Archives for posts with tag: baseball

 

Working Smarter, Not Harder...Literally

Work smarter, not harder is good advice. This axiom takes into consideration that there might be a better way to accomplish a task. Analytical data present options that may be preferable to the old way.

That is the central premise of a book by Michael Lewis. It is the story about the Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, and it’s General Manager Billy Beane. A film based on the book starred Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game proposes a better way to assemble a competitive team than how baseball insiders have done it in the past. The Athletics, and Beane in particular, believe that the use of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players produces better results than the system used for many years. The conclusion was that rigorous statistical analysis demonstrated better indicators of success. This strategy enabled the A’s to reach the playoffs in 2002 and 2003 in spite of having the third-lowest team payroll in the league.

If you are not a baseball fan, don’t quit reading.

Theo Epstein

In 2004 Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in the history of MLB when the Boston Red Sox hired him at the age of 28. Using the Moneyball approach, he led the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles (something they had not accomplished in 86 years) in nine seasons.

In 2011 Epstein resigned from his job in Boston to become President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. His devotion to the data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths had succeeded inestimably in Boston. However, “a few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series” (Fortune Magazine).

The magazine article was based on The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Baseball Team and Breaking the Curse, a book by Tom Verducci. He reported that “Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and base running. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup.”

Near the end of his tenure at Boston he came to understand that character and chemistry were strengths that could not be captured with a strictly analytic approach and “their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

Epstein had put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. “Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.” He gave his scouts very specific instructions about how to assess not only a player’s skills and abilities but the kind of person he was. How he treated other people. How he responded to adversity. What others- friends and enemies- said about him. His character.

Chicago Cubs 1908 & 2016 World Series Champions Team Photo (Size: 12" x 15") Framed

The brilliance of what the Cubs did was to put their faith not just in numbers, but also in the type of people they acquired. In 2016, five years of applying this new approach, the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years.

Epstein understood that character counts!

Isn’t that what Jesus was implying when he told his disciples “Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.” “Don’t say anything you don’t mean” (Matthew 5:33 CEV, MSG). Repeatedly the Master points his followers to a high standard of morality and instructs them to be genuine in their relationships.

Jesus wants us to know, character counts.

Jamie Jenkins

I arrived in the small west Georgia town of Roopville in the summer of 1972. It would be a wonderful place for me, my wife, and our eight month old son.

In the next few months I discovered that there was no organized recreational opportunities for the children and youth of this rural area. With the help of a few committed folks in the community we changed that.

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The Roopville Athletic Association was formed. Volunteers invested many hours and their money and this loosely organized group fielded two boy’s baseball teams the next summer. With the help of a lot of local people we worked on the hard red Georgia clay playground at the Roopville Elementary School and made it into a baseball field of sorts. The contributions of entrepreneur J.W. Wood, who lived across the road from the United Methodist Church, enabled the boys to be outfitted in uniforms as nice as any other teams.

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Although the Roopville team uniforms looked as good as others, that was where the similarities ended. The boys in our area had never played organized baseball and they competed with teams in other communities that had been playing competitively for years. If you looked at the season’s won-loss record, it was ugly. The Bad News Bears looked like all-stars compared to our teams. But it was a chance for these kids to develop their athletic skills and learn a lot.

You know that they were desperate because they let me coach the 11-12 year old team. During one game we miraculously got a runner on base. Then, wonder of wonders, someone hit the ball that got past the opposing team’s center fielder allowing our player to advance to third base where I was coaching.

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As our next batter stepped in I said to the exuberant young man who had just slid safely into third, “Phil, if Tony hits the ball no matter where it goes do you think you can make it home and score?” He looked at me with a big grin on his face and replied, “I don’t know coach. I ain’t never been this far before!”

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Some days I am as bewildered as Phil. I read and hear that self-driving cars are becoming a reality. There is serious talk about establishing colonies where people will live on Mars. The globalization of the world’s societies and economies makes us interdependent and vulnerable. The recent decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union sent shock waves through economic systems worldwide. Terrorism across the globe has changed the way we live. The immigrant crisis in Europe has caused great concern everywhere. Climate change, Zika virus, and a host of other issues cause me to realize that we have never been this far before. And it can be frightening and unsettling.

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I cannot comprehend what changes will occur during the short span of years that I hope to live. And to think about what my grandchildren will experience is mind boggling. Rather than be pessimistic, I find comfort and hope in the words of a song I learned a long time ago:

Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand

But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know Who holds my hand.

There is ONE who sees the end from the beginning and I have complete confidence that God will guide and guard us through the future.

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

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I enjoyed sports as a player in my earlier years and have always enjoyed as a spectator. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama and during my teenage years I lived near Baltimore Park, a city recreation center. I played on a baseball team there. Our team’s Coach Campbell also played in a softball league at the park on Tuesday nights and I would often go to watch him play.

If Coach Campbell booted a ground ball, made a bad throw, or struck out, I would remind him of it the next day at my team’s practice. This was not received kindly and I can still see his face grow red as he would say, “Don’t do as I do. Do as I say!

Many years later in a church board meeting there was discussion about whether we should continue to have worship services on Sunday night. After many comments the chairman called for a vote. When asked for those who believed we should continue Sunday evening services almost every hand in the room went up. Then the chairman asked another question: “If we continue Sunday evening services, who will attend?” This time there were far fewer hands raised.

Sometimes our actions don’t match our words.

One day Jesus told a parable of a farmer who had two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The farmer went to the first son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today.” The son was somewhat rebellious and replied, “I will not.”  The father was disappointed but did not say anything else.

The farmer then went to his second son and asked if he would help out in the vineyard today. The second son said, “Yes sir, I will go.” With the assurance that the second son would help out, the farmer went to work in another part of the vineyard.

Things didn’t turn out quite like the farmer expected. The first son who answered, “I will not,” changed his mind and spent the entire day working in the vineyard. The second son who said, “Yes sir, I will go,” also had a change of mind. The second son, the one who promised to help his father, did not.

Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Which of the two did the will of the father?” “The first,” they answered.

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Best-selling author, Steven Covey, writes about the time he was a professor at the Marriott School of Management. One of the young executives asked him how he was doing in class. As they talked for a while Covey confronted him directly. “You didn’t come in to find out how you are doing in class,” he said. “You came in to see how I think you are doing. You know how you are doing in the class far better than I do, don’t you?”

The young executive said he knew how he was doing in class. He admitted that he was just trying to get by. He gave a host of reasons and excuses for cramming and taking short cuts. The young man came in to see if it was working. Reflecting on this incident Covey writes, “If people play roles and pretend long enough, giving in to their vanity and pride, they will eventually deceive themselves.”

Such was the case of the religious officials that Jesus was talking to. They had been using all the right words, going through all the ceremonies. They had God on their lips but not in their hearts. They had said “yes” to God but God was not real to them. Sometimes we go through the motions, not really meaning what we say. Empty words. Sometimes we are like them- our actions don’t match our words.

It is easy to sing the song, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. Over mountain or plain or sea. I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord. I’ll be what you want me to be.” It is another thing to really do what we say we will do.

God expects us not only to “talk the talk,” we are also expected to “walk the walk.” Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

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We are called not just to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” But to actually “go” where God sends us. Not just to say, “I will” but to actually “do” what we say we will do. Not just give lip service but to actually practice what we preach.

 

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.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

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.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

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

There he was in the center seat with the broadcast team. Laughing, telling stories, and reminiscing. Then he was greeted with loud cheers by the sell out crowd of over 46,000 people at the All Star Game this week. I was a little surprised.

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I guess I should not have been surprised. After all, this was happening in Cincinnati where Pete Rose played and coached the Cincinnati Reds baseball team for 22 years including 3 years as non-playing manager. The Hit King is a home town hero.

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Rose is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). He played in 17 All Star games. And yet he remains an outcast in Major League Baseball.

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In August 1989, three years after he retired as an active player, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Reds, including claims that he bet on his own team. Two years later the Baseball Hall of Fame formally voted to ban him and all others on the “permanently ineligible” list from induction.

In 2004, after years of public denial, Rose admitted to betting on baseball and on, but not against, the Reds. Sports writer Tim Brown said  that he is on “his self-inflicted journey – the crimes against baseball, the cover-up, the lies, the life on a game’s periphery.”

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Rose, 74, received special permission from Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Baseball, to appear on the field at the All Star Game as one of the Franchise Four selected by the Cincinnati fans. In an interview after the game Rose said, “I’m the one who screwed up, see, so I can’t get mad at anybody why I’m not where I belong or why I did this or why I did that.” Manfred is expected to meet with Rose at some point to discuss an application for reinstatement, although a date has not been set.

Many sports fans point to the recent steroid scandals and players who got what looked like only a slap on the wrist for violation of the rules. In comparison they believe that Rose has surely paid for his misdeeds and all should be forgotten.

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The Bible suggests that we should be generous with forgiveness. I agree. On one occasion in the scripture people were ready to punish a woman severely for her transgressions. Jesus refused to condemn her and told her to “go and sin no more.”

Have the consequences of Pete Rose’s actions been sufficient? Should he be reinstated to baseball? What Would Jesus Do? I don’t know.

Jamie Jenkins

 

In my travels many places fail to live up to their publicity. They look and sound good on their website or in their brochure but don’t measure up when you see them in person. One place that lives up to your expectations is the Grand Canyon.

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I have just returned from my second visit to this massive National Park in Arizona.  The last time I was there was almost 25 years ago. The only way I know how to describe the views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is WOW! And that does not begin to describe the awesome beauty of this 277 mile gorge rising above the Colorado River. The colors, shapes, and textures of the rock formations are overwhelming.

Unless you fly into the very small Grand Canyon Airport, it is a long drive to get anywhere. We used Flagstaff as our base for seeing many of the sites of the area. The ninety minute, 80 mile drive up Highway 89  and 64 from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon was less than spectacular. However, the first view of the canyon from the tower at the East Entrance made the drive worthwhile.

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We had to go through a lot of nothing to get to the breathtaking beauty. I think much of life is like that. Every experience cannot be exceptional. Every moment cannot be exhilarating. There is a real value to the drudgery of the routine and ordinary.

I am a fan of college and professional sports. The beauty of a well executed double play in baseball of a behind-the-back-without-looking pass in basketball is beautiful to see. They are the results of many hours of hard work and practice. Pushing through the drills and sticking to the routines of physical conditioning. Athletes have to go through a lot of nothing to get to the beauty of performance.

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The same thing is true for most, if not all of life. The principle of no pain, no gain has applications in just about every aspect of living.

I remember when my son resisted doing the “busy work” assignments in 3rd grade. I told him then what I am sure he has now learned. There is a “lot of nothing” required to achieve any worthwhile result.

It has been said that the devil is in the details. While that may be true, the details may not be exciting but good and enjoyable results occur because of them. Planning a trip, a surprise birthday party, or some job related event is often boring and exhausting. And they are never noticed… until they are not done.

Jamie Jenkins