Archives for posts with tag: ATLANTA BRAVES

National League Cy Young Award winner R. A. Dickey

He was born Robert Allen Dickey on October 29, 1974. Like his grandfather, who was called by his initials, he became known as R. A. He knew poverty and remembers his parents stealing flatware from the Western Sizzlin’ restaurant. His alcoholic mother and emotionally absent father divorced when he was three years old.

R. A.’s childhood and adolescence was full of struggle and conflict. He was a fierce competitor and regularly involved in fights. It was not unusual for him to sleep in his car or at friend’s house, or to break into vacant houses and spend the night there. He was sexually abused by a thirteen year old babysitter when he was eight years old and later by a teen-aged boy.

His athletic ability brought satisfaction and a sense of self-worth to this Nashville native as he grew up. He was an English literature major at the University of Tennessee where he had a 3.35 GPA and was named Academic All-American and Academic All-SEC. He was also a star athlete as a football quarterback, basketball forward and baseball pitcher.

R.A. Dickey, with Team USA, signs autographs before

1996 was a banner year for R.A. He was a member of Team USA in the Olympics. He was picked in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers. After being drafted, he was initially offered a signing bonus of $810,000. But Rangers trainer Danny Wheat saw his throwing (right) arm hanging oddly in a picture of him with fellow USA starting pitchers in Baseball America.

Dr. John Conway, team physician conducted a physical examination that revealed a missing ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The UCL is necessary for daily functions as routine as turning a doorknob. As a result of this discovery, Doug Melvin, Rangers General Manager, told Dickey and his agent, “We are going to retract our offer.”

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In his autobiography, R.A. describes his feelings as he sat in the GM’s office and heard his words.

“I don’t feel devastation, or even  anger. I feel rage. Complete rage. It feels as if it starts in my toes and blasts up through my body like a tsunami, into my guts and right up through the top of my head.

“I have an urge as primal as anything I have ever felt….But I do not lift a finger. I do not leave my chair. It’s as if there is a strong hand on my shoulder holding me back, giving me pause. In that instant I have a self-control that was not there a moment earlier.

“I hear a voice: ‘Relax, I’ve got you. Relax, R.A. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you.’

“The voice is the Holy Spirit. The restraint is the Holy Spirit… The tsunami passes.”

As he goes to the airport for his flight back home to Nashville he feels “the rage dissipating, replaced by a terrible loneliness. A loneliness that feels terminal.”

On the flight home he searches “for comfort, any comfort at all, and finds it, not in Doug Melvin’s seven words (We are going to retract our offer), but in the Holy Spirit’s three: ‘I’ve got you’.”

Sounds pitcher R. A. Dickey hurls a pitch into the

This is the place where the music swells and you get the feeling that all is well. Not so. The next several years brings momentary success and significant failures for R.A.  He travels a long road filled with disappointments and struggles- 11 years in the minor leagues. One writer said, “Despite being twice consigned to baseball’s scrap heap Dickey battled back. Sustained by his Christian faith, his wife and children, and a relentless quest for self-awarenes” he finally achieved his life-long goal of being a Major League baseball player. In 2012, Dickey was selected to his first All-Star Game, won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award, and became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

As a conventional Major League pitcher R.A. was marginally successful. After advice from his manager and pitching coach, he focused on becoming a knuckleball pitcher. As of the 2017 season, Dickey (now with the Atlanta Braves) and Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright are the only two active players in the majors who use the knuckleball as their primary pitch.

R.A. Dickey Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

The Holy Spirit’s words, “I’ve got you,” in 1996 was not a promise that everything would be easy. However, they were words of assurance to R.A. that he was not alone and no matter what happened it would be okay.

The promise made to R.A. Dickey is given to everyone: “Relax, I’ve got you. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you.”

Jamie Jenkins

Irving Berlin wrote the song God Bless America in 1918. In 1938 with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish, revised the song. Kate Smith introduced it on Armistice Day that year on her radio show and it became her signature song.

It is impossible for me to separate the song from Kate Smith. Countless millions have heard her rendition but in recent years I have come to associate another voice with the song. Timothy Miller, Atlanta Opera Tenor, sings the song during the seventh inning stretch on Sundays and holidays for the Atlanta Braves home baseball games.

This son of a career Army veteran turned Baptist preacher, sang in the Morehouse College Glee Club, graduated from that venerable institution in 2003, and is currently an adjunct professor of voice and music at his alma mater. He has taken his voice to some impressive places. The kid who began with hymns at his father’s church sang “Ain’t Got Time to Die” at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, sang the “National Anthem” and “To God be the Glory” at Nathan Deal’s 2011 inauguration, toured Europe doing “Porgy & Bess” and has appeared in numerous operas, many with the Atlanta Opera company.

I have heard Timothy sing many times during the Braves games but never has he sounded better than last Sunday at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. He began with the introduction that is now rarely heard:

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea

Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,

As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”

Then in his classically trained voice, he launched into the body of the patriotic tune:

God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.

Never have I heard it sung better and when the congregation joined him on the verse my spirit soared. This is more than a song, it is a prayer (Let us raise our voices in a solemn prayer) for God’s guidance (Stand beside her and guide her thru the night with a light from above). It recognizes the vastness and diversity of this country (from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam). It is a call to commitment (Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free) and an expression of gratitude “for a land so fair.”

I am thankful to be born and have lived all my life in America and I grateful for all this wonderful country affords. Many people have given their lives to preserving our freedoms. At the same time I understand that it is by God’s grace that we enjoy these cherished liberties.

As we approach Independence Day and we celebrate our freedoms, I am mindful that God HAS blessed us and I do not ever want to take that for granted. I will continue to ask for God to bless America, “my home, sweet home.” I will also ask God to guard me from becoming so self-centered that I forget that there are millions of people around the world whose “home sweet home” means as much to them as mine does to me. I will also remember that there are many for whom the storm clouds continue to gather.

God bless America. God bless your people everywhere.

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

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My mother-in-law had a saying: Chicken one day, feathers the next. It was her down home version of the old axiom “feast or famine.” Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. Into every life some rain must fall.

Life has a way of reminding you that everything will not always go your way. It is full of ups and downs. One day you are on the mountain top and the next day you are down in the valley. Better get used to it. That is just the way it is.

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Sports fans in Atlanta are reminded of that daily. Braves fans will always remember the 1991 season when the team went from “worst to first.” That was the beginning of a fourteen year streak of Division titles. Although winning only one World Series during that period, the Braves played in four. They were in first or second place in their division five out of the next ten seasons. We became accustomed to having a winning team. But our beloved Braves have fallen on hard times. At the time of this writing they have the worst record in the major leagues and their top slugger, Freddie Freeman has struggling at the plate but is showing signs of improvement.

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Our city’s basketball team has been in the NBA Playoffs each of the last nine seasons (which is not hard to do since half of the teams make the playoffs) but the Hawks have won only one Conference and Division title (last season) and a total of only four other Division titles since moving to Atlanta in 1968. They won the first round of the playoffs by defeating the Boston Celtics 4-2 last week and almost beat the LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first game of the second round. Maybe this is their year.

We have not fared well in football either. The Falcons have had only 11 winning  seasons in the NFL in the past 35 years. They have been in post-season playoffs the same number of times since 1980 and have been in only one Super Bowl (1998), which they lost to the Denver Broncos.

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I am not very savvy when it comes to financial management and investing. But it does not take a genius to understand that the stock market fluctuates, sometimes dramatically. 15357958-stock-market-chart

The “Great Recession” that began in 2007 was responsible for the destruction of nearly $20 trillion worth of financial assets owned by U.S. households. During this time, the U.S. unemployment rate rose from 4.7 percent to 10 percent  By 2010, college graduates fortunate enough to find a job were, on average, earning 17.5 percent less than their counterparts before the crisis. We have still not fully recovered from that downturn.

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Anyone who has children has experienced roller coaster emotions at various stages of parenthood, and it does not end when the children are grown. Marriages go through many stages of emotional stress. Businesses and careers are subject to factors over which they have little control.

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My wise mother-in-law was right. Enjoy the chicken and endure the feathers. You can’t always get what you want. Some days you have to create your own sunshine. And never forget what the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said: “Best of all, God is with us.”

Jamie Jenkins

The headline caught my attention: Jenkins Standing Tall, Finding Consistency.

It was the middle of the Lenten season, a time of introspection and discipline. The theme at my church was “The Courageous Life.” I was being challenged to boldly practice my faith.

The March 6, 2016 news story had nothing to do with spirituality or me. It was a story about a professional baseball player, Tyrell Jenkins (no relation). The St. Louis Cardinals drafted this young Texan, just out of high school, in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft. He played four seasons in the Cardinals minor league system before they traded him to the Atlanta Braves. He was named the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year at the end of the 2015 season.

Change in delivery pays off for Braves prospect Jenkins photo

At the time I read the article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, major league baseball spring training was into its first full week and Jenkins was in camp with the Braves. He had made some adjustments in his pitching style that seemed to improve his delivery.  “He’s 6-foot-4, and he (has been) pitching like he is 5-foot-10,” Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez said. He has “straightened up” and was “going downhill” which gave “good life on his fastball.”

You do not have to understand that baseball jargon to know that the manager was pleased with what was happening. This change in form also provided more consistency in controlling where this young prospect threw his pitches. “Standing tall, finding consistency” increased the right-handed pitcher’s chances of making the big league roster.

Eight days later the Braves decided to send Jenkins to their Triple A Gwinnett Braves.

I am not a professional baseball player but this story spoke to me. For most of my life I have struggled to “stand tall” and be consistent in my personal and spiritual life. There have been many situations that have called for someone to stand up for what was right. Striving for consistency in what I say and how I act has always a challenge.

Sometimes I have succeeded. Many times I have failed. I may not make the “big league” but I have been given another chance- many times. After years of effort I am still trying to “straighten up” and live a “good life.” Failure will still be in my future but hopefully growth will also occur. In the meantime I am counting on the grace of God as I make progress toward the ultimate goal- to live in such a manner that one day the Lord will say, “Well done good and faithful servant!”

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

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It is finally over. A long and disappointing year for Atlanta Braves fans and  players ended last Sunday. It has been twenty-four years since they experienced a losing season- and this was a LOSING season.

At least it ended on an upbeat note. The Braves won four of the last five series with a 10-5 record after losing eight of the previous nine. Although they lost 95 games (out of 162) this year, it felt good to end the season winning all three games against St. Louis even if the Cardinals lineup was mostly backup players since they had clinched their division several days earlier.

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

In the next to the last game of the season pitcher Shelby Miller finally won a game after 24 consecutive starts without a win. His record setting winless streak is not a reflection of his ability. The Braves have just not scored any runs to support him.

If you follow Major League Baseball, you know that this has been a “rebuilding” year for the Braves. The front office systematically dismantled last year’s team. At the end of the 2015 season last Sunday there were only 5 players on the team that were on last year’s 25-man roster: two pitchers, two infielders, and one catcher who spent much of this season in the minor league.

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Jason Heyward, who was traded to St. Louis after last season, returned to Atlanta for the first time last week. He was glad to return to his home territory (he grew up in suburban McDonough) and the team he played with for his first five years in the major leagues, but it was not what you would normally think. He said it didn’t feel “homecomingish” since he didn’t know most of the Braves players. The local fans have felt that way all year long.

Braves fans mourn the sad state of the team and miss players who grew up around Atlanta like Heyward and Alex Wood (who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers), the best closing pitcher in baseball, Craig Kimbrel, and a long list of others from the 2014 team. But things worked out pretty well for about a dozen of them as they are now playing for teams that have advanced into the post-season play-offs while the Braves go home and wait until spring training next year.

I know that in the grand scheme of things winning or losing baseball games doesn’t rank very high. However, this season for Braves fans and players illustrate a very important life principle. All things will not be as you wished they were. You win some and you lose some. There are victories and defeats. Mountain tops and valleys. But life is not about “winning” or “losing.”  It is our response to these disparate experiences that determines success or failure.

Lynn Anderson

Country singer Lynn Anderson reminded us that “along with the sunshine there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” Another popular song written by Benjamin Weisman, Fred Karger, and Sid Wayne offers the following advice and encouragement:

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

Losing is not the end of the world. Whether it is a baseball game, a relationship, a job, a dream, our health, or anything else. We can “walk on with hope in our heart” because we do not walk alone. God has promised to be with us always to love, support, and guide us.

Jamie Jenkins

Occasionally it is good to be in situations where you are a minority. In my career I grew accustomed to being with groups where the majority of folks were not of my gender. As I grew older I often found that senior adults were a minority. There were times when my profession was not equally represented in the demographic of a particular activity.

The county I live in is majority non-white and my small neighborhood is very diverse. But most of my life has been spent in situations where the majority of people were of my ethnicity. I realize this is not the case with many. Recently I have been reminded of that and experienced a bit of what it feels like to be in the minority.

My wife and I attended an 80th birthday party for a friend and we were two of five people in a crowd of 50 who were not African American. Although we were treated with respect and dignity, there was a sense that most of the people present had experienced life very differently from us simply because of their skin color.

Being a minority is not limited only to racial distinctions. A few weeks ago I attended a 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Everyone there was caucasian/white/Anglo (it is often hard to know the politically correct term) but my wife and I have a different religious background. Although everyone present spoke English, our language was different. The structure of our separate religious organizational structures provided fodder for conversation and accented our differences. I found myself interpreting and explaining things that I said because they were so foreign to the others present.

Last weekend I was in California for my daughter’s birthday and we attended a baseball game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. As we waited for the ferry to carry us across the San Francisco Bay to the ballpark I could not miss the fact that just about everyone but my wife and me were wearing Giants apparel. Everybody but the two of us. And my Atlanta Braves cap made it more obvious that I was an outsider. It might have been because of the current sad state of the Braves team that everyone was courteous to me. Whatever the reason I was grateful.

I certainly do not pretend to know how it feels to be a racial minority. As a Christian in the United States I am sure I cannot fully understand what it is like to live where you are a part of a religious minority. There are other things that cause people to feel like they are mistreated or disrespected because they are a minority in that setting.

There are many instances in the Bible that makes it clear that God treats everyone the same and expects us to follow that example. I wish it was easy but it is not. I would like to say that I always treat people equally but I do not.

My recent experiences have reminded me that no one is an outsider. No one is less than any other one. We are all God’s special creation and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. God help me to see all people as Your children and treat them as my brothers and sisters.

Jamie Jenkins

Disappointment 3

Everyone has experienced disappointment. You order that special dessert at your favorite restaurant and the waiter tells you they do not have any more. You buy a ticket for a much hyped blockbuster movie but when the credits roll at the end you wonder why it was so highly acclaimed. Or your team makes it to the finals but lose big in the championship game.

Alexander Pope said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”  However, the reality is that life has a way of presenting you with “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.” There are many occasions when our expectations are not met and we feel let down.

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But have you ever been really disappointed?

Major League Baseball’s regular season began last Monday. Spring training had ended and teams had settled on their 25 player opening day rosters. Then overnight things changed for our hometown Atlanta Braves. On Sunday night the Braves surprised everybody by trading away Craig Kimbrel, one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the game, along with Melvin Upton, Jr., a player that had failed to live up to expectations and was still owed $48 million.

In return for Kimbrel and Upton, the Braves got two outfielders, Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quinten, and a couple of other prospects. Maybin was told to catch a flight from San Diego to be on hand for the Braves season opener in Miami on Monday. Quinten was told that was necessary for him. Have you ever had that level of disappointment? It is speculated that the Braves will probably just pay him the $8 salary but have no intention of playing him. I suppose that would help to offset the disappointment.

But there is another wrinkle to this situation. On Sunday night Braves coach Fredi Gonzales called Pedro Ciriano into his office to tell him he had made the opening day big league roster “unless something crazy happens”. Ciriano has been around professional baseball for several years but has spent almost all of that time in the minor leagues. When Gonzales gave him the good news, he wept tears of joy.

Pedro Ciriaco

Well, the Kimbrell trade was “something crazy” and just twelve hours after the good news Gonzales had to break the bad news to Ciriano. He would not be on the roster because they had to make room for Maybin who came as a part of the deal. Talk about disappointment! Ciriano could benefit from the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau who counseled, “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”

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Last week was Holy Week in the Christian Church. One of the stories that we remember during those eventful few days is the sad account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent suicide. The sequel to that story is told in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts in the Bible. The 11 remaining inner circle of Jesus’ followers selected a successor to Judas. They narrowed the field to two, Matthias and Justus, and then selected Matthias. I imagine Justus was very disappointed to miss out on this wonderful opportunity to be on the “inside” with these men who would make such a difference in the world.

Countless examples of disappointing situations could be provided. Everyone who reads this could probably offer several personal experiences of disappointment. Such experiences are a normal part of life. Eliza Tabor Stephenson suggests that

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”

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Someone has said that disappointments are often God’s appointments. Lord, help us to learn from the times that our expectations are not met and grow stronger because of them.

Jamie Jenkins