Sunday, August 06, 2023

My Happy Place

I have found that baseball keeps me sane, steady, somewhat healthy. My life has been stressful the last few years. I spent many years in a marriage that was unhealthy. I ended up leaving a job from which I thought I'd retire. There were parts of my life that were good--mainly my relationships with my kids, and friends, my job at Faithlife (until the end). And baseball. 

Whatever else is going on, I'm at peace when I'm on a baseball field--whether coaching or umpiring or watching my boys play. The baseball field is my happy place.

I've needed that in recent years. As my friend and mentor David Blanton has said, I have become "well acquainted with grief."

In 2017 my best friend Dale died of a heart attack. We had been friends since we were nine years old. He was my go-to person.

My friend Rick died that same year, also of a heart attack. Years earlier Rick and I had gone to grad school together and taught at a Christian school together in Texas.

Later that year my pastor Dave died of brain cancer. Dave had been a good friend and encourager for many years.

In 2019 my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer; she died in 2021. I cannot say enough about how much my mother meant to me, and how losing her has impacted my life.

Also in 2021 my good friend Nick died in a car accident. Nick had been Cash's soccer coach for many years, and I had been his son's baseball coach. Nick was one of those guys who was always a joy to be around.

In 2022 my grandmother died at 99 years old. She lived in Nashville and I was grateful to have regular visits and grow closer to her in recent years.

In 2023 my dear friend Pete died of cancer. Pete hired me at Logos Bible Software when we moved from Virginia to Washington in 2011. We worked together for a short time, but he had a big impact on me and we stayed close over the years. I had several special visits with him in his final years, including one just a few days before he died. 

I have grieved a lot over the last six years. But year in and year out, I always find joy on the baseball field. First it was through coaching my boys from T-ball (ages 5-6), through Little League (7-12) and into Babe Ruth (13-14). Over the last few years it's been watching them play travel and high school ball. 

When the boys are not playing, I umpire. I started back in the 90's when I lived in Texas and have done it on and off over the years. I love watching baseball on TV, and going to Mariners' games whenever we can.

A few weeks ago I started having heart palpitations. I've been to the doctor, and he says everything is fine. It's probably caused by stress; just a lot going on these days. But I've noticed that when I'm watching the boys play, or when I'm umpiring, or when I'm watching the Mariners play on TV with my boys and my friend Johnny, the palpitations stop. The stress leaves my mind and body. 

Baseball is more than just a game. It has healing properties. Baseball calms me, and gives me peace. The baseball field is my happy place. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Baseball is Life

If you're a Ted Lasso fan, like me, you know Dani Rojas's catchphrase is "Futbol is life."

I have adapted it to reflect the sport that permeates my life: "Baseball is life." Baseball has been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are of watching the Cincinnati Reds with my dad in the 70's. Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and the rest of the Big Red Machine. I remember sometimes at night we could pick up the Reds radio and listen to Marty Brennaman. 

The Baltimore Orioles were the closest team, so occasionally we would make the trip to Memorial Stadium and watch the O's. 

My best friend Dale and I were obsessed with baseball--every day we'd open the Washington Post to see who had won the day before. Each Saturday we'd get the Sporting News in the mail--that was the best way to keep up with all our favorite teams and players, along with Baseball Digest and Sports Illustrated.

We'd watch the game of the week on Saturday afternoons, and always watched Mel Allen on This Week in Baseball. In the days before ESPN, that was where you went to see what was going on in the world of Major League Baseball. 

But it wasn't just pro baseball that filled our lives. Dale and I played little league baseball. We were both catchers. I was a good defensive catcher, but didn't hit well, and was never a star. 

But what I remember even more than little league were hours and hours spent in our backyards. It was as simple as baseball can be. We'd set up a makeshift pitching rubber and a home plate, and take turns being pitcher and catcher. We would pitch to one imaginary batter after another. There were two possible outcomes--a strikeout or a walk. If you gave up a walk, that translated into a run. Each person would pitch until he recorded three outs. So if you walked 2 before getting your third strikeout, you were down 2-0.

After three outs we would switch, and go back and forth until we had played nine innings. It was as simple as could be--balls and strikes, outs and runs. It doesn't sound exciting, but it was. First of all, we were competitive. We loved each other, but we desperately wanted to beat each other. Since the catcher was also the umpire, there were occasional disagreements over calls, but we were committed to the system and if the pitcher didn't like a call, he had to live with it.

We played that game for hours, taking on MLB player personas. I was usually Tom Seaver on the mound, Dale was Jim Palmer. I have forgotten many things over the intervening 45 years, but I remember every detail about the geography of our back yards during those years. I can close my eyes and I'm there, squatting behind home plate with my catcher's mitt, calling Dale's pitches.

After each game we'd take a break and go into the house for a snack. I always loved the snacks at Dale's house. Usually something healthy like grapes or watermelon, but sometimes it was brownies. And Dale's mom did something with brownies I'd never seen before. Chocolate brownies are good enough as is, but Dale's mom took them to another level and added chocolate frosting on top!

We'd eat a brownie (they were already cut with military precision), and I'd say, "let's have a second." Dale said no, one was all we were allowed. I was usually willing to bend or break the rules, but Dale was disciplined and usually stayed within the rules. Having an Army colonel for a father did that.

Dale and I were best friends, and that continued throughout our lives. Neither of us continued to play baseball beyond little league, but we still loved the game. We would get our parents to drive us up to Baltimore for occasional Orioles games.

We were thrilled when the O's won the World Series in 1983. We were both in Texas by then, but didn't get to celebrate together as Dale was in his freshman year at Texas A&M and I was in basic training at Fort Bliss, outside El Paso. 

Next Time - Seeing Dale and me in my own boys