Monday, February 11, 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

Maybe it is because I have lived in Florida for the last 25 years and have been a fan of baseball all my life going all the way back to before I can remember. I have the pictures to prove it! Or maybe it is because I have become a fan of Women's Collegiate Softball over the last decade. But whatever the reason, this is my favorite time of the year. It is the start of the spring schedule!

College softball is just getting underway. College Baseball starts this weekend. And pitcher and catchers report for spring training this week in most places. The balls will be flying all over the yards this weekend. The bats will be swinging and sometimes even connecting. The pitchers will be working on getting into shape or getting batters out in the college ranks. The grass will be cut, sprayed and watered. The lines will be drawn and a new season will unfold before us.

It is also my favorite time because all things are new again. Every fan base believes it may be their year to win it all. Every player thinks this will be the year they win it all or have the best year of their career or both. Managers are hoping they can find the lightning in a bottle to put the pieces in the right place to finally make it to the top or stay there from last year. Everyone has a chance to win it all today.

OK, so we know that everyone doesn't have an equal chance, but at least there is not proof that your team is not good enough to win anything yet! So we have this kind of eternal optimism. Hey even Cub fans think they will win it one year and just think the Red Sox actually did a few years ago! All the college teams are even in baseball at the moment and all of them dream of playing in Omaha in June. For all but 8 teams that dream will not be a reality in three months, but for this day the dream is still alive. College softball players are working to fix the mistakes or capitalize on the good things that showed up in the first weekend of play for many squads in the south and west. All of them dreaming of playing in Oklahoma City with a chance to win the title. That is what is great about this time of year, everyone is filled with hope.

Reality tells us that in a few weeks we will know that our team didn't do enough in the off-season. Didn't make the right trades. Didn't fire the manager or the front office personnel. Didn't do whatever we think would have made the difference. But none of that matters at the moment. It is time to enjoy the game for the pure pleasure of hope it brings.

For those of us who have played the game, we remember what this day was like. The rush of adrenaline even if it was only practice. The feeling of the grass beneath the cleats. The smell of freshly cut infield or outfield areas. The cool air in your face as you run. The warmth of the sun on your back as you take ground balls to hone your skills. We remember the hugs as you greet teammates you haven't seen in a while. You long for that first game and the chance to compete. And while those days are past for most of us, the memories remain, sometimes even sweeter than the actual events.

That's what makes this time of year so special. The memories of the first time you ran onto a field or ran into the stadium to watch your team play. I'll bet you can picture it right now in your mind, can't you. You can remember the smells and the tastes of the day. That's why baseball is the great American past time. It connects us to our childhood and begs us to leave it as a legacy to our children and grandchildren. Now with the advancement of college softball and professional fast pitch leagues we have the chance to pass that on in a new way to our daughters as well. It's time to hear those words that make our hearts flutter!

Let's play ball!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ray Lewis and the Gospel

I like so many others watched the Super Bowl last night. I have to admit it was the first time in my 51 years that I watched it with an all female audience. Yep, I was the only man in the house. Well if you don't count my two male kittens that is! It was definitely a new experience watching it with only female voices. The commercials and the half time show got more attention than the football but that is usually the case regardless of the male/female ratio of the Super Bowl party.

I didn't have a favorite team in the game but I thought that the Ravens would win the game. The two teams were pretty equal in talent and both were playing some of their best football of the year heading into the big game in the big easy. I missed the score by a touchdown each side but I thought it would be a very close game and it turned out to be so after someone turned off the lights! I'll bet there were some anxious Superdome Officials running around trying to find out who pulled the plug on that one. But the reason I thought the Ravens would win was simple, they had Ray Lewis and the 49ers didn't.

I know some don't think it matters, but when he said he was retiring, I believed that meant that this team would win it all. Talent tends to equal itself out in the NFL. But the will to win, that is rarer than pure gold these days. Most players would have shut it down and waited till next year if you tear a bicep muscle mid season. Not Ray Lewis. I don't even care if he did use Deer Antler spray to get back quicker. How many other guys would have gutted it out on one arm like he did for the playoff run? Sure he couldn't cover like he did when he won the first Super Bowl for the Ravens twelve years ago. But what he could do was look those other ten men in the eyes when the game was on the line and say there is no way we are going to lose this game like this. I would bet if they told what he said it might be something along the line of I didn't come back through all that pain to let it slip away on the last drive. Now let's stop them four times and win our trophy! And that is what they did.

Then there is the fact that all through the playoff run Ray has been spouting scriptures after the games like Tim Tebow on steroids. Don't read anything about either man's choice of supplements in that phrase. Sometimes he got them right and sometimes well it didn't quite fit the real meaning of the verses. But still the word of the Lord was being proclaimed right? It kinda reminded me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 1 when he said:

12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in ⌊the cause of⌋ Christ. 14Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly. 15To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. 16These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;17the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. 18What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice 

Then someone asked me today whether I thought Ray Lewis was indeed a changed man. I am not qualified to judge him on that one. I don't know him personally. I don't know what he does when the cameras are not on him but I would like to think he is the same man. From other's accounts it seems that he is indeed a changed man. Why is it that we say that Jesus can save any of us and make us more like His Son Jesus and then when He actually does it in a person's life who happens to be a public figure that we want to doubt it?

Ray Lewis should be a poster child for the gospel. If Jesus can transform a loud-mouthed, associate of murders, thug from Miami, then isn't that good news for all the rest of us? I have always admired Ray Lewis for his style of play and his choice of numbers. This year I have come to admire the fact that he is willing to go out on his own terms and talk about his faith in an open way before a doubting nation. And if he falls, then I will still admire him if he repents and returns. That seems to be what Jesus would do. That seems to be what Jesus did when he elevated this team and gave them the biggest platform available in the NFL. When a coach is saying how much of a difference faith in God makes and players are talking about God having a special plan for a team, then just maybe the rest of the league will take notice and more players of faith will step up and be a Christian who happens to play football rather than a football player who happens to be a Christian. And believe me that makes a huge difference!