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?”

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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.

 

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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.