Field of Dreams

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.

Adopted Twice: How I Became ‘One Less’ Orphan in the World

Best I can tell, the day of my conception was July 1, so happy pre-birthday to me! Here’s the story. A young woman living in Philadelphia, PA met a military guy passing through town. In time she became pregnant by this man, which was totally unexpected. Not wanting to stick around for the delivery (or the subsequent duties of fatherhood), the guy split, and the pregnant lady was left alone. “What man would want to be with me now?” she thought to herself.

But eventually she became romantically involved with another man, even though she was pregnant, and the new relationship seemed like it might fare better than the previous one. There was, however, one complication. The new guy on the scene wasn’t so sure he could accept—as his own—a child sired by another man. “I want you,” he said to his new sweetheart, “but I’m not so sure I want the baby inside you.”

So, a decision was made. When the baby finally came, he or she would be placed in a foster home. Abortion was not legal at the time, so their options were limited. The young woman had to carry the baby to term. Pre-born children back then were protected in law and welcomed in life.

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The Following Spring

On March 31 the baby was born and placed immediately—as planned—into a foster home. It was a boy. Because he was unwanted, unplanned, and unloved, he needed a place to stay. Enter the Children’s Aid Society of Philadelphia. “We’ll find parents for the boy,” they said. “We understand full well that one couple’s ‘mistake’ is another couple’s dream—the answer to all their prayers—a blessing from heaven.” 

“Miss Andrews” from the Children’s Aid Society went to work. Her labors eventually paid off. On April 20 of the following year, another young couple—this one from Reading, Pennsylvania—walked out of the Berks County Courthouse the proud new legal parents of that baby boy.

This couple could not produce children of their own, but they could receive children of their own. And they did so through the miracle of adoption. In fact, this was their second of three trips down the adoption aisle, and they were thrilled with their new bundle of joy each time.

I am that second child—the adopted child of Carl and Cherie Valentino. This unwanted boy was wanted after all. And that’s why I am “one less”—one less orphan in the world today. I was an orphan for just thirteen months of my life.

A Word of Thanks

To all those who are reading this post who have fostered a child, adopted a child, or provided resources for others to do the same, let me offer a sincere “thank you.”

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I am here today because of people like you.

I owe my very existence to people like you.

I can write this post today because of people like you.

You are the people who are filled with compassion, who genuinely care, and who not only love children but reach out to expectant mothers in crisis, too.

Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Before we ever had a being in this world, we had a being in God’s heart.” That’s one of the great truths we find in Psalm 139, which tells us that God knits us together in our mother’s womb.

God Almighty has a plan and a purpose for every child—each tiny miracle conceived in the secret place and fashioned so wondrously by the Master Artist. Those plans are to give the little ones a future and a hope, just like he did for me. That’s why his art studio should not be firebombed.

The Beauty of Adoption

It’s an amazing thing for me to think about:

  •  I didn’t have a home, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have a name, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have a family, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
  •  I didn’t have an inheritance, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.

I didn’t have food, clothing, shelter, money, hope or love, but through adoption the Valentino’s gave me all of those things, and so much more. Through a binding legal covenant, sealed in a court of law, I became the real child of Carl and Cherie Valentino. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: Adoption is the option everybody can live with. Literally.

A Spiritual Illustration

When I read in scripture that God has “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:15), I get excited because I have a little bit of “lived insight” into that great truth. When we believe into Christ, everything changes.

  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a home, but God gave us one in Christ.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a name, but God gave us a new one, written down in the Book of Life.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a family, but God put us in one—his church, the Body of Christ.
  •  Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have an inheritance, but God gave us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” and a salvation that can “never rot, perish, spoil or fade away.”

In that sense, I’ve been adopted twice, and I thank the Lord that he has allowed me to share this good news as a minister of the gospel.

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They Told Us Early

Mom and Dad told us right from the beginning that all three of us were adopted. They were proud of that fact, and they wanted us to be proud of it, too, so they told us when we were very young. In fact, I think we were a little too young. I was maybe four or five years old, and I just didn’t know what the word “adoption” meant, so I formulated my own definition based upon the context of what they were telling us.

I thought the word “adoption” meant some legal arrangement whereby no matter how bad we three kids were, mom and dad couldn’t give us back; they had to keep us! The other kids in the neighborhood—if they were bad enough, their parents could give them back at any time because they didn’t have this special arrangement called adoption.

Spiritually speaking, that’s not a half-bad definition of adoption! Having become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we’re in the family of God to stay (John 8:35).

The Card That Came with Me

It was fascinating to me—and hopefully encouraging to you—that there was a greeting card that accompanied me on my journey from Philadelphia to Reading. I got to see it for the first time a few years ago.

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It was a card from my foster family, and it was addressed to “Timmie’s Parents.” (Now, if anybody tries to call me “Timmie,” you’re dead meat!)

It’s clear from the language in that card that the foster parents who took care of me for 13 months were people of faith. They were followers of Christ.

I don’t know their names. In fact, I don’t know anything about them except this: They had a very powerful ministry to children in need. The card indicates that they had prayed for me, for my new home, for my new siblings, and for my new parents.

The Valentinos were far from a perfect family, but I believe that God honored their prayers. In fact, those prayers are why I’m here today. And to those prayers, I would like to add my own grateful “amen.”

Image Credit: https://www.adoption-connections.com

Family Update: Just a Handful of Nice, Nutty People on the Journey of Life

The Six

Tim, Sonya, Andrew, Bethany, Micah, and Samuel. That’s our immediate family for now, and we’re exceedingly glad that God has decided to put us together for this life. We’ve had plenty of good times over the years, and a few challenges, too. But through it all, we’ve loved each other without limit and have encouraged each other always to make Christ our highest treasure. We’re not batting a thousand on that, but we’re still in the game.

We like to think of ourselves as just a handful of “nice, nutty people on the journey of life,” though lots of people probably think we’re more nutty than nice. We’re not inclined to argue the point. We just soldier on, trying to answer the call that God has placed on each of our lives as best we can. Our extended family is likewise precious to us, though they’re far too numerous to mention here.

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Tim Valentino

I was born in Philadelphia, PA and adopted 13 months later by Carl and Cherie Valentino, of Reading, PA. Dad was a blue-collar worker for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and mom went to work for the same company after all three of us kids started junior high. Our parents provided us with something of a lower middle-class upbringing, and our youth was filled with myriad sports, school activities, and trips to the emergency room.

In earlier days, my brother called me, “Harry Homework.” The nickname was well deserved, though I didn’t like it very much. (I wanted to be cool, not geeky.) Our challenges were many, but we pressed on together when life was tough. Today I’m a grace-loving husband, father, pastor, seminary professor, conference speaker, swimmer, and incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan. I have an odd sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

Sonya Valentino

I was born in Marietta, OH and spent much of my young life in that state, where mom and dad served as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention. My siblings and I moved around a lot, helping our parents start new churches in new towns. On several occasions we served as the nucleus of a new children’s ministry or youth group, learning to do Christian ministry firsthand from mom and dad. Eventually we wound up in West Virginia, where I went to college on a music scholarship.

My school days were filled with lots of joy, laughter, music, church activities, and homework. Mom and dad taught me to love God and put him first in my life, which was easy to do since they didn’t just preach the Christian faith, they lived it in front of us. Today I’m a faith-filled wife, mother, ministry leader, and development assistant in Christian higher education. I also provide daily care for my mother, who has stage 4 dementia. Unlike Tim, I have a normal sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

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We have two adult children, Andrew and Bethany, and a son-in-law, Micah, whom we claim as our own. We also have a grandson, Samuel, who was born in 2021.

Andrew Valentino

Our son Andrew holds a film and media arts degree from Temple University and worked for eight years as a videographer for WFMZ-Channel 69 in Allentown, PA. He now runs Andrew Valentino Media, which provides voiceover work, photography, videography, film editing, documentaries, and other related services. An Emmy-nominated photojournalist, Andrew enjoys film, anime, screenwriting, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, and music. For better or worse, he looks like Tim and acts like Sonya.

Bethany White

Our daughter Bethany holds a speech language pathology degree from Bloomsburg University and worked for seven years as a psychiatric assistant at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA. She is now a stay-at-home mom and administrative assistant for her parents’ ministries. Her interests include worship, dance, discipleship, and sharing her faith. For better or worse, she looks like Sonya and acts like Tim.

Micah White

Bethany’s husband, Micah, holds a psychology degree from Kutztown University, and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Evangelical Seminary. He currently works as a therapist at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA. His interests include music, worship, guitar, computers, woodworking, and car repair (thankfully). For better or worse, he doesn’t look or act like Tim or Sonya at all. Yeah, that’s probably for the better.