Pudge! From Arlington to Cooperstown

Texas Rangers 1 Comment »

PudgeSmile

Pudge Rodriguez has become only the second catcher in history to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot and the first true Texas Ranger to be eternally enshrined in Cooperstown. From the day Tom Grieve signed him as a 16-year-old out of Puerto Rico, throughout his extraordinary 13 years in Arlington, to his service now in the team’s front office, Ivan Rodriguez has always been in the top two or three of anybody’s list of all-time most popular players in Rangers franchise history. Pudge embodied the Rangers’ dramatic shift in the early ’90s to sign and develop their own players, becoming the face of the franchise and the heart and soul of the 1996 team that captured the Rangers’ first ever division championship and playoff appearance. Two more division crowns and an A.L. MVP award before the end of the decade, and Pudge solidified himself as an icon. His skills and stats are undeniable. But his fiery intensity, his electric smile, his feel-good story, and his devotion to the home-town team make it difficult to argue for anybody ahead of him in any list of all-time Rangers greats.

PudgeThrowsDuring his 21-year-career, Pudge was Johnny Bench, his hero, with a better bat. He hit .296 with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs. He won thirteen Gold Gloves, a record for a catcher. He appeared in fourteen All Star Games, another record for a catcher. He won seven Silver Sluggers and that league MVP award in ’99. He threw out the highest percentage of base-stealers in Major League Baseball history — he would absolutely shut down an opponent’s running game — teams stopped trying. And he started a record 2,543 games at its most demanding position — 44 more games than the original “Pudge,” Carlton Fisk.

I was privileged to personally watch and professionally cover Pudge Rodriguez from the rickety press box at old Arlington Stadium in the early ’90s to the champagne-drenched clubhouse under The Ballpark in Arlington during the late ’90s. I never used much of his sound during our sportscasts — his English never really translated. But I was always drawn to Pudge, like everybody, and wanted to be around him and talk to him.

His intensity was intoxicating. And unusual.

Pudge96Baseball is a 162-game marathon. Baseball players don’t get too caught up in individual wins and losses. You can’t afford to get too high or too low. Nobody can maintain that over a six-months season. But Pudge lived and died with every single win and loss. That infectious smile and laugh was especially ramped up after wins and his anger and devastation was evident after every loss. After a tough loss he would almost block his locker from reporters like he blocked home plate from opponents. He didn’t say you couldn’t come over, but the look on his face told you to think long and hard before you did. But after a win, there was nobody more fun to be around.

I don’t know if Rodriguez ever used steroids during those late ’90s championship seasons. His name does not appear anywhere in the Mitchell Report like his teammates Juan Gonzales and Rafael Palmeiro. Because the Rangers are my favorite team and Pudge is my favorite Ranger, I tend to believe he’s clean while, at the same time, maintaining a healthy acknowledgement that, maybe, he’s not. But he was so fun to watch, so integral to the team’s transition from laughingstock to perennial World Series contender, so talented.

Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry spent some time with the Rangers late in their careers. Nolan Ryan was the first player and, up until now, the only player to don the Texas Rangers’ cap in the Hall. Yes, he legitimized the franchise late in his career and brought it much needed attention and validity. He’s legendary; a Rangers icon for whom we’ll always be grateful.

But when Pudge Rodriguez goes into Cooperstown on July 20, he’ll be wearing a red Rangers cap. And he’ll be the very first true Ranger — top to bottom, through and through — to do so.

Peace,

Allan

Forever Loved by God

Love No Comments »

LoveIn all the chaotic mess of uncertainty that swirls around us and, at times, threatens to overwhelm us, there is one thing we know for sure. There is one indisputable, undeniable truth that always has been, is today, and will be forever:

We are loved by God.

We know we are loved by God because of the past. God created us in love. Christ Jesus came to earth to live and die and was raised again because he loves us. We know we are loved by God because of the present. God lives inside us and empowers us. He protects us and guides us by his Holy Spirit. And we know we are loved by God because of the future. We look forward to that future with great anticipation when, at the end of time, we’ll experience forever the incredible joy of face-to-face communion with our Father and God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Those great blessings of divine love are experienced every day in our Christian community. We are initiated by our baptisms into a fellowship of mutual love and selfless service for one another. And that message of love is proclaimed to the whole world out of our deep relationships with each other.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with the federal government on Friday. We don’t know when we’re going to die. You don’t know exactly what’s going on with your neighbors, your news organizations, your kids, or your investments. But you do know without a doubt that you are loved. You are forever loved by God.

Peace,

Allan

Some Finish!

Cowboys 1 Comment »

AaronRodgers&BoysThey never quit. They never gave up. They never stopped fighting. They suffered more than a couple of major physical and mental breakdowns on both sides of the ball — substitution penalty, defensive holding, clocking the ball on that last drive — and they were playing one of the greatest 4th quarter quarterbacks in league history, but the Cowboys never threw in the towel. Give ’em that.

When Green Bay went up 21-3 early in the 2nd quarter, it looked like the rout I figured it to be. Rodgers was having his way with the Dallas secondary and the whole Cowboys defense was already worn out. Down by 18, Dallas couldn’t run Ezekiel Elliott like they needed to and the offense, which was going to be the only hope against the Packers, was reduced to one dimension. Even after Dak Prescott marched the Cowboys down the field and hit Dez Bryant with a touchdown that made it 21-10, Rodgers answered right back in a way that would have sunk most other Cowboys teams.

But the Cowboys kept fighting. I’ll give ’em that.

PackersCatchWhat a wild finish to the most entertaining playoff game of the Divisional Round weekend. A combined 24 points scored in the 4th quarter by the Packer and Cowboys, including three field goals of more than 50-yards in the final 93-seconds. Dallas scored 18 points in the 4th quarter to erase a 15-point deficit. But it was Rodgers hitting Jared Cook on 3rd and 20 with a 35-yard pass down the very edge of the left sideline that doomed Dallas to another epic failure on the playoff stage. That astonishing pass and catch set up the 51-yard field goal that won the game as time expired — that’s the play we’ll see on the highlights over and over again until Green Bay gets knocked out or wins the Super Bowl. But I think it was the play before that clinched it for the Packers.

How did Rodgers hang on to the ball on the Jeff Heath sack?!?

HeathSack2Heath blitzed from Rodgers’ blind side and blasted the Packers quarterback, tomahawking his right arm to knock the ball free. Rodgers didn’t see him coming — he had no idea he was about to be hammered. He didn’t see Heath, he didn’t feel Heath, he didn’t sense it coming at all. And in the instant before Heath made contact, I jumped off the couch, threw my arms over my head and screamed in agony: “No! No! No!”

I just assumed Rodgers fumbled. No quarterback in the league survives that kind of sack without losing the ball. It was impossible. It never occurred to me that Rodgers would hold on to it. He fumbles there and, if the Cowboys recover, they’re on the Green Bay 32-yard line and Bailey wins it with a field goal. Automatic. Heath becomes the improbable hero and the Cowboys win the game.

I’ll never know how Rodgers did not fumble that ball. It’s beyond my comprehension. But he calmly gets up, calls the timeout, hits Cook with another play-of-the-day pass, and watches calmly as Crosby hits the game-winner. Green Bay travels to Atlanta for another NFC Championship Game and the Cowboys still have not won a Divisional playoff game in 21-years. And counting.

Let me make two observations about the Cowboys and be done for the day.

One, it looks like the Cowboys have something really good in Prescott. Maybe. You can get in trouble for anointing a legend before his sophomore year is complete. Dak is a rookie playing the easiest schedule in the league with zero expectations. If you’re one of the few Cowboys fans who hasn’t purchased a Dak jersey yet, you might hold off until the end of this upcoming season. Everybody’s got film on Prescott now and the expectations are high and next year’s schedule will be against division winners, not cellar dwellers. Having said that, this team really responds to Dak. They follow him, they believe in him. The defense plays better after Prescott does something exciting, the line blocks better because he doesn’t get sacked or throw interceptions, the receivers jump higher, the coaches coach better. It all snowballs in really fun ways around Dak Prescott. For now.

Second, you can look at Dallas and see reflections of 1991. It was that season, Emmitt Smith’s second with the team, that you sensed something really special was building. The Cowboys — really young, really dynamic, fun personalities, unique talent, and top picks at three key offensive positions — won a playoff game that year for the first time in nine seasons and then got obliterated in the Division Round. But it felt like something great was happening. The core players were in place, the chemistry was perfect, the next level was just around the corner. Sure enough, Dallas won the next two Super Bowls and made it look fairly easy.

JasonGarrettPresserThere are a few similarities between this team and that one. With one glaring difference: This team is coached by Jason Garrett and that one was coached by Jimmy Johnson. That team was put together by Johnson and Lacewell and this one is run by Jones and Jones. So, yeah. There’s really no reason to be optimistic.

If you’re a Cowboys fan, this surprise 13-3 season, the number one seed in the conference, and an exciting loss in the Division Playoff is probably as good as it’s going to get.

Peace,

Allan

Green Bay 23, Dallas 17

Cowboys 4 Comments »

SadRowdyThe Dallas Cowboys, owners of the best regular season record in the NFC and the top seed in the playoffs, will not win their Divisional Playoff game this Sunday against the Packers. It seems almost impossible to me. I know Dallas routed Green Bay at Lambeau Field earlier this season. I know Jordy Nelson has two broken ribs and a collapsed lung and Ty Montgomery’s knee is held together by duct tape and bailing wire. I know the Cowboys are healthy and rested and playing at home. Here are a few other things I know:

Jason Garrett is the Cowboys coach. Garrett is not known for making in-game adjustments. He’s incapable of changing things on the fly. If the Packers show Dak Prescott any kind of defensive set he hasn’t seen before, Garrett will be no help.

Dak Prescott is the Cowboys quarterback. Yes, he’s in the running for NFL Rookie of the Year. Yes, he’s made all Cowboys fans forget Tony Romo and every other Dallas signal caller since Troy Aikman. But he’s a rookie. Prescott is a rookie. There have been 50 Super Bowls. One hundred starting Super Bowl quarterbacks. Not one single rookie. This is not a regular season game. This is the Divisional round of the postseason against a Packers team that knows how to peak at the right time — Green Bay streaked to the Super Bowl as a sixth seed just six years ago. Dak is smart. I love that Dak seems to never throw interceptions and never take sacks. But another reason for his wild success this year is that he has about seven minutes to sit back in the pocket and throw. Prescott never really has to check down to his second or third read. He locks his eyes and his body on that primary receiver and just waits for him to come open. He won’t have that luxury Sunday. Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Nick Perry will be joined by blitzing nickel backs and safeties and linebackers to insure that Dak is rushed into checking away from his number one target and making quicker decisions and quick throws.

SadFansAaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback. I don’t need to say much here. Rodgers has willed Green Bay to seven straight wins and he is always at his best after Christmas. Never mind that Nelson won’t play. When Jordy went down at the beginning of the second quarter against the Giants last week, Rodgers went on to throw for 330 yards and four touchdowns and score 38 points against a defense that’s a whole lot better than what he’ll face at AT&T Stadium.

Green Bay has momentum. The Packers have won seven straight games in seven straight weeks. The Cowboys have lost two of their last four games, the starters haven’t played a real game together in almost three weeks, and Dallas is averaging only 21 points in their past five games.

SadJerryJerry Wayne is the Cowboys owner. Since Jones fired Jimmy Johnson for winning back-to-back Super Bowls, the owner has made it clear that winning Super Bowls is not his top priority. Consider the evidence: the Dallas Cowboys have not won a divisional round playoff game since the 1995 season. That’s twenty-one years of postseason irrelevance. How everyone expects that to suddenly change with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, a prima donna receiver, an average defense, and an overmatched coach is beyond me. I know, I know: They went 13-3! Don’t forget they played a last place schedule this year, the easiest schedule in the NFL. Coming off that 4-12 fiasco and losing Romo in the preseason meant the slate was easy and the expectations were zero. No pressure. They beat a lot of really bad teams. The Packers are a really good team. This is not mid-October. And the football gods are not going to let Jerry Wayne grin his way to a conference championship game.

The strategy for both teams is going to be to control the ball to keep the other team’s offense off the field. Ezekiel Elliott ran wild at Lambeau earlier in the season. And that’s going to be the Cowboys’ only shot this Sunday. Of course, Green Bay will follow the Giants’ blueprint and do everything to contain Elliott and force Prescott to beat them. And he might. Green Bay’s corners were leaving New York’s receivers open all day in the Wild Card round and, but for a dozen dropped balls, we might be talking about Eli Manning today instead of Aaron Rodgers. New York’s defensive secondary is far superior to the Packers’. However, I think they’ll get enough pressure on Prescott up front to negate the weakness.

It’ll be a low-scoring game. Lots of running. Maybe fifteen punts. Under three hours. Green Bay will take it 23-17. And Jimmy Johnson will purse his lips, clap his hands four times, and giggle quietly to himself.

Peace,

Allan

Delta Dominates OC Chapel

Allan's Journey, Delta Gamma Sigma, Valerie No Comments »

DeltaGammaSigmaChapel

It’s always an honor to speak in Hardeman Auditorium on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. I consider the opportunities to speak at OC’s chapel a rich blessing and, yes, a delicious irony. Yesterday was especially nice as two Delta brothers, one from long ago and one current Bull, joined me on the stage to bookend my fifteen minutes.

DeltaChapelJeffMacJeff McMillon, a good friend with whom I’ve boxed-stepped in Spring Sing and snow-skied on Spring Break and a favorite Bible teacher now at OC, opened up the program with an inspirational welcome to the students. He followed that by introducing me, shouting out to my daughter Valerie, and then praying over me before I shared my thoughts on Christian love as the proof and expression of God’s nature in us. Then Morgan Wilson, a preaching major in Delta — not long ago that would have been oxymoronic; it’s still a little weird — led a beautiful closing prayer.

By the way, speaking in front of hundreds of teenagers is not my idea of a great time. I love hanging out with young people, but not preaching to them. I’m not good at it. In a Sunday morning church setting, the people in the pews will always laugh at your jokes. They’re trying to be nice, they’re trying to encourage the speaker. Teenagers? They don’t care. I learn a little bit every time I do it. I need to structure my message a little differently. You can’t build up to a climactic point; you have to start right out of the gate with something provocative and unexpected. Tell the joke later, I was told, not at the beginning. So, I’m learning.

It was a fabulous quick trip to OKC and back. I got to spend some really good quality time with my precious daughter, my wonderful sister and brother-in-law, and my super stud senior basketball star nephew, Asa. I got to eat at Ted’s, which, on its own, is worth any trip to OKC. I got to eat a greasy burger at The Garage with Dillon and Colton, a couple of great young men and Delta brothers from Legacy. I got to hang out with Chris Adair, who does more for Delta and Delta alumni than anyone before or since. And I got to tell Jeff McMillon how I praise God almost every day for people like him who are loving and teaching Valerie, helping her connect with the OC community, and inspiring her to live her life to the fullest for our Lord and for others.

Peace,

Allan

About Sister Butler

Central Church Family, Death, Faith, Valerie 1 Comment »

butlercolisseumWe buried Sister Butler on Saturday. I call her Sister Butler because we’re both old-school Church of Christ. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I call most people, even people younger than me, Brother and Sister because I’m old-school Church of Christ. Susan Butler is just the first and only one who’s ever said to me in response, “I really appreciate that you call me Sister Butler.” That’s all I need. Just give me a tiny bit of positive feedback like that and I’m a broken record.

I love Susan because she loves my daughter Valerie so much. She taught Valerie at Amarillo High School when Valerie was — how do I put this? — going through a rough stretch. There comes a time in every teenage girl’s life when she needs somebody other than her parents to affirm her beauty and her worth, to listen to her and sympathize, to talk to her, to challenge her, and to believe in her. I thank God that Mrs. Butler and Valerie crossed paths at Amarillo High. I praise him for helping my daughter through Susan in ways I’m just not equipped to help.

Susan sees teaching not as a job, but as a ministry, as a calling from our God to love kids. She’s the teacher who goes the extra mile, who has the extra conversation, who asks about her students’ lives outside of school. She tells her students she loves them, she tells them she’s proud of them. If you’re one of Mrs. Butler’s students, she challenges you to do more than you think you can; she really, really believes you can do it; that causes you to really believe you can do it; and that is really awesome.

butlerdinnerShe believes in high expectations and expresses them to her kids. She’s not shy about it. She knows how things are supposed to look and how people are supposed to behave: how a young lady is supposed to act, how a Christian is supposed to live, how a wife and mother fulfills her responsibilities. She prayed over her students and quoted Scripture to them. For Mrs. Butler, teaching is about love and relationships and giving herself to others.

She made Valerie fall in love with teaching and put her on the path to becoming a teacher. She kept Valerie after class to ask her how she was doing and to catch up on her whole life. She encouraged Valerie and motivated her to do her very best. She Valerie she was proud of her all the time. Constantly. She hugged Valerie. She loved Valerie. And she changed Valerie’s life.

I love Sister Butler for that.

And I love her because I feel like she was my own personal cheerleader. I’ve only known Susan for a little over five years, but I’ve never doubted for one moment that she loves me. I always felt like she was really proud of me. And I know she wanted me to succeed wildly.

Susan is just so encouraging. Every single word out of her mouth to me — every word! — was carefully selected and measured and spoken to build me up. After a three-minute conversation with Susan, I felt like I was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the world. And it always seemed like she sought me out with a phone call or a text or a “Hey, come here, I want to tell you something” at the very moments when I felt like I was one of the worst preachers in the history of the world.

“Allan, you are really communicating to this church.”
“Allan, that really spoke to me.”
“Allan, you really made me think about that passage yesterday.”
“Allan, God is really talking to me through you.”
“Allan, I prayed for you this morning.”

Is there anything else a preacher would ever want to hear from a member of his congregation? Susan Butler really lifted me up.

butlerzaneWhen she was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2013, the doctors gave her only two years to live. Two years? She’s not even 60! It was devastating. It was awful. She was just a year-and-a-half away from retiring, she had those grandbabies coming, the best part of her wonderful life was just beginning. It wasn’t fair. It was cruel.

And there were questions and fears and uncertainties, of course. But she never wavered in her faith in our God to protect her and to provide for her everything she needs. She never stopped encouraging others and loving people and considering the needs of others more important than her own.

It wasn’t two years, it was a little more than three because, well, Susan Butler is also a little stubborn. And when her loving husband Steve and their precious daughters delivered the news last week to Susan, she was good with it. It wasn’t a problem. She was fine. She was ready to die. She had fought valiantly and suffered faithfully and it was time. There wasn’t any anxiety about it — no fear, no questions. She was certain it was time and she was certain she was ready.

Tuesday night Sister Butler passed from this life to the next surrounded by her family, forgiven by her Lord, and wrapped in the loving arms of her God. Friday night the funeral home in Canyon was jam-packed with people, young and old, sharing stories of Susan’s loving spirit and encouraging nature. Saturday the chapel at Central was filled to capacity with her family, her church family, her fellow teachers, her former students, and about a million flower arrangements. The tributes to Susan’s life of sacrifice and service for the sake of others went well into the night. The glory and praise to God brought by her life continues through all eternity.

May God bless all the Butlers with his comfort and peace and, yes, his joy. May God receive sweet Susan into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and faith and confidence that he is able to keep what we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.

In honor of Sister Butler, why don’t you go out of your way to say something really nice to somebody today. Encourage somebody. Tell somebody how proud you are of what they’re doing. Tell somebody you believe in them. It would honor Susan and it would bring praise to her/our God.

Peace,

Allan