All-Name Teams #12

06/29/2014

Featuring names from across the world of sports

All-Animal Team 2
Collin Cowgill — baseball
Zebrie Sanders — football
Eddie Vanderdoes — football
Elkino Watson — football
Tiger Woods — golf

All-Body Team 1
Wally Backman — baseball
Kelsey Bone — basketball
Joy Cheek — basketball
David Legwand — hockey
Jeremy Trueblood — football

All-Clothes Team 1
Craig Button — hockey
Armanti Edwards — football
David Wear and Travis Wear (twins) — basketball
Jered Weaver — baseball
Cashmere Wright — basketball

FAST Sonnets in Cyberspace #4

04/30/2014

Hear: “All I’ve wanted is to feel wanted.”
Thus spoke NBA player, L.A. left.
So speaks every human heart — undaunted?
Why does life lie and leave us death-bereft,
Abandoned, desolate and forsaken,
Like child at dad-discarded first day’s light?
Like spouse, guilty innocent — awakened
To find acid spilled, mind blinded, heart blight
Of clay — lay pleasure poisoned, emission
Searing soul sans nocturnal permission?
Like corrupt(ed) construction: hope and homes,
Then site unseen, Love Canal — who atones?
Oh, You who cried on Dad-deserted day
Called good rescue us please from toxic play.

© Bruce William Deckert 2014

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NOTES — POETRY 411

Yes, the sentiment of this sonnet focuses on the desolation of Good Friday — as in the gospel accounts, Easter must wait — and thus on the desolation humans feel in certain painful circumstances.

The closing couplet observes that Jesus of Nazareth shares our desolation — and makes a desperate request for Him to bring Easter to our broken hearts and lives.

Except for the final stanza, the rhyme scheme follows the structure of a Shakespearean (or English) sonnet, a 14-line poem with 10 syllables per line, comprised of three stanzas (of four lines each) plus a closing couplet.

Given its brevity and power-packed structure, the sonnet is perhaps the best poem for the fast-moving 21st century.

FAST Fiction: Fall Classic Dream State #5

03/31/2014

What happens to a dream deferred?
… Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes

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• Fall Classic Dream State: Part 1234

Once upon a couch, I was at home watching the pregame show before Game 5 of the 2000 World Series — the Mets-Yankees Subway Series — but I fell asleep moments before the first pitch, and soon I started to dream…

… The parade that’s underway in New York City’s Canyon of Heroes is, shall we say, bizarre — because it’s at night, and because I’m the sole spectator (as far as I can see), and because most parades are upbeat celebrations while this one so far is a direct hit to the heart.

I don’t love this parade.

I’ve just watched a CNN video, apparently from some affiliate station called YouTube, on a huge movie-like screen that dominates the lead parade float. The video has shown the Twin Towers being rocked by fiery explosions. The devastating impact came from — you’ll never guess it — two jet airliners. Not bombs, not missiles, but ordinary airplanes.

Instinctively glancing south toward lower Manhattan, I half-expect to see the torn Twin Towers smoldering and bleeding dark blood up into the bright blue September sky, as the CNN video showed moments ago. Instead, the Twin Towers are still standing — resolute, brooding in the night air, reigning over New York City.

So this video on the parade float is either fabricated, or it’s accurate but will occur in the future. (I see no other possible options.)

As I consider further, I recall what I had momentarily forgotten — the handmade “9/11” sign on the float and the headline on the video that read: “Terrorist attacks rock NYC ; Twin Towers reduced to rubble — 2001.”

So if my dream-like calculations are correct, this horrific event will occur less than a year from the 2000 World Series: on September 11, 2001.

In the CNN/YouTube report, the news anchor said, “We have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”

The phrase “unconfirmed reports” jumps out at me like a blinking neon sign, or like a hyena, or like the image of a leaping hyena on a blinking neon sign — and sets my mind wondering and my heart pondering life-and-faith issues, philosophy, theology, belief systems, worldview wrangles, journalism, history, 2+2=4 … and, in particular, the birth, death and resurrection accounts of Jesus of Nazareth.

How does one confirm a report? How does one confirm truth?

I remember that two eyewitness accounts of the planes hitting the Twin Towers were featured in the CNN video report. Eyewitnesses are good, last I checked. Any court of law can tell you that. Yet how can a court be sure if an eyewitness is lying or mistaken?

And after a report is confirmed … how does one know it has actually been confirmed?

There on Broadway, in the City That Never Sleeps, I muse: Perhaps we humans cannot know. Perhaps we humans must instead believe. Perhaps we humans must trust, based on the evidence, as best we can tell.

I say aloud, to no one in particular — which is fitting, since no one is there:

“When we boil life down, perhaps we all have no choice but to rely on another’s word, coupled with our own observations — whether you’re an atheist, theist, agnostic, polytheist or pantheist.”

And the best eyewitness account to trust, naturally, is the one that is accurate — the one that is true to life (and death).

It appears that we cannot know. Wait, no — that’s too nihilistic.

It appears that in order to know anything, we must have faith in someone.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on here?”

The voice sounds familiar, though it seems far away, echoing as if in a cavernous place.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on here?”

The voice gets closer … and louder. You know, it sounds as if this might be Miracle Max from “The Princess Bride” — I’d met him earlier at this strange parade. But he disappeared sometime before the 9/11 float appeared.

“HEY, WHAT’S GOIN’ ON HERE?”

Then, emerging from under the sidewalk about 30 feet down the street, I see the owner of the voice — I sort of see him … he’s small.

He saunters toward me and asks again, “Hey, what’s goin’ on here?”

It’s not Miracle Max — it’s Timon the meerkat from “The Lion King”! He emerged from the same subway stop Max had used.

“Timon, welcome to New York City,” I say. “Wow, you’ve had a long journey from Africa.”

“Tell me about it,” he replies. “A crazy-long flight, and sure, all the ginger ale I wanted, but not a single grub. Those airline cutbacks are for the birds — in this case, the vultures.” He laughs at his own joke.

“Where’s your buddy Pumbaa?” I ask.

Somebody had to stay home with Simba,” he shoots back, his tone dripping “duh,” and then he queries me. “What’s all this about having no choice but to rely on someone’s word? Hey, nobody has to rely on anyone’s word. We don’t have to take anyone’s word for it — look at me, I rely on myself. Here, just watch this scene from that movie I starred in, ‘How Timon Saved The Lion King.’”

Puzzled, I say, “You mean ‘The Lion King,’ right?”

Timon snorted, “Everybody gets the name of that movie wrong. I told you the right title.”

“Why don’t any of the movie references I’ve seen call it ‘How Timon Saved The Lion King’? It’s always listed as ‘The Lion King.’”

Timon pauses, scrunches his face, and says, “That’s because ‘How Timon Saved’ is in really fine print before ‘The Lion King’ — I agreed to that so the Simba kid thinks the movie is about him. You know what, maybe it’s invisible ink instead of fine print, but it’s one or the other.”

“So if it’s invisible ink, how can people know the movie is really called ‘How Timon Saved The Lion King’?”

Exasperated, Timon replies, “Because I said so — and I’m a really truthful guy!”

“So,” I intone, “we have to take your word for it.”

To be continued …

© Bruce William Deckert 2014

Non Sequiturs + Other Quasi-Funny Stuff #6

01/31/2014

Unintentional humor observed on the Internet — my comments in bold, followed by the actual examples from the Web…

Math 101, Part 1: From the illogical equation department
The Dodgers now have 39 players on their 40-man roster.

No offense … but has any offense ever, you know, played D?
Mike D’Antoni won in Phoenix with an up-tempo offense that played little defense, but he wasn’t necessarily going to use that same style in L.A., right?

Two TV analysts unknowingly join the Ravens’ roster
Joe Budden Has Faith In Ravens
Rapper Joe Budden discusses the Ravens’ chances of beating the Patriots with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.

The Yankees: apparently the first team in history to suffer a collective broken bone
TAMPA, Fla. — The New York Yankees finally have a date for Derek Jeter’s return to game action after suffering a broken ankle in the American League Championship Series last October.

Math 101, Part 2: Glad to know that key 2 and 3 info
But that probably understates LeBron James’ efficiency improvement because a big chunk of James’ shots come from 3-point range, where the value of an improved jump shot is leveraged even more (three points is worth more than two).

All-Name Teams #11

12/30/2013

Featuring names from across the world of sports

Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…
— the apostle Paul
(Philippians 2:8-9, NIV)

All-Angel Team 2
John Gabriel — basketball exec
Miguel Angel Garcia — boxing
Gabriel Gonzaga — mixed martial arts
Angel McCoughtry — basketball
Roman Gabriel — football

All-Christmas Team 3
Rakeem Christmas — basketball
Josh Cribbs — football
Johnny Jolly — football
Kyle Rudolph — football
David Snow — football

All-Star Team 1
Star Lotulelei — football
Darren Morningstar — basketball
Ivan Nova — baseball
Orion Outerbridge — basketball
Bart Starr — football

FAST Blast: Reflections on Kirk Gibson’s homer and the peerless Pinch-Hitter (PART 3)

11/08/2013

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, with no need for ninth-inning homer heroics. But 25 years ago, Game 1 of the A’s-Dodgers World Series ended with a home run that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…

Part 1 | Part 2

Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ, the peerless Pinch-Hitter.

Following continues (and concludes) a blow-by-blow account of Gibson’s Game 1 experience:

As the injured Gibson limped to the batter’s box to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, he says, “My knees were still cold [from the ice pack] … I had programmed myself to say, ‘50,000 people are gonna go nuts and you won’t hurt.’ And it doesn’t matter if you hurt because the game’s on. [A’s reliever Dennis] Eckersley wasn’t gonna send me any get-well card.”

In the NBC broadcast booth, Vin Scully said, “And with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice, this is it — so the Dodgers trying to catch lightning right now.”

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made a figurative gamble by sending an aching, injury-plagued Gibson to the plate. When Jesus was crucified, soldiers literally gambled for His clothing: “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots.” (Matthew 27:35/NIV)

And while there is no record of lightning upon Jesus’ death, there is the record of an earthquake: “At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. … When the centurion and those who were with him saw the earthquake…” (Matthew 27:51,54/NIV

The Baseball Almanac website says this about Lasorda’s pinch-hitting choice: “Lasorda sent in a crippled Kirk Gibson to bat. … At first, the decision appeared completely irrational.”

In a song called “Winter Babies” that reflects on Jesus’ birth, songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard says this: “You’d have to be a savior or just crazy to have His kind of kingdom come.”

As for God’s logic regarding His brutal yet ultimately beautiful redemptive choice: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9/NIV)

Plus: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25/NIV)

So with a runner at first and the Dodgers down 4-3 — and down to their last out in this first game of the 1988 World Series — the lefty-hitting Gibson steps in against Eckersley, the right-hander with the nasty sidearm delivery.

Gibson fouls off the first two pitches on weak swings. On the next pitch he takes another ugly cut and bounces a slow roller up the first-base side — just foul. After Eckersley misses outside with a slider, Gibson fouls back the next delivery. A fastball sails wide and runs the count to 2-and-2. On the next pitch, Eckersley misses outside again with his slider as the baserunner, Mike Davis, steals second.

Lasorda says he knew L.A. could steal against Eckersley because of his big leg kick. So why didn’t the skipper send Davis right away? Because, Lasorda explains, he thought the A’s would walk Gibson intentionally with first base open: “So I waited till he had two strikes. [I figured] I’m gonna give him two strikes to let him hit the ball out of the ballpark, and if he doesn’t I’m gonna steal the base.”

“Mike’s stolen base was huge,” Gibson would say later, “because all I had to think about was shortening my swing and trying to get a hit to score him.”

In the other dugout, A’s manager Tony La Russa was thinking along the same lines. He notes that when Gibson began his career, his approach to hitting was less refined, but “by 1988 he was a really tough two-strike hitter.” With Davis at second and the count at 3-and-2, La Russa says, “I’m thinking ground ball in the hole, line-drive blooper — I had no thought of a home run.”

The scouting report on Eckersley, prepared by Dodgers scout Mel Didier before the Series, read like this: On a 3-and-2 count, look for the backdoor slider.

We’ll let Gibson take it from here: “Before the 3-2 pitch, I stepped out of the box. Well, I looked at Dennis and [thought], ‘Partner, sure as I’m standing here breathing, you’re gonna throw me that 3-and-2 backdoor slider, aren’t you?’ And I stepped in, took an ugly swing and it went out.”

On CBS Radio, legendary broadcaster Jack Buck made this famous call: “Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field — this is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson, and the Dodgers have won the game, 5 to 4. I don’t believe what I just saw — I don’t BELIEVE what I just saw!”

As Gibson limped around the bases, Vin Scully told the TV audience, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

“I don’t believe what I just saw” … “the impossible has happened.” Sound familiar? To address Mr. Buck’s call: When Jesus appeared to His disciples post-resurrection, He said, “Why do doubts rise in your minds. Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see …” And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement… (Luke 24:38-39,41/NIV) And to address Mr. Scully’s statement: “For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37/NIV)

Gibson’s triumphant trot around the bases was part-Hollywood, part-storybook and all-encompassing in its snatch-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat finality. He hobbled all the way home, raising his arms near first base and pumping his fist twice as he approached second base with a right-handed jab that knocked the A’s out cold.

“To this day,” Gibson says, “I can remember seeing the brake lights in the Dodger parking lot come on as the ball went out, as they all said, ‘Oh my God, I should have never left.’”

Lasorda called it the most dramatic home run he had ever seen. Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax echoed his manager: “The most dramatic ever — the guy was hobbling around all day … and he hits it out with basically one hand.”

ESPN.com reader Sam Partridge e-mailed this comment that was published on ESPN.com’s Page 2:

“In terms of a moment, it has to be Kirk Gibson’s home run, simply because it couldn’t happen.
The Dodgers couldn’t beat the A’s.
No one could hit Eckersley.
Gibson couldn’t swing.
Heck, Gibson could barely walk.
… The ninth inning of Game 1 was the classic moment when the impossible became possible and baseball took on a storybook feel that none of us who saw it will ever forget.”

Gibson’s heroics represented the first time in World Series history that a team which trailed in the ninth inning won with a walk-off home run.

Naturally, Jesus’ heroics also represented a first in human history: the first time God became man and triumphed over death after trailing in the tomb for two days.

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Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Jesus’ pinch-hitting heroics is that He didn’t do the actual hitting — Roman soldiers did that for Him, in effect, as they hit nail-spikes with some type of mallet or hammer, driving them through His hands and feet and into a wooden cross.

Roman soldiers. A Roman cross in Rome-occupied Palestine. A soothsayer warning a Roman emperor (see Part 1). Given the Roman themes, it’s fitting to close the book (for now) on Kirk Gibson’s ides-of-October homer with some Roman numeral serendipity, in the form of a trivia question: What year in the 20th century contains the most Roman numerals?

The answer: MCMLXXXVIII. Yes, you guessed it — 1988, the very year Gibson recorded his historic World Series at-bat.

The apostle Paul penned the following words in the same Roman Empire: “You were dead … but God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins. God wiped out the charges that were against us … He took them away and nailed them to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14/CEV)

Information and quotes from various media outlets were used in this three-part article.

© Bruce Deckert 2013

Non Sequiturs + Other Quasi-Funny Stuff #3: The Coach’s Unintentional Riddle

12/09/2012

This is part non-sequitur, part quasi-funny anecdote and part riddle — and it’s a true story, too:

A high school soccer coach was doubling as the van driver — common enough at a small private school — and driving her team to an away game, when she cried out: “Be quiet, I can’t see!”

What could be the reason for such a strange statement?

“Sit down, I can’t see” — that makes sense. Or: “Move your head, I can’t see.”

But … “Be quiet, I can’t see” — huh?

Spoiler alert — if you want to ponder the riddle, hold off on reading the rest of this post…

The backstory:

At one point, the coach was backing up the van while listening to a player in the rear seat who was communicating how much maneuvering room the van had available. Since some players were talking noisily, the coach called out, “Be quiet, I can’t see!”

Without missing a beat, one player replied: “Coach, turn the light on, I can’t hear!”

P.S. How does this story shed light on a key factor to consider when we don’t understand verbal or written communication? Especially before we dismiss something we don’t comprehend — something that doesn’t make sense to us — as nonsense.

Could the communication glimpse this story gives help us in our relationships? Including the one that is said to be of utmost importance — the relationship with our Creator and His means of communicating with us?

FAST Fiction: Fall Classic Dream State #4

02/28/2014

What happens to a dream deferred?
— Langston Hughes

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• Fall Classic Dream State: Part 123

Once upon a couch, I was at home watching the pregame show before Game 5 of the 2000 World Series — but I fell asleep moments before the first pitch, and soon I started to dream…

… The nighttime parade in New York City’s Canyon of Heroes — with me as the only spectator, as far as I can see — has begun. On the first main parade float is a handmade sign, with jagged edges on one side, bearing numbers that appear to have been hastily scrawled: 9/11.

I wonder what the numbers signify — maybe it’s a variation of calling 911 for an emergency?

The float stops abruptly in front of me, and a device similar to a TV remote floats toward me in midair from the heart of the float. Then I notice a large rectangular object on the float — I’d missed it at first partly because the object is dark and blends into the night, and partly because it is so large (at least the size of a movie screen) that it engulfs the float and is thus tough to see. Too large to see? Counterintuitive, yes, but it does make sense — like the elephant to the ant, I suppose.

Plucking the remote-like device out of the air, I see that its design is simple enough for a kindergartner, or even a toddler: It has only one button. I press it, and a single email fills the expansive movie-like screen.

The email’s subject line reads: Plane crashes into World Trade Center.

The body of the email, where the message normally goes, is as blank as a beggar’s bank account. Speculating that perhaps there is an invisible-ink element to the empty email, I click on it with the remote — but nothing.

While I can’t quite be sure, it appears this email has been sent from the news desk of a major media company to some of its editorial employees. But in this sometimes foggy dream state, I can’t tell which company.

I read the subject line again: Plane crashes into World Trade Center.

I reckon that a small single-engine plane, the kind that makes its home at a humble municipal airport, must have malfunctioned and hit one of the Twin Towers.

Then I remember the headlines that had appeared on the mini-float preceding this parade float — especially the first headline, something about the Twin Towers being destroyed. Baffled — and sensing, for some reason, a growing dread — I wonder how a single-engine plane could destroy the Twin Towers.

Clicking the remote again, I see a videotape replace the email on the massive screen, and above the videotape is the headline I’d seen before:

Terrorist attacks rock NYC; Twin Towers reduced to rubble — 2001

In the upper left corner, the videotape bears the name YouTube, with a red background behind Tube. I have no idea what YouTube is — maybe a new cable TV station in the future? As I ponder, the video rolls and I watch a sizable plane — it looks like a jetliner — crash right into one of the Twin Towers. The CNN logo is at the bottom right of the videotape, where it would normally be on a TV screen. I don’t know the connection between CNN and YouTube.

My mind reels — I fell asleep during the World Series telecast in October 2000, and this CNN videotape is apparently from 2001, according to the headline. Will this actually happen?

Wait … 9/11 — apparently, if this dream is accurate, these events will happen less than a year from now … on 9/11 — or September 11, 2001.

On the videotape, the news anchor says: “This just in — you’re looking at, obviously, a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”

The CNN video keeps playing, and out of the bright blue sky another airliner careens toward the other Twin Tower — another direct hit, another inferno of an explosion.

The voice of an eyewitness speaks on the videotape as the camera fixes on the burning towers, with smoke billowing as if someone was sending a perpetual SOS from a desolate island.

The eyewitness says: “The plane was coming in — I noticed it a second before it hit the building. It looked like it was moving slowly, and it lined itself up to hit the building directly.”

Another eyewitness says: “The doorman goes to me, ‘Wow, I never seen a plane flying so low.’ And — and we looked out at it, and all of a sudden, boom — it seemed like it wasn’t even real.”

I understand what he’s saying — as I watch the Twin Towers smolder, it seems unreal, inconceivable, surreal, a dream turned to nightmare. Still, I can’t imagine they’ll be reduced to rubble.

I look up and down Broadway, this Canyon of Heroes, to locate Miracle Max of “The Princess Bride” — or Billy Crystal as Miracle Max — who I had encountered earlier in my dream journey. He’s nowhere to be seen.

That’s a shame, because if it’s possible, the people in those Twin Towers could use a miracle.

But then I hear Princess Buttercup, the title character from “Princess Bride” — and see her too, on a small screen that appears, like a star in the night sky, above the massive movie-like screen that’s still playing the CNN video.

She’s arguing with Westley, as the Towers burn on the screen below her, but he’s wearing a mask and she doesn’t recognize him yet after a lengthy separation. I hear the Princess cry out:

“You mocked me once, never do it again — I died that day!”

To be continued …

© Bruce William Deckert 2014

FAST Blast: Reflections on Kirk Gibson’s homer and the peerless Pinch-Hitter (PART 2)

10/31/2013

The Boston Red Sox have won the 2013 World Series, without needing any ninth-inning home run heroics. But 25 years ago, Game 1 of the A’s-Dodgers World Series ended with a homer that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…

Kirk Gibson: Part 1

Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ.

Following is a blow-by-blow account of Gibson’s Game 1 experience:

At various junctures of the Gibson account, we’ll pause to consider how a facet of his story serves, in a small way, to illustrate Jesus’ pinch-hit appearance nearly 2,000 years earlier — those paragraphs will be set apart by italics. Also, along with references to Christ’s crucifixion, you will notice some references to His resurrection, since the two events are inextricably bound together, and Gibson’s story provides some apt analogy overlaps.

When October 15, 1988, dawned for Kirk Gibson, Game 1 of the World Series might as well have been the moon. He suffered from a strained hamstring in his left leg and a badly sprained ligament in his right knee. The day before Game 1, the knee was so bad that Gibson couldn’t jog or swing a bat, according to The Sporting News’ online ranking of the Top 25 moments in baseball history (Gibson’s homer is No. 6).

When the day of Jesus’ death dawned, any talk of His being the Messiah sent to save Israel was reaching well beyond the moon. Remember, while the Jewish conception of the Messiah included conquering the Romans, it definitely did not include being arrested by the Romans and then crucified in disgrace.

An ESPN.com report said of Gibson: “He could barely walk. Actually, he could barely stand without his leg wobbling and shaking.” This report was part of ESPN’s 2004 ranking of the 100 Most Memorable Moments of the Past 25 Years (as part of ESPN’s 25th anniversary celebration). Gibson’s homer was No. 3, behind only U.S. hockey’s Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics (No. 1) and Bill Buckner’s infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (No. 2).

The ESPN.com report continues: “When [Gibson] was in the batting cage outside the Los Angeles Dodgers’ locker room during Game 1 … he actually used a bat a few times as a walking cane, to balance himself.”

Jesus was beaten badly — i.e., injured — before he was crucified and apparently was unable to carry his own cross: “They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. … As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” Matthew 27:30,32/NIV

Did anyone expect Gibson to be available for Game 1? Not NBC pregame host Bob Costas. Pop diva Debbie Gibson (no relation to Kirk) sang the national anthem before Game 1, which prompted Costas to say, “So the Dodgers brought in Debbie Gibson — now if only they had Kirk Gibson!”

More from Costas: “I remember coming on the air and saying, ‘First item of business: Kirk Gibson will not play tonight.’ We had been told he was out. That was how we set the stage for Game 1.”

Naturally, since Jesus was injured and then fatally wounded, no one expected Him to be in the lineup anytime soon thereafter — not even His disciples …“While everyone was marveling at what Jesus did, he said to His disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand what this meant.” (Luke 9:43-45/NIV) Further: “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27/NIV)

When Game 1 began, Kirk Gibson was in the L.A. trainer’s room. “Gibson didn’t even come out for the [pregame] introductions,” says then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. “He was [on] the rubbing table the whole time.” Moreover, Gibson didn’t have his uniform on.

L.A. drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning on a two-run homer by Mickey Hatcher, Gibson’s replacement in the lineup. But the A’s came roaring back in the top of the second on Jose Canseco’s two-out grand slam off starter Tim Belcher (it turned out to be his only hit of the Series). Ironically, it was the 15th grand slam in World Series history … yes, on the ides (15th) of October.

Lasorda went with the rookie Belcher because ace Orel Hershiser wasn’t available for Game 1 after pitching a complete-game shutout in NLCS Game 7 to eliminate the Mets.

In Jesus’ case, his opponents drew first blood, of course, when they flogged him, and shortly thereafter the nail-spikes pierced the flesh of his hands and feet, causing more blood to flow. “And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him … Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:33-34/NIV)

The Dodgers scored a run in the sixth inning to cut the deficit to 4-3. Throughout the game, Lasorda had been checking in with his injured slugger: “Every inning I would run into the training room and I’d stand at the door and say, ‘How do you feel, big boy?’” Each time, Lasorda says, Gibson gave a wordless reply: two thumbs down.

Despite those thumbs-down signs, Gibson says, “I sat in the trainer’s room the whole game and just kind of dreamed about maybe … exactly how the moment happened, I dreamed about.”

As the Dodgers took the field in the top of the ninth, NBC broadcaster Vin Scully told television viewers worldwide, “The man who’s been there for the Dodgers all season, Kirk Gibson, is not in the dugout and will not be here for them tonight.”

This angered Gibson, who was watching the broadcast on a TV in the trainer’s room. “I’ll be there,” he shouted.

Scully said more recently, “Years later, I told him, looking over my career, my greatest single contribution to the Dodgers was getting you off that training table.”

Compare Gibson’s “I’ll be there” proclamation with what Jesus told His disciples: “Jesus began to explain … that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:22/NIV) “After I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28/NIV) So the One called Immanuel — God with us — said He would conquer death in extra innings and be there for His disciples once again.

With the pitcher scheduled to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth, Gibson told the bat boy to set up the hitting tee there in the bowels of Dodger Stadium so he could take some swings and test his right knee. Meanwhile, he strapped an ice bag to the knee. “The bat boy … came and told me,” Lasorda says, “that Gibson wanted to see me in the tunnel.” When Lasorda met Gibson in the tunnel (or runway), the hurting star was in uniform — and he gave his manager this message: “Skip, I think I can hit for you.”

The Apostle’s Creed declares that Jesus “descended into hell.” While we can ascertain that an injured Kirk Gibson hit off a tee underneath the stands at Dodger Stadium, Scripture is largely silent about what Jesus did after he died while He waited in the bowels of death.

Perhaps He took some figurative practice swings to warm up for when He was called back into the contest … and even if He didn’t, it’s safe to say He was ready to hit for His Abba-Manager on that third day.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers still trailed 4-3, and Eckersley came in to close the game for Oakland. Gibson was still not in the Dodgers dugout. He explains that Lasorda told the 31-year-old to stay “in the runway because he didn’t … want [A’s manager] Tony La Russa and Oakland to know that maybe I was gonna hit.”

Eckersley retired L.A.’s first two batters. By then, Gibson apparently couldn’t bear watching from the tunnel and had taken a seat in the dugout. Lasorda had Mike Davis pinch hit for shortstop Alfredo Griffin in the No. 8 spot. At that point, Lasorda says, “Gibson wanted to go to the on-deck circle. I said, ‘I don’t want them to know you can hit.’” Instead, the manager shrewdly sent Dave Anderson out. Vin Scully noted, “By the way, Gibson is not on deck, Dave Anderson is.”

When Davis drew a walk from Eckersley — who had issued just nine unintentional walks that season — the stage was set for the Pontiac, Michigan native named Kirk Gibson. Anderson headed back to the dugout and Gibson hobbled to the batter’s box while 56,000-plus fans went wild.

“The fans really pumped me up,” he would tell the media afterward. “I didn’t even think about the pain. I was just trying to visualize hitting.” Years later, Gibson would explain further: “I’m a real believer in positive visualization, and some people think I’m crazy, but … I dreamed it up and it happened.”

Apparently, Jesus did some visualization of His own during His darkest hours on earth: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2/NIV)

To be continued…
(and concluded in Part 3)

Kirk Gibson: Part 3

© Bruce Deckert 2013

FAST Blast: Reflections on Kirk Gibson’s homer and the peerless Pinch-Hitter (PART 1)

10/23/2013

The World Series begins Wednesday — the Boston Red Sox vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, two teams with plenty of history. Twenty-five years ago this October, Game 1 of the World Series ended with a home run that many consider the most dramatic in baseball history…

If Shakespeare’s soothsayer — think: high school English, “Julius Caesar” and “Beware the ides of March” — could travel via time machine to autumn 1988, he might give this warning to the Oakland Athletics:

Beware the ides of October.

Surely A’s die-hards wish that scenario had transpired. No soothsayer or sabermetrician can erase the heartache of Oakland fans who watched Kirk Gibson hit perhaps the most improbable home run in baseball history on October 15, 1988. Dodgers fans, however, still rejoice at the events that unfolded on that date.

ESPN.com readers have voted Gibson’s ninth-inning, game-winning homer the all-time greatest moment in World Series history. His heroics propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers to a Game 1 victory and set the tone for the Dodgers’ upset of the mighty A’s.

Indeed, beware the ides of October — specifically, the A’s wish someone had warned closer Dennis Eckersley that Gibson was lurking as L.A.’s pinch-hitter of choice in that fateful ninth inning. But for that warning to have been possible, the A’s would have had to know that Gibson was, in fact, available to pinch hit. However, no one in Oakland’s dugout got that memo. Apparently, the A’s didn’t know until they saw the injured slugger limping to the batter’s box. Even Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda received the news at the last minute (more on that in a moment).

If that sounds confusing, let’s begin at the beginning and set the stage for this historic October drama…

Let’s begin with a classic understatement: The Dodgers entered the 1988 World Series as distinct underdogs.

Oakland had baseball’s best record that season (104-58). Those 104 wins were the most in the American League in the 1980s, equaled only by the 1984 Detroit Tigers. Gibson was one of the leaders on that World Series-winning Detroit team. He was drafted by the Tigers, debuted with them in September 1979, and remained a Tiger from his rookie year in 1980 until 1987. In January 1988, Gibson signed with L.A. as a free agent.

By the way, the 1986 New York Mets had baseball’s best overall record in the decade (108-54).

Back to the ’88 World Series: The swashbuckling A’s were powered by the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, that year’s American League MVP. In ’88, Canseco became the first 40-40 player in baseball history (at least 40 homers and 40 steals in the same season).

Oakland featured four pitchers with 17 or more wins, led by ace Dave Stewart, a 21-game winner. The closer was Eckersley, the future Hall of Famer who posted 45 saves in ’88, one shy of Yankees closer Dave Righetti’s then-record 46 saves in ’86.

Few baseball observers, whether casual or astute, would have been surprised if Oakland had dissed, dismantled and dispatched the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. To get there, the A’s mowed down the Boston Red Sox in four straight games in the American League Championship Series. L.A., meanwhile, wasn’t supposed to even sniff the Fall Classic. The Dodgers did so by upsetting the star-studded Mets in seven games in the National League Championship Series.

Yes, L.A. had Orel Hershiser, the ’88 National League Cy Young award-winner who closed the season with a record streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings. But Fernando Valenzuela, the Dodgers’ longtime inspiration in the rotation, struggled through an injury-plagued season and didn’t throw one pitch in the postseason. And Kirk Gibson, the ’88 National League MVP, was injured before the World Series began, making his availability doubtful at best.

But, as it turned out, Gibson managed one Series plate appearance — in Game 1 in L.A. And with a single swing in that singular at-bat, he changed the course of baseball history.

As we relive that at-bat, let’s see what this 20th century sporting event can teach us about the heart of the Christian faith.

Gibson’s home run and the circumstances surrounding it provide an apt (and richly detailed) analogy for how a peerless first century Pinch-Hitter stepped to the plate and delivered the biggest clutch hit of all time.

Yes, I’m speaking of an itinerant Jewish rabbi who — we can be reasonably certain — never played baseball. Nonetheless, just as Gibson used his bat to alter the outcome of the ’88 World Series, Jesus of Nazareth changed the course of human history via another use of lumber that was at once creative, courageous and barely comprehensible.

This news has been reported by those timeless sports pages known as the Gospels. While they record the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, the rest of the New Testament explains the significance of this stunning event.

One of the core realities of a Christian world view is the concept that human beings cannot — by their effort alone, or by their ability apart from God, or by their own goodness — restore the broken relationship with their Creator that resulted from Adam’s fall. That is precisely why Jesus Christ came: to restore this forever-vital relationship via His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.

A theology textbook will tell you that Christ’s brutal death on that Roman cross can be described as substitutionary atonement (whereby Jesus died as a sinless substitute on behalf of messed-up, sinful humans).

A baseball fan will tell you there’s a simpler term: pinch-hitting atonement. Since Kirk Gibson’s home run is the signature pinch-hit in baseball lore, it is a classic case study for examining the significance of the cross of Christ.

To be continued…

Kirk Gibson: Part 2

© Bruce Deckert 2013

All-Name Teams #10

09/30/2013

Featuring names from across the world of sports

All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.
— writer/poet Andre Breton

All-Biblical Team 2
Ezekiel Ansah
Joel Caleb
Blake Gideon
Elijah Qualls
Naaman Roosevelt
— all football players

All-Bird Team 2
Ian Baker-Finch — golf
Sue Bird — basketball
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych — baseball
Blake Hawksworth — baseball
Todd Parrott — auto racing

All-Boat Team
Ryan Boatright — basketball
Jordan Hulls — basketball
Stephen Keel — soccer
Dennis Norfleet — football
Bill Raftery — basketball


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