lightenload

Come with me on a spiritual Journey!

Archive for the category “Christianity and Sports”

Juan and Gabby

Juan Marichal

 

He was called the Dominican Dandy.  Juan Marichal came to San Francisco Giants  with a blazing fast ball an array of off speed pitches that would fill up a restaurant menu.  The beautiful part of his pitching however was his leg kick.  I can still see it in my mind as he lifted his leg over his head before delivering his pitches.  Behind that leg came the ball which made his arsenal almost impossible for the hitter to read.  The impossible became even more difficult because of his pin point control on all of his pitches.  During the 1960’s he began his winning ways.  During the 1960’s he won more games than any other pitcher in the major leagues.  He also struck out more batters than anyone else.  Yet for two years after his retirement Juan was not voted into baseballs hall of fame.  That omission no doubt was because of an incident that happened way back in 1965.

John Roseboro was the Los Angeles Dodgers catcher during the 1960’s.  He was a man of few words and for that reason his teammates called him Gabby.  He was a tough team oriented player who his teammates loved.  He let his actions speak louder than his words.  Sandy Koufax, the great hall of fame pitcher noted that Roseboro was one of the greatest Dodgers catcher in history.  Koufax in fact credits Roseboro with much of his success.  “I never felt alone with him back there”, Koufax stated.  Roseboro was only 5 foot 11 and weighed less than 200 pounds but he was the leader of those Dodger teams.  He wasn’t the greatest hitter but made up for it with his all out hustle and handling of the Dodgers pitching staff.  Nobody messed around with John. Roseboro’s competitive edge and all out effort to stand up for his team was in full display on that day in 1965. Roseboro was part of the Juan Marichal incident too.  He was the one the fans felt was the victim.

The Giants and the Dodgers brought their bitter rivalry from the east coast where they were the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  In 1958 the franchises moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  They might have moved across the country but their intense rivalry never changed.  In 1965 there wasn’t a playoff system or even divisions.  Each league was represented by the team that won the most games in their league and the rest of the teams were left to wait until next year.  The date was August 22, 1965 and both the Giants and Dodgers were competing for the pennant.  They were literally within a couple of games of each other.  To say that both teams wanted to win badly would be an understatement.

images.jpgshopping.png

It was the last game of a four game series at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  Both teams were pitching their aces Marichal for the Giants and Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers.  In those days brush back pitches were used.  A brush back pitch was a pitch inside on the batter that if they didn’t move out of the way quickly would hit them.  The purpose of brush back pitches was to not let the hitter get too comfortable at the plate.  The first batter for the Dodgers was Maury Wills who was a skinny speedy shortstop.  Maury dragged a bunt for a base hit.  When Wills came back up in the third inning Marichal threw a high brush back pitch.  Wills flung himself out of the way by violently falling backwards to the ground.  The next batter was Ron Fairley and Marichal again threw a brush back pitch.  Down went Fairley barely getting out of the way.  When the Giants came to bat their best hitter Willie Mays was on the ground as Koufax zinged a pitch that almost hit Mays in the head and ended up hitting the wall behind the plate.  At that point with both teams on edge the umpire warned both managers that the next time a batter got knocked down would be a cause for ejection.

On the bench while his team was batting Roseboro formulated a plan.  He didn’t want Koufax thrown out of the game but he did want to give Marichal a violent scare.  The next time Marichal came to bat (the pitchers batted) he would not have Koufax throw at him.  His plan was to throw the ball back to Koufax so close to Marichal’s head that if it hit him it would look like an accident.  When Marichal came to bat Roseboro delinerately blocked the ball behind where Marichal was batting.  When he threw the ball back to Koufax Marichal claimed that it clipped his ear.  Marichal turned to Roseboro and wanted an explanation.  Hateful words ensued and Marichal completely lost his composure.  He took his bat and raised it and brought it down on Roseboro’s head.  Both benches emptied and both sides pushed each other around for the next 14 minutes.

 

https://tht.fangraphs.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/05/John-Rosengren-Cover-Crop.jpg Roseboro’s head was bleeding and it looked worse as the blood was running down his face.  Willie Mays who was a friend of Roseboro’s reasoned with him to get some medical attention.  In the wild atmosphere he was the one with a voice of reason.  After Roseboro was off getting his wound treated the madness slowly calmed down.  Sports Illustrated had the violent scene in it’s next issue of Marichal with his bat overhead.  The press made it seem like Marichal was the meanest man in the world.  Roseboro took the next couple of games to recover and then he was back in the lineup.  Marichal was fined $17,500 which was a lot back then and suspended for 10 games.

Since a pitcher only pitches every three or four days Marichal missed 3 starts.  The way Marichal was pitching that could easily have been three wins.  For whatever reason when he came back from his suspension he was not the same pitcher.  He won three games and lost four the rest of the season and the Dodgers won the pennant by 2 games over the Giants.

Roseboro was furious about Marichal’s allegations that  he instigated the brawl by clipping Marichal’s ear.  After thinking it over Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 which was an enormous amount back then.  He ended up winning the suit but for a lot less namely $7,500. An immediate public apology did not soothe Roseboro’s attitude.  He stated that Marichal did it through the press and not to him personally.  Then he stated that even if Marichal did come to him personally he would feel the same way.  “I wouldn’t have been impressed, because apologies, in my book, don’t make up for the original deed. There are too many people in this world who do terrible things intentionally and feel they can ease out of trouble with an apology.”

In 1975 Marichal signed with the Dodgers.  Many of the Dodgers fans were outraged that the Dodgers would sign their worst enemy.  Roseboro who was in retirement asked the fans to give him a chance.  Marichal made an agreement with the club.  If he was healthy he felt he could help the team.  But if he wasn’t he would retire.  Although his arm was feeling fine it was his back that betrayed him.  With his back hurting the way it did he could not help the Dodgers and true to his word after two starts he retired.

The years past like they always do   Marichal was up for the Hall of fame after 5 years out of baseball but he was denied.  Roseboro was outraged that a pitcher who was clearly one of the very best was ruled out because of one incident.  It was clearly a change of heart that apparently had been going on for some time within Roseboro.  In 1983 Marichal finally got enough votes to enter the Hall.  No doubt Roseboro’s opinion did not hurt the vote!

There was an Old Timers Game between the Giants and the Dodgers and both Marichal and Roseboro were invited to go.  For years they had went their separate ways but that day they talked.  As they talked they realized that deep down they truly liked each other.  The hatred had long passed from Roseboro and for the rest of his life Juan was someone he called a true friend.  Juan invited Roseboro to go to the Dominican Republic with him and Roseboro quickly accepted.  They had a wonderful time there and it only cemented their friendship further.

When John Roseboro passed away in 2002 it was very clear who his family wanted to give a eulogy, none other than Juan Marichal.  He stated words that were very powerful.  “Johnny’s forgiving me was one of the best things that happened in my life,” “I wish I could have had John Roseboro as my catcher.”  He didn’t but he did receive something much more valued, his friendship.

forgiveness-quotes-help-let-go-past

 

 

A Tale Of Two Kickers

Garo Yepremian was born in Cypress to American parents.  He immigrated to the United States with his brother.  His brother earned a soccer scholarship from Indiana University.  Garo was not eligible for an NCAA soccer scholarship because he had played professional soccer in London previously.  After watching an NFL football game Garo decided that he was going to be a professional football kicker.  He got a tryout with the Detroit Lions in 1966 and was signed to do their kicking.  Garo was a little guy at 5’7″ and his coach told him that after he kicked a kickoff to head straight for the bench.  His coach knew that one thing their opponents would love to do is dismantle their little kicker.  Garo kicked the ball and headed for the bench.  Unfortunately he found himself on the wrong team’s bench in the midst of the enemies.

https://www.detroitathletic.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Garo-Yepremian.jpg

At first Garo wasn’t comfortable with a helmet.  When he played his first game he wore one without the face mask until Ray Nitshke  a rough and tough linebacker of the Green Bay Packers tackled him and crunched his face into the ground.  After that little episode Garo wore a helmet with a single bar.  He was the last player in NFL history to play without a face mask.

In that first year with the Lions Garo wasn’t very familiar with the rules of football.  When his team was hopelessly behind one week they scored a touchdown with only a few seconds left in the game.  Garo was called in to kick the extra point.  After kicking the meaningless point through the uprights he ran around with his arms spread in celebration.  One of his teammates asked him what he was doing?  “I just kicked a touchdown!”, he explained.

Garo had a career game in his season with the Lions.  Playing against the Minnesota Vikings he kicked six field goals.  It was a record for kickers in one game and it stood for many years.

After the 1966 season Garo quit football and joined the United States Army.  When he got back to the Detroit area in 1968 the Detroit Lions decided not to offer him a contract.  He signed a contract to be the kicker for the Detroit Arrows in the Continental Football League.  After a horrible year with the Arrows (they won only one game), Garo found himself out of football again.  In the off season and the next year when he was out of football Garo sold Neckties.  He still had a desire to kick in the NFL again.

Garo Yepremian dies at 70; kicker part of undefeated Dolphins team

In 1970 Garo got the chance.  He signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins.  The next couple of years he let the league in scoring.  Garo was a kicker that was very accurate although he wasn’t a long distance kicker.  Today you see kickers who have no problem with distance from over 50 yards.  That was not Garo’s Strength.  However if the kick was inside 35 yards Garo very rarely missed.

Garo is remembered maybe even more than his kicking feats by one play that was on the world stage.  It was a field goal attempt with his team (the Dolphins) winning 14-0 against the Redskins.  It was in the Super Bowl so every eye was upon him.  His kick was blocked and Garo picked it up.  He was running across the field and was about to get tackled.  He tried to throw a pass but it slipped out of his hand.  He batted the ball right into the hands of a Washington Redskin player who ran for a touchdown.  “I honestly felt as if my life was over,” said Yepremian. “I never, ever had been disappointed like that in my life. Goodness, I felt as if it was the end. Norm Evans, the spiritual leader of the Dolphins, said, ‘don’t worry, God is with you.’ That was the best thing that ever happened to me, to have that encouragement from a friend. If the other team scored, and it would have went to overtime, that would’ve haunted me for the rest of my life.”Although it was very embarrassing and is shown whenever football bloopers are displayed it seems, the play did not cost the Dolphins their ultimate victory.  They won the Super Bowl that year by a score of 14-7.

When the media laughed at his gaffe Garo was very hurt.  He left the victory party early and went to his hotel room and took an ice bath.  He went home and stayed behind closed doors for weeks until he received a letter from his coach Don Shula.  The letter mentioned how important he was to the Dolphins and all of the games his kicks had saved.  “It was the most important letter I ever received” , Garo said remembering.  When he was with Shula signing autographs at a show he mentioned the letter to Shula.  “What letter?”, Shula asked.  It seems that Shula’s wife had written the letter and signed Don’s name to it.  Obviously she felt like he needed someone to pick him up and that letter certainly did!  Garo moved on from his famous gaffe and kicked in the NFL for 9 more years.

Jan Senerud was a ski jumper.  He was born in Finland and received a scholarship from Montana State to ski jump.  One day after he had run up and down the bleachers of the football field to stay in shape Jan and a friend were kicking a football around on the field.  Jan had played some soccer and he had a very strong right leg.  He was making field goals from great distances when the school’s basketball coached happened to pass by and observe.  Before he knew it the football coach wanted to see him kick.  After kicking for the football coach he was encouraged to come out for the football team.  In fact he wanted Jan to suit up for the teams final game.  He wasn’t eligible to play but the coach wanted him to wear the football uniform and learn the football rules and see how the game was played.

Following the ski season Stenerud joined the football team for spring practice.  That Fall he set an NCAA record at the time by kicking a 59 yard field goal.  Stenerud humbly admitted years later that a strong tail wind and high altitude helped his kick.  On the kickoff after his record breaking field goal he kicked the ball out of the end zone and over the bleachers behind it.

Image result for jan stenerud chiefs

After College Stenerud was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs.  At the time he was one of the first field goal specialists.  Back then the field goal kicker almost always played another position also.  In fact they would normally get the best kicker from the players they already had.  Stenerud helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl following the 1969 season with his amazing field goals.  He was very accurate and his strong leg was able to kick from distances that nobody had seen before.  The first 9 points of the Super Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings were scored by Stenerud’s three field goals!

It was Christmas day 1971.   The big game was on later in the afternoon.  It was Garo’s Miami Dolphins against Jan’s Kansas City Chiefs.  The winner would advance in the playoffs and hopefully get to the Super Bowl.  The loser would be done for the season.  Many a Christmas dinner was cold that day because the game kept going on and on.  The Chiefs should have won.  Every time they took the lead however, the Dolphins came right back.  One play that stands out is when the Chiefs outsmarted themselves.  They had a 10-0 lead and were lined up for Jan to kick a 29 yard field goal.  However, Hank Stram the Chiefs coach had another idea.  He wanted to do a fake and have Stenerud run for the first down.  The snap was supposed to go straight to the kicker but when the center was about to snap the ball he saw that Jan was looking down like he normally did.  So he snapped the ball to the holder like any other field goal.  Completely out of sorts Len Dawson the Quarterback and also the holder took the snap and put it down for Jan to kick it.  Jan never made an excuse as to why he kicked the ball wide to the right but the confusion all around was a big momentum changer.

Image result for yan stenerud ski jumper

The game was tied with just a few seconds left.  The Chiefs made a big pass play and lined up for Jan to kick a 31 yard field goal.  Jan was so amazing that season that the Dolphins just knew this was the end.  Amazingly Jan missed the field goal wide to the right again.  The game went into overtime and it went on an on.  Finally after  82 minutes and 40 seconds (more than 5 and a half quarters) Garo made a 37 yard field goal to win it.  Garo and the Dolphins were ecstatic while Jan and the Chiefs were devastated.  Looking back Garo mentioned how fitting it was that the tie salesman had broken the tie!  Although his teammates tried to make him feel better Jan could not be consoled.  He felt like that he alone had let all of his teammates down and all of the fans of the Chiefs.  He considered quitting the game he was so broken.

Even today after all of these years later Jan has no desire to talk about that game.  It was a time of personal tragedy for him.  Yet when Christmas comes around every year the memories of that game are brought up.  It’s funny that Garo’s gaffe in the next years Super Bowl is talked about in a fun way because it didn’t cost the Dolphins the game.  Jan’s miss in the longest game ever (at that time) is remembered (especially by Jan) like somebody had died.

Instead of quitting Jan persevered after the tragic loss.  His career totaled 19 years. After 8 more years in Kansas City he signed with the Green Bay Packers and kicked 4 years for them before ending his career with 2 years in a Minnesota Viking uniform. Jan was not like Garo in personality.  Garo showed his emotion when he kicked a game winner.  Garo was apt to extend his arms like he was flying.  Jan was cool as though he was just doing his job in the office.  Jan explained it best though.  “Just because I don’t do cartwheels when I make a game winning field goal doesn’t mean I’m not extremely pleased.”

His cool demeanor served Jan well and helped him to carry on after  he plunged to the ground that Christmas day.   It’s a good lesson to all of us too!  Whatever comes our way do not be distracted and keep going forward  Treat our disappointments as learning experiences and ask God to make something good come out of them.  When his career was over Jan was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  At the time he was the only kicker (who only kicked) voted into the Hall.  His final football numbers were 19 years, 6 pro bowls, 6 all league selections, 7 times scoring 100 or more points (in a 14 game season), and 1,699 career points.  The things that can’t be measured though are his persevering attitude, his pain in disappointments, and his contentment in his victories!

An Audience Of One

When Carson Wentz star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles came into the league he wanted to start a Foundation.  His agent and others advising him advised against it.  “Most players coming into the league wait four or five years to do that”, they told him.  Carson didn’t want to wait.  Then again he wasn’t like most guys coming into the league because he thought quite differently than the average 24 year old.  He considered their advice but then a thought entered his mind.  I have no idea where I will be in four or five years.  Hopefully I will still be playing this game but nothing is for certain and it is no given I will be in Philadelphia still.  He wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and so a simple question popped into his mind “Why wait?”

Carson Wentz starts AO1 Foundation to help the less fortunate

The Carson Wentz AO1 Foundation

was launched in 2017 and its mission is to “demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.”

Carson’s Foundation has three major objectives. To provide shelter, food and education for underprivileged youth; to provide hunting opportunities for disabled people; and to provide service dogs to those who need them  So where does this drive in a man so young to help people in need come from?  Maybe part of the answer can be found in his AO1 Foundation mission statement.  “To demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.  In that statement we see “the love of God” and therein lies the drive in Carson’s life.  That and a tattoo that he has on his wrist “AO1” which stands for “Living for an audience of one, Jesus Christ.”

Wentz found the Lord while in college at North Dakota State. He went to church weekly growing up but it wasn’t for spirituality as much as it was for his family.  It was something that he thought was a good thing and went without a deep commitment.  In college all of that changed.  He joined a prayer group with some of his teammates.  Again it seemed like the right thing to do as he built relationships with guys on the team.  As a freshman he was approached by the senior quarterback on the team named Dante Perez.  As they were stretching during a practice Dante asked him if he ever reads the Bible?  Wentz first thought was that the guy was bringing his religion to the wrong place.  After all we were at football practice not church.  Then they ended up meeting and Dante mentored Carson in his faith for about a year.

“I remember just having some college mentors, some former teammates kind of just help walking me through the Word,” he added. “And I ended up reading the whole New Testament of the Bible in the first three months of my freshman semester, and it just became real to me.”Carson Wentz

 That realness grew the remaining years of his college experience.  At the time of the 2016 NFL Draft Carson was rated as one of the top Quarterbacks coming out.  But something far deeper was on his mind.  I just remember praying almost every day. ‘Lord I don’t know where I’m going to be, but just put me in a place where I can grow closer to you.’ He came through big time,” Wentz said.  As the number 2 pick in the NFL Draft Carson was off to Philadelphia where he found the perfect fit!
In his rookie year Carson was named the starting Quarterback when Sam Bradford was unexpectedly traded to the Vikings.  The team originally planned to have Carson sit and learn his first year.  Obviously his practices changed plans as the Eagles traded their starting quarterback and named Wentz their quarterback for 2016.  Wentz did not disappoint.  He became the first rookie quarterback since 1970 to win his first two games of the season and not throw an interception. Carson started all 16 games and the Eagles finished with a 7–9 record.  He threw for a league-record 379 completions by a rookie. His 379 completions also set a single season franchise record.  The Eagles were very happy with their first year quarterback and the future looked bright!  But nobody could have predicted how unbelievable the 2017 season would be!
 Philadelphia Eagles v Los Angeles Rams

In the first 5 games of 2017 Wentz threw for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions.  NFL insiders and reporters mentioned him as a Most Valuable Player candidate.  Week after week Wentz led the Eagles.  They didn’t win every game but they were winning most of them.  The Eagles fans had been waiting for years for a quarterback that could lead them to a Super Bowl win.  Since their last championship in 1960  several had taken them to the cusp only to disappoint in the end.  13 years ago another young quarterback named Donovan McNabb started the season 8-1 just like the Eagles record with Wentz after 9 games.  That team finished with a Super Bowl appearance but they lost the big game.  The Eagles fans were hopeful that Wentz could take the team one more step and win the Super Bowl.  This feeling left a Philly fan to be quoted as saying in a recent ESPN the Magazine article that the Philly fans were “cautiously hysterical.”

As much as Wentz and his teammates were stirring up the Philly fans Wentz was also stirring up the Philly clubhouse.  His vibrant faith led to some of his teammates wanting a relationship with God that he had.  What they saw was expressed by the words of Carson himself “I’m very open about my faith,” Wentz said. “I’m not going to hide from it or back down. I also like to try to walk the fine line in being too much and hitting people over the head with the Bible – that’s not what I’m about.

Prior to their October 12th game against the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver Marcus Johnson requested to be baptized at the team hotel. “Seeing how they’re living, how they’re committed to it, I felt like it was God just pushing me, like, ‘look, you can’t keep making excuses anymore. You’ve go to make that decision. Are you going to take that next step in your faith, or are you going to continue to make excuses?”

The Eagles have formed a band of brothers who have Bible Study together and pray together.  They have several members of the team in the brotherhood.  The significance  of their faith as it relates to football was best expressed by linebacker Jordan Hicks.  “When you find something or someone to play for, and you’re not just playing for yourself, naturally it will make you play harder and give you a purpose,” Hicks said. “We play to honor Jesus Christ. That’s what we play for. It takes [the pressure] off our shoulders. Honestly, it makes us play harder in a sense, just understanding the humbling fact that it’s not about us, it’s about him, and glorifying his name.”

It was late in a week 14 game against the Rams. Carson and his team were near the Rams end zone and Carson went back to throw.  Nobody was open so he started to run.  As he neared the goal line he got sandwiched between two Ram players.  He scored the touchdown, which was called back because of a penalty, but Carson was hurt.  He stayed in the game and threw the ensuing  touchdown pass but something was wrong with his knee.  An MRI showed that his ACL was tore and would need surgery.  His season was over and apparently the hopes and dreams of the Eagles and their fans. usa-nick-foles-eagles.jpg

A Christian brother on the team named Nick Foles stepped into Carson’s role.  He was a veteran quarterback who was disillusioned with the sport he loved only 18 months earlier and questioned whether he should stay in the game.  He decided to sign with the Eagles and back up Wentz.  Little did he know the circumstances that would come about.  Now he was depended on to lead the Eagles the rest of the way.  In a fairy tale ending the Eagles led by Foles advanced through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl  Foles was brilliant against the powerful New England Patriots and Philadelphia had won their first championship since 1960.  Their fans were hysterical and the city of Philadelphia was proud of their Eagles! 

When the game clock showed the game was over the Eagle players celebrated on the field.  The Super Bowl trophy was presented to the team in a special ceremony and smiles and high fives were everywhere.  It is a time when many winning team members of the past would go out and celebrate their victory with drinks.  That is why the unusual scene that took place in a little room was so nice to hear about.  It came from a twitter tweet from Tony Dungy (the ex NFL coach).

After all the celebrations and confetti Justin caught up with the 3 Eagles QBs Nick Foles, Carson Wentz & Nate Sudfeld along with Zach Ertz who scored the winning TD. They were in a room by themselves—praying and thanking God. It was great for him to see that.

Many of the Eagle players were soaring.  Yes it was wonderful winning the Super Bowl and making thousands of Philly fans happy.  But there was a more powerful force working on the team and in the community.  Jesus had become real to an Eagle team that will be remembered for their faith long after their Super Bowl glitter fades.  When Carson Wentz found out his season was over he tweeted Proverbs 3:5-6.  The Bible verse Wentz cited reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart / And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”  Clearly that path is heading straight in the game of life no matter what happens in the game of football.  His audience of one is surely pleased!

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61GWG-3HxDL._SY355_.jpg

 

 

” 

 

 

A Familiar Voice

“Oh come on!  It’s only me”  Indeed it was only Vin Scully the long time announcer of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  How long is long time?  How about 67 years!  Who does that?  How many people have you ever heard of  did a job for 67 years?  After 67 years the day came when Vin was finally getting honored.  The ceremony was before a Dodger game and the place was packed.  Many of the people that Vin had touched through the years were there to speak.  One of them was a great pitcher of yesterday named Sandy Koufax.  Sandy had an up and down career.  In his case it was more down and up.  His first 5 years in the league he was a troubled left handed pitcher who barely won as many as he lost.  Then miraculously he found himself and for 5 straight years was the best pitcher anyone had ever seen!  Then at the tender baseball age of 30 Sandy retired.  Arthritis in his left pitching arm had led to his elbow swelling up every time he pitched.  It didn’t affect his great pitching, but made life very painful and Sandy had had enough.  Vin-Scully-FTR-Getty

Sandy now 81 talked about Vin and what he meant to him.  He mentioned how the Dodgers had another great announcer before Vin in Red Barber.  Sandy thought Red was pretty good but he rated Vin very good.  They became friends through the years and Vin has a special place in Sandy’s heart.  You see Sandy has lived his life after retirement far away from the public eye on purpose.  Only as a tribute to Vin was Sandy willing to get before the public again.  Sandy told the story about when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.  It was in those early home games that Sandy notices while pitching that the voice of Vin was all around him.  Fans had paid Vin the ultimate tribute by bringing their transistor radio’s to the games.  They were saying “We like to see the game with our own eyes, but we also like to hear the gentle voice of Vin describe it in his own way to us!”  It was Vin describing Sandy behind the microphone as Sandy performed his greatest feats.  In the 1965 World Series he described Sandy’s every movement on the mound as he maneuvered his way through the Twins order without his best curve ball.  In fact he wasn’t able to get it over the plate at all and relied on his fast ball constantly.  Vin led us up to the big moment and when Sandy recorded the final out Vin was silent.  His style was to let the picture and the fan noise take over.  It was telling a story and his silence invited us to drink in the moment.

After the game in the locker room Vin was interviewing Sandy about a statement he had said earlier.  “Sandy, After the last game”, Vin began “you said you felt like you were one hundred years old.  How do you feel now?”  Sandy quickly answered  his old friend “A hundred and one”  That question in retrospect was what Vin was about.  He wasn’t always trying to get the strategy out of the player as much as he was getting the person out of the player.  We always hear announcers describing games, but Vin had a knack of describing people.  Earlier that year Sandy had thrown a perfect game against the Cubs.  Twenty Seven batters came up that day and twenty seven went down.  It is rare for an announcer to be able to describe a perfect game, but ironically I am sure that Vin called many perfect games.  They weren’t perfect in the baseball world.  The pitcher invariably gives up a hit, walk, and run.  Still the job Vin did in his broadcasts describing the action was perfect!

From the beginning Vin had his own style.  Not only did he describe what was going on in the games, but he was a friend and a story teller.  He did his homework and got to know the players personally.  He would tell us the inside information about a players personal life and how it related to the big game. He could tell us what the player was probably thinking because he had asked them beforehand what they thought about in certain situations.  Vin always described in kind of a sing song tone that was comforting and came across as someone we could trust.  They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  There is an announcer broadcasting games in Japan that gives Vin that highest compliment.  Even though his broadcasts are in Japanese if you listen you will notice that same sing song tone that Vin has used the last 67 years.

Through his many years of broadcasting Vin made numerous great calls.  However the call he made in the 1988 World Series has been voted the greatest moment in baseball history.  Kirk Gibson had carried the Dodgers to the Series with his great play in the N.L. Championship series that qualified them.  In two of the games against the Mets he hit decisive home runs and he also made a great catch in the field.  However during that series he sustained two crippling injuries.  The first was to his left hamstring while stealing a base in game 5.  In game 7 still hobbled by the hamstring he injured his right knee sliding into second.  So as the Series began speculation was that the Dodgers best player through the season and championship series wouldn’t be able to play.  Game one was winding down and the Oakland A’s were a run ahead of the Dodgers.  Vin had been periodically talking about Gibson and how his injuries had him missing in action.  At one point Vin was talking about how Gibson couldn’t possibly pinch hit.  Gibson who was sitting in the locker room with the TV on was heard to say “like He_ _ I can’t!”  He showed up on the bench and informed the manager he was available.  The game winded down to it’s last out.  The Dodgers had a man on first and two outs when Gibson limped up to the plate as a pinch hitter.  Vin had stayed on the story and was taking us step by step into the narrative.  Dennis Eckersley, the best relief pitcher in baseball quickly got two strikes on Gibson.  Gibson feebly hit foul balls where he barely hit the ball.  With each swing we could see how much pain he was in.  The count reached three balls and two strikes.  Then the miracle occurred.  Gibson guessed that Eckersley would throw him a slider and he did.  Gibson’s timing was just right as he hit the ball solid.  Vin Scully described the hit in a very short manner.  “High fly ball to right and she is gone!”  Then there was silence as Gibson hobbled around the bases.  As he got near second base he started pumping his arm in a heroic gesture.  Vin spoke again, “In a year that has been so improbable the impossible has happened.” Then there was silence as Vin let the picture do the talking. Finally as Gibson had crossed the plate to the mob of his ecstatic teammates there was more silence as we drank in the moment and his comment.  Then as the screen played the replay of Gibson hobbling around the bases Vin said “And now the only question was, could he make it around the bases unassisted?”

It seemed appropriate that Kevin Costner who starred in baseball movies Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game would conclude the tribute with this moving speech to Vin Scully.

Image result for kevin costner scully tribute
640 × 426 – ftw.usatoday.com

“We will miss you, my friend. We will miss you in our radio, in our cars, in our backyard. You’ve been a gift to Los Angeles and to baseball itself. It seems forever that you’ve been guiding us through your personal window into the game.

“How lucky we were that day in Brooklyn when the microphone passed into your hands. You were the chosen one, the skinny redhead who stood on the shoulders of the biggest kid, ready to look through the knothole in the fence to describe to us what was going on. You were better than a golden ticket. You invited us all to pull up a chair, spend the afternoon, then proceeded to walk us into the next century.”

“For 67 years you managed to fool us into believing you were just a sports announcer, when in fact you were really a poet, a wordsmith. It was a nice trick, and after almost seven decades, you might’ve thought we would’ve caught on. But now the masquerade is over and the jig is up. We’re all taking deep breaths Vin, and we’re all struggling with our own emotions as we admit we’re down to our last three outs with you.”

“You did it in a style so friendly and unique, so effortless that years from now we will not be able to explain it to those who never heard it for themselves. The game will not lose its way, but it loses a perspective, a singular voice that managed to capture a boy’s game played by man at the highest level. You grounded it in a way no one else ever has, trusting that you never had to make more of any one moment than it really was.”

“We’re all taking deep breaths, Vin,” Costner said. “We’re all struggling with our own emotions as we admit we’re down to our last three outs with you. You’re our George Bailey and it has been a wonderful life. You can’t blame us for trying to hold on to you for as long as we can. And shame on us if you ever have to pay for another meal in public.”

“We know that you have to move up to the press box. Don’t mind us as we turn in our seats to look up one more time. Forgive us our silly wave, our clumsy toast, our personal salute. And should your mind begin to wander as innings start to slip away, we already forgive you. If the memories become too thick, then just stop and look around.  “You leave us and the game, Mr. Scully, but not without leaving a lasting impression, and not without taking a piece of our broken baseball heart.”

Vin was a voice of reason.  When it was hard for Dodger fans to watch because of the tension of the situation, it was Vin with his ever pleasant voice that led them through.  That is how God wants to lead us through trying situations.  The Bible states that “My sheep hear my voice.”  It is very peaceful to hear God’s voice and know that all is well no matter what is happening.

Sandy Koufax mentioned something that Vin prayed for before every World Series.  “Lord, make every player a hero.”  He knew the damage that a single play in an important game could have on a player’s life.  He didn’t want goat horns put on anyone.  That exemplifies the compassionate spirit of Vin Scully.  In his own way he touched lives by his peaceful demeanor, friendship and story telling.  Those are wonderful qualities for all of us to strive for as Christians.  What a wonderful life we can live when we take this non selfish attitude.  What a story we have to tell about Jesus’ undying love for all of us!  We are no more than the vessels he is using for his glory.   Likewise Vin was there to describe, promote, and help us enjoy the game.  As the fans went crazy with their applause Vin in his own way brushed off the gratitude.  As the fans cheered their loudest Vin wasn’t about to let their cheering define the moment. Awe Cmon”, he pleaded,  “It’s only me.”

 

Victory Beyond The Old One Two

He was an angry man.  Had he won that fight he would have forced Mohammad Ali to fight him again and he could get his title back.  George Foreman didn’t call it the Heavyweight Title, he called it his title.  The year was 1977 and George Foreman had been on the comeback trail.  He had won five consecutive fights and that night he fought a man named Jimmy Young.  George had a devastating punch.  Usually his fights would end with his opponent on the canvas.  This fight would be different.  Jimmy Young lasted the whole fight.  When the decision was read it was Young who had his glove raised.  George was crushed as he walked around in the steamy hot dressing room.  He had heard that after a match you should never sit down.  He paced back and forth and felt weakness in his legs.  “I feel like I’m going to”, and before he could say die he passed out.

George Foreman at a joyless time in his life.

George Foreman was born in Marshall Texas in 1949 and grew up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward District.  Looking back he called himself a thug as he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and ran the streets.  In 1965 he joined the Jobs Corps and that decision changed the direction of his life.  At the age of 16 the Jobs Corps provided him with a connection to the boxing world.  It was in a trainer named Doc Broaddus.  Doc encouraged George to apply his fighting skills to the ring instead of the streets.

George developed quickly as a boxer.  He had a mean streak that seemed to help him when he got his opponent in trouble.  He was always able to summon the old one two at just the right time.  He made the 1968 Olympic team and after winning the gold medal he made headlines waiving a little American flag.  This was the Olympic games where two African American runners raised clinched fists wearing black gloves in tribute to black power.  In contrast George’s waiving of the American flag made the statement that he was proud of the country he represented.
After the Olympics George turned pro.  There was much learning to do but he rose in the ranks with each success.  George was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches and 218 pounds of raw muscle.  He was feared by everyone he fought because of his ability to pound his opponents unmercifully to the canvas. He won his first 37 professional fights which earned him a shot at the heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier.  It was 1973 and George was a heavy underdog.   The fight was held January 22, 1973, in Kingston Jamaica.  Shockingly George knocked  Joe Frazier down six times in the two round fight.  Finally the referee stopped the bout and George’s glove was raised in victory.
The next two fights were more of the same for George.  He knocked out Jose (King) Roman in one round and Kenny Norton in two rounds.  He was on top of the boxing world and didn’t think he could be beaten.  Gladly he accepted the challenge of Mohammad Ali.  Ali had been the heavyweight champion before being stripped of his title for refusing to go into the army.  He was finally reinstated to boxing after 3 and a half years and lost his attempt to regain the title from Joe Frazier in 1971.  Now it was 1974 and George didn’t think he could possibly lose.  After all he was destroying everyone in his path in one or two rounds.The bout was held in Zaire South Africa and was billed “The Rumble In The Jungle”.  George came out strong like he always did.  Charging and bulling his way in he continuously got Ali on the ropes.  Ali was different than any opponent he had ever faced however.  When George hit Ali with his best shots Ali would talk to George.  “Is that all you got George?”, he repeated over and over.  George continued to be the aggressor but Ali kept George off balance with his speedy jabs later in the rounds.  Ali started laying on the ropes and inviting George to come and take his best shots.  George did not hesitate and once again he kept hearing Ali talking.  “Is that all you got George?”  In his head George had the thought that wouldn’t go away.  “Yep that’s about it.”  It was a close fight but by the 8th round George was spent.  He wasn’t used to going more than two rounds in his bouts and here Ali was still strong as the 8th round was coming to a close.  Suddenly Ali hit George with a punch to the back of the head and with lightning speed he hit him two more times.  George felt himself dropping to the mat and realized the referee was counting him out.  At the count of 9 George was on his feet but the referee stopped the fight and declared Ali the winner by knockout.It was an embarrassing loss to George and it took him awhile before he laced the gloves up again.  He was bitter at Ali and bitter at a lot of people that he felt did him wrong.  His anger was so deep that he couldn’t figure out a way to hurt all of the people that were burning in his heart.  He took his anger out on his opponents and after not fighting at all in 1975 he had four bouts in 1976 winning all of them in short order.  By 1977 George was being talked about again for another title shot.  Ali had been able to keep the title that he won from George.  George was matched against Pedro Agosto in January of 1977 and won by a first round knockout.  The fight with Jimmy Young was made and George felt that it would be the warmup he needed
before facing Ali again.Jimmy Young was a fighter much like Ali.  He was a very good defensive fighter who had quick hands.  George plowed in determined to hit Jimmy Young with the hay maker that would stop the fight.  Jimmy was able to block George’s attempts again and again and jab his head with a pestering left.  Round after round the same thing happened.  George charging in only to get sent away by Jimmy’s quick hands.  In the 7th round something different happened.  George plowed in as usual but this time he connected.  Jimmy was hurt and staggered to the other side of the ring.  George was right after him determined to put Jimmy on the canvas for good.  Somehow in his hurt condition Jimmy was able to block and duck most of George’s attempts.  George was always able to finish off an opponent when he had them hurt.  He could always count on the old one two, but this time victory would not come.  Adding to his frustration the fans started chanting loudly “Jimmy Young, Jimmy Young.”  George wondered why the fans wouldn’t chant for him?  Jimmy recovered and for the rest of the fight was able to pile up points as George punched a lot of air.
When George was on that dressing room floor he had an encounter like never before.  He felt like he was in this empty place and that the Lord spoke to him.  The Lord said, “I don’t want your money, I want you.”  When he came to he was shouting “Jesus Christ is alive in me”.  George retired at the age of 27 and went into ministry full time.  He formed an independent church and lived each day for the Lord.  All of the bitterness that he had kept inside started to go away.  His heart was full of love as he forgave Ali and everyone else that had been on his hate list.

In 1987 George had a desire in his heart.  He had ballooned up to 315 pounds but the unmistakable desire was there.  He decided to get back into boxing.  He was old now in boxing terms at 38.  Yet it was almost like God had given him the desire to complete the work he had started.  George started winning boxing matches again.  He was big and slow but he still packed a wallop.  George trained hard and got his weight down to 250.  Although he wasn’t the fighter he was he became very popular wherever he fought.  In a drastic switch George was the fan favorite.  Because of his popularity fans wanted to see George fight for the heavyweight title.  Evander Holyfield had the title and gave George a fight.  George fought gallantly but it wasn’t to be.  Evander kept his title that night. 
George persevered however and kept fighting.  At the age of 45 he was given another chance.  The boxing world scoffed at George.  He doesn’t deserve a chance they thought.  Michael Moorer was the Heavyweight champion.  He was a week short of his 27th birthday while George was 45.  It looked like an easy payday for Moorer as he was much quicker than the slow moving Foreman.  The bout played out that way too.  Through the first nine rounds Moore was able to use his speed to beat George consistently to the punch.  He was winning handily on all cards as the 10th round started.  Then out of the blue George connected and connected again.  Michael Moorer went down and was counted out.  George walked slowly back to his corner and landed on his knees.  In front of the whole boxing world he was giving thanks to his God for completing a chapter in his destiny!When you see George Foreman today there is always a smile on his face.  There is joy in his heart where there used to be hate.  It is hard to believe he is the same person.  He has been very successful in business after leaving the ring.  He has been a spokesman for the George Foreman grill for years.  You have seen him no doubt on commercials and his joy is contagious.  He made 200 million dollars from Salton Inc. to use his name to promote the grill.  That was substantially more than he ever made in boxing.  In looking back George is quick to acknowledge that his defeats were the best things to ever happen to him.  “I needed to suffer those defeats so I could hit  bottom and look up”, George stated.    He also adds some advice that we all can use.  “Just take one step at a time, trusting that God still has a plan for you, and he will make the best of your situation.”

Bare Spots In The Grass

They called him “Killer” and he killed the hopes of many teams with his long high home runs.  The thought of facing Harmon Killebrew in a clutch situation made pitchers squirm.   He developed the strength he needed to hit his massive home runs by lifting 10 gallon milk cans as a Idaho farmhand.  While still in high school Herman Welker a U.S. Senator from Idaho and a baseball fan recommended him to the Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith.  Griffith sent a scout named Ossie Bluege to scout him.  Watching Harmon hit a ball over a fence 435 feet away (a feat never accomplished before on that field) made Ossie’s decision easy and he signed Killebrew to a contract for the Senators.  Killebrew had also excelled in football as a Quarterback and had aspirations of playing college football.  All of that changed that day as Bluege saw the unmistakable potential in young Killebrew.  His decision was one of the best ever in baseball.  Killebrew went on to play 22 years in the big leagues.  His list of accomplishments are many.  He hit over 40 home runs in a season eight times.  He led the league in home runs six times and in Runs Batted In three times.  He won the most valuable player award in 1969 when he hit 49 home runs and drove in 140.  He blasted 573 home runs in his career which at the time of his retirement was 4th all time.  His home runs were majestic and he created fear for the opposition when he firmly took his stance like a giant rock at the plate.  He was the first player to ever hit a ball completely out of Tiger Stadium to left field (only 3 have done it since).  They painted a seat at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota that one of Killebrew’s blasts had rocketed into some 530 feet from home plate!  His home run records were even more amazing considering that his home fields were among the biggest in all of baseball.

In 1984 Killebrew was elected to baseball’ hall of fame.  As a kid I remember Killebrew batting and his raw power at the plate.  I remember teams fearing his thunder and walking him whenever it was convenient.  However, the story that he told that day put a whole different light to what I think about when his name comes up.  At these events someone comes up and introduces the recipient with a nice speech.  Then it is time for the recipient to give his.  Harmon humbly told a tale about his parents and what he said still brings tears to my eyes.  You see his brothers and him regularly played ball in the yard.  After awhile his mother noticed that they were making bare spots all over the well kept green grass.  With her eyes on the unpleasant sight that these spots had caused she complained to her husband one day.  His statement back to her put everything in perspective.  “We are not trying to grow grass”, he said, “we are trying to raise boys!”

The Bible has a lot of examples where people put the wrong thing first and weren’t focused on the ultimate goal.  In Luke 11:37-41 it reads that Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house to eat.  The Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not wash before eating as was the Jewish tradition.  Jesus took this opportunity to condemn the Pharisees  for wrong thinking.  39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.  He was telling them that the important thing was not following rules but having a clean heart.  Another example of focusing on the wrong thing can be found in Luke 10:38-42.  Jesus and his disciples were coming into a village and Martha opened up her house to them.  Martha and Mary were sisters and were preparing the meal but when Jesus came Mary sat at his feet and listened intently to his message.  Martha got upset and this is what happened.  She came to him and asked, “Lord don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.  Once again we see that Martha was concerned more about the worldly things while Mary did right in her hunger for the spiritual.

Sadly in our Christian walk the same types of things happen today.  There are people who feel that it is important to build a bigger church or make sure that the young people have something to entertain them.  They may be consumed by the amount of money the church receives or the types of people that attend their church.  We have to ask ourselves, What is our true purpose?  The right way of thinking should  always be the spiritual one.  We live in an age where people want to go to beautiful big churches.  On the other end of the scale Christians want to build the fanciest churches.  Is this the right way of thinking?  Isn’t this the same thing that Jesus talked about when the Pharisee was putting an emphasis on what the cup looked like on the outside without regards to the inside?  The important thing is not if the church is big or small or in between, it is it’s spiritual heart.  Is it clean and doing things for the right reasons?  Are we making decisions after getting direction from God and attempting to do what he wants instead of our own will?

Harmon Killebrew was not an extra large man.  He was only 5’10 and weighed around 215 pounds.  Yet when he came to bat he made a big difference in the game not only by his enormous home runs but also by the fear he put into the other teams head.  Yet without the forethought of his loving father all of that might not have happened.  I still shake my head in amazement over the wisdom of that statement.  “We’re not trying to grow grass, we are trying to raise boys!”  I pray that  as Christians we will stop trying to grow grass and start focusing on what God can do through us!

Jackie’s Friend

“Carl”, one of his teammates said to him as he was sitting on the bench.  “Someone is here to see you, he asked “Where’s Carl Erskine?”  Carl made his way to the front of the dugout.  Sure enough there was somebody there, it was Jackie Robinson.  Carl went up the dugout steps to meet him.  Carl Erskine was a minor league pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers top farm club in Fort Worth.  The year was 1948 and young Carl was given the opportunity to pitch in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He pitched well for six innings facing the best the Dodgers had to offer.  Now here was Jackie Robinson already a star on the Dodgers paying a visit.  Jackie Robinson was the first black to play in the big leagues and Carl had the utmost respect for him and what he had to go through.  “Let me tell you young man”, Jackie began, “You won’t be long for this league, you’ll be pitching for the Dodgers before you know it!”    They talked a little bit more and Jackie left.  Carl had felt good about the way he had pitched but now he had an extra serge of confidence race through him.  In his mind he played over and over again Jackie’s kind words!  Inspired by those words Carl was determined to make Jackie right!  It turned out that Jackie was right!  Later that year Carl got the call to join the Brooklyn Dodgers and become one of their starting pitchers!

Erskine

With the Dodgers Carl started seeing first hand what Jackie was going through.  Jackie had came to an agreement with Branch Rickey the Dodgers General Manager that he would not retaliate to any abuse he received.  He was to turn the other cheek and just concentrate on the game at hand.  The abuse went far beyond the playing field too.  Jackie was not allowed to be with his teammates in many of the hotels the club stayed in.  By 1948 the Dodgers had signed two more black players and they were rejected also.  While Jackie was combative to the situation his two teammates seemed passive.  They were just happy to be in the big leagues and were willing to take the abuse to be there.  Although Jackie had to endure his eyes were always on the big picture.  His vision was not about himself but all of the black players that would come after him.  His dream was equality for all in baseball and in our country.  Although Jackie kept his calm on the outside on the inside he felt anger.  Vin Scully, the longtime Dodgers announcer stated that “Jackie Robinson is the only player he had ever seen who played better when he was angry.”

Jackie’s wife Rachel told the story many times about Jackie’s ability to stay the course.  “Jackie would come home many times angry”, Rachel would say “but the next day he was ready to go again.”  It was like he was forgetting the past and concentrating on the new day that was ahead of him.  Rachel was the rock that Jackie leaned on when he felt down.  It was Rachel who consoled him with the words “nobody said it was going to be easy.”  Through their times away from each other Jackie would write Rachel the most beautiful letters.  His daughter Sharon shared that Jackie started every letter to his beloved wife with “Darling.”

Rachel and Jackie

Rachel and Jackie

Until the computer and email took over hand written letters were a way of communicating our love.  I remember when I was young we would get letters often from my grandma in Alabama.  She would tell us all of the news going on around there and dad would write her back with all of the news here.  Of course there was a two or three day delay from when the letter was sent until it was received.  Before I could write or even knew the letters of the alphabet I would “write” my mom letters trying to imitate the squiggly lines I saw in my grandma’s letters.  Mom would invariably ask me what it said and of course I had no idea.  I thought she could interpret and read something into what I created.  There wasn’t a communications problem with grandma’s letters.  It made my parents happy to get her letters and feel the love she was sending!

Besides letters to his beloved wife Rachel, Jackie also wrote letters to people in high places.  When he felt an injustice was done or that someone had the power to rectify a situation you could count on Jackie taking up the cause with pen in hand.  His life revolved around others and he felt like he was just someone trying to make a difference.  It was with this humble attitude that Jackie developed a friendship with a young man that lasted for years!

It was an improbable relationship between a boy and a man.  It started when Ron Rabinovitz’s dad David sent a letter to Jackie Robinson.  The Rabinovitz’s lived in Sheboygan Wisconsin and Jackie agreed that the next time the Dodgers were in Milwaukee he would personally meet young Ronnie age 7!  Jackie also enclosed an autographed picture for young Ronnie.  When the Dodgers did come to Milwaukee Jackie kept his word. He met Ronnie and his dad and introduced Ronnie to other members of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Ronnie was thrilled as Jackie gave him a baseball and had all of the players he met sign it!

Ron sent Jackie a letter back thanking him for all that he did for him!  It wasn’t long afterwards that Ron received a letter in the mail on Brooklyn Dodger stationary and a special friendship developed!  Jackie would tell Ron all of the things he was going through and Ron would tell Jackie things that were happening in his life growing up.  There were barriers in their friendship as Ron was a kid and Jackie a grown man.  Ron was Jewish and Jackie was Christian.  Ron lived in a small midwest town while Jackie was out east in New York. Through it all Ron grew to consider Jackie a mentor and Jackie considered Ronnie a trusted friend!  They could confide in each other and Jackie would let Ronnie know the inside struggles he was going through on and off of the field.  This relationship went on for years and is best exemplified in a letter that Jackie sent Ronnie in November 1958 after his playing days were over.    It was a short letter to Ronnie and it was right to the point.  “Ronnie, one of the things that pleases me most is that our friendship continues even though I am now out of baseball.  It’s friends like you that make me feel that everything that happened was worthwhile.”

Always, Jackie

Carl Erskine was asked to tell how Jackie Robinson affected his life the most.  It didn’t take Carl long to answer.  Carl had four children and the fourth was named Jimmy.  Jimmy was born with down syndrome and because of that he was always a special needs kid.  Carl was able to relate to Jackie Robinson’s plot with the Dodgers and his struggle to be accepted.  He was able to fight the battle of acceptance for his own son much like Jackie had fought for acceptance of his race.  Carl is happy to report that although change was slow it came.  Now kids in this dreaded situation are accepted much more readily in our society.  Carl learned from Jackie that no matter how hard the fight results can come when we stay the course and continue to battle!

Ron Rabinovitz began corresponding with Jackie Robinson in 1954, when he was a 7-year-old Dodgers fan.

As Ronnie pulled out his album with his letters from Jackie he had to choke back tears.  Besides the free flowing hand written notes there were telegrams congratulating him on his bar mitzvah  and high school graduation.  Also there were pictures of him and Jackie together.  Not shown in the album were his memories of Jackie’s telephone  calls and visits when the team was in Milwaukee.  Dinners they shared together at a place named Eugenes in Milwaukee where a main lobster dinner was just $5.00!  As Ronnie pulled out his baseball that is over 60 years old now he went over the signatures of the players he met.  All of the big names on the Dodgers seemed to be there except one.  In his quest to put others first Jackie simply forgot to sign Ronnie’s ball.  That’s OK with Ronnie.  All of the players who signed that baseball were people that Ronnie didn’t know.  The fact that Jackie didn’t sign with that group seems only right.  His friendship with his friend and mentor Jackie couldn’t be expressed with just an autograph.

“A life is not important except for the impact that it has on others”

Jackie Robinson

 

"We were so different," Ron Rabinovitz says of his friendship with Jackie Robinson. "I was white, he was black. I was a Jew, he was a Christian. ... I was a child, he was an adult. But we developed this bond that I can't even explain."

God’s Huddle

You would have thought that Russell Wilson the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks would have been jumping for joy.  After all his team had just advanced to the Super Bowl with an amazing improbable come from behind win over the Green Bay Packers.  Down 19-7 with 2 minutes and nine seconds left the Seahawks scored a touchdown to make the score 19-14.  Everyone knew that their only hope was an onside kick.  Incredibly the onside kick bounced off of a Packer player and the Seahawks recovered.  Before you knew it another Seattle touchdown made it 20-19 Seattle.  Seattle went for a two point conversion and Russell Wilson was rushed and was running backwards as he tossed the ball way up in the air.  Incredibly a Seattle player jumped up and caught it for the conversion.  Trailing by three points the Packers came rallying back and kicked the game tying field goal forcing overtime.  Wilson who was having a miserable game through the first 57 minutes of play threw a 35 yard touchdown pass that ended the game and left him reacting very unexpectedly.  Tears were rolling down his face during the prayer huddle.

Wilson throwing

After NFL games Christian players get together for a prayer.  It is decided that win or lose the prayer will take place.  The TV cameras grudgingly give us a shortened view.  Both the winning and losing teams are represented.  It is a statement that we have only played a game and we are all winners because of our faith in Jesus Christ!  The huddle symbolizes that there is someone far more important in our lives than football.  Football is our job and we do our best to win the games but we represent someone who is far bigger than any game.  Most of us have seen the prayer huddle after games.  Few realize how the huddle got started.  It was a game where the New York Giants played the San Francisco 49ers in 1990 in San Francisco.  As Brent Jones the 49ers tight end stated “Guys from both teams just wanted to make a statement, it caught fire from there.”  So what is said in one of these meetings after the two teams have pounded each other into the turf for sixty minutes?  “A guy from either team will offer up a prayer of thanksgiving and for getting through the game healthy”, Jones stated.

It’s amazing how often before the interview on national TV starts a player will shun the greatness everyone is willing to place upon him with the statement “I’d like to give all of the glory to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”  The late Reggie White nicknamed, The Minister of Defense, took his belief one step further in the 1990’s as he and his defense led the fans in a chorus of Amazing Grace during a TV time out in the NFL championship game at Lambeau Field.  “It was incredible”, stated Pat Richie who was the evangelical chaplain for the 49ers.  “The defense was down there conducting the choir.”  Richie has a picture of the first Candlestick Park prayer huddle hanging in his Alamo office as a reminder that it all got started here.

While we see the games as spectators as fun and exciting, for the players there is a lot of stress involved.  For every player who seemingly is secure in their jobs there are so many that could be cut at any time.  When the thrills of the fast cars, big money, and fast life fade it is human nature to look for some kind of stability.  Many have found stability in Jesus Christ and on every team there are leaders that can steer them in the right direction!

Wilson prayer

Russell Wilson is going in the right direction these days.  Last year his team won the Super Bowl and this year they are back defending their title.  No matter what the outcome of the game look closely.  There will be a lot of distractions around the big game.  There will be funny commercials, a celebrated halftime performance, announcers singing praises, and dancing touchdown moves.  The game will end like all of the past Super Bowls where one team will be glorified and the other disheartened.  For all of the glory and fame that moment brings it slowly fades.  Who won the Super Bowl in 2000?  How about 2010 for that matter?  Unless you are a fan of the team that won you might have trouble remembering who won the Super Bowl two years ago.  Yet there is something that Russell Wilson said as he was about to get interviewed after his victorious touchdown pass.  “God is so good”, he stated through his tears.  There is a growing number of NFL players that feel the same way.  You will notice the prayer huddle after the big game.  The TV camera may glance over it quickly so keep your eyes peeled.  The shine from the big game will pass and the glory fade.  In a quiet circle God’s huddle will take place. Representatives from both teams will hold hands and a solidarity thankful prayer will be made.  Though their uniforms may be different their ultimate victorious team is the same!

Taking a prayer knee

 

 

Row The Boat

There is a new energy around the Western Michigan University campus and football program this year!  It started with the hiring of a new head coach P.J Fleck.  P.J is the youngest coach in the NCAA at only 32 years old.  A major reason that he was hired was because of his high energy and enthusiasm!  Another factor was his vision for the program in the years ahead!

Coach Fleck was an assistant on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team.  Before that he  assisted for 2 years at Rutgers and 3 years at Northern Illinois.  He started out as a receiver for Northern Illinois and played briefly in the NFL.  While assisting at Northern Illinois he was in charge of recruiting.  This last year with many of his recruits on the field Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl game!  This is a first for a mid major university!  In his short few months here at Western Coach Fleck is already making waves.  His 2014 recruiting commitment class is ranked number 28 in the nation at the present time!  So what is it about Fleck that is attracting talented kids to play on his team and away from more traditional football powers?  What is it that is making Flecks team an exciting alternative to bigger schools with great histories?  I believe that they are seeing a complete vision and a place for them to come in and help that vision come true!  I have only heard Coach Fleck talk in person one time, but in that talk I came away so impressed and fired up about our program!  He brings such an energy level and it is based on a determination that you can’t help to notice!  His philosophy starts with three simple words Row The Boat!

Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard introduce P.J. Fleck as the next coach! Rowing the boat begins!

Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard introduce P.J. Fleck as the next coach! Rowing the boat begins!

The row the boat concept had it’s beginnings in a personal tragedy in Fleck’s life.  He had a son named Colt that was born with a bad heart.  When he was born they knew that they would only have him for a short while.  His death was an enormous heartbreak to his family.  Through it all Fleck came up with his Row the Boat philosophy.  Rowing the boat meant to him that no matter what happens (good or bad), he was going to keep rowing the boat.  This concept kept him focused on the big picture of life.  I guess you can say it is a simple concept.  If you have everyone in the boat rowing at the same pace and the same direction, the boat will maximize it’s speed and stay straight.  Each person in the boat has to do their part.  It’s more than what they can do individually, it is about what they can do as a team.  If someone doesn’t row, the boat will zig zag but still get there.  If half the people are not rowing, the boat will end up going in circles.

Rowing the boat starts with getting a team in the boat.  When everyone is in they have to be really in.  These are shark infested waters and you can’t be hanging off of the side of the boat and stay intact.  Once everyone is in they are given two oars and the practice of working together begins!  It may take speeding the pace up to keep up or sacrificing a little of the pace for the good of the whole.  Everyone needs to be on the same page with a common goal!  Everyone must be consumed with doing their own job and doing it as part of the team!

This is Coach Fleck's business card, made out of wood!

This is Coach Fleck’s business card, made out of wood!

Rowing a boat is in fact an act of faith.  Each one rowing is facing the opposite direction to where the boat is going.  We don’t know what is ahead of us.  All we know is what we have already experienced.

Fleck talks about the makeup of the boat.  He is concentrating his efforts to build a solid dependable foundation.  Building fast may work in the short term but with no foundation it would be like building with paper mache.  Eventually as time passes the boat will not be able to hold up.  He talks about building an old ironsides type of boat that will last through the ups and downs.  The oars are tools to make the boat go.  The driving force is the people in the boat and how they use the tools they are given.

The “R” in the Row the Boat philosophy stand for Responsibility.  Fleck contends that responsibility is taking accountability and willingness to pay the price for our actions good or bad.  It’s a matter of choices that we make.  He maintains that we make a choice of brushing our teeth for instance.  If we do this consistantly we enjoy the benefits of nice sparkly teeth.  If we neglect this act we receive the opposite results.  If one of the players goes out drinking one night and gets pulled over for a DUI charge that is the consequence of the choice they made.  If they stay out of trouble off of the field and work hard on the field they will receive positive consequences.

The “T” in the Row the Boat philosophy stands for Trust.  Fleck contends that every relationship is built on trust. “If you break trust it is very hard to get it back and you will never get it back to 100 percent”, he states.  “Most of the world lies by either commission or ommission, either flat out lieing or leaving out bits and pieces.”  Within that trust is the belief that you will do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it.  Sometimes you may be asked to do a little extra always with the team as a whole in mind.

The “B” in the Row the Boat philosophy stands for Belief.  Fleck mentioned that you have to believe in yourself, believe in the vision, and be willing to die for the vision.  He states that you should love the vision and trust that it can happen!

Row The Boat!

Row The Boat!

According to Fleck belief can be broken down into two units.  The first is attitude.  He calls for direct energy much like a lazer beam.  Lazer beams are energy directed to one place at one specific time.  He urges his players to direct all of their energy to one three or four second play taking one play at a time.

The second part of belief is confidence.  Confidence in his mind comes from being prepared.  One of the knocks against Fleck was that he was so young and he didn’t have the experience that some of the older candidates had.  Fleck counters this notion with the fact that he has dreamed of this opportunity and he has prepared himself to be successful in  it!  He is confident that he can do the job because he has been successful in everything leading up to this point.  Although he hasn’t specifically coached a college football team, he has coached position players at college and the professional level.  Although he has not overseen all of the aspects of a program, he has overseen the recruiting aspect which is a big part of the coaches responsibility!  All of his little victories has given him confidence that he can win the big victories to come!

Coach Fleck has a vision and it is more than having a successful football team.  It is a vision of giving a vision to the community!  He would like to have an oar in every bank, bakery, restaurant, dorm room, and the list goes on.  It would be a rallying cry that we all can be successful and would help us to look at the football team’s success as an example!  It would be a symbol of support and it would get to the point where people wouldn’t have to ask what it meant, they would know!  They would be motivated to do everything they could as fans, sponsors, alumni, coaches, and everyone else that was involved some way with the team.  Here are your oars, start rowing.  Don’t worry about anything except doing what you are supposed to do at the time you are supposed to do it.

I’ve been thinking about the philosophy of rowing the boat in our christian walk!  Fleck mentions that the philosophy incompasses much more than football.  It could be about a young kid fighting a battle against cancer.  It could be any trouble or trial people are going through.  Have faith in what you are doing and the purpose of working together and keep rowing.

Coach Fleck describes the definition of insanity as “doing the same things and expecting different results.”  He vowed that he would not make that mistake with his program.  Too many times we Christians get into a similar pattern.  We wonder why our church isn’t growing and why we feel like we are seeing the same faces over and over.  We wonder why we are not seeing the power of God as we do our same rituals.  As Christians we have the boat in place.  Jesus Christ is the rock of our salvation.  The old hymn states that “on Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.”  The solid rock Jesus can be compared to the boat.  Our boat is made of the finest materials that will carry us through all of lifes troubled seas.  We won’t be able to see the future, just as when rowing we can’t see behind us.  Yet we know to  keep rowing through good times and bad.  When the sea is calm or when there is an uprising it should make no difference.  We are not controlled by the things going on around us.  We are controlled by the vision that God has for our lives.  We are controlled by him and the desire to do his will!  If we do not feel that passion we need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are truly in the boat all the way?  If God asks us to do something can he count on us to get it done?

The oar represents the tools that he gives each of us.  Whether it is a gift that we can share with others or a listening ear.  Whether it is a kind word we can give or an ability to teach someone something important.  There is something that each of us can do!  The oar is the tool, but it needs force to make it a useful tool.  That is where God’s power will help us if we truly believe!  In believing in him and his vision for us we open the connection to his power to help us row successfully!  He is our strength in good times and times of trouble!  In our christian walk the symbol of our faith is the cross.  Imagine those oars in the water as an extension of the bloodied cross that Jesus died on.  Seeing his blood stains as a rememberance of what and why we are doing what we are doing can keep us going in the right direction and pushing hard for all that he wants to do through us!!

It’s a wonderful scenerio of what can be! The first thing that we all need to do is get in the boat.  We can’t be halfway in the boat because then we can’t do what is needed.  We can’t row if we are not securely settled on the boats floor!  To not be totally in the boat is in fact to be out and is very dangerous as the devil’s waters are filled with hazards.  We are either all in or all out.  Now that we are in we need to focus everything that we have into the moment.  Living one oar stroke at a time by doing what is needed at the time it is needed!  The more we get in rhythm with what we are supposed to do the more faith we will receive as the boat goes forward!   When it’s all said and done and the boat crosses the finish line we’ll get a reward with the comment “well done my good and faithful servant.”  Don’t worry about the past because that is gone.  Have faith for the future that is ahead of you.  Deal in the present because that is the only thing we can deal with right now.  One day our life will end and our journey will be over.  Until then as Coach Fleck would say whether things are going good or bad  “Row The Boat!”

CLICK BELOW TO SEE AN INTERVIEW WITH COACH FLECK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3W8QejlYrI&feature=player_embedded

Teammates For Life

“Maurice was all alone, something had to be done and someone had to do it, I was the only one around so I became that someone.”  Those are the simple words of Jack Twyman as he described what he did for Maurice Stokes for twelve years.  It wasn’t like they were best friends before the tragic day.   It wasn’t like they had alot in common.  Maurice was a 6’7  240 pound black man who was a power of muscle on the basketball court.  Nobody had ever seen his combination of quickness, bulk, and jumping ability! Jack was 6’6 but he was a skinny white guy and his skill was shooting the basketball.  They both came into the NBA in 1955.  For the first three years in the league everyone knew that Maurice was playing out a Hall of Fame career.  He was such a force that he was voted the rookie of the year and later he led the league in rebounding!  He was 24 years old and improving every year when the tragedy occurred.

It appeared that Maurice had many years of greatness ahead of him!

It appeared that Maurice had many years of greatness ahead of him!

It was the last game of the 1957-58 season and Maurice and Jack’s Cincinnati Royals were playing the Minneapolis Lakers.  Maurice was going up for a rebound when his feet got pulled from under him by a Lakers players shoulders.  Maurice came down head first on the court and was knocked out.  If this incident happened today Maurice would have been sent to the hospital and checked out.  Back then though they gave him smelling salts and called him good to go.  He actually came back into the game.  Two days later after the Royals played the Detroit Pistons in a first round playoff game the team boarded a plane to go back to Cincinnati.  Maurice, who was still groggy and sore,  had a very underwhelming game for him with 12 points and 15 rebounds.  On the plane Maurice became violently sick.  He began to perspire heavily and the pilot called ahead to have an ambulance ready when they arrived.  When the plane finally landed Maurice was unconcious with a 106 temperature.  Maurice was rushed to St. Elizabeth hospital where he slipped into a coma.  The next day the Royals were eliminated by the Pistons ending their season.  While the other players hurriedly scattered back to their hometowns Jack remained.  Cincinnati was his hometown.  For that Maurice would be forever thankful! 

Things were so different in the NBA back then.  The average player made ten thousand dollars if that.  Maurice being way better than average was making twenty thousand.  With Maurice unable to play anymore that salary would be lost.  Maurice’s parents Tero and Myrtle didn’t have the means to pay for their sons expensive hospital bills and the hospital was losing their patience.  Someone had to act right away to stem the tide.  In Jack’s own words, he became that someone.  “I became his Guardian”, Jack stated.  He had a bank account that nobody could touch.  He also had a brand new car that needed to be sold. 

The final diagnosis for Maurice was Post-Traumatic Encepholopathy.  He was paralyzed from the neck down, unable to speak, and stricken to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.  He was later transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital where his vigorous rehab therapy would take place.  He was able to re-gain use of his hands and was able to learn to speak again years later, though it was hard for people that were not constantly around him to understand.  The therapy at the hospital was very expensive.  Jack looked down every possible avenue to raise money.

Not only were salaries low in 1958 for NBA players but they didn’t have insurance.  There was no workmans compensation benefits.  Jack hired a lawyer who brought a lawsuit against the NBA and won.  In doing so Jack invariably had to risk his own status in the league.  Jack was still a player getting paid by the league to play basketball.  He didn’t think of himself and his status.  He had a single minded goal of raising needed money for Maurice. 

Maurice and Jack

Maurice and Jack

Still so much more was needed.  Jack worked with the NBA Public Relations man Haskell Cohen and Catskills Hotel owner Milton Kutsher to create a benefit game for Maurice.  Catskills was a Jewish resort that later became home to very competitive basketball games with stars from colleges competing.  Kutsher had the venue and when he heard about Maurice’s plight he wanted to help!  The league came together as one to help also.  Many of the leagues stars participated in the annual Maurice Stokes game and thousands of dollars were raised every year.  Maurice got to a point where he was able to attend some of the games.  Maurice took the time to make ash trays for all of the participants!  It was a big highlight of Maurice’s year to attend and share his infectious smile and gifts with his long past rivals.

The Maurice Stokes benefit game raised over $750,000 over the years but still it wasn’t enough.  Jack approached every media outlet in the towns the Royals played in to tell  Maurice’s story.  Through his efforts donations poured in.  Every Christmas he appeared on Howard Cosell’s radio show to share Maurice’s story again.  His story was featured in Sports Illustrated and another $200,000 was generated!  Through all of Jack’s efforts Maurice’s expenses were getting paid.  Maurice for his part continued the rigorous regiment of rehabilitation that was before him.  The results seemed small but Maurice was never discouraged.  The hospital actually brought victims of serious crashes and other traumatic experience to Maurice because he could cheer them up with his loving inspired attitude!  Sometimes when Jack was feeling down he visited Maurice because Maurice always had a way of putting a smile on Jack’s face!

Maurice suffered a massive heart attack in 1970 and died at the young age of 36.  Undoubtedly he was strained by his situation and his attempts to keep  upbeat in the midst of his troubles.  After twelve years the burden on Jack was now removed.  He had retired as a player and was working as a game commentator for ABC.  In 1983 Jack was inducted into the Naismith NBA Hall of Fame!  Later Jack would become a food company executive and made more than three million dollars when he sold the company in 1996!

In 1973 a movie was made about Maurice.  It didn’t receive great reviews as the critics labeled it as a tragedy displayed with “soap opera effects.”  A special viewing was reserved for Tero and Myrtle (Maurice’s parents).  After the viewing Tero broke the silence.  “It was sad but it was also beautiful”, he said.

The Bible speaks about the Good Samaritan.  In this case Jack went even beyond the Good Samaritan’s deed.  Jack was the Good Samaritan to Maurice for twelve years!  Although Jack was extremely successful financially after his NBA career and received the highest NBA honor in the Hall of Fame, his legacy with Maurice will always be his shining glory.  Jack was always humble about the experience saying “anybody would have done it.”  I’m sure it was Jack that was placed there because his other teammates wouldn’t have. 

There were a couple of other issues not mentioned.  Jack was white and Maurice was black.  Back in 1958 racial opinions were far different.  Jack never let the opinions of others get in his way of helping Maurice!  The other factor was Jack’s family.  He had a growing family at the time of the accident.  There was a time when Jack questioned whether he was neglecting his own family.  His family proved to be very understanding though and Maurice became a part of them too!

One of the happiest days for Jack was when Maurice got named to the Hall of Fame in 2004 and Jack accepted the award on his behalf!  After playing only three years in the league such an honor was unheard of.  Yet because of the very special circumstances Maurice will forever have a plaque in the Hall of Fame for all who visit to see!

Jack Twyman died last year at the age of 78.  In his and Maurice’s honor this year the NBA has named a new award.  It is called the Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award.  The first winner of the award was Chauncey Billups.  The award has a sculpture of Twyman helping up Stokes his fallen teammate.  After finding out that he won the award Chauncey did some research of Twyman and Stokes.  Chauncey was amazed at the story and the dedication involved.  He considered himself a good teammate but he was very humbled to be mentioned in the same breath as what Jack Twyman contributed. 

Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award

Twyman-Stokes Teammate Of The Year Award

When Maurice had undergone so many hours and years of rehabilitation he was finally able to use his hands.  It was decided that maybe a typewriter would be a good gift for him!  Studiously and slowly he typed out a message.  It was the first thing that he typed on that typewriter and it was the most memorable!  He typed out a letter to his friend Jack.  The text was this:  “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?” It reminds me of a question we should all ask Jesus for dying for our sins.  The answer of course is you can’t, but accept this gift because I love you!

Post Navigation