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Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’


It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back with his soda while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant in St. Louis, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they built the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But on the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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Scribe: My Life in Sports is appropriately named. In many ways it is my life in viewing sports, but it is Bob Ryan’s life in reporting on sports. It is an interesting read, and much of the time I can hear him speaking in my head as I read the book. It is as if you are sitting and talking with him over a good meal as he shares stories and opines to his heart’s delight.

He begins with some personal background of his childhood in New Jersey. His love of sports came from his father Bill Ryan who not only loved sports by worked in the business side of sports. Bill was strongly extroverted and seemingly knew everybody. He would introduce his son to many professional athletes, particularly players from the baseball Giants and Phillies. One morning young Bob woke up to discover that his father had died in the middle of the night from complications after surgery.

As a boy he devoured sports’ magazines. In addition to playing sports Bob began to write about sports. As a result of his work for the Lawrence, the head football coach called him “The Scribe”, and it stuck.

Bob would attend Boston College. This was a precipitous time to be there. Celtics legend Bob Cousy was the basketball coach. Since he started writing for the Heights (his friend took over the sports department in Bob’s sophomore year), he got to know Cousy personally; a tie that would result in writing an autobiography with him. Ryan also got the job broadcasting the Eagles’ home games.  One night he had the honor of interviewing Red Auerbach at half time, which was the beginning of their professional and personal relationship.

This brings up one of the themes in this book. Bob was often in the right place, at the right time, and knew the right people. He is amazed at the opportunities he has had. He doesn’t think of this in the terms of providence, but I do. He probably couldn’t have accomplished most of what he did if he tried. He essentially stumbled into most of it. While some may perceive him as arrogant (probably because he is opinionated), he comes across here a humble due to how all this fell into his lap. In some ways he is the opposite of his father for whom nothing seemed to work out the way it should have.

You cannot love sports, attend college in Boston and not partake of the opportunities that present themselves. Back in the 60’s you could actually get affordable tickets to the Celtics and Red Sox games. He would be in the seats of Fenway for many of the milestone moments of the Impossible Dream season of 1967.

In June of 1968 he got a summer internship at the Boston Globe. Why? Because his roommate, who hired him for the Heights, turned it down. After his internship he spent four months in the Army Reserves. He was discharged, thankful for not having been sent to Vietnam, though did’t say why. But the Globe took him back as an office boy “with a verbal promise that I’d get the next opening on the staff.”

That was the job he held when the Red Sox fired manager Dick Williams at the end of the ’69 season. They dispatched the Kid to go get an interview. And so Bob Ryan sat in Williams’ kitchen getting an interview. At the right place, at the right time. His story would be on the front page of the evening edition.

That verbal promise became a reality when he was given the Celtics beat beginning with opening night for the 1969-70 season, just two years removed from college. And the rest, as they say, is history.

He has seen the NBA grow from an office with 8 people to one with nearly 600 in 2000-2001. When Bob started covering the Celtics he knew basketball, although his real love was baseball. He discovered he still had a LOT to learn about basketball. He spent lots of time talking with new Celtics coach and Hall of Fame player Tommy Heinsohn. In covering the Celtics he would be the guy Dave Cowens used to announce his retirement. Dave remains on of the most interesting people Bob ever had the privilege of covering. He would co-author a book with Larry Bird. He covered the Celtics during the majority of my lifetime. I have no idea how many of his articles I read, and we only got the Sunday Globe.

In 1977 Ryan asked off the Celtics beat. While he was away on vacation the legendary Peter Gammons left the Globe to write for SI. Bob was asked to cover the Red Sox. So for one season, Bob got to cover his favorite sport.

It was just one year because Gammons would return and the basketball job would call him back. He goes out of sequence to talk about the great John Havlicek. Havlicek was the first superstar the Ryan covered. He was the standard by which all others would be measured in terms of their personal conduct. He likes his book, Hondo: Celtic Man in Motion, but acknowledges it could have been better had he pushed a little harder. He felt more along for the ride than investigating the man.

In 1978 he returned to the Celtics beat to witness the Celtics once again ascend to greatness, and finally popularity. He includes the machinations that involved changing ownership and the drafting of Larry Joe Bird.

He covers his initially foray into TV with a show on the local ABC affiliate. He learned that working one that kind of show (more like personal interest stories with a sports twist) was not really his forte. He was really geared toward interacting with others- give and take- that focused on opinion. Those days would come in the form of the Sports Reporters and Around the Horn. He would become a fixture on those for ESPN.

Later, as a columnist, Ryan got to cover the Olympics. This become one of his favorite events to cover. His experiences are interesting and help provide some background on what it is like to attempt to cover something as massive as the Olympics. He talks about covering wrestler Aleksandr Karelin who was a legend. By the time the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney rolled around he had been unbeaten in 13 years, including previous Olympic matches. He was finally beaten by American Rulon Gardner. After his Olympic glory, Gardner was nearly killed when his snowmobile expedition was lost, and later when an airplane he was in crashed in a lake which meant an hour long swim in 45 degree water.

He devotes two chapters to Olympic basketball. He gives the history of the American professionals involvement and how it helped the rest of the world catch up to us. One of those chapters focuses on the Dream Team.  The second chapter is about the rest of the world learning from playing the best and leveling the playing field.

He moves from their to NCAA basketball. He loves the game, and will go to great lengths to see one. But he struggles with the concept of the “student-athlete”, seeing it as largely farcical. This leads into a chapter on one of the dominant personalities of college basketball: Bobby Knight. He has had an up and down relationship with Knight, yet is fascinated by the man.

As you may note, the subject matter is shifting from events to opinions about events. This goes full boil when he writes of the NFL in “I Can Hardly Believe It’s Legal.” Didn’t you expect opinions from such a man as Bob Ryan.

In the following chapter he reverts to baseball with the Red Sox finally winning the World Series. It is an incredibly short chapter focused on the Yankees’ series.

He then moves on to hockey, sharing with us all he thinks about the forgotten sport. The focus would be on some of the great Boston players: Orr, Bourque & Neely. He wraps it up with a short synopsis of the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup run.

From there it was the 2008 Celtics. See, not in any chronological or logical order here. This is followed by a chapter about Chuck Daly of all people. Then he tackles the MJ vs. LeBron question.

Ryan then opines about golf and some of the more interesting moments he had in covering what I think is a very uninteresting game. This is followed, oddly enough, by a chapter on music.

The final real chapter is called No Complaints (the last is called Short Takes and is a series of just that). Here he notes that in some ways his life was the flip side of his father’s. In an interview his mother talked about his father. “He was always on the fringe of everything. He never received much credit and never made any money. I think being so close and so frustrated about what he knew he could do in sports and never receiving the chance might have led to his death.”

Ryan then says about himself: “My career is the flip side. I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time on many occasions.” His blessing ended up being ours as well. For there are few people with such a way with words to tell us these very human stories of success and failure. Bob Ryan had a love affair with sports and shared it with us. This book is akin to his final words about this love affair as he sorta, kinda retires. But it brings back so many memories of the events we watched on our tvs or heard on our radios. This is a picture not only of his life, but lives like mine that were spent in that New England air seemingly living and dying with our teams.

Once again, thanks Bob!

 

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Most bloggers focus on the best books of the year. I’m not competent to rank books I haven’t read. I am often a little behind as I read based on needs not just desire. So I focus on the books I read in the last year. It was a light year as I spent more time than I wanted reading my own book to edit it. So, here we go!

The Creedal Imperative (ebook) by Carl Trueman. This is the first Trueman book I’ve read. Okay, only one so for. It was a very good book arguing for the use of creeds and confessions. It is not a very big book but it covers some important territory.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. It starts off a bit dry and philosophical as it examines the ways various cultures have trying to answer the problem of suffering. He then argues that only Christianity has a satisfying answer to this problem. Then he goes into proactive mode in addressing how we can prepare the spiritual reserves, so to speak, to survive pain and suffering.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. I started this book in 2012 or 13 but finished it in 2014. It is an extremely long book, but I thought an extremely helpful book I will return to as I consider various ethic issues (I recently returned to his material on the Sabbath in light of a discussion in Presbytery). I appreciate how Frame looks at things.

Against the Gods (ebook) by John Currid. This is another short book . This one focuses on the relationship between biblical material and ANE material. Currid argues for a polemical approach to understand similarities. It is helpful for helping to defend the faith from attacks based on archeological findings.

Antinomianism (ebook) by Mark Jones. I think this is a very important book that helps us make some important distinctions as we think about both grace and law. Jones focuses on the strains of antinomianism that arose during the age of the Puritans. He does make some modern application.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield. The best part is the story of her conversion as a lesbian “gay theory” professor. There is much to learn about how homosexuals view the Christians. She found many of those views to not be necessarily true as Christians loved her and she read the Word. She also had to face how much life would change. I could do without the argument for exclusive psalmody, but there is much to benefit from otherwise.

Taking God at His Word (ebook) by Kevin DeYoung. This is a short, solid defense of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. It is quite accessible to the lay person. Well worth reading, and keeping on hand to let others borrow.

Song of Songs by Tremper Longman III. I read this commentary for an upcoming series in Sunday School. It was a very helpful commentary on a quite, at times, confusing book.

Rooted by Raymond Cannata and Joshua Reitano. This is a great little book on the Apostles’ Creed designed to either be read alone or with a group. What is distinct about this book is the missional bent of the material. They don’t just want to help you expand your knowledge and understanding to to see the call to bring these truths into the world to the glory of God.

unPlanned by Abbey Johnson. This is one woman’s story about life as a Planned Parenthood director who comes face to face with the truth about Planned Parenthood. It is a very interesting story from a former insider. Part of the story involves the love she experienced from the majority of the pro-life protesters she saw on a regular basis. This is in stark contrast to the paranoia and fear so many PP people had when thinking about them. Eventually the dissonance grew to great after operating a sonargram during an abortion.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera. This was a very interesting book about the Hall of Fame (future) reliever. You can clearly see the providence of God. His faith is often in the background, but it is a great story even if you are not a Yankees’ fan.

Resisting Gossip (ebook) by Matthew Mitchell. There are not many books about the sin of gossip. This is one of the few, and it is a good, gospel-centered one. This book deserves a reading.

The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Ralph Davis. The former OT professor looks at Psalms 1-12. Excellent material with a very practical focus.

The Good News We almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung. This is another excellent book by Kevin DeYoung. This time he tackles the Heidelberg Catechism. It is accessible for younger Christians and filled with pastoral wisdom.

Parcells: A Football Life by Bill Parcells and Nunyo DeMasio. This is a very interesting book about Parcells’ life, football and the many people he worked with. It is fascinating from a leadership perspective, and will build most people’s understanding of football and how teams should be built.

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) by Gregory Beale. This is another important book addressing a contemporary problem. It is far more technical than DeYoung’s. It is geared more to pastors, but well-read lay persons would appreciate it.

Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch. This is an important subject for Christian growth. Shame is experienced by all, but can be crippling to many. It is a hidden root for many symptoms. Welch unpacks the gospel to show the ways it moves us from shame to honor.

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I am a baseball fan. I also have a family that resembles the United Nations, or the Church Triumphant depending on your preferred metaphor.

So it made sense for me to see 42. It isn’t the Jackie Robinson story. It really is just the story of 2 years of his life.

You get very little background into his childhood, and what brought him to the point where he changed American history. All we learn is that he father left when Jack was 6 months old. Perhaps this is why he hated to depend on anyone. Just a thought. But it was that toughness it created that enabled him to be the first black player in modern Major League Baseball. As the film Jackie and Branch Rickey both note: God built him to last.

God is not absent from this film. That comment by Jackie was about the only time we see a faith in God in Jackie’s life (that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, just that the movie doesn’t show it). Rickey’s faith is much more prominent in the movie. “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist.”

Seeing Harrison Ford, an old and over-weight Harrison Ford, play a man of faith is a sight to behold. It is called acting. But Branch Rickey was not some domesticated caricature of a wimpy Christian. He smokes cigars and the occasional profanity leaves his lips. Branch and his relationship with Jackie is one of the main threads of the movie.

It begins with Branch Rickey deciding that now was the time to do what he’s always wanted to do. Over the course of the movie he is often asked “why?” and he provides a variety of answers. Near the end, during a moment alone with Jackie after getting spiked, he finally lets Jackie in on the truth. He had long seen the injustice. That injustice had stolen from him his love for baseball. Jackie gave him that love back.

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I grew up in the 2-time Money Magazine #1 City to live in.  Of course this was after I moved away (is there a correlation or causation there?).  I spent about 7 years in Orlando, FL.  My 10+ years in Winter Haven were small city-ish.  I now live in a large city again.  But my in-laws live in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously. Friends visiting us there asked where the town was.  “You’re in it.”  The only non-residential buildings I’ve seen are the Post Office, volunteer fire station and the church.  The school is 6 miles and 2 towns over.  The nearest Wal-Mart is about 40 minutes away, as is the nearest mall and actual movie theatre.  Cell-phone coverage?  About 9 square feet on the back porch.  There are only 2 gas stations within 15-20 minutes, and they are next door to each other.

Here in the middle of nowhere, we have chickens and guinea hens.  It is amusing to see a chicken running across the lawn.  Or to see a gaggle of guineas hooting their way around the yard.  This year we discovered a hen being followed by 18 chicks.  The days of mail order chicks may be done.  But there is talk of a highland (or furry) cow.

Mystery Animal

When you live in the middle of nowhere, one of the things you do for fun (read: entertain the kids) is visit petting zoos and alpaca farms.  Each year we make our pilgrimage to the Word of Life Ranch.  I say ‘hi’ to the llama with the offset jaw.  He’s a reminder to me that I am loved by God despite my own brokenness.  The young kids love the goats, sheep, rabbits, horses and more.

This year we stopped in on an alpaca farm.  What, you ask, is an alpaca?  It is part of the same family as the camel, and looks like a smaller version of a llama.  They are not beasts of burden, like the camel and llama because of their size.  Like sheep, they are shorn and their fur is turned into yarn.  Don’t tell the lady who raises them, and calls them all by name, but they are also raised for their meat.

They are fascinating creatures.  Unlike most livestock, they use a common “bathroom” to prevent predators from tracking them.  They are basically helpless.  Which is why it was so funny to watch 2 of them fight.  It was like two geeks trying to hit each other (I can still use the word geek, right?).  Their necks were intertwined (see the picture of the shorn alpacas) and they made camel like grunts while spitting.  See, there is a common denominator between the 3- spitting.  They roll around in the dirt to cool off and lay with their bellies exposed to the sun to soak up the vitamin D.

There's an alpaca under there!

Life here is very different from any life I’ve known.  This summer has been interesting in some new ways.  For instance, this was the first time we were up here for the 4th of July.  We often travel the 11 miles and 30 minutes to a beach a few more towns over.  We decided to head over there on the 2nd of July.  One of the kids’ cousins from NJ decided she wanted to spend birthday up here.  We went to the beach to play and have a cookout.  We didn’t realize it was [name of town] Day.  I guess each year they have their annual meeting, have a parade, covered dish BBQ and watch the fire works.  Could your town have a covered dish BBQ at the local park?  In the process of preparations, we had to move about 3 times on the beach.  We made sure our food was ready before the parade.

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I’ve enjoyed sports and history as long as I can remember.  As a kid I would read lots of sports biographies- including some of the dreaded Yankees.  My dislike for the Yankees didn’t keep me from appreciating the skill of some of their players.  Of course most of the ones I appreciated were from eras when the Red Sox were essentially uncompetitive.

Sometimes books come along that allow me to revisit sports and history.  Sean Deveney’s The Original Curse is one of those books.  Deveney puts the 1918 World Series into its historical context, and that context is vital to his main thesis.  His thesis, which he admits cannot prove, is that the Cubs threw the 1918 World Series.  This is particularly intriguing as a result of the futility that plagued both teams since that World Series.  The Red Sox’ futility has only recently ended, but the Cubs’ continues.  Such utter inability to win championships is astounding to say the least- particularly since they were both so successful before that time.  This was the 5th World Series victory for the Red Sox.

“Prosperity tends to provide a pretty big blind spot.”

Deveney focuses on a few things outside of baseball.  World War I wrecked havoc on the world economy.  While ball players were well paid, inflation in the few years leading up to the 1918 World Series was about 55%.  Their good paychecks did not go as far as they used to go.

World War I put pressure on the players themselves as well as the game.  Some of the players were drafted during the season.  There was controversy as to whether or not to end the season.  Players were viewed as slackers because they were not directly assisting the war effort.  The War Department had underestimated what it would take to get fully involved in the conflict.  They put off requests from baseball for clarification repeatedly.  Some players left the pros to work in the shipyards which often had ball teams.  Many of these guys didn’t work but just played ball.

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Today is the last day for NBA players with options to opt out and become free agents.  Oddly enough, a number of them are not doing so.  But I think these guys made the right move.

Among those who decided to stay put for the final year of their contract are the Celtics’ Eddie House, and the Jazz’ Carlos Boozer.

Why is this the right move?  Right now the economy is tight.  There seem to be a goodly number of free agents out there, and only so much money to go around.  Teams will not want to spend lots of money so these guys might not do better than their current contracts this summer.

Teams have been clearing cap space for 2010 however.  Some high profile players will be available.  Here the deal- they can only sign with one team.  So, the teams that don’t sign the high profile players like LeBron James will have money to spend on guys like House and Boozer.  So it make sense for them to stay put, earn some good green and wait for what promises to be a better contract next summer.

Teams are also realizing other teams don’t want to pay free agents much this summer.  At least that is the gamble teams like the Bucks are taking.  By not tendering some free agents, teams are thinking they might be able to get that player for less, or a suitable replacement for less than what the player expects right now.  The economy and the fact that teams don’t want to tie up money long term means there may be some good bargains out there.  Some of these guys may have to settle for less time and less money than they want.  It may very well pan out like the baseball off season did- a few guys got way too much money (Money Ramirez and the Yankees’ signings) and lots of guys took huge pay cuts.

House, Boozer, and a few others may have read this right and will be better off long term.  We’ll see in the next few days.

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