Most days, the world seems like a pretty divided place. We are inundated with stories of racial tensions, political differences, and concerns over national and global security almost every time we turn on the television or log on to Facebook. It seems almost impossible to escape the never ending cycle of debate and argument and disagreement and fear.
For me, sports – and especially baseball – are one of the few places where we are able to escape that cycle, even if it’s just for a few moments or hours. Baseball marks the slow march of time each year, from the hope of Spring every fan feels in April, through the hottest days of Summer watching a game with a ‘dog and a beer’, to the excitement of Fall and pennant races and the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who you are – young or old, black or white, rich or poor – the timeless innocence and joy of the game can sometimes unite us while providing a brief escape from the never ending cycle of negativity and conflict.
SOMETIMES, I think God shows us that He is watching, also, and that has never been more evident than in 2016. Three emotional scenarios, three home runs, and three reminders that God loves baseball, too.
Well done, good and faithful servant…
Sixty-seven years…SIXTY-SEVEN… that’s how long Vin Scully has worked as a broadcaster for the Dodgers. Why, he was actually a part of the Dodgers organization when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 2016 season marks the final one in the announcer’s booth for the iconic broadcaster, who at eighty-eight years young, has called thousands of major league baseball games. His silky smooth voice has told the stories of three perfect games, at least eighteen no hitters, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s all time mark, World Series championships, and my favorite, his call of an injured Kirk Gibson entering Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to hit the game winning, walk-off home run.
Sunday, September 25th was to be Vin Scully’s final game in the booth at Dodger Stadium. With a win, the Dodgers would clinch the National League West pennant, which in and of itself would have been a fitting tribute to their retiring announcer. A moment much bigger than that was about to happen, however. Nine innings would not be enough on that afternoon, and Scully would have to put in some overtime – well, extra innings – during his final home broadcast.
In a tie game in the bottom of the 10th inning, Charlie Culberson came to bat for the Dodgers…
Culberson, who had not hit a home run the entire season, gave Vin Scully a send off from Dodger Stadium that probably wouldn’t have been believable had it been in a movie. Sixty-seven years announcing for the Blue – and his final home call is an extra inning, walk-off home run to clinch the division from a player who hadn’t gone yard all season. It was a story book ending to an iconic career that literally could not have been scripted better in Hollywood.
His father was with him the whole time…
On August 19th, Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen returned to the mound for the first time after being on the bereavement list following the unexpected death of his father, Clif Lorenzen. The twenty-four year old entered the game with one out in the 7th inning to a different warm up song than usual – “Who Are You” by The Who – as a tribute to his father who loved the band. Lorenzen recorded two outs to get the Reds out of the inning and retreated to the clubhouse to gather his emotions. He would have to return quickly, however, as he was being left in to pitch the 8th inning and had to bat in the home half of the 7th.
Michael Lorenzen saw one pitch that night – a 97 mile per hour fastball…
Michael Lorenzen had never hit a home run in the Majors – until that night. As he rounded the bases, the moment overwhelmed him and the emotion spread through the entire ballpark. After the game, Reds manager Brian Price would say, “I never thought I would see something like that, as majestic and poetic and emotional as that moment.” Second baseman Brandon Phillips probably summed up the scenario that played out that night even better, however.
“His father was with him the whole time he was out there. He felt it. I felt it with him.”
Yet, you do not know what tomorrow will bring…
Sometimes it seems to take tragedy to remind us of how fleeting life can be and that each day is something to be treasured and enjoyed and lived to its fullest. That sort of tragedy struck not just baseball but the world during the early morning hours of September 25th when Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez and two others lost their lives in a boating accident.
Fernandez was one of baseball’s brightest young stars. The twenty-four year old ace played the game with the joy and passion of a Little Leaguer – and his infectious personality showed through on the field and in the dugout. His path to the bright lights of the big league ballparks was not an easy one, as he defected from Cuba to the United States in 2007. It was his fourth attempt to leave Cuba – after trying and failing three previous times and being sent to prison for his efforts to leave.
His tragic and untimely death left the questions that such circumstances often do. Is this real? Why did this have to happen? How could someone that young and full of life and talent and joy be gone? Those questions never really have an answer; there are some things that we just can’t understand. Often, we at least briefly remember the important lesson that life is short and fragile and tomorrow is not a guarantee and to hug those closest to us a little tighter.
Baseball – like life – must move on, and on Monday, September 26th the Miami Marlins returned to Marlins Park to face off against the New York Mets. Before the game, his teammates paid an emotional tribute to Jose at the pitchers mound, all wearing his jersey number 16 for the game. Somehow, they would have to summon the strength to play the game that night.
In the bottom of the 1st inning, Dee Gordon led off for the Marlins. After taking the first pitch right handed as a tribute to Fernandez, he switched to his normal left handed stance.
He saw one more pitch…
It was his first home run of the season. After the game – a win for the Marlins – Gordon would say “I told the boys ‘if y’all don’t believe in God, y’all might as well start.’ I ain’t ever hit a ball that far – even in BP. We had some help.”
We will never truly know why someone like Jose Fernandez was gone from this life so soon, but in that game and that at bat, I think God gave a small reminder to us all saying , “I’m here. I’m watching. And so is Jose.”