The Phillies have again embraced Calum Scott’s version of “Dancing on My Own” as their victory song this year. We sang it several times Wednesday night at the ballpark when the team clinched a berth in the 2023 NLDS. The song is certainly atypical as a team anthem, but when an entire stadium sings the chorus at peak volume (and slightly faster than the original), it’s a raucous good time.
Written by Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn, “Dancing on My Own” is a heartfelt reflection on the pain of losing someone you love to another. Specifically, the lyrics tell the story of a guy who has to watch his crush dance with someone else while he can only observe from a distance. Who can’t relate to such a sad state of affairs? Probably only the tiny tots who haven’t been to middle school yet. 😊
In a vulnerable moment, the singer feels heartbroken, lonely, and dejected by the pain of losing out. He can only fantasize about going home with the one his heart truly desires. He has a sense of resignation and acceptance, acknowledging that love has slipped away. Despite the heartache, he finds solace in expressing his emotions through dancing, even if it means doing so alone.
Does any of this sound like baseball to you? A pennant race? A quest for a World Series ring? Of course not! So, how did this tune shoot to the top of the playlist in the Phillies clubhouse? No one really knows, but here’s last year’s explanation from the inimitable Jim Gardner, retired news legend and Philadelphia icon.
Whatever the story, I’ll just keep dancing, too. And, hopefully, the Phillies will keep winning.
Well, another playoff season, another trip to Citizen’s Bank Park. Yes, the Phillies made it again this year, and I’ve got tickets for tomorrow night when we play game 2 against the Miami Marlins. They’re a pesky team, but I think we can get past them if we play to our potential. I’m much less optimistic about toppling Atlanta to vie for the pennant, though. The Braves are the best team in baseball right now, and they had an amazing year.
Of course, little could top being at game 3 of the World Series last year. The Phillies won that game with a record number of home runs for a World Series game. We even registered our volume on Penn State’s local seismograph—such was our collective noise level as a massive crowd of Phillie phanatics. Despite my pessimism this time around, I’m excited to be part of the atmosphere again. If you happen to watch the game tomorrow night, look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red.
The flurry of activity these past two weeks—from the heartbreaking death of a family friend to the joyful birth of our little nugget—delayed the posting of snaps from our anniversary trip to Cooperstown, New York. We took scores of pictures, but a mere handful will have to suffice for now.
Day 1: We attended the Glimmerglass Festival production of Paccini’s La bohème at the Alice Busch Opera Theater.
Day 2: We toured the Baseball Hall of Fame, wax museum, Doubleday Field, and various shops in the area.
Day 3: We visited the Fenimore Art Museum, which featured an exhibit by M. C. Escher, the Dutch artist known for his tessalated woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints.
During the trip we stayed at the lovely Landmark Inn and ate at local restaurants. It was a lovely time away from the daily grind. (Pictures aren’t allowed during the opera, so there’s a stock photo included.)
Well, apparently there is crying in baseball, contrary to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. Like every other Phillies fan around the globe this past Sunday night, I watched Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres. As you may have heard by now, the Phillies won that game 4–3, and in the process, they also won the pennant. I may have gotten a little choked up during the post-game celebration. Raise your hand if you did, too. Be honest.
Now, I realize baseball is not everybody’s cup of tea, so this post is a personal reflection that goes beyond the world of sports. It’s more about those occasional flashes of joy that make our journeys sparkle once in a while, and for which we can be both happy and grateful. It’s about “high hopes” and learning how to wait patiently until those hopes are realized. (Thank you, Harry Kalas). Until a few weeks ago, it had been over a decade since the Phillies were involved in any postseason play. Now we’re in it to win it.
Sunday night: The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh inning to put themselves on the brink of having to go back to California for the rest of the series. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday night at Petco Park. Not only would that squander our home field advantage, but it would also drag us right into the crosshairs of the Padres’ best pitchers. So, “the Phitins” wanted to clinch a World Series berth right here. Right now. This inning. Easier said than done.
Standout catcher J. T. Realmuto started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field against right-hander Robert Suarez. That turned out to be huge, given what was about to unfold. The tying run was now on base, and the go-ahead run was coming to the plate. But who would be the next man stepping into the batter’s box? None other than our star cleanup hitter and likely Hall-of-Famer, Bryce Harper.
Everyone was thinking the same thing. A two-run bomb would put us back in the lead and on the verge of clinching. Harper certainly has the guns to do it (even to the opposite field), not to mention the drive, the talent, and the history to do so—but how much magic can we expect from one player? He had already done so much for the team in the postseason, along with Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zach Wheeler, and several others. But #3 lives for moments like these, and this was his moment.
Harper showed good discipline at the plate, laying off Suarez’s bread-and-butter pitch out of the zone. He then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. The location was good from a pitcher’s perspective, but somehow—with his trademark “violent swing”—Harper muscled the ball over the outfield wall and into the left-center-field seats for a two-run shot to take the lead. If you didn’t get to see it, take a look:
Fans at Citizens Bank Park went ballistic. Viewers at home went ballistic. I went ballistic. It was storybook stuff to be sure, and no one could have written a better script. It’s what every little boy dreams about from the time he can swing a whiffle ball bat. This dramatic video clip will be shown for decades to come.
It was another milestone in the history of the club—a team I’ve been cheering for since I was a little boy. That’s why I got choked up Sunday night. Not just because we held on in the top of the ninth to win the game, but because it brought back some truly precious memories. The last time we won the World Series was in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that it was in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals. Before that, it was—well, there was no before that.
The Phillies have won the World Series only two times since becoming an MLB team in 1883. Back then they were known as the Quakers. They became the Phillies later in 1890. For most of those 139 years, it’s been phrustrating to be a phan. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope but bad enough to break your heart. That’s been the story for most of my life, with a few notable exceptions.
Why then do I keep cheering for them? Three words—family, friends, and memories. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. It’s a memory that finds deep lodging in my heart, even to this day.
I remember holding my father’s hand walking out from under the shadowy concourse into the bright, shining seating area. The sun sprayed the radiant green AstroTurf with a brilliance that illuminated a perfectly manicured ball field, dazzling this little rookie into silence. I was in awe at the sight of it. And the sounds of it. And the smells of it. It somehow felt like I belonged there. At that moment I fell in love with baseball in general and the Phillies in particular. I’ve been a “Phanatic” ever since.
I also remember my dad getting me a dish of vanilla ice cream poured into in a little red plastic Phillies helmet—my very first baseball souvenir (and one that may still be boxed away somewhere in my attic). We also got hot dogs, French fries, and Cracker Jacks that day, purchased from the vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their treats. Dad was happy, and I was over the moon. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, but the Phillies won, and that resulted in a lot of loud cheering—something I had never experienced before at that level of intensity.
My family, friends, and I went to many more games over the years, and we got many more souvenirs. Of course, we watched more games on TV than we attended in person, but we always wanted to know how our Phillies were doing. We could catch the nightly news, or read the box scores and standings in the paper the next day if we missed a game on TV. (I had to share the tube with my dad since he was a Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m adopted.) My heroes back then were Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone (who autographed a baseball of mine), Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, and Bake McBride.
I got to watch the second World Series victory in 2008 on the big screen with my church family. Several parishioners still remember the final out of that game—a strikeout by closer Brad Lidge—and they wrote us messages this week recalling that wonderful time of fellowship and celebration. Some of the kids were even at church in their pajamas that night.
Oddly enough, the Christian message is another good reason to stay with the Phillies through all their peaks and valleys. As Jesus sticks with those of us who keep striking out spiritually until we become more healthy, stable, and productive, so I can stick with the Phillies through tick and thin, regardless of their winning percentage. The theological word for that is “grace.” We all desperately need it, so we should all be willing to give it.
Having become a baseball junkie early on, I tried out for our middle school team and made the roster. By the start of my second year, I had worked myself into a starting position in the infield, and I loved every minute of it. Game days were always the best days, even when we lost. There’s nothing like going home tired, sweaty, and dirty after a game, knowing you did everything you could to help your team win. If you fielded well and got a hit or two, so much the better.
As life would have it, I was better at swimming than baseball, so that’s where I put my athletic energies in the years to come. I made it to the NCAA Division 1 Nationals, twice, and it wound up paying a big chunk of my college tuition, so that was the right call. But deep down, baseball was always my favorite sport. There’s just something about the game that captivated me as a little boy, and it’s never let go. Over time I learned that every pitch has a strategy, and every strategy has a counterstrategy. So, the issue is always one of anticipation and execution. Good teams do both well.
Back to this past Sunday. Right after preaching the morning service at our church, I came home and lost my voice. Laryngitis set in a few hours before the game, so, I couldn’t even yell for my team during that amazing come-from-behind, pennant-clinching victory. But I sure did grunt and snortle like a muffled rhinoceros a few times.
Then there were the silent but exuberant gesticulations of this little boy in a man suit whenever the Phillies put runs on the board. Sonya now knows how Michal felt when David danced before the Lord (cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–20), though I didn’t actually do anything that could remotely be called dancing. I just lumbered around the living room like a drunk baboon looking for a lamppost to lean on. (I’ll blame it on the meds I was taking.) In the end, though, myriad expressions of delight found ways to ooze out of my body from other portals besides my pie hole.
What will happen in the 2022 World Series? I have no idea, and I make no predictions. Houston has a great team, and I have a personal no-trash-talk policy. Athletes at this level are so good, any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who’s clicking and who’s finding their groove in the moment. I never expected the Phillies to get this far, and I suspect very few other people did, too. So, even if they come up short at the end of this round, I’ll still be proud of them.
In the end, the best of our sports heroes are just human. They have good days and bad days. They have moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. They have seasons of good health and seasons of nagging injuries. They have big dreams and big hopes, just like the rest of us. Let’s let them be human and have some fun together, regardless of the outcome.
One dream I’ve had for a long time is to see the Phillies play in a World Series game—in Philadelphia, the city of my birth. I am blessed beyond measure to share with you that this longstanding dream will finally come true.
As of now, it looks like I’ll be going to Game 3 (Monday, October 31) or Game 4 (Tuesday, November 1). Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red and white. And if I get my voice back, I’ll be cheering as loud as everybody else, too.
I plan to buy myself a little red plastic Phillies cap filled with vanilla ice cream (yes, they still sell them!), and I’ll think of my dad while I’m eating it. I’ll no doubt revel in the magical atmosphere again, just like I did my first trip to the ballpark. Just like I did on Opening Day this year, which was another first for me. Yes, I was there when Kyle Schwarber started the season off with a first-at-bat home run, something now known as a “Schwarbomb.”
And, like everybody else, I’ll be waving my red “rally towel” for the Phillies, grateful beyond measure that my father introduced me to this wonderful sport all those years ago. While I’m there, I’ll be keeping the seat warm for little Samuel. Maybe someday day he’ll want some ice cream in a red helmet, too.
Our beloved Samuel has been part of the family now for six months (plus nine months in utero). He was born on December 1, 2021, so today is the 6-month anniversary of his birth. I’m incredibly blessed to have him in my life. His smile melts my heart, and his laugh—which is getting longer and louder—adds joy to everyone in the room.
This round of anniversary pictures includes a Phillies theme, not that they’re worthy of his endorsement. 🙂 In fact, adding SamJam to their lineup could only improve things, as the team is tanking again this year despite some good off-season acquisitions. C’est la vie. We’re lifelong fans, not fair-weather friends.
Anyway, Samuel is “halfway to first,” as they say, so enjoy these snaps of our little slugger.
I posted this shot a few days ago, but I’m including it today because it’s quintessential Samuel—smiling, pleasant, curious, and enthusiastic. Don’t you just want to kiss him and squeeze him?!
We had a blast at our church’s first-ever Trunk or Treat event today. After a few days of hard rain, the sun came out this afternoon at just the right time, and the weather was perfect for the entire gathering. That was a specific prayer we prayed, and the answer seemed like a wink from heaven. 🙌
We partnered with one other local church, and we wound up serving well over a hundred children, most of whom wore cute or creative costumes. All told, we had about 275-300 people on site. They came from as far as Reading, Mohnton, and Lebanon. They cleaned us out of all the free children’s Bibles we made available, along with some church and gospel literature, and the balloon animals we were making for the kids. Candy was the only thing left over. No complaints there! 🙂
My trunk was a shrine to the Philadelphia Phillies. Talk about scary! But it led to some fun conversations about never giving up on what you truly love, even if it takes a while for you to realize the dream. 💙 (The Phillies didn’t make it to the playoffs again this year.) That, of course, led naturally to some conversations about God’s persistent love for us in Christ. The sign on my SUV said, “Jesus is my victory. The Phillies are just my team.”
The good thing about having all my ball equipment in the trunk is that toward the end of the day, I got to throw a baseball with a man in our church who was semi-pro back in the day. He was a pitcher in the Cubs farm system decades ago. (The man is in his 70s now, but he can still hurl!) He may not have the pop he used to, but he could still throw a curve ball and a knuckle ball, each with good movement. That was most enjoyable. Except for the blue Cubs hat he wore, announcing the World Series Championship they won back in 2016. 🙂
At one point, someone who was dressed as the Grim Reaper came and stood quietly in front of me. I said, “Do we have an appointment today?” She extended her scythe toward me without saying a word. I said, “Well, thanks to Jesus, I’m ready to go. When do we leave?” She started laughing, and then I gave her a handful of candy as an incentive for her not to take me just yet.
I was proud of our people for taking this step of faith in a new outreach. They’re already talking about next year and some things we can do to make it even better. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the moment. And the leftover peanut butter cups. 🙂
Across the street from where I grew up in East Reading, Pennsylvania, there was a vacant lot where we used to play stickball every chance we could get. We lived in a middle-class section of rowhomes, and about eight of those homes featured backyards that lined up perfectly to serve as the outfield “bleachers.” Our goal, of course, was to hit the ball into one of those yards for a home run. (We always used soft rubber balls, so cracking a window was unlikely. It only happened once.)
Most neighbors would sit out on their porches and cheer us on as the game unfolded. If ever we hit a ball into one of their yards, they would simply get up, retrieve the ball, and throw it back to us, and the game would continue. Unfortunately, there was also a grizzled old dame in the bleachers—enshrouded in a bright babushka, and far too rickety to stand up straight—who would always pick up the ball, cuss at us in Pennsylvania Dutch, and then harumph her way back into the house, taking our ball with her. End of game. (It wasn’t even her window we broke that one time.)
Sadly, many people today picture God more like the crabby old lady with a foul mouth than the kindhearted neighbors who served as our cheering section. He’s in the heavenly stands with his arms folded and his hands fisted, always perturbed and glaring at us, eager to convey his divine contempt whenever we send one into his upper deck. We’re major league sinners in his book, and we always will be. If we strike out too much, he’ll send us down to the minors. Or worse. End of game.
Theologian Kosuke Koyama once said that Christians need to make a basic decision in our approach to theological questions: “[We] need to decide whether the God of Scripture is a generous God or a stingy one.” The context of his statement was soteriology, but we can broaden it to include the entire sweep of Christian theology.
When I first made that shift in my own thinking, it helped me realize how important it is that Genesis 1 and 2 precede Genesis 3. That’s a simple observation, yet it’s vital in the grand scheme of things. Life on planet earth was good—“very good” (Gen 1:31)—before it was ever bad. As such, my theology cannot start in Genesis 3; it has to start where the Bible starts. It has to start “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1).
Specifically, to help us answer Koyama’s challenge, we can notice that God’s openhandedness is seen on the very first page of Scripture: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29; emphasis mine). Right out of the gate, God is a giving God. We can safely conclude, then, that generosity is a prevailing attribute of his.
It’s not specified in the text how many edible plants and trees were available for the taking. Were there a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? We don’t know, but the scene is marked by lush and lavish provisions from the hand of the benevolent God who gave them. Indeed, Yahweh is portrayed as a God of abundance. He says to the first human, “Eat!” and only one tree was said to be off limits—“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17).
Trust the story. It tells us that God gave about ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Read that sentence again. Don’t pass over it too quickly. God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Consequently, he’s not a stingy, crotcehtey God at all; he’s a God who overflows with blessings, provisions, kindness, and grace. And even the one “no” he gave was for our benefit, not our misery. Indeed, it was meant to prevent our misery.
God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.”
In the end, Jesus Christ is God’s full and final “yes” to every good promise he ever made (2 Cor 1:20). As Paul put it, Jesus is God’s “yes” and “amen.” That means he really is for us (Rom 8:31), not against us.
Is this the God you know—the one who cheers you on as you’re trying to find your swing? Or is he the god who cusses you out whenever you strike out? Is he the god who benches you after making an error in the field? Is he the god who tells you to hit the showers early when you’ve had a bad inning? If so, maybe you’re on the wrong team. In fact, maybe you’re playing for Baal instead of Yahweh. Ask to be traded.
Francis Schaeffer famously said of God, “He is there and he is not silent.” To that we can add, “He is there and he is not stingy.”