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.

And Here Come the Azaleas

Here’s a teeny life update with a few extras—for no other reason than that I need a brief diversion from proffing, pastoring, lawyering, dissertating, and websiting. Life is good; it’s just a little thick right now. 

1. The brilliant petals on the tulips in our front yard have finally dropped. They lasted slightly longer than last year, but they’re naturally transient, so I had to bid them farewell. Fortunately, our azalea bushes are now popping. These flowering shrubs are admirably carrying the color torch passed on to them by the tulips. I dig ’em, even though they’re not my absolute favorite. I hope to get a Japanese maple some day, along with a replacement dogwood tree. I also love trees with white bark (see below). The grass in our neighborhood right now is a thick, lush, deep green. Heavenly.

2. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new Ford Edge. I finally learned how to use the display and all its apps. The moonroof is super cool, too. I’ve never had one of those. I can also open the hatch with my foot (as long as I have the key fob on me), which has come in handy several times already. It also closes at the touch of a button. Very convenient. My youth like to pile into it whenever we go for a McDonald’s run during Sunday school. But my cars haven’t always been on the newer side. When I was in high school, I drove a hideous 1973 Mercury Comet. Its color was indecipherable, but it was somewhere on the spectrum between Gulden’s mustard and burnt pumpkin pie. It had 4 doors and a brown vinyl top—a real chick magnet for a teenage boy. But, hey, it had a 302 engine. The only other car I had with that kind of pickup was a Mercury Grand Marquis with an 8-cylinder engine.

3. Our Keurig recently bit the dust, so I had to go get a new one. The upsides of the new unit are that (a) it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and (b) I like this one even better; it has more cup sizes and a bigger water reservoir. It also looks more stylish. No, I’m not addicted to coffee. I just drink it for the protection of those around me in the morning.

4. Our bathroom renovation project is slowly coming to an end. The list of missteps and mishaps is too long to mention, but soon it will be fully operational. Fortunately, we have two others to use in the interim—which has lasted eight months now instead of one. And these are the professionals doing it! That’s not a bust on them; it would have taken me a decade to do it myself given what they were up against. The latest mishap was their knocking over the medicine cabinet and shattering one of its three glass doors. The good news is that everything they’ve actually done or installed so far looks amazing. 

5. I preached the other week on Psalm 23, so I riffed on the cluelessness of sheep for a bit, underscoring why they (we) so desperately need a good shepherd. This brief video clip makes the point much better than I ever could.

6. This week’s song of the week at TNL, which I post every Monday, is Lauren Daigle and the Hillsong team singing “How Great Thou Art.” Lovely.

7. Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is required singing on Easter Sunday morning. Here’s a contemporary version with an added bridge. Not bad. 

8. Here’s the best thing you’re likely to see all day. A group of special folks recite Psalm 139 for us. As someone who was unplanned, unwanted, and unloved from the day of my conception until the day of my adoption 22 months later, I have always been moved and encouraged by the words of King David in this beautiful psalm. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Before we ever had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart.” Amen.

9. It’s been a long time since I published a “Just between You and Meme” post. I’ve been collecting good stuff, but I haven’t had time to pull it together. So here are just a few clippings that recently made me chuckle. (I’ll save the really good stuff for later.)

10. I’ve been working out at the local YMCA lately (cardio, weights, and swimming). I figured that since we all have to wear masks while on site, the rescue dummy should have to wear one, too. So, yesterday I gave him mine to use while I was in the pool. He didn’t resist. (BTW, that’s my new Batman towel at the bottom of the one picture. My mother-in-law got it for me for my birthday. When I use it, I feel invincible. Haha!)

11. I spent two decades loathing the mainstream media, but I think The Babylon Bee has a better approach. Just mock them mercilessly. Loathing takes too much energy, and it’s all negative energy. Sheesh, why bother? Yes, the Bee crosses the line sometimes, but the national mainstream media try to play us every single day. They’re just contemptible.

12. Supremely encouraged by so many blessings in the last five years. Of course, it helps when your spouse’s kingdom gifts are not only recognized but compensated. The best part is being able to give more. Home renovations are an added benefit. I can’t help thinking of Jenn Johnson’s song, “Goodness of God.” 

13. A former ICL student stopped by yesterday and expressed his appreciation for our ministry to him and also to enroll in seminary. He said thank you with Wilbur Buds. I wanted to say you’re welcome by eating them, but I’m trying to behave right now. Goals and all that. But how “sweet” of him to express his gratitude in that way. As my students have heard me say many times, “Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of his power. And the two together are proof of his goodness.”

And now…

May the Fourth be with you.

(And also with you. Hehe!)

Have a great week!


UPDATE: Mother’s Day is the time we usually plant impatiens in the front flower bed. Last year we did red and white, but the white ones didn’t do very well. We may try petunias this year. Any other suggestions?

Throwback Thursday: More from the High School Scrapbook

When you spend 2 hours a day in the pool (high school) or 4.5 hours in the pool (college) for swim team practice, your hair tends to get kind of crunchy. Hairstylists could always tell that I was a swimmer because my hair would “snap” when they cut it. The picture below indicates a certain stiffness setting in even as my hair is drying. No such problems exist these days, except for a slight lightening of the color when I spend time in the chlorine and/or sun. This morning it was back to the Lebanon Y for another workout—this time 1,850 meters (74 laps) at something of a “cruise” pace. It went much better than the past couple days. But unlike the newspaper article, no records to report this time.

From Hibernating to Hyperventilating

Today in Lane 3 at the Lebanon Y…

  • My arms were like ropes of jelly.
  • My legs were like noodles of lasagna.
  • My lungs became a chlorine furnace.
  • My shoulders eventually went on strike.
  • My eyes are now bleary and itchy.
  • My head is still spinning and throbbing.

And I loved every minute of it! Yes, it’s great to be back in the pool because goals don’t accomplish themselves. As Rita Mae Brown has said, “Never hope for it more than you work for it.”

Now for some PG Tips to help me stay awake the rest of the day!

My date with Lane 3 today at the Lebanon YMCA natatorium.

Image Credit: wallpapercave.com.

Throwback Thursday: Where My Swimming Career Began

My introduction to swimming pools began a long time ago in Reading, PA. My brother and sister and I grew up in a row home with a very small backyard, but it was big enough to accommodate an inflatable pool. My Nana, who lived just a few houses down the street from us, also had a blow-up pool. We eventually graduated to the real thing, as the East Reading Swimming Association featured an outdoor pool that was only a few blocks from our house. Neighborhood kids loved it, even though it was an odd size for racing (33-1/3 yards instead of 25 or 50 yards/meters). The faded color of these Kodak snaps shows how long ago they were taken.

L to R: Me, my mom (with her beehive hairdo), my younger sister Ronni, and my older brother Bobby. (Presumably that’s my dad’s finger on the far right.) Bob and I are preparing our containers to squirt our sister.
Me going solo in the inflatable pool at my Nana’s house. Apparently, we had a cookout that day. And, apparently, I was up to something sinister, as indicated by my tongue sticking out.
My first time off the 1-meter diving board at the East Reading pool. The following year I tackled the 3-meter board behind me.

Throwback Thursday: Those Miserable Training Trips

As members of the WVU swim team, we would sacrifice our Christmas vacation to go on a 2-week training trip someplace on the globe that was warm and sunny. During my years in college, that included St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Those trips were like “boot camps for swimmers,” with every day featuring triple sessions. The first session was an early morning swim practice lasting two hours. The second involved weight training, calisthenics, plyometrics, and/or runs on the beach for about 90 minutes. The third was an evening swim practice lasting two more hours. 

On Christmas Day they lightened up on us, mandating just one two-hour practice in the morning; then they gave us the rest of the day off. (Thanks for that.) I remember how dreadful and depressing it was to have to practice on Christmas morning!

Below are some snaps from the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center. Once a week all the teams who had gathered to train swarmed the pool for what they called “Fifty 50s.” It was only a 2500m parctice, but the lanes were crowded, and there wasn’t much time between sprints. Finding a place to dive safely was a challenge. The whole thing was exhausting and annoying, even for this sprinter.

Between sessions we hit the beach or went out on the town, and after the 14 days of agony, we enjoyed a trip to Disney World. The rest of the time we ate or slept.

The dreaded Fifty 50s practice session. That’s me under the red arrow looking for a safe place to dive for the next interval.
C’est moi in the lower left getting ready for another workout. I have no idea why I’m smirking.
The International Hall of Fame Aquatic Center in Fort Lauderdale, a place of memories and miseries for NCAA Division-1 athletes.

Friday Fun: Light It Up Like Dynamite

A few weeks ago I was driving to the Lebanon YMCA for a morning swim. I usually listen to upbeat music to get jazzed up for my workout, letting the tunes take over where the coffee left off. On this particular day, my Spotify randomizer took me to a song called, “Dynamite,” which I had never heard before. I was digging it and thought, “When I get home I need to research who does that one.”

Turns out I was listening to BTS, a K-pop (or Korean pop) group made up of seven members (Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook) who come from various parts of South Korea. I WAS LISTENING TO A KOREAN BOY BAND…and kinda liking it!

Naturally, I started wondering what was happening to me. (“Really, Tim? A boy band?”) My solace came in the realization that: (1) BTS launched in 2013 and has since rocketed to global stardom, so they must have some real musical chops and showmanship; and (2) Spotify was throwing random workout songs my way; I didn’t go looking for this one myself. Small comfort.

So, I guess this post is more of a confession than a “Friday Fun” spot. Either way, enjoy the song if you’d like. I’m going swimming.

Do I detect some choreographic allusions to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video in this dance routine?

Throwback Thursday: Is That Really Me? (Part 4)

All are invited to have a chuckle at my expense (for the fourth week in a row). This shot is from my sophomore year at West Virginia University. At a meet in Ohio at the end of the season, I swam 51 yards in a 50-yard race. Actually, I lunged at the wall as we always do to finish off a sprint, and I hyperextended my right arm. The timers had to pull me out of the water because I couldn’t get out myself. It was a little bit of embarrassment on top of a whole lot of pain. 

Fortunately, we were close to the Cleveland Clinic, which had a top-tier sports health center for which they were well known. They casted me up quickly, gave me some good pain meds, and minimized any damage to the ulnar nerve. My arm was numb, and I was out of commission for a few weeks. So much for swimming not being a contact sport.