Archives for posts with tag: MLB

One more baseball story with a spiritual focus.

To say that COVID-19 has changed the world as we have known it is an understatement. Among the many facets of life that has faced monumental challenges due to the pandemic has been amateur and professional sports at every level. Games have been cancelled or played in venues with no spectators. The many organizations have struggled to make plans how games will be played if at all.

One example of the change in the way professional sports have attempted to survive can be seen in Major League Baseball. Their spring training was cancelled but eventually they crafted a schedule of 60 games (instead of the normal 162) with limited travel and other restrictions. That reduced schedule of regular season games ends on September 27.

The Play Offs begin on September 29 with more teams than usual and in a limited number of stadiums to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus. The World Series is scheduled top start Oct. 20 and for the first time ever it will be played at a neutral site.

There is often a lot of drama to the end of a major league baseball season (just ask the 2019 Atlanta Braves) and the World Series. One game from 1951 stands out as one with a climatic result.

October 1: ON THIS DAY in 1951, Dodgers and Giants clash

The game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants was the first ever televised nationally and was seen by millions of viewers across America and heard on radio by millions more, including thousands of American servicemen stationed in Korea, listening on Armed Forces Radio. The fact that the two teams were intense cross-town rivals added to the drama. Another added element was the tremendous way the Giants had ended the regular season by winning 37 of their last 44 games to tie the first-place Dodgers and force a play-off series to determine the National League champion.

The Way It Was" 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants National League  Playoff (TV Episode 1974) - IMDb

Each team won one game forcing the deciding third game on October 3. In the top of the eighth inning the Dodgers scored three runs to give them a commanding 4–1 lead. The starting pitcher, Don Newcombe was ready to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning to try to close out the victory for the Dodgers but he was getting tired. The Giants cut the lead to 4–2, with just one out and two men on base. So the Dodgers called on Ralph Branca to finish the game.

Ralph Branca Obituary - Legacy.com

The first batter Branca had to face was Bobby Thomson who represented the winning run at home plate. The first pitch was a fastball strike. Then on the second pitch Thompson drove the ball down the left-field line and it cleared the wall by mere inches- a game- winning three-run home run that quickly became known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World.”

Baseball History: Thomson's 'Shot Heard 'Round the World'
RALPH BRANCA Tigers ACTION SIGNED 8x10 - Autographed MLB Photos at Amazon's  Sports Collectibles Store

Branca was doubting himself as he met up with his wife Ann after the game. She was waiting with Father Pat Rowley, dean of campus ministries at Fordham University. “At the moment when they needed their best pitcher, you got the call,” said the priest. “That alone is a sign of the respect you have.” “Had,” Branca responded. “You’re being too hard on yourself, son,” said the priest. “But why me, Father?” asked Branca. “I love this game so much. Why did it have to be me?”

“Simple,” he said. “God chose you because He knew you’d be strong enough to bear this cross. This will not weaken your faith in God, it will build the strength of your spirit.”*

Some of our most important lessons are learned from our most painful moments. While we do not invite such experiences, God can use them to strengthen us. The Apostle Paul said we should “consider ourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come our way, for… when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. Make sure that your endurance carries you all the way without failing, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’” (James 1:2-24 GNT).

Lord, help us to learn that hard times test our faith and can cause us to mature.

Jamie Jenkins

*The conversation between Ralph Branca and Father Rowley is recorded on page 209 of 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story.

 

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

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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