Lessons from a team flight

One of my favorite baseball stories happened not on the field, but on an airplane.

In 1982 I was seven-and-a-half years old and feel in love with baseball, the Atlanta Braves, and Dale Murphy. Not necessarily in that order. That Braves team started out 13-0, a record at the time, and was on WTBS every night — a station newly arrived to our 12-channels of cable TV.

At the time, I loved watching Dale Murphy because he would hit many and timely homeruns and he would spring across the outfield, his hat flying off, then make spectacular diving catches. Later I’d come to learn he wasn’t just a great ballplayer, he was a very good man. His manager Joe Torre said, “If you’re a coach, you want him as a player, If you’re a father, you want him as a son. If you’re a woman, you want him as a husband. If you’re a kid, you want him as a father. What else can you say about the guy?”


But my favorite story of his wasn’t on a ballfield, it was on an airplane.

The 1982 team squeezed out the National League Western Division on the last day of the season by one game over Los Angeles and two games over San Francisco. Murphy was by far the best player on that team and would win the league’s Most Valuable Player award that year (the next year he’d become the youngest player to win back-to-back MVP awards). But he was never someone to say “Look at me.” Everyone knew Murphy was the reason that good, but not great, Braves team was good enough to win their division. But Murphy was a modest, Christ-following ballplayer.

He knew, even if he was they key to that team, that in baseball everyone has to take a turn at bat, and no fielder – even a 5-time gold glove winner like he was— can catch every ball hit. Whomever the ball is hit to has to be the one to field it.

So after winning the Western Division, the Braves were set to play St. Louis in the playoffs. I think Murphy meant for his actions to be private and stay private, but Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieran later told the story:

On the flight to St. Louis where they’d start the playoffs, Murphy walked to the front of the plane, he was just 26-years-old and tended not to a verbal leader. He stopped at the player in the first seat, and in front of the whole team and coaches, he recalled a play that player had made to win a game that season, and he said “That’s the one game we won the division by.” He went to the second player and remembered a play that that player had made to win a game and said “That’s the game we won the division by.” And he worked his way from front to back of the airplane, recalling a play that all 24 other players on the team made to win a game and showing how every single player from star to role player to backup, had made a key play or gotten a key hit at some point in the that helped that team win the NL West.  That had led them to be on that flight to the playoffs together.  He made everyone feel like an equal.

As I matured I learned not just what a great ballplayer Dale Murphy was, but what a good man he was, what a good father & husband he was. I have so many great memories of Murphy on the field — but that story of him on an airplane is my favorite.

John 15:13, my favorite verse, says “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I’ve always interpreted that not just to mean literally, as Christ died for us, but figuratively, a man or woman who devotes their life to making their friends’ or neighbors’ lives better.

Phillipians 2:4 says “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Paul Azinger, PGA golfer and cancer survivor in his biography, “It does not take a lot of money, knowledge or influence to be an encourager. It just takes someone who cares and has a sensitivity to the oppurtunities that surround us everyday.”

I love that quote, and that’s what Murphy did that afternoon flying to St. Louis. I think he knew he was providing motivation — conveying that he can’t do it alone, that everyone was needed to do their part if they were going to beat St. Louis and get to the World Series (they didn’t).

We all have chances to point out successes to friends, to family and to strangers. We have chances to give a helpful comment. We never know what small words of encouragement can make a big difference to people. And what small acknowledgements of successes can be just what someone needs to keep providing the effort above and beyond.

So I try to take that lesson that I learned through baseball, but that happened on an airplane, and be an encourager and be an acknowledger. And I thank my baseball hero for that.

What have others learned from heroes off the field?


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Display your faith?

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Michael Lorenzen, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds got a new tattoo over the all star break.  Check out the video below.  How far will you go to show the world your faith?


Romans 1:16 –For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

If you are interested, watch a few other videos of Michael, it’s a great example of a young Christian living in the Lord.

What would #42 do?

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Over the past few weeks of lent, we have looked at parallels in the world of baseball and the world of Christ.  This week, let’s go back to one of the pivotal figures in baseball history, Jackie Robinson.  If you don’t already know, Jacki Robinson, #42, was the first African American to play in major league baseball.  Just as important are the stories of Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed him, forever breaking the baseball color barrier, and Pee Wee Reese, a team mate in Brooklyn.

In a 2013 article appearing on desiringgod.org, David Mathis recounts several stories of Jackie and the Amazing Grace he demonstrated in his first few years in baseball.  He describes the relationship between these two men and their faith below:

Many tellings of the Robinson-Branch story omit the importance of their shared Christian faith, but a few biographers have endeavored to draw this out.

Robinson was a Christian [and] his Christian faith was at the very center of his decision to accept Branch Rickey’s invitation to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Branch Rickey himself was a Bible-thumping Methodist whose faith led him to find an African American ballplayer to break the color barrier. . . .[A]t the center of one of the most important civil rights stories in America [lies] two men of passionate Christian faith. (Metaxas)

Branch’s strategy for de-segregation was “non-retaliation” — a precursor to the vision of non-violence to come later in the Civil Rights Movement. But it would not just do to try to follow Jesus’s pattern. Branch was looking for someone with deep faith and proven character. Nothing less than emotionally excruciating work lay ahead. When Branch and Robinson met for the first time to explore the possibility, Branch grilled him for hours and made him commit to three years of non-retaliation. Rickey . . . pointed him to the biblical account of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Rickey told Robinson, “We can’t fight our way through this, Robinson. We’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners. No umpires. Very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid many fans will be hostile.”

Hostile they were, but as commemorated in the statue below, teammates stood by Jackie during the hostility.  10 time all star and hall of famer, Pee Wee Reese, is as well known for his support of Jackie Robinson as he is for his playing performance.



As Eric Metaxas puts it in his book,Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness:

“The heart of the Jackie Robinson story,” says Metaxas, is that “he changed America by successfully living out, both on and off the baseball field, the revolutionary and world-changing words of Jesus.”

What made all the difference was both Branch’s recognition of the power of Jesus’s model of non-retaliation in Matthew 5:38–41, and Robinson’s grace-given ability to echo the almost superhuman pattern of Jesus: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

That is a model we can all strive for, both on and off of the field.


Judgement & Gary Carter

One of the first pieces of Scripture many of us probably learn is John 8:7, “…Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Nevertheless we all pass judgement.  Many times we convince ourselves (read: lie to ourselves), “Sure, I’m a sinner — but I have little inconsequential sins, he has big bad consquential sins.  It’s okay for me to judge him.”

Nevertheless we oftentimes judge the good, or the positive, or the unselfish.  Maybe we’re jealous, maybe we’re skeptics.  Maybe we think ‘He’s too good to be true’ and conclude he must be a fake.  And we find it easy  to judge insincerity.

Last week we read about Buck O’Neil.  Buck scouted Ernie Banks and once when someone mentioned that it was Buck who taught Ernie Banks to play baseball, Buck corrected them, “I didn’t teach Ernie Banks to play baseball.  Ernie Banks knew HOW to play baseball.  I taught Ernie Banks to LOVE playing baseball.”

And as much as Ernie Banks is known for being the first shortstop to hit 40 homeruns in a season (and the 2nd, and the 3rd, and the 4th to do so), he’s even better known for his “Let’s play two” optimism and enthusiasm and love of the game and love of life.

Dodgers catcher and Banks ‘contemporary John Roseboro once said “Maybe it’s sacrilege but I believe Banks was a con artist.  No one smiles all the time, naturally, unless they’re putting you on and putting you on. Every day of our lives isn’t a good one.”

Which brings me to Gary Carter.   Hall of Fame Gary Carter  didn’t wear his Christianity on his sleeve, but he wore his happiness and his goodness on his sleeve. And people never quite felt like they could trust a man who was so consistently happy — and teammates never quite trusted a ballplayer who seemed too good to be true.


I’m too young to have watched Ernie Banks, but I grew up watching Gary Carter.  I loved watching Gary Carter play baseball.  I loved watching Gary Carter loving to play baseball (full disclosure: I kinda sorta loved it less once he became a Dodger).  But not everyone loved Gary Carter, though he never gave anyone a reason to dislike him.  Not everyone understood Gary Carter.

From Jeff Pearlman in Wall Street Journal

and Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated

An excerpt,

In the oft-ignorant, oft-shallow world of baseball, Carter was deemed a geek from the very beginning. He didn’t drink and didn’t smoke. He didn’t curse and he didn’t talk smack. He showed up to work early, played hard, embraced home-plate collisions and—by all accounts—worked his tail off. He was loyal to his wife, Sandy, and an involved and dedicated father to their three children.

Yet this was rarely good enough for teammates. In Montreal, where Carter established himself as a star from 1974-84, he was derisively tagged “Teeth,” “Lights” and “Camera Carter” for his apparent love of the spotlight and his willingness to grant any and every interview request. Such behavior didn’t sit well with many of the Expos, who mocked him (cowardly, Carter would later tell me) behind his back and made him the butt of their juvenile jokes. Why, Carter’s famous nickname—The Kid—was born of neither love nor appreciation, but scorn.
…   So why all the hostility? Why the insults?   “Simple,” says Hearn. “Jealousy and immaturity. There were people who chose to poke fun at Gary’s strength and character as a man. When you’re that different from the majority, and you’re vibrantly outspoken, people don’t understand. So they become mean—especially when you’re as good as Gary was on the field.”

It’s easy to be happy when you succeed, but we really get to know people when things don’t go well.  We witness character when people are challenged.   It’s been said “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.”  Baseball might reveal character even more than most sports.  First baseball fans get to watch their favorite players every day.  Second, as we discussed Week One, we see the best players fail 7 times out of 10 at the plate, and they see the best players lose 60+ games every season.

So why are men like Ernie Banks and Gary Carter judged or mistrusted?  Why are their motives questioned?  When we watch a man make 7 outs in 10 at bats, when we watch him lose 60 or 70 or 80 games in a season, and yet see them smile and love every second, why are they mistrusted and not admired?

We as Christians are inherently optimistic.   Have we been mistrusted and judged merely for our good intentions?

Likewise who have we mistrusted because we can’t quite understand their optimism or their unselfishness or their enthusiasm?

And why hasn’t John Ramsier ever channeled Ernie Banks and said “Let’s have two sermons?”


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Buck O’Neil: Optimism and Selflessness

My favorite baseball book (and I’ve read a lot of baseball books) and one of my favorite books of all time is The Soul of Baseball in which Joe Posnanski, my favorite sports writer, followed Negro League player Buck O’Neil around the country as a very elderly Buck did appearances at major and minor league parks and wherever else he was invited to share stories of the Negro League and the great ballplayers who played in it.
This is one part of a post Posnanski wrote as he was leaving Kansas City, Buck’s home
Buck’s optimism was inspiring, but his selflessnes and his willingness even as a 90-year-old man to travel the country to share the story of his brothers in the Negro leagues is amazing.  Most amazing was his loyalty to them to the end.  Even when the Hall of Fame didn’t recognize Buck, but asked to go so he may tell the stories of those who were inducted.
We all have our pride. But Buck put his pride to the side in order to support and acknowledge the men who baseball history forgot — because that was who he was, and he never let pride or weariness or injustice diminish his optimism.
Buck’s life was a life of injustice.  He wasn’t allowed to play in the Major Leagues. He was not allowed to manage in the Major Leagues.  He was finally allowed to coach, but not even in a position that would put him on the field during a game.  But he never stopped loving the game even if he didn’t have the same access to it other men did.
No where in the Bible are we promised justice but we are instructed to love.  Buck loved the game, he loved people, he always focused on his blessings, not the injustices he suffered.
In his Hall of Fame speech Buck said,
And I tell you what, they always said to me Buck, “I know you hate people for what they did to you or what they did to your folks.” I said, “No, man, I — I never learned to hate.” I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. My wife died 10 years ago of cancer. (I’m single, ladies.) A good friend of mine — I hate AIDS. A good friend of mine died of AIDS three months ago. I hate AIDS. But I can’t hate a human being because my God never made anything ugly. Now, you can be ugly if you wanna, boy, but God didn’t make you that way. Uh, uh.
So, I want you to light this valley up this afternoon. Martin [Luther King] said “Agape” is understanding, creative — a redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. And when you reach love on this level, you love all men, not because you like ’em, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loved them. And I love Jehovah my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and I love every one of you — as I love myself.
And finally if you’d like to read a few more stories about Buck (without committing to The Soul of Baseball), here is Joe Posnanski’s obituary for the man he said influenced his life more than any man but his father.
What can baseball teach us about Agape?  About Love?  About forgiveness?

Hope’s Opening Day

Welcome friends to the first discussion topic in our Faith on the Field Lenten Virtual Community.  As we enter this season of Lent, we invite you all to join us to “live slow and notice” God’s action in our lives.  We will be talking about baseball, and about God, and hopefully the correlations we find between the affect they each have on us.  As we open the season of Lent, Opening day of the baseball season comes to mind.

A couple years ago, E.J. Dionne Jr., an opinion writer for the Washington Post wrote an article titled “Hope’s Opening Day” which captures that essence with the opening:

The obligations of religious toleration and pluralism require all who care not a bit about baseball to accept that opening day is more than the beginning of a sports season. It is a great religious festival.

It can’t be an accident that baseball always starts around the time of both Easter and Passover and, thus, “elicits a sense of renewal.” For the faithful, it means that “the long dark nights of winter are over” and “the slate is clean.” All teams, the exalted and lowly alike, “are tied at zero wins and zero losses.” This, in turn, means that the fervent cry “Wait’ll next year” becomes “prologue, replaced by hope.”

The faithful fan, who usually ends the season with defeat, (unless you are a Yankee or Cardinal fan), epitomizes the hope of rebirth with the dawn of a new season.  I’m reminded of Corinthians 15: 54-58:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

162 games in the season, and every year, every team starts with a perfect record.  What are your thoughts about Hope’s Opening Day as we open lent?  To leave a comment, click the link at the TOP of the post.

Visit the field!

March 13th, 1:05 pm

Join us for a spring training game at Osceola County Stadium

Address : 631 Heritage Park Way
Kissimmee, FL 34744

See more at: http://www.osceolastadium.com/

Group tickets are under a covered section with shade for the afternoon game.  Tickets are $21 each and must be confirmed and paid for by February 21st to sit with the group.  Please make check payable to the church, with Baseball Game in the memo.

Sign up sheet will be at church.

Ideas for Lenten Discussions

Hank Aaron “God is His Strength” – https://www.guideposts.org/positive-living/inspiring-entertainment/sports/god-is-his-strength?nopaging=1


The Forgotten Sotry of Peter Norman – by Joe Posnanski – http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/36921250/the-forgotten-story-of-australian-olympian-peter-norman

Field of Dreams – http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/10/21/why-field-of-dreams-is-the-best-christian-parable-in-movie-history/34656

Baseball as a Road to God – Sexton – http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2013/03/john_sextons_baseball_as_a_roa.html

Ernie Banks Outlook