkertown played Kernersville they aked for rosters and pitching affadavits before the game. We are required to fill out affadavits after each game to insure we follow the LL requirements concerning pitch limits, days of rest, and their pesky rule about consecutive games. I fill them out, but I have never asked to see one, nor have I been asked. When Kernersville could not produce said documents, Walkertown played the game under protest.

That protest has been upheld, so they are now 12-3, and can tie us with a win in the rained out game. If we are going to hoist my first ever District Championship flag at our complex, we have to win one more game. If they do beat us in the completion, we'll have to find a way to play a play-off game. Stay tuned.

Now, In the "Small World" dept. -

Literally as I'm writing this story about our Big League team, I'm sitting here watching a replay of today's Big League World Series Championship game in South Carolina. The team from SC is playing Puerto Rico. South Carolina always has a strong Big League program and has won several national championships. They always play the finals at this complex near Greenville, just as they always play the 12 year-old division finals at Williamsport, PA.

Now get this -
Our district is the only district in North Carolina with a Big League program. In Big League play, each league in the district fields a team. At the end of the season, well at least seasons past, the coach of the winning team gets to manage the District All-Star team in the State tournament. He selects his squad from all of the teams, and of course takes a majority from his own team. With no other district in the state involved, if we win our district, we automatically win the State and go to Florida for the Regionals. Unfortunately, our district bowed out of the Regionals this year. Here's why. Last year the team couldn't raise the money to get to Florida. It was an embarrassment to the state people to be on the schedule and then not show. In addition, what with school conflicts and graduations we just can't seem to start the games until after school is out and "beach week" is behind us. The season has to end in time to meet the national schedule. Our district representative would have to be selected and in Fla. by July 15 or so. Rather than end the season after just 10 or 12 games and then not have anyone go to the next level anyway, they opted to extend our season till this past weekend, playing 16 games, and skip participation in the Regional tournament. Now I'm sitting watching the Big League World Series on ESPN and thinking "what if".
My team was undefeated after 12 games and I would have gone to Florida as the manager of a state champion team. How cool! With mostly guys from my own team, of course.

THEN - I see that the South Carolina team that is in the final against Puerto Rico is mostly made up of guys from Riverside High, just a short drive from where they are playing this championship. My best friend from LL, who was my assistant coach for 7 years, moved to Greenville, SC just so his kid could go to Riverside. They have a super-strong baseball program. The older son has graduated but the younger one is still there. I'm not saying his kid is on this team, he's probably not. But I bet my friend is there. And I'm not saying that we would have advanced past the Regionals to get to this championship game. We probably wouldn't have. These guys in this game are STRONG! But we could have. Stranger things have happened, and we are certainly not bad.
What a small world it can be.

And now, even as I write these words, the South Carolina team has come from a 4-0 deficit in the last inning and scored 5 runs to win the Big League World Series.
Strange things do happen.
Good for them.
Wish it was me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Manny Being a Dodger

Well, it finally happened. The Boston front office and the media sharks succeeded in making it an absolute necessity to deal away the best hitter in baseball.
It was obvious the last few days that the suit didn't fit anymore. Manny would be gone after the season if not before. I kept holding on to a shred of hope that this, like all those other MBM moments, would just go away, that he would get back to being the most feared hitter in the game, and that by the end of the season he would be talking about finishing his career in the Red Sox uniform. But as Wednesday wore on the talk got worse, and then Manny himself started to show signs that he was ready to move on. Even then I held on to the fact that he had acted like he wanted out before, but had always come around to a "I like it here and want to stay" stance after the spat.
But this time the vitriol was just too sour. And as much as I would have loved for Manny to Be Manny in Boston for the remainder of his career, I'm also glad that this whole affair is behind us now. I still blame the FO and the media MUCH more than I blame Manny, (although he certainly made his contribution to the fuel supply on the fire), and I think the idea that it was "necessary" to move him was created and sold to the public by those entities.
Did he sit out a couple of games recently complaining of a sore knee? Yes, but Manny actually had played in more games than any other player this year. Go back through the game logs. Practically every person on the team, and every other team too, has sat out here and there just because they were sore and needed to recupe a bit.
Did he occasionally not hustle out a ground ball? Sure, but watch the games. The same can be said for almost every other player in the game. And yes, it drives me mad when they do that, especially as I try to teach my younger Little League players how important it is to ALWAYS beat it down the line. But as I said, they ALL do it. At least all of the veterans.
Did he occasionally make a gaff in the field? Sure he did, but there are quite a few outfielders in the game , not to mention some first basemen and even third basemen, who are not there because of their defense. And Manny would sometimes make a spectacular play. It was obvious he was not the most accomplished defensive player when he arrived in Boston. But to his credit, he took his position there very seriously and worked very hard at making himself better there. He took countless reps in the outfield, often long before his teammates had even showed up at the stadium. He learned something every time a ball came off of that wall, and in the last few years it has paid off in an almost uncanny ability to be at the right spot when it happens. It will take Mr. Bay a while to replicate that experience.
Did he occasionally come out with some completely knee-jerk comment or action? Sure, but this is what I'll miss more than anything. Jason Bay will probably come close enough to Manny's numbers to keep us in contention for a repeat title. Who knows? He may even end up with better numbers by the end of the season. And if not this season, maybe next year he'll just break things wide open. I certainly hope so. But I doubt he'll ever be the character that Manny is. And I just LOVE a good character. Give me Bill Veek and his midget, Wade Boggs and his chicken, Ozzie Smith and his gymnastics. I love a colorful character, and that's what we've lost. The most colorful character in the game today, AND one who could produce like no one else as well. That's a rare combination. Not to mention he was the MVP of the team's first victorious World Series appearance in 86 years for God's sake.
Having said all that, the trade itself was not as bad a deal as it could have been. I wouldn't rank it as a fire sale or anything. Bay's an accomplished major league hitter with quite a few good years in front of him, probably more than Manny. I think this was better than just letting Manny go after the year, although being in the thick of a pennant chase kind of trumps that normally. But this wasn't normal, was it? Losing Hansen was certainly no big deal, given the way he's been pitching lately. I do kind of regret not having Moss around to use as trade fodder for some bullpen help, but we certainly don't need another outfielder at the moment.
In all of this, I also hope that Jason Bay makes out all right. I can't help but think that he'll end up being compared to Manny in every move and every stat possible. Manny's stats will be hard to replace. I hope that those who felt like I did, and wanted to keep Manny, will not be too hard on Bay if he doesn't match those lofty numbers.
Best of luck to Manny in LA. I've never disliked the Dodgers, which is something I can't say about many teams. I always liked Lasorda, and Gibson's gimpy homer in, what, '88 wasn't it, is still one of my all time favorite moments. A "colorful" moment I guess. I'll probably follow them a little closer now that Manny is there. May he tear up the NL, and only suffer letdowns if and when he plays against the Red Sox. And may the fans at Fenway always cheer him when he comes back there. As a matter of fact, if it was a meaningless game, it wouldn't bother me a bit to see him single-handedly rip us apart one game. Kind of a F-You to the management.
If Jason Bay ends up a flop, we will certainly hear someone say "well it's better than having that misfit out there".
I kinda like misfits. Let the conformists pull for the Yankees
Adios Manny, buena suerte

Manny Post Coming

Thanks to Shorey for visiting and requesting a Manny post. I've been thinking a lot about a post the last couple of days, and was all set to write all my objections to any trade when it happened. I've been gathering thoughts since, but have got to get my butt to work this morning. I plan to write some this evening. No Little League or anything else, for a change, unless we go to temple, which is doubtful. (More medical issues - I'll cover that too.)

And my Little League team has a dilemma. The season should have ended last Sunday with our sweep in the double-header and we should be District Champions as we speak, but Walkertown is pulling a stunt and it appears we are not going to be hoisting that banner without finishing our game with them that was rained out after 1 inning.

More to come tonight