Of baseball, God, and guns

CamouflageLast year, I saved my allowance so I had enough money to purchase MLB At Bat.  For the non-baseball enthusiast, At Bat is a subscription service to watch live major league baseball  on my iPhone, iPad and mirroring on my home television screen.  It was amazing to have it last year.  It’s the only way I can regularly watch the San Diego Padres.  They need me, you know.

However, I’m a sad boy this year.  My allowance “savings” is going to pay for a ticket.  I failed to get my car inspected on time.  Can you spell stoopid?

The past three days, the Cubs have been playing the Padres in San Diego and the local Chicago station has been airing the games.  It’s been fun to catch a little of the action.

The San Diego Padres certainly don’t have the storied baseball and cultural histories and traditions of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco Giants or (as hard as this is for me to admit) the hated Los Angeles Dollars.  Not even close.  But they do have one of the greatest and most profound traditions in all of major league sports:  Military Sunday.

I have always had a wrestling match in my soul, when it comes to war.  For most of my adult life, my theology has been quietly shaped by Anabaptist, Wesleyan and Mennonite understanding of the scriptures, even though I was raised in mild, traditional, fundamentalist evangelicalism (meaning we played “nice” with all the other churches that claimed to be Christian, though we knew they were all theologically wrong).

For those who know me, you know I’ve never been at home with the God-Guns-Guts-Glory crowd (though some of my best friends in the world hang there).  My lifelong study of the Sermon on the Mount has led me down a different path.  My conviction that Jesus is the complete and perfect representation of all that God is and everything that we are to be, has always landed me somewhat to the left of my more conservative friends in both lifestyle and ethics.

As hard as I try to see and comprehend the other side, my best attempts to answer What Would Jesus Do?” always leave me comfortably with the turn-the-other-cheek tribe.  

But here’s where the wrestling match surfaces.  I was raised in San Diegoa fiercely loyal and unashamed military town.  I grew up with a deep respect for the men and women who defend our country.   Their love of country and commitment to values like duty, integrity, selfless service, and personal courage helped shape me when I was young and continue to move me to gratitude to this day.

That’s why I love what the San Diego Padres do EVERY Sunday home game.  In honor of the military, the Padres wear specially designed camouflage  uniforms for these games.  They are the coolest uni’s in pro ball!  Often, the stands are full of servicemen in their uniforms.  There is always a Fourth Inning Stretch where a rendition of the Marine or Navy hymn is sung and the servicemen are cheered.  The season is full of other special days and events for the city to say “thanks”.

I can confidently say the Padres will never have baseball storylines that rival the more famous (and fatter payroll) teams.  But they will always have the greatest tradition of all.

Nobody cares but me…

you can file this under the “nobody cares but me” category.  and make no mistake…i care and you don’t.

at the beginning of the season, the padres were horrible.  they had a brand new team…only two position starters returning from 2011.   eleven pitchers have gone to the disabled list.   their long-time bullpen coach died of pancreatic cancer in june.  the average age of the starting lineup is 25.  four rookies.

i expected a rough start.  it was.

but since the first of june,  things have changed.  i’m no idiot…the whole season is what counts.  but when you’re a padre fan, you learn to look for the little things.  but this is more than a little.  it’s huge to me.  check out the records since june 1:

  • yankees     36-23
  • rangers      34-26
  • angels         33-27
  • padres        32-28
  • dodgers      27-33

i’m not saying the friars are in the same class as these teams, but the gap is narrowing.  only a 2-game difference with the rangers…and only one game behind the angels.  and it’s always a great day when the padres are ahead of the doggers.  for anything.

oh yeah.  the sale of the padres was completed this week.  maybe some multi-year contracts are coming.

maybe the return of the padres will be sooner than i thought.

Of cowboys, chargers and swag…

last fall,  i was overcome with concern and compassion, and felt uncontrollably moved to share some of my personal life insights as a life-long san diego padre fan…to my beloved texas ranger fan-friends.   you can check it out here.

i didn’t say it back then,  but i can comfortably gloat about it now.   i am certain that my pearls of baseball fan wisdom were not only exactly what you needed at the time,  but were  surely what propelled you and the fighting molinas to your unparalleled success in the fall classic of 2010.

you needed me and i came through for you.   you’re welcome.   i’m just here to serve.

…and it is because of this selfless compassion i have for you,  my adopted texas family,  that i am compelled to give you another taste of fan wisdom.   think of it as a double-shot.   not of espresso,  but of prudence and good sense for every dallas cowboy buff in my sphere of unmatched influence.

but this time,  it’s personal.   i need your help in return.   and it took a lunch with my friend and broken-down cowboy fan,  jordanto help me see the light.

when the farraclan moved here from our socal mothership back in 1995,  it was tough.   we left behind crashing waves and salt air and crisp 62 degree summer nights.   we said goodbye to palm trees that actually grow and real mountains…not the highway overpass  posers  we have in the north dallas forty.  

sayonara  to authentic baja fish tacos  (though fuzzy’s has made a valiant effort)… bike paths that are not death traps… year-round driving with the windows down… shorts and sandals in january…and earthquakes in waterbeds  (my personal favorite).

but the greatest tragedy of all is that i walked out on the padres and the chargers.   the guilt i carry is still immense.   even though i am the president of the texas chapters of both the padres and chargers fan clubs,  it is still not enough.   but when god calls,  sacrifices must be made.   that’s how baseball go.   football,  too.

now don’t take this the wrong way.   (really.  have some thick skin right now.)   the thing that got me through…that soothed my guilt…that eased my san diego sports emptiness…was listening to dallas sports talk radio.   and the over-the-top,  blind,  cocky,  brash,  and unfiltered loyalty of the cowboy faithful.

i loved the “we’re america’s team”  arrogance.   the over-confidence and assurance that the ‘boys were so much better than any team that ever put on pads was so condescending…and so entertaining…my listening became like a fix for a junkie.    i couldn’t wait for overreaction monday.    win or lose,   cow fans were unflinching in their loyalty and unabashed in their football team superiority.    it was what got me through.

but it’s all changed now.

cow apologists all disagree on when and how it happened,  exactly.   some say it was dave campo’s hair.   some say it was the hiring of bill parcells.   others believe it was when t.o. desecrated the star when he was with the 49ers…or the disrespecting of the great tom landry…or jerruh’s ownership.   i personally think it all started long before the wadester took over,  but i think i would probably be voted off the island for that opinion.

but no matter when or how it happened,  the truth is this:   cowboy fans have lost their swag.   the confidence is shot.   the cockiness that i had grown to love…and expect…has vanished.   gone to where the deer and antelope play.   wherever that is.   there’s barely a whimper coming from the cowboy cheap seats these days.

and even when the cow faithful try to muster up some of that good old-fashioned emmitt-michael-troy dominant attitude,  it’s nothing but hollow going-through-the-motions.   and it hurts me.   really.   i hurt for you guys.   you were once so dependable…so eye-popping confident…so self-assured.   now,  it’s like you don’t even care anymore.   you’re sad.   mad.   disillusioned.   pessimistic.   resigned to expecting mediocrity.

some of you are as bad as cub fans in your feelings of despair and hopelessness.

so it’s time for me to channel my inner charger  to you.   you need a heavy dose of reality.   you need to be to see good again.

you need your swag back.   i need you to get your swag back.   it’s how i make it through.   if you can’t do it for yourself and your cows,   do it for me.   (i would say you owe it to me for all the great inner padre i channeled to you last fall,  but that would be awfully presumptuous and prideful of me to assume that.   a thank you would be appreciated, though.)

here are a few ideas for your cow swag restoration:

believe in tony.   romolicious is awesome.   great smile.   he married a beauty queen.   his real name is antonio.   he has unbelievable mental toughness…he shot a 67.   and he was born in san diego.   come on!   this is a recipe for greatness.

you have the deathstar.   the greatest sports venue in this galaxy.   it is the quintessential statement of cockiness.   breathe in.   breathe out.

red jesus.   the symbol of quiet,  understated self-assurance.   the greatest interviews ever.   nobody puts sports journalists in their place like this dude.   easily the highest IQ of any football head coach in the history of the universe.   get on his bandwagon now.

dez.   he won’t have to carry roy williams’  pads this season.   wait.   he didn’t last year either.   no matter…the youngster is ready for a breakout season.   really.   you believe that,  don’t you?

weakest division in the nfl.   hey,  7-9 could win this division.   make it to the playoffs and anything can happen.   if the seattle seahawks can do it…

don’t follow the charger/padre pattern of fandom.   charger and padre fans are a different breed.   our bar is a little lower than most.   oh…we want to win.   we hope to win.   for the chargers,  we expect to win.   but when we don’t,  life goes on.   nothing a good wave or a day on the slopes can’t cure.   there’s always more to life for us.   our expectations are tempered with a simple love of the game and the joy of a trip to the stadium for great food,  great weather,  great people and realistic hope.

but that layed-back,  friendly,  soak-up-the-sunshine attitude doesn’t cut it in cowland.   for you,  winning isn’t everything,  it’s the only…no.   it is everything.   this town does not accept second place.   or third.   or tied for last.   nothing short of a world championship is acceptable.   remember?

so get behind your team.   get back on the bandwagon.   find your fist-pump and your smack talk.   dust off your attitude.   go back and look at the pictures of jimmy and jerruh hugging each other and hoisting the lombari trophy.   remember the glory days of yesteryear.   1995 was just a short 16 years ago.   it can happen again.   but your cows need you back.

don’t be the prodigal fan anymore.   get your swag back on.   we need some genuine condescending,  trash-talking,  bring-the-wood,  jim romesque,  welcome-to-the-jungle cowsmack to bring balance back to the world and peace to my soul.

they need it.   i need it.

Rangers and Padres

as a lifelong san diego padre fan,  my heart is going out to my texas ranger fan friends these days.   i’m feeling your angst.

padre fans and ranger fans are different.   way different.   even though i have slowly become a ranger fan through the years,  i will never be a true ranger fan.   not because i don’t want to be or because they are not worthy of my fanaticism.    no way.   i’m just saying i’m as much a ranger fan as i am capable of being.

(by the way,  this year finally pushed me over the top.   with the acquisition of vlad and the great benji molina,  i finally drank the koolaid.   who can’t root for a team that signs a catcher with my personal body “type”??)

i see team support through the lens of a padre fan.   it’s totally different.   a completely unique way of cheering for your team,  yet keeping reality in perspective…not to mention the value of being able to keep your health,  sanity,  attitude,  and total enjoyment of the great game.

so from my heart to yours,  o loyal fans of your beloved rangers,   i want to give you some tips for how to have greater enjoyment,  better sleep,   better television watching,  better bowel movements and better marriages down the stretch of this pennant race.

i want to channel my inner padre fan to you.   your life will be better and healthier if you listen carefully.

learn to enjoy the whole experience. for my whole life,  the padre’s represented so much more than winning and losing:  a hoodie and some hot chocolate on a chilly summer night…getting to see great players (from other teams) play in  The Murph every year…the mega-talented peanut vendor…the world famous san diego chicken!   ranger fans, you  are too focused on the performance of your team!  open your eyes,  broaden your perspective,  become a mascot.

have an outlet for your disappointment. in san diego,  if the padres start playing bad,  you go to the beach.   problems seem to fade when you listen to the sound of crashing waves,  the blowing mist of salt water,  and the crispy heat of a 70 degree sunny day.   ranger fans,  after three losses down the stretch,  maybe you need to go hang out at Jerry World or take a drive to abilene or pflugerville. you have to learn to let go of the bad and embrace the beauty of your surroundings.

re-think the  “we’re texas…we’re bigger, better, and badder than everybody” attitude…when it comes to the rangers.   a padre fan never believes the hype about the padres.   mostly because there is never any hype about the padres.   we have fully embraced our small-market reality.   we know the yankees are better.   with that payroll, they’re supposed to be,  for crying out loud!   dear ranger friends,  you need to accept that your beloved rangers might not be as good as you want them to be.   it’s ok.   it doesn’t make you any less loyal.   it doesn’t mean you cheer any less.   it doesn’t mean you don’t continue to hope.   i’m just saying that a padre fan harbors no illusions of superiority.   ( for the record,  i am slowly but surely warming up to the idea of succeeding from the union…starting to make a lot of sense).

embrace and accept your limitations. the rest of the sports world does not care about san diego.   sportscenter doesn’t factor them into the pennant race.   they have predicted their demise since the beginning of the season.   there’s not much love from the sports media for the rangers, either.   it’s ok.   really.   it’s ok.

figure out a rivalry and let that be your world series. no matter how bad the padre’s season is going,  we always get to play the doggers…and the nocal giants.   it makes my year.   it gives me something realistic to cheer for each season.   it’s our world series every year.   and if we lose this year,  we’re back next year.   it’s awesome.   ranger fans, pick something smaller and learn to be happy with it.   it might just be me,  but i would consider adding the kansas city royals to your rivalry list.   it’s a little closer than seattle.   you might even make a road trip once in a while.   there’s nothing like cheering for your homies on the enemy’s turf…

work on your public persona. padre fans never trash talk.   we know better.   we never gloat over a win,  but we quietly enjoy the moment.   we proudly wear our colors in the good and the bad.   we are always optimistic.   we think we can win every game.   we just don’t necessarily expect it.   we always look for the good in our little friars and extol the positives to anyone who asks.    we don’t talk bad about our team to a rival or an enemy.   we are kind of like a family…i can talk bad about my kids,  but you better not.   ranger fans,  stop trashing your own team! love them.   embrace them.   give “wash” a hug.   stop saying michael young sucks as a third baseman.    quit showing love to cliff lee when he does well and harpooning him like a beached seal when he throws a stinker.    they’re your fam.   practice upbuilding encouragement.

finally,  let go of your cynicism. it’s deadly.   it’s toxic.   it gives ulcers and wrinkles.   it makes your friends just want to give you a hug, too.   don’t ever stop hoping.   this is baseball…the greatest game.    this is all about bull durham and the bad news bears and the natural and field of dreams. it’s about believing and cheering and loving your team no matter what.

ranger fans: stop thinking your team is going to throw away this seven-game lead.   stop thinking “wash” is going to leave another pitcher in too long.   stop obsessing over the loss of josh hamilton.    you’ve got julio borbon in center!   quit wishing you still had adrian gonzalez patrolling first base.    you’ve got mitch moreland and his mom is really proud of him.   you should be also.

the padre’s are a half a game out of first place.   i’m ecstatic.   nobody expected them to be there.   but they are.   if they don’t win the west pennant,  it will be okay.   san diego fans will grab a fish taco and start looking forward to next year.   no lost sleep.   no angst.   limited disappointment.   totally loyal.   no spewing of anger,  disgust and despair.   just happy to be baseball fan.

ranger fans,  you are still seven games up.   live it.   breathe it.   enjoy it.   stop with the whole negative nancy thing.

learn from padre fans.   i’m open for counseling most afternoons.

The long-awaited trip to Petco

Vacation Day Five 120

Vacation Day Five 111Vacation Day Five 124no question.  petco park is the most amazing ballpark i have ever been to!

no.  it doesn’t have the history of yankee stadium or the old time ambiance of fenway or wrigley.

it’s never hosted the world series (yet) or the all-star game.  and before you start telling me the padres stink or some other lame, unrelated judgment, let me tell you of the petco greatness:

72 degrees at game-time…1:00 in the afternoon

cool, off-shore breeze throughout the game

view of coronado island out the back

stunning view of downtown san diego…unbelievable architectural symmetryVacation Day Five 123

angles, angles, angles…

fish tacos, carne asada burritos, hunan chicken, barbeque ribs, and grilled hot dogs.  mmm…

$10 parking, one block away…and i didn’t break into a full sweat while i walked.Vacation Day Five 125

no fights breaking out in the stands.

the fish market at seaport village for dinner after the game.

who knows?  maybe the padres will be back in the world series in the next couple of years!

remember, i’m a padre fan.  a dreamer and a believer to the end!  always have been.  always will be.  loyalty is a virtue.

It’s just the first eight games…

national tv audience, opening night of the new ball park in the big apple, prime time in every way and the little friars from san diego spoil the biggest night in baseball this season.  i love baseball.

Padres Mets Baseballi know it’s a long season, but 6-2, the best pitching stats in the bigs, guys that actually pay attention to their hitting coach, no choking on the main stage, and david eckstein…this is a good start.