Road Trip with Whit-Pit

MLB, Texas Rangers, Whitney 4 Comments »

We waited until it was a million degrees outside and the Rangers were four thousand games out of first place, but Whitney and I finally made our annual road trip to Arlington to take in a game together this past Friday night. As always, we hit the Golden Chick in Childress, grabbed some chocolate covered pecans in Chilicothe, and enjoyed a huge dinner at Pappasito’s before the game. Cole Hamels went six strong innings, hit the showers with a 6-0 lead, and then Texas held on in a nail-biter 6-4. Thanks to the Rangers’ train wreck of a bullpen, the Astros brought the tying run to the plate in each of the last two innings. And, due to the above-and-beyond efforts of the staff at the pro-shop with their walkie-talkies, we tracked down the very last Joey Gallo t-shirt/jersey in Whitney’s size in the whole stadium!

We were treated to a wonderful bonus when Chuck Morgan announced that the actual Pudge Rodriguez Hall of Fame plaque from Cooperstown was available for viewing and pictures in the first base concourse. Apparently they very rarely ever take a plaque from the Hall of Fame. But with Pudge’s number being retired by the Rangers in an on-field ceremony Saturday, they allowed it to be brought down for the celebration and put on display the night before. We waited in line for a half-inning to see it up close. Very cool.

And this surprising revelation: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK for the Astros to be in the same division with the Rangers.

When Bud Selig ramrodded this thing five years ago — MLB paid the Astros’ new owner $70-million to switch leagues so every division would have the same number of teams — I was more than a little upset. As a baseball fan growing up in Texas, you dream of a Rangers-Astros World Series. The Rangers are your favorite team, but the Astros are your second favorite team. You root for Houston. You want to see them do well. You keep up with their players. Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman. Larry Dierker. The rainbow unis. The dreadful dome. Enron and Minute Maid Park. It was always good to cheer for the Lastros because, being in the other league, they posed no threat to the Rangers. And they were a Texas team. You always root for Texas teams.

That all changed in 2013. You can’t root for a team in your own division — you need them to lose every night. What do I do with these old Astros’ shirts and bobbleheads and ashtrays and commemorative cups? Major League Baseball claimed it would ignite a fierce inter-state rivalry. I didn’t see how.

Now, I do. The past four seasons, as the Rangers owned the ‘Stros and won division titles and dominated the Silver Boot, it felt kind of flat, kind of one-sided. This season, though, as Houston has run away with the West and put up football scores on all their opponents, it feels different.

It’s no secret that the cities of Dallas and Houston have a long and storied rivalry. People from both cities insult the people, the culture, the food, the music, and the sports teams from the other city. Coupled with the Rangers’ early dominance, this surge by the Astros has fueled some sincere animosity. Have you noticed? Rangers-Astros games get chippy early. It was so one-sided on the diamond for those first four years and the Houston frustration was so built up that now it’s exploding into something noticeable. The frustration is being expelled and expressed with an exuberance that causes players and managers from both teams to want to pitch inside and slide into second spikes-up. You can feel it.

There are enough people from North Texas who have transplanted down to Houston and enough folks from the Bayou who’ve made their way to Dallas-Fort Worth that, when the Rangers and Astros play each other, the stadiums are almost equally split between the two teams. Rangers and Astros fans work together, live in the same neighborhoods together, go to church together — they see each other all the time. So the rivalry is fierce, yes. But we all live in Texas. We all have our history and culture and love of the Lone Star State in common. So we can get really worked up during the game, and laugh about it, take pictures together, and wish everybody well when it’s over. I love that.

My Astros shirts have remained in the back of my closet for the past five years. I haven’t worn them at all. Not once. Not since 2012. But with the Rangers 16-games back and out of it and with Houston making a run for their first ever World Series title, it’s going to happen. I’ll be rooting for the ‘Stros all the way. And, yeah, their success makes the rivalry even a little better.

Peace,

Allan

The Closing Prayer

1 Thessalonians, Faith, Legacy Church Family, MLB, Prayer, Salvation No Comments »

Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“May God himself, the God of Peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As a family formed by the future, it’s appropriate that Paul would end his letter to the Thessalonian church in Jason’s house by pointing them again to what is to come: the finished work of our God.

Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.

But he will.

During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.

Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace,

Allan

Play Ball, Amarillo!

Amarillo Baseball, MLB 2 Comments »

It’s a done deal! It’s really happening! A 30-year stadium deal has been signed and the press conferences have been held! The San Antonio Missions of the historic Texas League are moving to Amarillo for the 2019 season, bringing professional affiliated baseball back to the panhandle for the first time since 1982!

Yes, those above sentences deserve all those exclamation points! Professional baseball in a brand new $45.5-million stadium in downtown Amarillo? Seventy home games in a city that cools off to the 70s and lower 80s when the sun goes down? Real minor league baseball just three miles from my office in this church building? The Rangers AA affiliate, the Frisco Roughriders, playing two or three series per year in my city?

There are only 30 of these teams in the entire world and this significant one from this prestigious league is moving here!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Right now the team is affiliated with the San Diego Padres — that could change, but it’s not likely. The AAA team in Colorado Springs is moving to San Antonio and will take over the Missions nickname. Our new team, the current Missions, will hold some kind of a naming contest to determine the moniker for our local club.

We can’t go with alliteration because all the “A” words are stupid. I don’t want it to be some really generic name like Eagles or Bulldogs or Tigers. It would be cool if it were a panhandle-particular animal, but the rattlesnake has already been used to death by bush league teams here and the prairie dog just sounds weird. I’m scared to death the name is going to wind up being weather-related.

But that’s later.

Today, we celebrate the official return of real, genuine, professional, affiliated baseball to Amarillo!

Peace,

Allan

Game Seven & Sunrise Over Galilee

Central Church Family, MLB 1 Comment »

I have spent five nights on two different occasions sleeping on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and each of those times I have set my alarm so I can be up and out and sitting on the banks as the sun rises above this sacred place. This morning, my sixth morning in Tiberias, my alarm went off at 5:00am and I began to get ready to go outside when I was reminded that Game Seven had probably just concluded (we’re seven hours ahead of Texas time). I thought I would just check the final on ESPN.com and head out.

Well, it was 6-4 Cubs in the bottom of the 8th.

So I thought I would run through all the channels on the TV just in case some station here in Israel might be broadcasting it. What are the odds? I really thought there was no way.

cubstvcubswin2Until I found it on an all sports TV station out of Haifa, Channel 5. There it was: The World Series Game Seven. In Hebrew. They were picking up the feed from Fox and turning all the audio down so their broadcasters could call the game in Hebrew. Very strange. No crowd noise. The crawl at the bottom of the screen was going from left to right — very disturbing. And the announcers were consistently a step or two behind what the cameras were showing. I was able to pick out the teams’ cities and mascots, proper names, and, every now and then, a word like “slider” or “homerun.” But the language and time zone differences didn’t matter a bit. This was baseball! And baseball transcends all those trivial circumstances.

The very first batter I saw was Rajai Davis who hit the game-tying two-run tater. I watched it, mesmerized. The 9th inning came and went. Extras! Now what?

Rain delay. No! Now I’ve missed the sunrise. Now I’m ten minutes late for breakfast. The Cubs cream Indians pitching to score two in the 10th. Cleveland cuts the lead in half but can’t come all the way back and for the first time since 1908 the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

And it’s on to Korazim and Caesarea Philippi.

Peace,

Allan

#NeverEverQuit

Central Church Family, MLB, Texas Rangers No Comments »

Two games in Denver. Two dramatic come-from-behind wins for the Rangers. Texas scored three runs in the 9th inning to beat the Rockies Monday night. Then 18-hours later in the sunshine at Coors Field, they rallied for four runs in the 8th to demoralize the Colorado bullpen and fans. That’s a two-game sweep, that’s maintaining a seven game lead on the M’s, that’s adding to the AL’s best record, and it’s more mojo for Bannister’s “Never Ever Quit” mantra that fuels this franchise.

There really is something to the strength and depth of this Rangers lineup that means they’re never truly out of any ballgame. You look up and down this team’s order and there’s really no weakness. There’s no break for an opposing pitcher.

Unless you’re playing in a National League park.

Over the past two days, I’ve been reminded again of how antiquated and ridiculous the NL rules are requiring pitchers to bat and how the DH rule in the American League is the only thing that makes sense. I can’t wait for the day when MLB finally completes this long torturous process of combining the leagues and never forcing us to watch a pitcher attempt to bat a ball again. They’ve done away with AL and NL presidents, there are no more AL and NL umpires, the divisions all have the same number of teams, interleague play is no longer a novelty — it’s time. Make the move already! Apply the DH to all games in both leagues. Go so far as to add the tricked-up “bonus batter” thing some people are talking about. I don’t care. I’m just sick of seeing a guy in scoring position with the pitcher on deck.

RangersRockiesTidmoresIt was great to see Bruce and Celia Tidmore at the Rangers game yesterday. They’re here in Denver getting some quality vacation time in the mountains with kids and grandkids. C-A and I are heading back home today after a wonderful three days in Colorado. Have a great rest of your week.

Peace,

Allan

The Punch and The Code

MLB, Texas Rangers 9 Comments »

OdorPunch

I am still baffled by the events of the eighth inning of Sunday’s game between the Blue Jays and Rangers in Arlington. Baffled. I am confounded by the punch, by the slide, by all the decisions made by managers and players, and by the power of the code.

While a lot of you are praising Rougned Odor and taking great joy in his haymaker to Joey Bautista’s jaw and vilifying Bautista as an arrogant such-and-such who got what he had coming, allow me to note that if the tables were turned, you’d be feeling just the opposite. I’ve never seen a punch like that in a baseball game. Never. Not like that. Wow. And, yes, as a Rangers fan, I really dislike Bautista. But if Odor were a Blue Jay and Bautista were a Ranger? Come on. As Seinfeld once famously observed, we’re all just rooting for laundry. Odor is more regularly criticized by baseball people as a dirty player than Bautista.

And please stop comparing this to Nolan Ryan’s handling of Robin Ventura in 1993. Nolan was a universally revered legend and hall of famer and widely-acclaimed good guy. Ventura was a young kid, a good kid, who made a terrible one-time mistake. This thing Sunday was between a couple of guys with shaky reputations and histories of being punks.

But, this post is about the power of the code, not the character of the two players or the violence in our popular sports that we Christians cheer and/or ignore.

In my rational brain, I want to believe Bush’s pitch that nailed Bautista in the side to start the eighth inning was an accident. My head keeps telling me there’s no way they put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. It was a bad pitch that got away from a nervous pitcher in a pressure situation in only his second MLB appearance. But my gut keeps saying it was a pitch with a purpose. It was intentional all the way. Bautista had upstaged the Rangers in that playoff game seven months ago, he had over-celebrated that three-run, series-clinching homer, and he still needed to pay. In front of the home fans. And this was the last chance.

That’s the power of the code.

You’ll go insane trying to figure out the code. The code in baseball says it’s not OK for you to flip a bat after a dramatic home run, but it’s quite fine and even expected that you’ll slide cleats up into a second baseman in retaliation for a supposed slight. It’s not cool to trot around the bases to show up a pitcher. It’s disrespectful. But it’s good and even expected that you’ll drill him with a 97-miles-per-hour fastball the next time he’s at the plate. It’s kooky, this code.

But that code is what compelled Rangers manager Jeff Banister to order the beaning and put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. The code is what prompted him to risk the win in order to send a message.

The code is also what caused Bautista to illegally slide into Odor.

Bautista knew that if he came in on Odor at second base with a slide that has been made illegal this year by Major League Baseball, it would result in an automatic double play and the inning and the scoring threat would be over. But he did it anyway. He was willing to risk the win in order to send a message. He knew what he was doing. Several times this year, games have ended on these automatic double plays after an illegal slide into second. It’s happened to the Astros twice. It’s been much debated and publicized. It’s already happened to Bautista this year in a game against Tampa Bay. He cost Toronto the game with an illegal slide. But he went ahead with it Sunday, knowing he would end the inning, in order to uphold the code.

This code is more important than the game. That baffles me.

I remember one night in ’02 or ’03 sitting next to Steve Busby in the Ballpark press box. He asked me if I was ready for Jay Gibbons to get it. Gibbons was an outfielder for the Orioles who had hit a homerun against Texas the year before and over-celebrated. Both dugouts cleared and exchanged the typical pushing and shoving and tough words. This night was the first game between the opponents since that dust-up the season before and Busby was preparing to talk about it during the post game show. He said both teams were anticipating it. It was going to happen.

Nothing happened that night. But it happened the following night. Gibbons got plunked. I can’t remember who did it. There was some pushing and chirping and then it was over. Score settled. Everybody was good.

That really opened my eyes to the power of the code. It’s weird. But it’s real and everybody understands the deal.

Odor took things to the next level in dramatic fashion Sunday. Bautista was planning to come hard at second base, exchange in one more round of pushes and shoves, both dugouts would clear, and it would be over. The scores would be settled. Everybody would be good. Well, it’s a little tricky sometimes deciding just when things are even.

The code is enforced within the rules during play in a football game; violence and retaliation are part of the game’s DNA. The code is enforced immediately on the very next face-off in hockey; nobody waits until the next period, much less the following season. There is no known code in basketball, no understood avenue for settling scores there. That’s why brawls in basketball games are viewed as horrible harbingers of the apocalypse. But in baseball, it’s there. It can take months, but it’s there. And managers and players will risk a win in an important game against a league rival in order to enforce it.

Peace,

Allan