I have always loved baseball. Growing up on the mean streets of East Los Angeles, baseball was the one activity that kept me away from the pitfalls many young Latino males face on a daily basis. Summer days were spent—sunrise to sunset—in makeshift sandlots in the shadows of Dodger Stadium, fielding bad-hop grounders and striping screaming line drives. It was our neighborhood pastime.
On the occasion when enough coins were scraped up to venture into the venerable cathedral, Dodger Stadium, our baseball heroes paraded before us on this hallowed turf. Our childhood heroes were rarely categorized according to ethnicity and nation of origin but always according to the color of their uniform, Dodger Blue. It was the name on the front of the uniform that mattered, not the back.
As maturity set in and the complexity of national racial issues manifested themselves with the social unrest of the late 1960s, I came to a deeper understanding of the diverse and painful racialized world in which I lived. Baseball was not the safe and immune haven I had first imagined. I became aware of the once segregated Negro Leagues and the painful history of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player to integrate into the “major leagues.” I also realized that even in my English speaking, Mexican-American home, I too was not nationally normative. I was Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano (albeit, born in the United States) and spoke with a distinct accent that immediately identified me as such which, in this country, included labels like wetback, beaner, spic[!], etc.
It was about this time that my relationship with the national pastime took an interesting turn. As much as I wanted to focus on the name on the front of the uniform, I couldn’t help but notice the names on the back of the uniform. Cepeda, Clemente, Marichal, Tiant, and Concepción all became a part of my racialized purview. This realization came to full fruition with the onset of Fernandomania in the 1980s.
The four-bedroom, two-story modest house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when this 6-6 muscular-toned man welcomes you inside his home, there is no evidence Darryl Strawberry the player ever existed.
There are no pictures of Strawberry in a Mets uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight All-Star Games. None of his 335 home run balls.
“I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,” says Strawberry, 51. “I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.”
On Memorial Day weekend, our family of four participated in six baseball games! Having just returned from a six-week book tour, it was such a refreshing change from discussing our nation’s politics, which is all the media wants to talk about and is more and more well, disgusting.
A sign outside our home’s front door says, “This family has been interrupted by the baseball season.” Both of our boys play, I coach, and my wife Joy Carroll is the Little League Baseball Commissioner — cool job for a Church of England priest!
On Saturday, we played in the Northwest Little League All Star game, which I got to coach with my son Jack on one of the teams. Our team came out on top, and Joy made 100 hotdogs for a celebration after the game. Our last victory cheer was “1, 2, 3, HOTDOGS!” The picture here shows the enthusiasm of the 9- and 10-year-olds I get to coach every single week. It’s what keeps me grounded in real life — amid the politics of this dysfunctional capital city — and it’s what gives me joy. Coaching baseball has also kept me deeply connected to my two sons, as I write about in my new book.
We had just helped save an immigration reform bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee — advocating for 11 million undocumented people who Jesus calls the “strangers” against the special interest politics of both left and right — when I entered the field for our Little League Tigers game on Friday night. It was just what I needed.
Here is a great baseball story that explains why I love Little League Baseball.
Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.
In his post “Lattes for the Common Good,” Tripp states that working for the common good starts in mundane places, like a coffee shop. These are the places where we practice neighborliness. Here’s Tripp’s brilliant point:
I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease.
Jim Wallis says something very similar in his book On God’s Side. When it comes to the common good, Wallis states, “I have never seen the real changes we need come from inside politics. Instead, they come from outside social movements” (295).
According to Wallis, for those social movements to make any real change in our politics they must be based on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, On God’s Side begins with a reflection on the Golden Rule. And, as Tripp says, “learning to practice neighborliness” is learning to practice loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
But there is a tension in Wallis’s book that, for me, is unresolved. That tension is clearly seen when Wallis talks about baseball.
A new film about Jackie Robinson, titled “42″ — the number he wore during his historic career — tells the triumphant story of how the Civil Rights icon integrated professional baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But there’s a mysterious hole at the center of this otherwise worthy film.
The man who chose Robinson for his role, and masterminded the whole affair, was Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford. In their initial meeting, the cigar-chomping Rickey makes it clear that whoever will be the first African-American in major league baseball will be viciously attacked, verbally and physically. So Rickey famously says he’s looking for a man “with guts enough not to fight back.” He needs someone who will resist the temptation to retaliate. Robinson agrees to go along with it.
But where did Rickey get that crazy idea and why did Robinson agree? The film doesn’t tell us, but the answers to these questions lie in the devout Christian faith of both men.
Baseball players Larry Doby was black and Steve Gromek was white. Gromek was from the working-class culture of Hamtramck, Mich., and Doby from the Jim Crow culture of Camden, S.C.
One year earlier, on July 5, 1947, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Doby had become the second African-American behind the great Jackie Robinson of the immortal Brooklyn Dodgers to play for a major league baseball team and the first African-American to play in the American League.
It was a revolutionary picture because it showed the world a way white supremacy and racism could be overcome.
Bruce Springsteen surprises memorial concertgoers in Oslo with a performance of "We Shall Overcome" --- Banksy's controversial Olympic art raises questions in London --- Lord Voldemort's Super PAC --- Ben Gibbard sings ode to ex-Mariners right fielder, Ichrio --- Saturday Night Live plans presidential election specials. See these and more in today's Links of Awesomeness...
It’s a hot summer evening in a Midwestern town. The grass is glimmering in the bright lights, contrasting with the brown dirt of the base cut-outs and pitcher’s mound. On the field, nine to a side, young men are dreaming of making The Show, although one suspects that in their hearts they know most of them won’t. There are no big city teams flush with cash, no mega-millionaire superstars.
The park is half-filled with fans, many of them families out for an evening together. It’s a diverse slice of America; white, African American, Latino, a few Asian. Young boys, and a few girls, sitting in the stands with their gloves on, awaiting a hoped-for foul ball souvenir. Dinner is bratwurst or a chili cheese dog, followed by peanuts or popcorn.
For one hot August night, the St. Paul Saints, a Minnesota minor league baseball team, will become the “Mr. Paul Aints” in a game sponsored by a local atheist group.
Dubbed “A Night of Unbelievable Fun,” the Aug. 10 game against the Amarillo Sox will include an auction of players’ special “Aints” jerseys, fireworks and a ceremonial first pitch by David Silverman, president of American Atheists.
The letter “S” in all Saints signs and logos around the stadium will be covered, and there are planned references to Big Foot, UFOs, and other targets of the skeptical community, team officials said.
I feel very honored to be invited by this class to give this commencement address, and I asked about the make-up of your class. Most of you, I am told, are going right into the church, or are already there— to ordained ministry and other missions of the church.
So I want to speak directly to you about the vocation of the church in the world. Let me start with a baseball story. I have been a little league baseball coach for both my sons' teams over many years. And I’ve learned that baseball teaches us “lessons of life.”
Just a few weeks ago, our 9-year-old's team was down 5-0, and we had already lost our opening couple of games. It didn’t look good. But all of a sudden, our bats and our team came alive; and all the practice and preparation we had done suddenly showed itself. Best of all, our rally started in the bottom half of the order with our weakest hitters. Two kids got on with walks and our least experienced player went up to the plate. With international parents, Stefan had never played baseball before and you can tell he doesn’t have a clue. But somehow he hit the ball; it went into the outfield. Our first two runs scored and he ended up on second base. Being from a British Commonwealth culture, he began to walk over to the short stop and second baseman and shake their hands! “Stefan,” I shouted, “You have to stay on the base!” “Oh,” he said, “I’ve never been here before.”
Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day in major league baseball. Every player on every team wore the number 42 on their uniform in honor of his integrating baseball in 1947. In the 1950s and 60s, players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, and many more followed. All were giants of baseball. All are in the Hall of Fame. All are African American.
This morning, USA Today released research results showing that the percentage of African Americans in baseball is now down to 8 percent, the lowest since Robinson’s day. In 1975, it reached 27 percent; in 1995, it was 19 percent. There are a variety of reasons for the decline: basketball and football appear more glamorous to top athletes, the cost of equipment in baseball is prohibitive for many inner city schools and teams, and there is a lack of college scholarships in baseball. Some also cite the low number of African Americans in leadership positions – out of 30 teams, there are only 2 general managers and 2 managers.
Whatever the reason, baseball is poorer for the absence.
It’s good to start a new year by remembering those who passed in the just concluded year. These aren’t the most famous (or infamous), and I didn’t know them personally (or, at best, had met several briefly), but their lives touched mine in three of my passions: American roots music, politics and public life, and baseball.
I’ve learned that it’s especially important for those who are always trying to change the world, to remember what they are thankful for in their world as it is!
First I am thankful to God for his or her patience with us. Thankful that despite how much we human beings (perhaps especially we religious believers), so often disappoint, embarrass, and even hurt God with the things we say and do — even in God’s name; that God still continues to love us, forgive us, and call us to act more like God’s children, who should live together like brothers and sisters.
I am thankful to Jesus, who seems to have survived all of us Christians who name his name. Thankful that he is still so popular all over the world, even when Christians are, well, are not so much. But I’m also thankful for when Christians or others actually do the things that Jesus said, love their neighbors and even their enemies, just as he taught us to do, and when we do treat “the least of these” in the same way that we would treat him. I’m always most thankfully surprised by the unexpected and simple acts of love, grace, kindness, welcome, and justice that make people want to believe in and follow Jesus again....
If you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.
My iPhone died and I didn't even care. A cooler full of water and ice was dumped on my head, which soaked not only me, but also my phone. My older son Luke's Little League team, called the Nationals, had just won the Majors championship in Northwest Little League.
I spent all day Saturday at a middle-school debate tournament. My seventh-grade son Luke loves being on his middle school baseball team, but also on the debate team, and this weekend his school competed with ten others. It was fascinating to watch and fun to be there. The topics of debate included statements such as, "All private citizens should be prohibited from owning a hand gun," and "Social media networks should have a minimum age of 18 or older to be a member." They have previously taken up subjects like "Should the U. S. leave Afghanistan?" "Is torture ever justified?" and "Should the Redskins (our local NFL football team) change their name?" Joy and I thought it was pretty cool that a public middle school would even have a debate team, with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders taking up subjects like that, and it helped draw us to Alice Deal Middle School.