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.

The Newest Phillies Fan

Our neighbor across the street got SamJam a Phillie Phanatic doll. That was especially kind of him since he’s a Cardinals fan. At first Samuel was perplexed. Then he was intrigued. Then he smiled. Then he giggled. He was quite captivated by the long red tongue sticking out the long green nose. Best mascot ever.

God’s Love in Slow Motion: A Few Odds & Ends before Holy Week Begins

Holy Week can be one of the most significant times in a believer’s worship year. During these days, we clear our calendar to focus exclusively on the events of Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection, which are at the heart of our faith. Our attention during this special week is directed toward the person and work of Christ as:

  • the triumphant yet humble King (Palm Sunday);
  • the servant of God and mediator of the new covenant (Maundy Thursday);
  • the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Good Friday); and
  • Christus Victor—the risen Savior of the human race (Easter Sunday).

Holy Week itself grew out of the simple observation that 28 of the 89 chapters in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)—32 percent—are devoted to the period of time between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his ascension into heaven. Yet this period is less than 1 percent of Jesus’ entire three and a half years of public ministry. 

In terms of literary style, then, such space allocation suggests that while the birth, life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus were important to the authors, it was the passion of Christ and his resurrection from the dead that were centrally important to their purpose in writing. It’s almost as if each of the four Gospels is a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction!

By way of analogy, modern writers and filmmakers often arrange for the action of their stories to slow down when they reach their most critical moments, using techniques such as freeze frame, slow motion, and extended coverage. The technique of slow motion is used, for example, in the important race scenes in the movie Chariots of Fire, where the director captures and accentuates each runner’s agonized expression before the finish line. The impact is significant. 

The amount of application of such techniques in storytelling is proportional to the importance of any given scene to the larger work. It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that the Passion Narratives present to us the incomparable love of God in slow motion. Believers seek to revel in that love during Holy Week, changing up our routines and realigning our schedules to Gospel-centered considerations.

As such, I won’t be posting chuckles and other items along those lines during the coming week. Anything appearing here will be topics and themes associated with Holy Week. Therefore, below are a few odds and ends before I sign off for a bit.

First, Samuel’s nephrology appointment is this coming Tuesday. Hopefully, we’ll get to see if his kidneys are improving and learn if any advanced treatments will be necessary. Thanks for praying!

Samuel at 4.5 months.
A piano player in the making?

Second, we found out earlier today the gender of Samuel’s new cousin. There’s a little girl on the way! My nephew’s wife is scheduled to have her baby in August, and we’re all over the moon.

SamJam and Aunt Rachel, who will give him a cousin in August.
Bethany and Samuel; Rachel and ?; and Amy and Jamie.

Third, I had a blast at the Phillies’ game yesterday. I went with a theology prof who loves the game of baseball as much as I do (even as we lament the politicizing of professional sports in this country). Neither of us had ever been to Opening Day before, so that was a real treat for both of us, especially since the weather was perfect and the Phillies won. Below are some snaps of the opening ceremonies.

Opening Day 2022 at Citizens Bank Park.
My baseball and theology buddy, Ken.
Batting practice comes to an end.
A paratrooper descends into the ballpark.
Thankfully, a safe landing.
Even the Phillie Phanatic parachuted into the park!
The staff and players are introduced for the new MLB season.
The massive flag for the national anthem.

Finally, the Dutch Apple’s production of Singing in the Rain was very well done and well worth seeing. We went today with a family friend who likewise loves the arts. 

The Dutch Apple dinner theater in Lancaster.

Blessings to all—whether you observe Holy Week or not!

I Met the Grim Reaper Today

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. 🙂

A Few Updates at the End of a Glorious Week

1. Holy Week 2021 was a rich and meaningful time for our church family. In the midst of building a new church website, processing all the paperwork for a new corporation, assisting in a friend’s baptism and commissioning service, learning a new educational learning platform, and getting a helpful education on important legal matters, we held the full range of traditional Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services and activities. I was blessed, challenged, and encouraged by getting to lead and participate in these incredible worship experiences. They always give me so much to “treasure” and “ponder” in my heart, as Mary did while watching her Son in action.

2. Somewhere in the middle of all that activity, I turned another year older, and my family and friends spoiled me. It was a week of visits, gifts, and feastings on top of an otherwise excellent year of health. I’ve been walking, swimming, eating right, and losing lots of pounds. If I can get back on track first thing tomorrow, and resume my disciplines without any more splurges, I may be able to see my abs by July. I know—that’s such a guy goal, right? But I haven’t been able to do that in decades, so I’m going for it. I usually collapse right about now in the journey, so we’ll see how it goes. Thanks in advance for cheering me on!

3. My daughter and I went to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday to get a bunch of knickknacks for the lighted bookshelves in our newly renovated living room. That project went a lot better and took a lot longer than we had originally thought, but nothing compares to the marathon bathroom renovation project that’s now in full swing. Our goal was to have it done by Christmas when the extended family gathered last December for the holidays, but only now is it finally getting close to being finished. The upside is that I wound up getting some cool recessed lighting in my home office as a side benefit. If all goes well, the bathroom will be done in three weeks, and then we can turn our attention to the basement library/podcast studio.

4. My 2013 Ford Edge SEL was on the verge of turning 100k miles, so I replaced it last Friday before it lost its trade-in value. It had a mineral gray exterior and a black interior with heated leather seats. It was a good car, and I enjoyed driving it for three and a half years. Last week I got a 2018 Ford Edge Titanium at a great price and less than 20k miles. (Hey, I like Edges!) It has a shiny white exterior, a cool moonroof, and a two-tone interior with heated leather seats. It’s loaded with features and handles well. I’m looking forward to connecting my devices, learning the display, and discovering all the features I’ve read about but haven’t gotten to try yet.

5. For years I’ve described myself as “an incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan,” but I may have just found the cure. I’m thoroughly disgusted by what the MLB pulled in re-locating the All-Star Game because of Georgia’s new voting law. What lunacy. I’m delighted that the Phils swept the Braves this weekend, but my interest in professional sports has taken a deep nosedive over the past decade. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m tired of politics in sports and will no longer support the industry. There are plenty of other things I can do with my time. For example, my son just got me a training session at the local gun range for my birthday, so we have that to look forward to—in between binging on episodes of the Sherlock series (Cumberbatch/Freeman). Then it’s on to the local Rod & Gun Club to improve my skills.

6. So as not to end on a down note, I’m finally re-energized to go “all-in” on the research and writing of my second dissertation. Those things are just painful to write, but I love my subject matter, and my upcoming schedule should allow for some serious progress. If I’m not on here a lot in the coming months, that’s the reason. But I’ll still read as many of your comments and posts as I possibly can. 

Be blessed, one and all, in the risen Christ. You are at the heart of God’s heart.

A Couple of Gift Pics

I mentioned yesterday that I got way too many gifts for Christmas—all of them special and much appreciated—with two from my kids that truly captured my heart. Here are snaps of those two gifts.

The wooden Phillies mug on the right is made in the shape of—and out of the same material as—an MLB bat. It’s so tall I needed a chopstick to stir the creamer! Drew has a way of getting us the most unique gifts—the kinds of things we would never buy for ourselves but bring a smile to our hearts when he gives them.

My daughter and son-in-law choked me up with a canvas made on their cricut that says, “Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born,” a line from my mom’s favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to her when she passed away. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll write more about that carol and its history. It was an awful lot of work for Bethany and Micah to put this together.

It was a memorable day. (We even had a bit of snow for a few hours!) The greatest gift of course, was the child in the manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Andrew also made each of our likenesses into a 3D-printed comic figure. (I am Batman, haha!) We’re still waiting for the USPS to deliver them, but we have printouts of what they will look like. How in the world did I get such creative kids?

Image Credit: wallpaperfx.com.

Tonight’s Candy Lineup

Local munchkins are in for some sweet treats at our place tonight:

How did I not remember to get Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Just as well, I guess. They may not have lasted. 🙂

I’ll be dressed tonight as a Philadelphia Phillie.

Very scary. 😮

Have a safe and fun evening with your neighbors.

And enjoy your extra hour tomorrow.

Image Credits: wallpapercave.com; represented brands.