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Safe At Home

Bobby Richardson had a Mickey Mantle moment once.  Bobby was the little second baseman that played for the Yankees in the late 50’s  til the mid 60’s.  Bobby was a light hitter without much power.  Usually in clutch situations just as he was going to bat he would hear his manager Casey Stengal holler “drop that gun.”  It meant that someone was going to pinch hit for Bobby.  The Yankees had just loaded the bases and Bobby was walking up to the plate.  It was the World Series of  1960 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Bobby was sure that he would hear Casey’s voice one more time and was shocked when Casey’s crackling voice didn’t fill the air.  Apparently Casey had a feeling that it was Bobby who would come up with a big hit.  Bobby was thinking about how he could punch a ball into right field and perhaps get an opposite field hit.  Surprisingly the pitchers pitch was on the inside corner of the plate and Bobby turned on it and ripped it down the left field line.  Amazingly the line drive sailed over the left fielders head and into the seats just fair!  Bobby had hit 1 home rune through the whole 162 game regular schedule so his dramatic grand slam on the biggest baseball stage was shocking!  He trotted around the bases just like Mantle had done 40 times in the regular season.  It was truly a Mickey Mantle moment.

World Series, New York Yankees Bobby Richardson in action, hitting grand slam HR during game vs Pittsburgh Pirates, Bronx, NY 10/8/1960

When Bobby was 14 years old he had an experience that felt like that grand slam he hit in the World Series only it lasted the rest of his life.  His plans were to be outside playing the game that he loved so much (baseball) when his parents had another idea.  Bobby was to be home when their church pastor made a visit.  Although the Richardson’s were regular church attenders Bobby discovered that day that there was something missing in his life.  The pastor pointed out to young Bobby that all had sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Bobby realized that he needed to accept Jesus Christ into his heart and the pastor led him in the sinners prayer.  From that day forward there was a new peace in Bobby.  That decision changed his life as far as the decisions that he made while he was a major league baseball player and the years after he retired from the game. Bobby would become a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which emphasized sharing the Christian faith from their athletic pedestal.

Mickey Mantle knew all about that athletic pedestal.  He had been on it for years as the center fielder on the most recognized team in baseball (the New York Yankees).  Mantle’s love of baseball started with his father.  Mickey was named after his father’s favorite player Mickey Cochrane.  Mickey’s father who was a miner in Commerce Oklahoma left the house early in the morning and didn’t return until late in the day.  Mickey was to be around when his father came home because it was a ritual that his father pitch to Mickey every day.  They had an old barn and Mickey stood in front of it with his bat waiting for his father’s pitch. Mickey was a natural right handed hitter but his father insisted he switch hit (bat from both sides.)  He had seen that baseball was starting to go to platoon systems where the managers had left handed batters facing right handed pitchers and vice versa.  He wanted his son to have an advantage that the other players didn’t.  Every day young Mickey would bat against his father (who pitched right handed) and his grandfather (who pitched left handed).  In that way young Mickey practiced from both sides of the plate and got a clear picture of what the pitches looked like from both a lefty and a righty.  It was this labor of love from his father that made Mickey a high school star and led to his signing with a New York Yankee scout.

Mickey astoundingly made the Yankees team at the age of 19.  His manager Casey Stengal gushed as he talked about the young phenom.  Not only could Mantle hit long home runs from both sides of the plate he could also run like the wind!  He was the fastest player in the major leagues.  They gave him the number 6 and it was symbolic.  Babe Ruth was number 3, Lou Gehrig was number 4, and Joe DiMaggio was number 5.  Mantle symbolically was to become the next Yankee star.  Along with his managers praise and the symbolic number Mickey started to feel pressure.  The fans expected to see the next great star and Mantle was not delivering.  He was striking out a lot and he was very down on himself.  It got to a point where Casey called him into the office.  Mantle was in tears when Casey told him they were sending him down to Kansas City (the Yankees minor league team.)  Although Casey tried to encourage him Mickey felt like a failure.

The Yankee organization thought that a trip to Kansas City would uplift Mickey’s confidence as he started hitting again.  It seemed that the opposite was true.  Mickey kept striking out at a rapid pace even though the pitchers were not nearly as good.  After every game Mickey was getting down on himself further.  At long last he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was feeling extreme depression and called his father.  It was a very short conversation as his father said he was on his way to see him.  Mickey was delighted that his father was making the trip.  He thought that somehow his father would understand his dilemma and comfort him with loving advice.  When his father showed up a few hours later he marched past Mickey and started throwing Mickey’s clothes into a suit case.  “Dad, what are you doing?”  “I thought you had guts”, was his reply.  “You can come home and work in the mines with me!”  As his father was hurriedly packing his suitcase Mickey was frantically telling him that he would do better.  Finally he convinced his father to give him another chance and his father left for home.  After that encounter Mickey started hitting like never before and was soon back with the Yankees.

In the 1951 World Series Mickey had a devastating injury.  Mickey was playing right field and was charging after a fly ball to right center.  Seeing DiMaggio (the center fielder) catch the ball at the last minute Mantle tried to put on the brakes and hit a sprinkler head placed in the outfield.  The pop could be heard all around the ball park as Mantle had severely injured his leg.  They had him in the hospital and ironically the guy in the other bed in the room was his father.  The history of the Mantle men was not good.  Each of them died before the age of 40.  Mickey’s dad was no exception.  He was dying from Hodgkins Disease  and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  As they both left the hospital together Mickey without thinking leaned on his father for support.  His father crumbled to the weight which had to be devastating to young Mickey who had depended on his father so much.

Mickey’s father died a short time later.  Mickey spent the times after games for the rest of his career living it up.  In his mind life would end for him at 40 just like the other Mantle men.  He was going to get out of life all that it had to offer.  Even though he had a wife in Dallas Mickey lived as though he were a man without  responsibilities.  He did not enjoy the off season as it was a reminder that he had others to think about.  He had a growing family but wasn’t the father he should have been.  His life was wrapped around Mickey and a Yankee team who were heavy drinkers.  After games Mickey along with Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were regulars in the bar scene.  One time Bobby Richardson was involved but it was in a funny way.  The Yankees had hired a detective to follow Mantle and the other high living Yankees.  The detective picked out two guys he was sure were part of the Yankees.  He followed the two players doggedly knowing that they would lead him to the place of misconduct.  Unfortunately for him he was following Bobby Richardson and his fellow Christian teammate Tony Kubek.  They ended up at the local YMCA where a ping pong score was settled!

Although they went their separate ways after the games Bobby and Mickey were friends.  Bobby would share his faith with Mickey as often as he could.  His teammates would agitate Mickey asking him if he got saved yet?  Mickey in his smiling Texas drawl would answer back that he was working on it.  Bobby retired after 1966 and Mickey 2 years later.  Bobby retired early at the age of 30 to spend more time with his family.  Mickey retired not for his family but because at the end of his career he was so crippled he couldn’t perform like Mickey Mantle anymore.  After his retirement Mickey’s life got out of control.  Baseball was the only thing he knew and when he was hired for public relations jobs drinking was a big part of them.  For years his life was totally a mess as he even stooped to binge drinking with his sons as a way they could get to know each other after years of neglect.

Although after retirement they both went their separate ways Mickey found time to come to South Carolina and give hitting clinics to Bobby’s baseball team. Bobby had become the head baseball coach for  South Carolina University. Whenever they met up Bobby shared his faith with Mickey. Mickey’s drinking eventually took it’s toll.  He was admitted to the Betty Ford Hospital and they had him write a letter to his father offering an apology.  Mickey admitted that it was the hardest thing he had to do.  He left the center vowing that he was done with drinking but unfortunately the damage to his body was done.  His liver was not functioning and he needed a new one.  It was determined that he wouldn’t have lasted through the week when a new liver donor was found and Mickey had the 6 hour operation.  It wasn’t long after the operation that a weak Mickey Mantle held a press conference.  He wanted to speak to his fans that loved him dearly.  “To all you fathers out there here is a role model…don’t be like me.”  Through teary eyes he explained that he had it all and just threw it all away.

Although he made baseball’s hall of fame years before Mickey never thought he lived up to everything in baseball that he could have been.  He didn’t maximize what the good Lord had given to him.  He felt like his life was a total disappointment.  He didn’t expect that he would live into his 60’s.  A few years back he had stated that if he knew he was going to live this long he would have lived differently.  When the doctors gave Mickey the liver transplant they discovered cancer spots.  They thought they had it under control only to realize that this was a fast moving cancer.  From his hospital room Mickey talked to Bobby.  Bobby again talked about his Lord Jesus Christ and prayed for Mickey.  He then boarded a plane for Dallas to see his old friend.  When Bobby walked into the room Mickey perked up!  Mickey couldn’t wait to tell Bobby that he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.  He even quoted John 3:16 to him.  Bobby was thrilled that his old teammate had come to Christ and would some day be in heaven with him!

Mickey had a Bobby Richardson moment that day.  It was like the voice Richardson heard to “drop that gun.”  In other words someone was going to come and bat for him.  Jesus came to bat for Mickey.  He took the load off of Mickey’s shoulders and gave him the peace he had long been looking for.  Although he had a storied career in baseball and was a hero to so many it was never good enough.  He had never had the Bobby Richardson moment that Bobby had at 14.  Now Mickey was near death but was at peace with his life.  Unlike his earthly father when he leaned  on Jesus he was supported like a rock and was carried safely home!

Blunders and Compassion

Blake O’Neill is a punter for the University of Michigan’s football team. He is from Australia and is in school for a second Masters degree at the university.  Several times during the game between Michigan and their arch rival Michigan State Blake was asked to punt his team out of trouble.  Each time he came up with great punts which set Michigan State back.  One time his punt flew and rolled 80 yards!  Three times he pinned State deep inside their own 10 yard line!  Although Michigan State had a clear advantage in yards gained, they found themselves losing 23-21 as O’Neill was punting to them again.   A big reason Michigan was ahead was because Blake kept making them drive the long field with his booming punts.  His punt was booted so high that State could not return it.  Right then the announcer mentioned that Blake O’Neill was one of the stars of Michigan’s effort that day!  Nobody saw the change in fortunes that would follow.

Blake O'Neill

Blake O’Neill

Mark Dantonio the Michigan State coach told a story after the game about what happened on the team bus before they walked into the stadium.  “I want you all to take 10 seconds and think about what might happen”, he said.  Then he started counting down the time until the 10 seconds had elapsed.  Quickly they exited the bus and put their minds on the task at hand. Little did they realize the irony of what just happened.

My son and I were sitting on the couch watching the game unfold.  Michigan State made an effort to move the ball.  They only needed a field goal to take the lead.  However Michigan’s defense stiffened and with just under 2 minutes to go State threw an incomplete pass on 4th down.  State had only one time out and it looked like they were finished.  Michigan methodically ran the ball and State used their last time out.  After 3 plays and the clock running Michigan was able to run all but 10 seconds off of the clock.  On fourth down they didn’t hesitate on the play call.  They sent Blake O’Neill on the field to punt one more time.  Michigan State in desperation put their entire team on the line.  Their only hope was to block the punt.  Knowing the rush was coming I’m sure Blake was in a hurry up mode.  The snap came back to him around knee high.  Ideally the snap should be around chest high so the punter doesn’t have to reach.  Blake reached down for it and the ball hit off of his hands and dropped to the ground.  Quickly he picked it up and attempted to punt but the State players were on him and the ball bounced crazily in the air.

Blake

Suddenly a Michigan State player named Jalen Watts-Jackson had the ball and was running for the end zone with a convoy of State players in front of him. Jalen is a red shirt freshman on the State team.  He had to be as surprised as anyone when suddenly he had the ball in his hands.  Knowing that if he was tackled the game was likely over he pressed on behind his convoy.  Michigan players tried desperately to reach him but to no avail and he dove into the end zone.  Somewhere between diving into the end zone and his excited teammates diving on him Jalen was hurt.  He laid on the end zone turf in serious pain.  It was discovered later that Jalen had broken and dislocated his hip.  He was carted off of the field and transported straight to the hospital.  Surgery was performed the next day and Jalen’s season came to an end.

Jalen

My son and I were rooting for Michigan State but we were watching in amazement instead of any kind of celebration.  When Jalen Watts-Jackson crashed into the end zone finishing the game my son made a statement that made me realize that I was a successful parent!  “That poor punter” he stated as he realized what that kid was going to have to live through.  It brought me out of my amazement daze and made me take note of what he was saying.  At that moment we took our minds off of the game and the score and rested them on the punter.  Obviously Blake O’Neill felt worse than anyone.  The cameras were showing pictures of stunned Michigan fans in the stands and yet the most stunned person of all had to be O’Neill.  Time after time they kept replaying the victorious or disastrous play depending on your point of view.

Isaiah Thomas the hall of fame ex Detroit Piston basketball player watched the ending of the game from his couch.  It brought back memories of when he made a bad split second decision that would cost his team the Eastern Conference Finals victory in the playoffs.  With 5 seconds left and his team ahead by one point Isaiah attempted to throw the ball in bounds to his teammate Bill Laimbeer who was near the opposing basket.  Hurriedly he threw the pass only to have Larry Bird of the Celtics knife through the lane and grab the ball.  A second later he was passing to his Celtic teammate Dennis Johnson who laid it in the basket.  Isaiah was in misery because he felt like he let his team and their fans down.  He was the leader of the team and yet he made this horrible blunder.  In the years ahead Isaiah would lead the Pistons to back to back titles.  Much of the pain for his blunder had passed and yet seeing Blake O’Neill’s blunder brought it all right back.

There were two hurting people on the field at the end of the game.  There was the Michigan State freshman Jalen Watts-Jackson who was laying in the end zone in pain.  Then there was Blake O’Neill who was suffering from a pain of another kind.  It was an emotional pain as his last minute miscue overshadowed all of the good he had accomplished previously.  Medical people tended to Jalen and he received the operation that he needed to mend his body.  Isaiah Thomas reached out to Blake with a phone call.  He told him of his experience with the last second blunder he made and how that in time it all will pass.

In the immediate aftermath of the game social media was running rampant.  There were many tweets that were very unkind and even death threats to Blake.  Then to the credit of many there were tweets of support for the fallen punter.  Blake vowed to carry on when he broke his silence a few days later.  Jalen vowed to make a full recovery from his injuries and return next season.  It’s easy to fault someone on the big stage for mistakes that they make.  In reality we all make mistakes.  The difference is that our mistakes are not performed before 110,000 people plus millions on TV.  Mitch Albom wrote an article in the Detroit Free Press praising the quality of students and school representatives each of them were in their reactions to what happened.  Quietly I admired my own son who recognized that the outcome of the game wasn’t nearly as important as the pain the punter was experiencing.  Somehow whether through us or on his own he had acquired the gift of compassion.  The world would be a much better place if we all felt compassion for others too!

The Wall

The year was 1975 and Tommy John a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers was throwing a baseball over and over against a wall.  This was a drill that was part of his rehabilitation treatment.  Each day without variation he took five baseballs out and threw them one by one as hard as he could over and over again.  Each day he felt discouraged as the velocity of his throws wasn’t improving.  It was during 1974 the year before that John was having his best pitching season. Just before the all star break he was leading the league in wins with 13 against only 3 losses.  His career had been resurrected since he joined the Dodgers in 1972.  He started putting together winning seasons and 1974 was his best yet.  Then when least expected as he was at an all time professional high, his pitching world suddenly seemed to come to an end. On July 17, 1974 John was pitching against the Montreal Expos.  With two runners on and one out he hoped to throw his sinker in such a spot to get an inning ending double play.  As he threw the pitch his arm went limp and the ball floated softly outside.  Tommy could tell something was horribly wrong.  He attempted another pitch with the same results and motioned for the manager to come out.  “You better get someone else in here”, he said as he conveyed that he couldn’t go on.

Dr. Jobe, the teams physician advised Tommy to rest his arm and ice it down daily.  This seemed to be the perfect remedy.  Three or four times in the past Tommy had hurt his arm or shoulder and rest helped his body perform the healing.  He was not in favor of an operation if he could avoid it. After a month of rest and his team thick in the pennant race they were anxious for John to return to the mound to give them the boost they needed.  His arm felt so good that he attempted to throw batting practice.  When he threw the first pitch his arms strength was noticeably missing as the ball bounced in front of the plate.  The trainer taped his elbow for support and that improved his throwing but the velocity was way down and his ball movement was lost.  He told his manager that he was done for the season and called Dr. Jobe.  “I want you to operate on my arm”, he pleaded.  It was a decision that Tommy had thought long and hard about.  Knowing that rest was not helping it seemed like the only logical option available.

When Tommy woke up from his operation he noticed that not only was his left elbow bandaged but his right wrist was too.  Dr. Jobe explained the unusual procedure he had administered.  The tendon for his left elbow was so worn down that there was nothing left to work with. A replacement was needed and he came up with the procedure of using the tendon in Tommy’s  right wrist.  Dr. Jobe had transferred tendons before but not from wrists to elbows. This was an experimental operation that would help Tommy live an everyday life but it was unknown if his arm could ever throw a baseball the way he once did.  The rehabilitation process would be a bunch of strengthening exercises that included the wall exercise.  As Tommy was throwing against the wall every day he repeated a Bible verse that he loved over and over.  Luke 1:37 “For with God nothing is impossible.”  He stated how it was almost a symbolic thing he faced every day.  The wall represented the physical wall he was trying to break through. The wall was physically in front of him symbolizing his obstacle, and yet he needed the wall there to get to where he wanted to go.

Tommy took all of the 1975 season to rehabilitate his arm.  Working every day on strengthening his grip and his elbow with special exercises.  Over and over throwing baseballs against the wall until he tired and couldn’t continue.  It was hard but gradually strength came to his arm and elbow. Clinging to his faith that with God nothing is impossible,  he gained strength with the slightest improvement.  Throughout 1975 he kept the faith believing that truly nothing is impossible.  Every little improvement made him work all the harder.  When setbacks occurred he clung to his faith that the next time things would be better.

Amazingly in 1976 Tommy John pitched 207 innings!  His comeback was hailed all around baseball as a miracle.  During the next five years he won 20 or more games three times!  His professional success had taken a turn much like a falling rocket suddenly finding it’s thrust and reversing it’s course and speeding upward!  It was at this monumental time in his life that he was hit with a blow that literally brought him back to his knees.  It was a day that Tommy John would remember for the rest of his life.

On August 13, 1981 Tommy received a phone call while in the bullpen.  “Tell them I’ll call them later”, was his response.  It was disclosed to him that it was his wife Sally and she said it was an emergency.  Tommy learned that one of his three children the youngest named Travis had been seriously hurt.  Playing by the window of their vacation home three stories up Travis age 2 had fallen out of the window and hit the bumper of a parked car.  Sally hearing the news from one of the other siblings rushed to rescue Travis thinking that maybe he broke his arm, then realizing that it was a three story fall.  Travis was rushed to the emergency room as he was unconscious and in dire straits.  Tommy hurriedly dropped everything and rushed to get to his family.

Day after day Tommy sat in the hospital room with his son.  Because of his baseball status people from all over the country sent him letters of encouragement.  He did not go on the road with the team but took a break from the hospital room to pitch home games when his turn came around.  Most of the time he sat there hoping for a miracle for his son.  As the letters poured in he started reading them to his comatose son.  It was like that wall was in front of him again.  He had heard that his son could possibly hear him but couldn’t respond.  Carefully he removed letters from their envelopes and read to Travis.  This letter is from Mrs. Mary Fletcher of Dallas Texas he might have said.  She has been a long time Dodger fan and is praying for Travis.  Over and over he read letters sitting in that hospital room.  He found comfort in knowing that people cared enough to reach out.  It was unknown if Travis would make it.  Three weeks after the original accident Tommy John’s miracle happened.  Travis opened his eyes!  Joyfully each day got better and one day it was time for Travis to go home!  Miraculously he had no long term effects from his fall and has lived a normal healthy life since!

Tommy John pitched in the major leagues until he was 46 years old!  Amazingly at an age when his peers had long since retired Tommy was able to keep getting major league hitters out.  Today thousands of people have had the surgery that he had.  In fact they have named the procedure “Tommy John Surgery.”  People throughout the world know his name through this even if they don’t know who he was.  His surgery is responsible for useless pitching arms becoming useful again!

Like Tommy John you may have a wall in front of you.  Not all walls fall down so that we can walk through similar to the red sea parting.  Sometimes the wall remains and we have to go over or through them.  God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want them answered.  He loves us and works everything for our good if we truly trust him.  Just as Tommy John put his faith and pitching future in the hands of a doctor and an operation, God is operating on us too.  He is equipping us with new strength as he transplants his loving spirit to fill our needs.  The wall that Tommy John was throwing the baseball against was necessary.  It was a way for him to gain strength. God allows walls in our lives to strengthen us too.  When a wall is in front of you rejoice knowing that good will come out of it!  Remember that nothing is impossible with God!

Perfectly Forgiven!

“I say many times: Nobody’s perfect,” Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers said. “Everybody makes a mistake. I’m sure he don’t want to make that call. You see that guy last night, he feels really bad. He don’t even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat (and saying), ‘I’m so sorry.’  Galarraga knew all about nobody being perfect from his own career.  He was an up and down pitcher.  Two years before in 2008 he had been traded to the Tigers and had his best year of his career!  He won 13 games and only lost only 7.  In 2009 he was relegated to the bull pen and coming out of spring training for 2010 Galarraga didn’t make the team. He was later called up and 2010 would continue his down slide.   He only won 4 games and this one would be one of them.  The date was June 2, 2010 and the Tigers were hoping for the best from their fifth pitcher in their rotation.  Have you ever had one of those days when everything went right?  When every thought, every action, and every result went your way? That seemed to be what Galarraga was experiencing that day! His pitches were working beautifully as he had the Cleveland Indians hitting grounders and easy fly balls to his awaiting teammates.  Once in a while he would mix a strikeout in (he had 3).  In the second inning his teammate Miguel Cabrera hit a home run!  As the game progressed Galarraga clung to that 1-0 lead.

Galarraga

Jim Joyce was the first base umpire that day.  Joyce was 54 year old and had been a veteran major league umpire since 1987.  Joyce was well respected by players and his peers alike.  He was voted the best overall major league baseball umpire by a group of 100 major league players.  Joyce has umpired many big games in his career including the All-Star games of 1994, 2001, and 2012, the Division Series in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013, the League Championship Series in 1997, 2004, 2006, and 2007, and the World Series in 1999, 2001, and 2013.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

If there was such a game for an umpire called easy this one was it.  Working first base could require some close calls but that was not the case in this game.  All of Joyce’s calls were obvious.  Although umpires are trained to be unbiased Joyce had to admire the way this kid Galarraga was mowing down the Indians that day.

It is thought to be bad luck in baseball to talk to a pitcher who is throwing a no-hitter.  Usually they will show a camera shot where the pitcher is sitting all by himself under such circumstances.  Inning after inning Galarraga was going to the mound and retiring the three Indians placed before him.  As well as he was pitching and not giving the Indians any runs his counterpart for the Indians Fausto Carmona AKA Roberto Hernandez had only given the Tigers one run. There was not a cushion for Galarraga to let up on anyone.

Not only had he not given up a hit but he hadn’t allowed a base runner!  He was pitching a perfect game!  In the 135 years of major league history there have been only 23 perfect games out of more than 300,000 played!  It is one of the rarest things to happen in baseball.  In the Tigers half of the 8th inning they scored two more runs.  The score was 3-0 as Galaragga made his way out to the mound for the 9th inning.

Mark Grudzielanek was the first batter up.  The crowd of Comerica Park was on it’s feet.  No Tiger pitcher had ever pitched a perfect game and here this unlikely candidate Galarraga had one going!  It didn’t take long for the crowd to be crushed in silence.  Grudzielanek swung at the first pitch with all of his might and the crisp sound of the bat crushing the ball filled the air.  The ball went flying into deep left center field and in that split second it seemed sure Galarraga’s perfect game dream had ended.

The ball was absolutely crushed, along with the crowd’s spirit. But the crowd didn’t stay that way for long.  Austin Jackson the Tigers center fielder got a great jump on it.  “The initial reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness, this ball is going to drop,'” Jackson said later.  Running with his back to home plate he raced as fast as his legs could take him covering a vast amount of real estate in a short time.  As he was about to reach the warning track he put his glove out much like a receiver trying to haul in a long touchdown pass over his shoulder.  The ball hit his glove just as he hoped it would and he squeezed it tight! “I think it hung in the air a little longer than I expected it to, and I got to it.”It was a miraculous catch made even better by the situation!  There was a collective sigh of relief from the stands along with an incredible thunderous applause! “It’s destined to happen”, thought Jackson as he threw the ball back into the infield.

The next batter Mike Redmond Cleveland’s catcher grounded out short to first.  Galaragga towed the mound.  Only one Indian was left between him and his perfect game.  The Indian batter was a rookie shortstop named Jason Donald.  Donald hit a weak grounder between the first and second baseman.  Miguel Cabrerra (the Tigers first baseman) quickly reacted by taking three steps to his right and backhanding the ball.  Galarraga meanwhile seeing the ball hit on the right side made a dash to cover first.  It was a play practiced in spring training often and it was second nature for  Galarraga at that moment.  Cabrera stopped, planted himself and threw to Galarraga now standing with his foot touching first base.  Galarraga caught the ball, held his glove there and awaited Jim Joyce’s call and the ensuing celebration!  That celebration never came as Joyce emphatically stretched his arms in the “Safe” position.

Jim Joyce

Joyce had no doubt he had made the right call.  However, replays from the TV were slowed down to a crawl and it was clearly seen that the batter Donald should have been called out.  After an ensuing argument occurred with Jim Leyland the Tiger’s manager leading the way play was resumed.  Galarraga composed himself and got the next batter out to complete the victory.

After the game and with a chance to view the replays Joyce was beside himself.  “Most important call of my career and I kicked the s—t out of it. I cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said through tears of regret.  Later Joyce confronted Galarraga and apologized for what happened.  It was a classy move by both as they embraced.

In 2012 something happened in Jim Joyce’s life that made people remember him for more than a blown call.

Joyce was heading to the umpires dressing room in Arizona when he saw a team food service employee named Jayne Powers start shaking and collapse.

After ensuring her head was adequately protected, Joyce noticed Powers had become limp, her breathing coming to a stop as what staff initially believed had been a seizure, to Joyce, turned into a case of severe cardiac arrest.

Joyce, who learned CPR while in high school nearly four decades ago, immediately began performing compressions on Powers’ chest, singing the Bee Gees’ classic hit “Staying Alive” both to maintain an appropriate compression rate and in an attempt to revive Powers.

Joyce continued his administration of CPR, even as paramedics arrived with a defibrillator whose first shock failed to revive Powers. When the AED delivered its second shock, Powers began breathing again and Joyce stayed with her until the EMTs had stabilized and transported Powers into a waiting ambulance.

Joyce was supposed to work the plate that night and he was offered a switch by one the other umpires on his team.  Joyce would not hear of it because he thought working the plate would keep his mind occupied.  The event shook him up so much that he was afraid umpiring third base would give him too much time to relive the event.   Late in the game Joyce was told that Jayne had regained consciousness and was resting comfortably.  Joyce was overcome with emotion as he met Jayne in the hospital the next day and she recognized his voice.  His fast response when she was in need had literally saved her life and he was thankful he had acted swiftly and correctly.

Fabforum

The day after the blown call Galarraga wanted to bring the lineup card to home plate and present it to Joyce who was umpiring behind the plate that day.  Usually this duty is done by the manager but in this case Jim Leyland, his manager,  thought it was a good idea for Galarraga to do the honors.  As he went out with the lineup card in hand and a smile on his face Galarraga was greeted by Joyce.  It was clear that the gesture that was made in kindness was totally appreciiated! Once again the decision from Galarraga seemed like the perfect solution!  Joyce, with tears in his eyes, in a show of emotion that never is seen on the baseball diamond, and Galarraga shook hands.   Forgiveness is a beautiful thing and Galarraga’s heartfelt forgiveness helped Joyce, who felt like his world had ended because of his wrong split second decision.  Galarraga is not in the record books for throwing a perfect game,  however his act of forgiveness that day will be remembered more clearly than any perfect game! It was the ultimate lesson to all of us of what really is important! Joyce continued with his umpiring position and in 2012 in Arizona when he had to make a more important  split second decision he made the right one!

 

 

Unbroken Yet Broken

The year was 1949 and Louis Zamperini was in a broken marriage that was apparently about to crash into a thousand pieces.  His wife, who he had married shortly after he returned from the war had recently become a Christian.  In an effort to save his marriage he agreed to attend a Billy Graham service that night.  Billy Graham preached about how we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Graham talked about being forgiven and Louis thought about the dark dreams of being tortured that he was having.  Louis knew that forgiveness wouldn’t be easy but it needed to come from his heart too.  Then Louis remembered his many vows to God that he had made while clinging to life on a life raft in the ocean for 47 days.

Obstacles came early to Louis Zamperini and his family.  When they first moved to Torrence, California none of them spoke English.  Louis was the victim of bully attacks at every turn.  Often Louis came home beaten and because of this his father taught him the art of self defense  to defend himself.  As Louis learned how to fight he looked for revenge against kids that bullied him in the past. He became a bully as he viciously got even with his one time tormenters.  His brother, who was a star runner, decided to take Louis with him.  He thought that Louis could channel that bully energy into something good.  Louis ran with his brother and when he wasn’t keeping up his brother used a whip on his legs to push him much like a jockey whips a horse.  As Louis started placing in races he discovered that he was gaining more attention with his classmates.  Before he felt ignored or almost like he wasn’t there, but now he was feeling like he belonged.  This feeling of importance pushed him in his running.  He dedicated his life totally to running and he improved in leaps and bounds.  Years later he would admit that he was all in and that he wouldn’t even touch a milkshake for fear of it’s harmful effects to his running.

Starting with his first cross country race and continuing his final three years in high school Louis went undefeated!  In 1934 he set a high school record for the mile with a time of 4:21.2!  A week later he won the CIF California State Meet Championship with a time of 4:27.8!  That accomplishment helped him win a scholarship at the University of Southern California!  In 1936 Louis decided that he wanted to run in the Olympics.  That year the qualifying took place in Randalls Island, New York.  In those days runners had to pay their own transportation fees to get to the event.  Luckily for Louis his father worked for the railroad and was able to get him free transportation.  A bigger problem was expense money once he got there.  That problem was solved by the generosity of local Torrence merchants who raised expense money for their local hero!

Louis decided to enter the 5000 meter race when he arrived.  The 1500 meter had a strong field and Louis felt his chances were better to qualify in the longer race.  His chief competition would be the American record holder in the event Don Lash.  The event would test Zamperini’s ability to survive as it was ran on one of the hottest days of the year.  The race saw co-favorite Norm Bright and many others collapse during the race.  Determined with everything he had within him despite the obstacles Zamperini finished in a dead heat with Lash!  They would both represent the United States in the Berlin, Germany Olympics as Louis became the youngest American qualifier ever in the 5000 meter at only 19 years old!

Zamperini qualified for the finals in one of the three preliminary runs where only the top five advanced.  In the final he finished eighth in the world ahead of his fellow American teammate Don Lash!  He had a finishing lap of 56 seconds which was so fast that it got Adolph Hitler’s attention.  Hitler made a request to meet Zamperini and Zamperini remembered his words of “Ah, your the boy with the fast finish!”  After the Olympics Zamperini went on with his running.  In 1938 he set a national collegiate mile record of 4:08 that stood for fifteen years!

Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in September of 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant.  He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man. In April, 1943, during a bombing mission against the Japanese held island of Nauru, the plane was badly damaged in combat. With Super Man no longer flight-worthy, and a number of the crew injured, the healthy crew-members were transferred to Hawaii to await reassignment. Zamperini, along with some other former Super Man crew were assigned to conduct a search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective “lemon plane”. While on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the plane to crash into the ocean 850 miles west of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.

The three survivors (Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russel Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara), with little food and no water, subsisted on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw. They caught two albatrosses, which they ate and used to catch fish, all while fending off constant shark attacks and nearly being capsized by a storm. They were strafed multiple times by a Japanese bomber, which punctured their life raft, but no one was hit. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.[]

How could anyone keep going in such circumstances?  Day after day wondering if it would be your last.  Riding up and down pushed by the ocean waves on a little raft.  Having to bury their fellow initial survivor after he couldn’t make it on the 33rd day.  Yet Zamperini and Phillips kept hope alive.  They kept thinking that by some miracle they would survive even when the odds seemed so small.  That was when Zamperini first got serious with God.  It had to be like one of those promises that we all might say during stressful times.  “God, if you get me out of this I will do whatever you want me to do!”

On their 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy.[21] They were held in captivity, severely beaten, and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. Initially held at Kwajalein Atoll, after 42 days they were transferred to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna, for captives who were not registered as prisoners of war (POW). Zamperini was later transferred to Tokyo’s Ōmori POW camp, and was eventually transferred to the Naoetsu POW camp in northern Japan, where he stayed until the war ended. He was tormented by prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur‘s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Held at the same camp was then-Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, and in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, he discusses Zamperini and the Italian recipes Zamperini would write to keep the prisoners’ minds off the food and conditions.[18] Zamperini had at first been declared missing at sea, and then, a year and a day after his disappearance, KIA. When he eventually returned home he received a hero’s welcome.

Can you imagine after surviving on a raft for 47 days and finally seeing land how excited Zamperini and Phillips must have been.  Normally it would have been a thrilling time for them along with their rescuers.  They would have been taken to a hospital and nourished back to full strength.  Can you imagine being so weak after such an experience only to face the reality of being captured by the enemy?  Day after day for the next two years Zamperini was mistreated and beaten but never broken.

As Zamperini was sitting in the Billy Graham meeting he thought about all of the people that had wronged him.  He thought about the beatings he had taken and all of the reasons he should never forgive any of them.  Then he thought about the commitment he was about to make.  It couldn’t have been easy but he decided to forgive his enemies much like Jesus did when he died upon the cross.  After that night Zamperini was a changed man.  No longer did he have the dark dreams that were torturing him as much as his prisoner experiences had.  Now he had a peace about him and a love that he couldn’t understand.

Billy Graham helped Zamperini in his next mission of becoming an inspirational speaker.  Through the years when people heard his story they listened.  It was such an amazing story that people were drawn to God by it!  How could a man who suffered so much and was treated so badly be willing to forgive and forget?  It could only be through God that it was possible.

Through the years Zamperini visited many of the guards who mistreated him in prison.  He always let them know that he had forgiven them.  The ones who experienced his forgiveness were shocked that he would feel that way.  As hard as most of their hearts were they had to be softened by this man who only had love in his heart.  They had to feel enormous guilt for what they had done to him.  They had to see a man who in spite of everything that happened was living such a victorious live!

Until the day he died Zamperini went around the world preaching forgiveness.  He was on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno telling his life story only a couple of years ago.  He talked about his Olympic days which people in our sports crazy society wanted to hear.  He talked about the torture that he lived through while in the P.O.W. camp.  He was an old man now at 95.  His loving wife was with him for 55 years until she passed away in 2001.  Yes God put that broken relationship together in a beautiful way! Long ago Zamperini was pronounced dead as the American Government notified his parents that he was lost at sea.  Later he was returned home to a heroes welcome!  It was like he came back to life again!  Four years later he died again.  This death was a death to his old life.  After that time he started living a new life in Christ!  Earlier this year Zamperini left us at 97.  Most of us will never see that age but God must have given him extra years as his reward.  The title of his movie coming out in December is called “Unbroken”.  It is a story of inspiration and hope no matter what you are going through.  On one night however Zamberini became a broken man.  That was when he stopped living and let God take over.  After that God rewarded him with many peaceful years of sharing his story of love, hope, and forgiveness!

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
II Timothy 4:7

 

Cheers To Buster

I was sitting at one end of the arena watching a Bronco hockey game two or three years ago when a tall skinny student came over and sat next to me.  He had been over in the student section but apparently he wanted to get a different view.  We started talking, first in general about the hockey game and then it got more personal.  Surprisingly he told me that he was one of the students that year who was Buster Bronco.  Buster is our school mascot.  He is a big brown horse with a huge head, giant tennis shoes, and attired in a bronco jersey.  The fact that the student moved to another seat made sense because when he is in Buster’s uniform he is constantly moving around.

Since 1988 Buster has been our official mascot.  Before Buster we had a tan horse with a holster and gun strapped around his waist.  His character must have been formed from the Quick Draw McGraw sheriff of the old west image.  One time in the mid eighties we were at a hockey game.  Before the game it is customary for players to skate around to warm up.  The old tan mascot skated around with them equipped with a hockey stick.  My eyes centered on the mascot as he took his stick and turned it around and was playfully pretending to shoot a rifle.  To everyone’s surprise he stumbled and lost his balance.  As he tried to recover from the violent movement, much like slamming on the car brakes, his head flew off and was sliding down the ice.  The beheaded mascot was left to scramble from his knee, catch up and grab his sliding head and strap it back on as quickly as possible.  The humor we saw at the time had to be a disaster for the student playing the mascot and the cheer team as the mascot’s secret identity was unexpectedly embarrassingly revealed.

I didn’t ask my new friend that night about any embarrassing moments he might have had while in the suit.  I also didn’t ask him the question that George Plimpton wondered about in his book “Paper Lion.”  That question was, Where does the Chicago Bear mascot change into his uniform?  Does he have a locker he goes to with the uniform hanging in including the head?  In Buster’s case it would be hard to imagine a locker wide enough to fit that massive head.  What I did ask was something I always wondered.  How well can you see in that uniform?  The answer was somewhat surprising.  I found out that Buster has two big openings from his nostrils and an opening around his mouth to see through.  Usually seeing is not that much of a problem although it was revealed that at sunny football games it can be very difficult.  If Buster is stumbling around at a sunny football game it may not be an act.

As I was sitting there asking this student questions about his other character, in the back of my mind I’m still sizing him up.  I could hardly believe that this was someone who acted out the magic of Buster.  Apparently that year and probably every year there are three or four individuals who play Buster at different games and events.  Not only is Buster at sporting events, he is also at many other events where his presence is needed throughout  the year.  One student could not possibly meet all of the obligations that Buster has.  In my mind there must be a secret vow to never disclose who is in the uniform.  I suppose even if you knew one of the performers you couldn’t be sure he was working that event.  When you see Buster you never see anything but Buster.  There is not a character shift depending on who is playing the part. Buster never talks in an audible voice.  If you talk to him he will shake his huge head, pat you on the back,  give you five or shake your hand with his huge paw.

Buster Magic
Buster Magic!

One time I was participating in a university golf event.  Our foursome team stopped at one of the tee’s and there was Buster to greet us.  Of course where Buster is there is usually a photographer close by.  Buster’s interaction with people brings smiles to faces and people always want to have their picture made with him!  As we were standing around before teeing off enjoying the refreshments provided I looked around as I heard the golf cart taking off.  Sure enough it was Buster with his big head just barely fitting under the roof driving away with our clubs!  I shouldn’t have been surprised because that is typical of Buster.  Always looking to make people laugh and enjoy themselves.

Buster bringing a smile!

Buster bringing a smile!

Although Buster is great with students and us older ones alike, his real specialty is relating to kids!  Many times when well meaning parents bring their kids to games the kids get bored.  Let’s face it, having a kid sit still for over a few minutes can be a chore.  That is where Buster helps the situation!  He has such a unique appearance they can’t keep their eyes off of him.  Buster is very rarely sitting still at a game so chances are the kids will get an up close view of him!  They may also get a high five or a hug!  They may receive a hand shake as their hand disappears in his huge paw!  Their startled looks turn to amazement and laughter as Buster interacts with them.  I’m sure that a big part of their game experience isn’t about the game at all.  With Buster in the house all is right with the world!

Seeing the enormous physical presence of Buster is very intimidating at first.  A friend of mine told a story about his young son and Buster that happened years ago.  Although his son loved Buster from a distance the physical appearance of Buster from up close would literally scare him out of his mind.  Getting within a hundred feet of Buster was so frightening that he would start crying uncontrollably.  Being the good parent that he was my friend had the solution.  He got permission to take his son down to Buster’s locker where his uniform was ready for use.  His idea was to show his son that there was a person inside of Buster that made Buster who he was.  By conveying that truth he thought he could solve the problem! They went down to the locker and my friend put the Buster head on.  Right away his son started crying uncontrollably.  He must have been experiencing his worst nightmare as it seemed the big horse had taken over his fathers body.  Finally dad had to take the head off and the crying stopped.  After several tries it was decided that the well meaning lesson was a complete failure as whenever he put the Buster head on tears would flow.

Although Buster’s mere size can be very scary and intimidating, most of the young kids that I have seen have conquered their initial fear of him.  They have found that although Buster is big he is also gentle.  They have learned that he loves them and they in turn learn to love him back!

I don’t remember if we won or lost the hockey game that night.  After the game I shook hands with a student who has brought joy to many!  Of course this was a normal handshake not to be confused with when my hand gets lost in the big paw of Buster.  It left me with kind of a strange and amazing feeling.  Here I sat through a whole period of a hockey game discussing what it was like to be Buster Bronco!

I understand why schools want to have a winning team.  Winning teams attract fans, sparks school spirit, lifts the recognition of the school, and makes all associated with it proud!  The cheer team wants to be a winning team too!  Doing their best to pick up the spirit of the fans and make them excited about their school and the game!  Buster is a big part of the cheer team!  Speaking of a cheer team there is no better example as to how Buster can cheer kids up as his past visits with team members to hospitals.  He brings joy to kids who really need their spirits lifted!

Thinking about Buster and what he does brings a smile to my face.  When I go to a game the first thing I invariably do is look for Buster.  Usually he is pretty easy to spot.  He is almost always in plain sight trying to bring a smile to our faces!  In the end the games are merely entertainment.  While we want the Broncos to win, winning or losing does not help or hurt our personal situations. The games are a diversion for us to not think about our problems for a couple of hours.  As time passes we might forget about who won or lost or who scored and who didn’t.  More vivid in our memory might be some antic that Buster did that made us laugh!

Buster on the dance floor!

Buster on the dance floor!

Many current and former students have played the role of Buster Bronco through the years.  Each one deserves a special cheer in our hearts.  To make the sacrifice that they made and make for our pleasure is very much appreciated!  I can’t conceive of going to a Bronco game without Busters presence.  It would be like eggs without bacon or chips without the dip.   For many kids he is the game and the actual game is the background noise.  I realize that Buster is not real.  I understand that he is just a character formed in someones imagination and brought to life by hard working students season after season.  Yet, I have seen the amazement, joy, smiles, laughter and love on the faces of kids and adults alike that he produces.  To me those happy, amazing, fun filled moments are about as real as it gets!

As real as it gets!

As real as it gets!

A Baseball Game and War

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was at a flea market earlier this week and I saw it! It was on a table as clear as life. I have looked on ebay so many times for this game that I enjoyed in my childhood. I’ve found it but couldn’t justify paying $75-$100 for a childhood memory. It couldn’t be just any of the versions either. It had to be my particular version from the year 1966. When I was nine years old I got this baseball game. I don’t remember if it was for Christmas or what the occasion was but it was called All-Star Baseball Game and it was made by Cadaco. When I asked the vendor how much he wanted for the game I couldn’t believe my ears. “Five dollars”, he said. I couldn’t get the five dollars out of my pocket fast enough! He obviously didn’t value it nearly as much as I did!

There it was! I couldn’t believe my eyes!

What gave the game it’s uniqueness was how they made it so realistic. They took statistics from players in the major leagues and made round cardboard discs of that player that represented his performance statistically. For instance if a player hit a home run five percent of the time the home run number on his disc would be five percent of the total space. The discs were put on a spinner and there were two spinners (one for each side). The player not batting had a spinner to spin too. If the player batting spun a number representing a fly ball the other player would spin to see if his team caught it. The same was true for a ground ball. On hits the defensive player would spin to see how many bases the other runner on base got or if he possibly could throw out a runner stretching a hit.

Baseball discs scientifically made!

My cousin Wendell and I would spend the night at each others house often. The neat thing about it was that we were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted to. Of course we did it in the summer so school wasn’t involved. He or his older brother Lawrence had an All-Star Baseball game too. I’m not sure whose game it actually was but it was available to us! There were times Lawrence played right along with us even though he was 5 or 6 years older.

The game board and spinners (a game of chance)

The game would start with drafting players. We would put all of the discs in a big pile and then take turns pulling players for our teams out of the mix. You had to fill all of the positions and then maybe add a few subs. Then we would take 5 or 6 pitchers each and we were ready to go. We would sit there long into the night playing the game. Spinning the spinner over and over. Moving our pegs from base to base. Figuring team statistics after the games.

One time that I remember as clear as if it were yesterday I was spending the night at Wendell’s and we were playing the baseball game. His brother Lawrence was there too but he wasn’t playing with us that night. Lawrence was 18 and he was a very skinny excitable kid although at the time I didn’t think of him as a kid. He also smoked a lot and on this particular night or morning he was smoking more than usual. He was very talkative and at this particular time he was talking even more than usual. But it wasn’t his normal talk. It was more of a nervous scared kid as he listened to the radio. My memory tells me it was at night but it doesn’t make much sense because of what was happening. Like the way Wendell and I were drafting our players Lawrence was involved in a different draft. On that morning or night they were in the process of picking dates of the first 18 year old boys to get drafted to go to Vietnam. Each birthday was drawn out of a baseball cap (in my imagination) and the first ones drawn would be the first to get drafted. The radio was broadcasting it like a baseball game. They would pick a date and pause for a little while and pick another date. All the while Lawrence was smoking one right after another and scared out of his wits. He couldn’t get very excited when his number wasn’t called because he knew the next one could get him. It was almost like he was in the war and the enemy was shooting at him. Trying to dodge the bullets was a skinny kid whose life had seemingly just begun but now faced a decisive day as to it’s future.

My next door neighbor Bob and I were good friends. His brother Al served in Vietnam. Since he was much older than me I accepted the fact that he was gone away more easily. Finally after he served his time Al got his discharge. Instead of letting his parents know Al had something else in mind. We lived within walking distance of the airport. Al decided to fly in and make the walk to his parents house and surprise them. What a surprise it was when Al showed up on the doorstep. There were tears of joy on a day that was long remembered!

Looking back the irony of that day at Wendell’s was mind boggling. Here Wendell and I were spinning the spinner with our disc in place. Lawrence sitting there with the radio on smoking up a storm. In reality it was like he was in a separate game. Maybe his game would be called “War” and it seemed that game was played differently. Wendell and I chose our team based on how we perceived the skills of the players. In the game Lawrence was in it was a random draft. One player was just as good as the other in that draft. It was like Lawrence was actually on one of those discs we were spinning. But instead of hits or outs that disc was divided into 365 numbers and each little section had a number between and including 1 through 365. After each spin the resulting number was slotted into the sequence it was picked. Maybe the top one hundred numbers were sure to go. One of the numbers on that disc was Lawrence and the longer he could go without his number called the better for him. The object of the game he was playing was to have his number slotted near the end of the drawing.

It may seem kind of crazy but our baseball game kept going. We drafted our players and spun our spinner like nothing was happening around us. Lawrence tried to draw us into his game with updates on his status. He did draw our interest and answered our questions patiently. Question after question as only 11 or 12 year old kids could ask. It was amazing that he was able to talk to us at all sitting there with his future in the balance. Meanwhile our minds drifted back to our game and spinning the spinners in the hopes of scoring runs and making statistics!

I remember watching the news in those war days. Each day Walter Cronkite would read the statistics on the war. Kind of like a baseball games post game show. This was like the war games end of the day rap up. Total Americans killed today and a number. Total Vietnamese killed and another number. Sometimes we would see some play by play as a journalist took us behind the lines. We could see our troops over there fighting for their lives in the jungles. We would see explosions all around them as they fought on. Most of the time however it was just the cold hard statistics that Cronkite would read.

What would Lawrence’s future hold?

As I looked back on that day I started thinking that maybe we could have been more supportive to Lawrence. Maybe we should have abandoned our game and put our whole attention on his radio and him. I started thinking about the lesson I learned from this place in time and what I might be able to pass on. The theme kept coming into my mind that so many of us are busy playing games while our neighbors are hurting. Although this is a very true statement this conclusion just didn’t seem to fit our situation in this case. What could an 11 and 12 year old do in this uncomfortable setting to help their older brother and cousin? Maybe the best thing we could do is just what we did. We continued to be kids and played our game. What purpose would be served by stopping our game other than causing even more discomfort for Lawrence? After all maybe the fact that we were playing a game made him dream of a time when he could leisurely play a game without it being life and death. Maybe the most important thing was that we were there. Maybe the lesson out of all of this is even if you can’t do anything being there is important. It wasn’t that we comprehended everything that was happening, but we were there even if it was unplanned. When we started playing the game we didn’t realize his game was going on. When he came in smoking his cigarette with his radio, as he voiced his nervous giggles we realized that there were two games on the agenda. We didn’t drop our game, but we definitely paid attention to his game too.

Not all of the Vietnam stories had happy endings like Al’s. There were 58,138 U.S. Soldiers that died in the Vietnam war. Fortunately Lawrence was not one of them. He won his game that day! I think his number was over 300! I don’t remember who won most of the games Wendell and I played. Our games were fun games with results long forgotten. Our games were kids games where life is fun and problems come later. Two years ago Lawrence died. It was some forty years after that fateful night. Lawrence ended up losing a war to inoperable cancer. I don’t think I cried when I heard the news. It was an expected thing because the cancer had eaten away Lawrence’s skinny body. There was not much of him left when he departed. It was more of a relief knowing that his suffering was over, much like the relief he felt when the draft numbers fell his way. It’s strange that relief can come from both death and avoiding death. When I bought that All-Star Baseball Game I was thinking about my childhood. I was sure it would bring back memories of games past. In fact that is exactly what it did, but in a much different way than I anticipated. Little did I realize that the memory it would take me to would be a transition place between being a boy and a man. A time that would decide if my cousin Lawrence would jump right into manhood and possibly die for his country or if he might be able to remain a boy and play a few games for just a little longer? The other day as I was thinking again about the memory of Lawrence on that day tears filled my eyes. I’m sure it was a belated mourning of Lawrence dying as I thought of the games we played that night. Wendell and I competing for honors in a baseball game while Lawrence was involved in a much different game altogether. We were two kids playing a game of chance for fun and one young man who was on a playing piece in a game of chance with his life and future on the line.

Of Golf And God

It seemed like an almost perfect golf shot in my golf world. It was straight down the middle and maybe 220 yards. For me and most other people that is very acceptable. Yet when we drove the cart toward the path of the ball we discovered a stream running directly over the fairway maybe 10 feet wide. My ball was nowhere to be found as the hazard ate it. Many times I have hit the ball crooked and felt like I deserved any trouble I found myself in. Yet here this shot seemed so perfect. It didn’t seem fair that my ball was lost and a penalty stroke was needed. There is a course here in town that had a similar issue. Hitting an almost perfect drive right down the center of the fairway you could find yourself behind a tree. That’s right, someone had planted a tree in the middle of the fairway! This tree was there for years and I’m sure was the brunt of many a curse word throughout time. One morning workers at the golf course noticed something very strange. That tree that was the enemy of thousands of golfers throughout the years was discovered laying dead in the fairway. I mean literally laying there the victim of a middle of the night sawing. I guess a golfer having been victimized once too often by the giant with the big trunk and long branches had decided to take the law into their own hands. Climbing over the fence at 3 or 4 in the morning towing their chainsaw, the deed was accomplished. While many of the adjacent neighbors slept through it I can imagine someone waking up from the roaring of the saw wondering what in the world? While many non golfers scratched their heads when they heard the news, I believe that many golfers rejoiced and felt the sawing was completely justified!

Lot’s of trees on this golf course, but now one less


Golf can be the strangest of games. Unlike other sports that we play where the ball is moving before being hit or kicked, the golf ball just sits there as still as can be waiting for it’s punishment. Yet, hitting a golf ball straight is a constant battle even for the pros. It is hard to believe sometimes how a Tiger Woods or any other pro who practices all of the time can mess up so bad. Yet, if you think about it, the game is designed for the average person and sometimes the pros to fail.

There are 300 to 450 dimples on a golf ball. The dimples are designed to make the ball better able to cut through the air reducing the drag effect. Dimples also allow the effect of side spin in shot direction. When striking the ball if the club head is the slightest percentage off of squared the ball will not go perfectly straight. Multiply that factor by an incorrect path of the swing and you can see how difficult it is to consistently hit the ball straight. The course designers know this fact and they can make it very difficult for most of us who are not consistently on the fairway. The fairway is a place of low cut grass that is perfect for hitting the ball on. When we go crooked we encounter the rough. The rough is just as it sounds “rough.” You will find your ball on hard ground or in deep grass or both. Sometimes the ball will get buried by the grass and will be tough to hit solidly. When we do hit it solidly there may still be a problem of trees, bushes, and sand traps to maneuver around and over.

On a normal hole keeping the ball straight and in the middle of the fairway is the way to go. Hitting from the low grass will help to hit the ball solid and straight on the next hit. Every golfer knows this simple rule, but executing those straight shots is very hard to do. John Feinstein wrote a book called “A Good Walk Spoiled.” Just the title tells volumes about how the game of golf can make such a good thing into a painful experience. One time years ago I went to play a course by myself. In those days if you were alone the course worker would try to put you in with another group. In this case he put me with a married couple. It got to be a pretty embarrassing situation because the guy was not playing very well at all. Every shot he was hitting was a mishit. He started throwing his club and making a scene. It was embarrassing for his wife and a distraction to me. In his case it wasn’t a tree, it wasn’t the course difficulty, and it wasn’t that something was wrong with his clubs. The problem was him, and that is the hardest problem for any of us to deal with.

Besides the rough and tree problems holes sometimes have water hazards and sand traps. Sand traps are interesting. They are normally placed right around the greens. A good looking shot that seems headed for the green can end up in a sand trap. Playing a ball out of the sand requires some special skills that most of us don’t practice enough. Obviously the game of golf can be very frustrating. You can hit a good looking shot and find yourself in trouble, or you can hit a crooked shot and know you will be in trouble.

On the other hand sometimes you get lucky. I was playing with a friend the other day and he hit a ball that was going into the woods. His ball happened to hit a tree or it’s branches just right and bounced in the fairway. A couple of times he mishit his iron shots, but each time it turned out OK because his ball still made the green. We all have had these nice bounces and breaks, but we know they are nothing to depend on.

Arnold Palmer had a style that endeared him to the hearts of America. It was a style he called “go for broke.” Arnold was constantly getting himself into trouble but by his great recovery skills, he was able to make incredible shots! Sometimes we all have that Palmer mindset. We hit the ball crooked and it ends up behind a tree. We figure out some miraculous shot that maybe we could pull off 1 time out of 100 and we try it. Naturally we end up in far worse trouble than we were before and with another shot on our score. We try another miraculous shot and the same result occurs. By the time the hole is over we have recorded an 8 or more!

The Christian walk has so many parallels to the game of golf! There are the straight and narrow path and there are traps. There are rough areas where we have to walk and there are hazards we are not prepared for. Sometimes in the game of golf we should just take our medicine. When we go astray out into the rough it is often better to just chip the ball back into the fairway. The one stroke in doing that often saves many strokes down the road. The same can be said about Christianity. When we get off of the path the best thing to do is get right back on it. We will all find ourselves with obstacles in our way and potential hazards. When we find ourselves in the hazard it is best to get back on the fairway as quick as possible and start moving forward again! As in golf when trouble comes it is hard not to feel down. Knowing in the troubles of life that God is there to help us makes a big difference! He will help us through the rough spots if we put our complete trust in him! When we find ourselves behind a tree spiritually, we should pray that God gives us the wisdom to get around it. We shouldn’t try to take the law into our own hands. If it is his will God will remove the tree and he won’t need a chainsaw to do it!

Dropping The Weight of Unforgiveness-The Jim Ryun Story

I’ve heard the saying throughout the years.  It is something that people say when you have the right to be really angry at someone for something that they did.  It goes like this, “forgive and forget.”  If there was a saying that is harder to do than that one I don’t know what it is.  Yet Jesus made it clear that this is truly something we need to do.  He said in the apostles prayer “forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

I can tell you truthfully that there were a couple of incidences in my own life where it was very hard for me to forgive.  There may be people in your life that you find hard to forgive also.  I’ve always heard that we can do something that God cannot.  That is remember the sins of our past after he has forgiven us.  He can truly forgive and forget.  As for us, we will always have the memories.  Yet God can help us forgive but it has to come from him.  On our own it is impossible for us to forgive someone.  Forgiveness can only come about when  God supplies the love for that person in our heart.

When we find ourselves holding onto bitter thoughts about someone it’s like trying to run carrying a fifty pound weight.  That weight is going to be a burden that will slow us down!  I have found when I was slow to forgive it didn’t effect the other person at all.  That person went on with their life and here I was carrying the burden.  Only when I gave the burden to God and forgave them in my heart was I able to get over and through my bitterness.  There is a saying that goes “Don’t get bitter, get better.”  God knows that we are going to be wronged while we are on this earth.  Things are going to happen that will make us mad at others or mad at God himself.  If there is someone you haven’t forgiven remember this, it probably isn’t effecting them.  The only person it is effecting is you.  You can choose like I did to let that weight go and lighten your load in the race.  You will be surprised how good it feels after you give it to God and through him forgive that person!  The burden you are carrying will be lifted and you will be able to move on!

If there was anyone who you might feel is justified to hold a grudge it would be Jim Ryun.  Jim was a world class runner in the mile and 1500 meters.  He was the first high school runner to better 4 minutes in the mile.  He competed in the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 17 in 1964.  He was the silver medalist in the 1500 meters in the next Olympics in Mexico City in 1968.  1972 was to be his big moment.  He had trained very hard and just knew that the Gold medal was in his future.  I have included a video of Jim’s story!  This video is over 10 minutes but it is 10 minutes worth watching!  It takes you from his early running days through the 1972 Olympics.  Amazing footage through his triumphs and pains and how he chose to forgive.  When he brought that unforgiving burden to God it was lifted from him!  As you will see he is now running through life free and easy without the cumbersome weight!

“God allowed me to be disqualified from the world’s most prestigious  athletic competition to show me how to be a real winner.”  Jim Ryun

A Fathers Love

Jim Redmond was more than a father to Derek Redmond.  He was his best friend and the two of them were inseparable.  Derek was one of the best 400 meter runners in the world!  At the age of 19 he had shattered the British record. Jim knew what Derek was feeling as the 1992 Olympics were about to start in Barcelona.  In the 1988 games Derek had to withdraw from the 400-meter race just 10 minutes before it started because of an Achilles tendon injury.  Over the next year he went through 5 surgeries.   To say that he was determined to make good in the 1992 Olympics would be an understatement.  To win a medal after all of the pain he went through and all of the hard work was the only thing he was thinking of.

Jim had been there for all of the world competitions leading up to the Olympics that Derek competed in!  He was his best friend, counselor, motivator, and loving father.  The stadium was packed with 65,000 fans and Jim had a seat at the top of Olympic Stadium.  This would be the race that would put Derek into the Olympic final heat and Jim was determined to run the race with Derek from his seat.  You see when Derek ran the two of them were so close that it seemed his father was running right next to him!

Earlier that day Jim and Derek had talked.  They talked about ignoring the past failures and heartbreaks and concentrating on the task before them.  They talked about all of the hard work that Derek had put in to prepare for the event.  They talked about everything even the unthinkable.  If anything bad happens, Derek would finish the race no matter what.  Now Jim is sitting in his place high up in the stadium waiting, watching, and anticipating the start of the race.  He is as nervous as if he himself were running and in his mind he is going to be with his son every step of the way!

The top four finishers in each of the semifinal heats qualify for the Olympic final.  The race begins and Derek quickly takes the lead.  Jim is in a zone as if running every step of the way with his son!  Keep it up he urges as Derek reaches the halfway point.  Then without warning the unthinkable happens.  Derek hears a pop in his right hamstring.  He hops on his good leg before falling on the track.  The other runners finish their race and leave Derek laying on the track in pain.  When Jim see’s his son in trouble he races as fast as he can down the bleachers.  He is dodging people and bumping into people along the way.  He keeps moving forward.  Without any credentials to be on the track Jim finally gets to the bottom row of the bleachers and races onto the track.  Security people start chasing him but he won’t be stopped.

The medical crew arrives with a stretcher but Derek tells them that he will not use it.  “I’m going to finish the race”, he said.  Derek pushes himself to his feet and begins the long journey of hobbling to the finish line.  With about 120 meters to go Jim finally reaches him.  “I’m here son and we will finish together”, he tells his son.  Derek uses his fathers shoulder to cry on and to lean on.  As the two of them struggle toward the finish line the 65,000 fans are going crazy!  Just before they reach the finish line Jim lightens his grip and Derek goes through the finish line alone.  Once he crosses the line Jim and Derek embrace again as their tears are felt by thousands at the event and millions watching on TV.

Lean on your Heavenly Father

Someone to lean on

If you look in the  medal winners for the 400 meter run in the 1992 Olympics you won’t find the name of Derek Redmond.  Yet because of his determination and courage and the love of his father, his name will always be associated with what the Olympics are about! Pierre De Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, believed that ‘The important thing in life is not to triumph, but to compete,’ and encouraged everyone to compete against themselves. His sentiment was institutionalised in the Olympic motto which challenges each individual to become the best they can: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Faster, Higher, Stronger).

The Olympic games in London will be here soon.  Athletes from all over the world will be vying for medals.  Some of their names will be on every tongue for a little while.  Whatever the results and the fame that these athletes will attain for the moment their moment will pass.  It has been twenty years since Derek Redmond fell on the track.  Derek Redmond did not win a medal in that Olympics.  Yet, of all of the people that competed, his name is still remembered.  His father Jim responded as our heavenly father does with us.  He was someone with compassion that was there to be leaned on.  He was there to help Derek finish the race.

When we feel the most discouraged, if we look beside us we will see him.  It is our heavenly father wiping away our tears.  He is always there for us to lean on as we finish our race.  Every step of the way he’ll be our strength.  When we feel we can’t go on he will lift us to new heights.  He is there in good times and bad and his love never wavers.  When our race is done he will say to us “Well done good and faithful servant.”

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