Archive for the 'Sports' Category

Crew, Sox, and Cubs – OH MY!

In honor of the Brewers, Sox, and Cubs making the playoffs for the first time in the history of the planet, I thought I would share a little of my baseball journey with my proximity with these teams over the years.  It’s slighly nostalgic, so don’t choke too hard.

Baseball was a very formative influence in my life.

There seems to be a time in many (not all) young boys’ lives where a switch gets flipped and we care significantly about sports.  Not just playing it ourselves – but watching them on television, reading about them in the sports page, checking the league leaders, wearing their jerseys, collecting their cards – it becomes an obsession.

That happened for me when I was about 7 and my cousins and I could do nothing but talk and play baseball.

I changed my favorite color from red to blue because blue was the color of my beloved Milwaukee Brewers.

I can still tell you where I was when listening to the Brewers win the opening 13 games of the 1987 season.  I can still remember the 1988 starting lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yes that is 20 years ago; it makes me feel ridiculously old.  But that is the intensity of love that boys are able to develop with their baseball teams.  Combine boys, baseball, and dogs…and yes, that is a recipe for happiness.

My affection was for the Milwaukee Brewers, and their two premier players that later found themselves in the Hall of Fame: Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.  The Ignitor and The Kid. They were great ballplayers and great men.  They started the golden era of Milwaukee baseball in 1978, and drove it to it’s peak in 1982.  I was all of a wee four year old, but it is still my first baseball memory – watching the Brewers against the Cardinals.  After Molly left for greener pastures to Toronto in 92, and Yount retired in 1993.  Bud Selig, the owner became commissioner in 1992 and the little-Milwaukee-that-could had some clout in the world of Major League Baseball.

As any young boy learns their affection for their home team, I also learned to detest their rivals – most notably, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins were just plain better than the Brewers – a World Series Title in 1987 and another 1991 proved that.  But the White Sox – well, they were close enough to the Brew Crew to compete.  So I began to loathe them and their ugly uniforms from Bill Veeck. Since the Brewers were in the American League, most kids find a way to enjoy a team in the National League since interleague play didn’t exactly exist yet.

So, because I could, I enjoyed keeping up with the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs.  They were harmless, and they loved their baseball.  And there was something about their fans that was just…well, you couldn’t help but respect them because of their faithfulness to their team.  And an angry Cubs fan is still a lot nicer than a happy Sox fan.

But tragedy struck in 1994 when the strike hit (poorly navigated by Bud) and the World Series was canceled.  But at least the Sox lost the chance to win the World Series.

But by the time I left Wisconsin in 1996, the Brewers had become a sorry team and I was moving to…you guessed it, right next to Comiskey Park at Illinois Institute of Technology.  We heard the fireworks every night in the fall, and it was great to run over and catch a cheap game since the place never sold out, and IIT students were welcome.

And I got to watch my Brewers when they came to town.  Even though they were awful.

But then, in 1998, something of cosmic importance happened: the Brewers switched to the National League.  You know, where they don’t have the DH and they ask the pitchers to hit?  What kind of blasphemy was that?

I didn’t understand.  Now I understand the ways of the National League, and I think it’s better.

Worse yet, the team I had a growing interest in, the Chicago Cubs, was now our division rival.  And the Cubs were great in 98!  I mean, Sosa was running in the home run chase against McGuire (even though both were juicing like oranges), and it was just exciting.

But my Brewers still sucked.

And Selig was still comissioner.

And I lived next to Comiskey Park.  Which, i suppose in all honesty, now I’m supposed to have a general affection towards because the Brewers switched leagues.

But one does not undo rivalries ingrained in childhood in a day…no, oh no.

I was confused.  Everytime the fireworks went off in Comiskey, I felt this weird sense of, “No, that’s bad.  I mean, it’s kinda good, right?  The don’t play the Brewers anymore, you can like them now.”

It was this sense of trying to like the cute ex-girlfriend who dumped your best friend who was now kind of interested in you and lives next door.  You know it’s bad news, but it’s so easy…and convenient…

But I had my principles; and I would not like the Sox.  I left Bridgeport and the South Side in 2003, and I think a part of me died when I left the South side.  Maybe I should have reconsidered the Sox for a few years…

But all of that changed in 2003 when the Cubs made a run at the Series.  I was new to the North side where all the pretty people lived, and all of the sudden the Cubs who were now division rivals but once affectionate bumblebutts were just a few outs from the World Series.

Enter Bartman…you know the rest.

Then in 2005, I watched the Sox win the series after Boston had their run in 2004.  You should have been on the North Side when the White Sox won.

Silence.

I called my friends on the south side, longing to be in Bridgeport for the most crazy celebration ever.  It was awesome.

I was more confused, because now for some reason the distance had grown my affection for the White Sox…but I still couldn’t really bring myself to root for them in the series.

Did I mention that my Brewers still sucked?

And I was still confused.

So I resolved I had to make a decision – one of the three teams.  Cubs, Crew, or Sox.  No Sox – couldn’t bring myself to it.  The Crew?  Well, they were just ugly at this point in time.

I had a long affair with the Cubs that offseason.  My roommate tried to convert me.  I thought about it – long and hard.  I had a conversation with one Cub fan who I particularly respected.  There was always something about the real Cub fans – not the Wrigley experience bandwagon – that I truly respected.  My grandpa has waited his entire life – 83 years – to watch the Cubs win the World Series.  It’s not a small thing to him.  He needs to see it before he dies.  It’s not just with him either – there is this unfailing, undying loyalty that I respected so much in the Cub fans I knew.

And that’s when I realized that I could never be a Cub fan.  Because I would betray my first love of my youth if I did – how could I give up on you, Milwaukee?  How could I forget you, oh Brewers.  My heart was moved within me, and I decided that in all the life of integrity of the game, I couldn’t leave my Crew.  The very reason I wanted to be a Cub fan was why I could not leave my Brewers.

So for the first time in the history of the world, the Brewers, the Cubs, and the Sox are all in the playoffs.  And if you are reading this far, you now know what a strange man I am…but baseball does this to us sometimes.  And this year, who knows?  Maybe a stranger thing will happen and the Crew or Cubbies will win the series.

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Childhood Dream: Brew Crew playing in October

My cousin and I talked yesterday about our beloved Brew Crew making the post season yesterday.  We were raised avid Brewers fans, and as such we were raised with very low standards when it came to baseball.

In case you didn’t know, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the playoffs for the first time since 1982.  For those of you doing the math, that is 26 years ago.

They don't shower with champagne in Miller Park...

They don't exactly shower with champagne in Miller Park

I remember reading in Mrs. Connor’s fourth grade class room the 1988 Baseball preview book during D.E.A.R Time (Drop Everything And Read).  I still remember reading one sentence over and over again – the author predicted that he would be sitting in Milwaukee watching the World Series at County Stadium with a bratwurst in hand. Obviously it didn’t happen – I remember watching Orel Hershiser instead that post season help the Dodgers win against the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Low standards were something that we kind of expected in Milwaukee growing up.  When I was a kid, the Brewers were in the American League, but we still got to watch two amazing ball players – Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.  After Yount retired and Molitor left to Toronto (where he won a World Series), the Brewers then proceeded to be miserable year after year, and breaking .500 was a dream for us.

What was worse was that the Baseball interim commissioner at the time was Milwaukee’s very own Bud Selig, who brought further shame on our reputation for baseball by not adequately handling a baseball strike in 1994, tore up the rivalries we had developed for 25 years by moving the Brewers to the National League (I’m glad for it, but at the time it made me very confused living next to Comiskey Park), and then poorly handled the baseball steroid scandal.

Yes Cub fans, there are other organizations on the planet that rival your futility…

I know you Cub fans whine about not winning the World Series in 100 years, but at least the Cubbies have played in October in five times since Milwaukee was last in the post season – 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and 2007.  The Brewers haven’t even won a World Series – granted they’ve only been around since 1972 – only 36 years of existence.  Getting to the post season once every five seasons or so is kind of nice, really…at least you have hopes to dash.

But not this year – both Milwaukee and Chicago have hopes that can be dashed equally.  I know Cubs fans have more experience in this, but we both have our histories.

What I wouldn’t give to enjoy a Miller Park Bratwurst with secret stadium sauce and sauerkraut on an October day in Milwaukee watching the Crew take on the Cubs in the NLCS.  Wrigley North, sheesh…what they pass as a sausage at Wrigley is shameful…

The fastest meat on the street.

The fastest meat on the street.

October baseball is comin’ back to Milwaukee…let the sausage race begin.

Realistic Idealism: Thoughts on The Dark Knight, Favre, and Tension

I’ve taken some time off lately, and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with two of my favorite activities – film and football. Like many Americans, I’ve been slightly caught up with the talking heads about The Dark Knight and the Brett Favre soap opera.

When the decade ends, we’ll look back and whatever we call the decade of the years 2000-2009 (what will VH1 call it when reviewing the decade- I love the…the oughts? The naughts? Ooh, how ’bout the naughties?) and say that it was the decade of superhero flicks. Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Elektra, Superman – all of them have made their splash in the last decade.

Warning – spoilers for Dark Knight ahead…

But what Nolan does in the Dark Knight was disturbing for many of my idealistic friends who love superheroes. I asked a few of them what they thought of the film, and many of them thought it was great…and then the “but” came in. And all of them typically centered around this big “but.”

“But why does Batman have to be sold out as the bad guy at the end? He’s the good guy – but why does he have to be sold out as the bad guy? It’s not right.”

The Dark Knight is a twisted tragedy that follows a superb script of chaos that, in a sense, is narrated through Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance of The Joker. The late Ledger plays the villain in a triangulation of characters between himself, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and Batman. The hero that Gotham needed, the White Knight Dent, the hero that Batman couldn’t be – a hero with a face, is exposed through tragic circumstances as “Two Face” and dies a tragic death at the hands of Batman.

But only Batman and trustworthy Commissioner Gordon know this. Thus to preserve the ideal that Gotham has a need for a heroic face, Batman follows the advice of his confidant Alfred and becomes the scapegoat for Dent’s death and while still secretly serving as the hero, thus becoming the enemy not just of villains, but of all.

The tragedy for Dent is that his love, Rachel Dawes, dies and exposes that the Bright White Light of Gotham is tainted as well – and the reasons for Rachel’s choice of him over Bruce Wayne were ultimately flawed as well. The tragedy for Batman is not only that the love of his life, Rachel, is dead, not only that she rejected him wrongly for the two-faced Dent, but that the film ends with his rejection by those whom he sought to save and thus by necessity he must become the Dark Knight – the faceless hero who is pursued not only by the villains, but ironically also by those who consider themselves agents of justice.

Even Ledger’s Joker is tragic in a way that Nolan didn’t script through Ledger’s premature death.

The film is a tragedy – which is why my idealistic friends feel this sense of lacking at the end. Something isn’t right as you watch the film…because there is this looming sense that there’s no happy ending coming soon. Dent says, “The night is darkest just before the dawn,” but the dawn doesn’t come. The Joker is more right than not in his analysis of humanity. It’s a tragedy; and we Americans don’t like tragedies. We are waiting for “happily ever after” and you know that simply doesn’t happen in this film.

Personally, I love tragedies. It’s what I’m wired to undo – I love to expose wrong and bring right. I love Batman as a hero; he’s working out his pain that he’s experienced to bring justice because he knows he’s flawed and he’s trying desperately to replace himself so he can go back to being “normal.” But at the end of this film, Bruce Wayne has to become something he never intended to be, which is tragic.

I love tragedies – but I just don’t want to live one. Which is exactly what most Green Bay Packer fans are doing right now.

Rewind five months ago to my blog entry on Brett Favre’s retirement, and now we are in a saga of Brett wanting to return to football. If you reread it now, in light of what has happened in this soap opera of his return, and you can’t help but be slightly disillusioned if you resonated at all with what I wrote. (Yes, even Bear fans, you can sympathize if you try hard enough.) The idea of Brett riding off into the sunset was thought to be…ideal. All the commemorative editions of various magazines sold through multiple printings agreed as well. I watched the press conference with a friend on either side of me on this laptop, and all of us teared up as Brett broke down. It was the ideal end to an ideal player.

But apparently the ideal wasn’t real. Now Brett says he was pushed into retirement by the Packers organization, and has given the dirt through interviews on national television. But Brett himself went back on the tearful testimony he gave that he just wasn’t able to give 100% anymore.

What’s it going to be, Brett?

The Packers borrowed language from a bad break-up and said that they had “moved-on” and that Brett could even come back as a back-up if he wanted. When Brett called their bluff that the Packers would be willing to sideline him holding a clipboard for Aaron Rodgers, the Packers management is now dancing the classic management-CYA-scoot and politically posturing saying they were trying to “preserve Favre’s legacy” so as to not to be “burned in effigy” through the court of public opinion.

Puh-lease.

It’s a big ol’ hot mess, because public heroes are in short supply. It’s why we love superhero flicks – we want heroes in an age where we see so few. We want Brett to stay beyond the horizon in the sunset where he rode in March, we want Batman to be unmasked for his innocence and given his due as true shining hero, not the Dark Knight. But Nolan in fantasy and the Packers in reality are telling us that this just isn’t the way the world really works.

These stories, while seeming to be superficial, talking-head-type conversation at first, resonate with most of us who have seen the darker side of life. Sadly, most of us can identify where our hopes and dreams were stripped of their luster and the shine wore off through ever-increasing experience. It’s why we love children – because they often remind us of innocence and hope. Chesterton hit it right on:

“God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but he has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Sin and brokenness do lots of things – but I never thought they make us old. As we age, people we once held in high esteem, relationships we thought were perfect, organizations that we once thought were driven to do good – our experience tempers our hot idealism and we wonder how we should reevaluate our expectations and redefine our dreams.

We drove our dreams to be reality, but the reality was dirtier than in our dreams and we end up getting it on us on the drive. We look at ourselves and say, “what have we become?”

I know I’ve experienced this – growing up in a ministry family, an education family, a corporate America insider, an insider in the church, I’ve seen the dark side of what many see as bright lights shining in the darkness.

Which begs the question – what is realistic idealism? How does one live in the tension of the real and the ideal, or in theological terms, the now-but-not-yet? My favorite author Eugene Peterson says it this way, “How do I do it? How do I shed the fantasies of boyhood and simultaneously increase my hold on the realities of life? How do I leave the childish yet keep the deeply accurate perceptions of the child – that life is an adventure, that life is a contest?”

These questions seem rhetorical and ideal at first – but they are really real and do demand answers. The best questions seem to do both.

Normally I’d try to answer these type of questions, but I feel tempted today just to sit in the tension. Questions that are easily answered aren’t good questions. Feel free to offer answers as you like. No answers today – only questions.


November 2017
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