Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

Digressing into the confusing banality and joy of sports

I’ve reached an odd paradox in my life where my lifelong love of sports no longer captivates me as it once did, yet I remain curious enough to follow them. The one exception is baseball. Baseball for me isn’t a sport; it’s truly a pastime and it falls into another category altogether.

I can’t watch a whole football game anymore. I’d like to say because I now see the wreckage of human life because of concussions and injuries and idolatry of stars that makes the whole product seem so … well, criminal. That’s part of it. But the reason I can’t watch the games is they aren’t compelling. The other day I listened to five ex-athletes and three various news types talk about “breaking down tape” and diagram plays as if they were curing cancer at the volume of a pro wrestling farce.

It all seemed so silly.  I wanted to say, “get a life.” So, I did. To me. I was the one watching the nonsense. At least, they all got paid to be silly.  I turned it off.

I’ve loved the San Francisco 49ers since 1979. And yet, I can barely muster up anything other than disgust when I think about them. Their mockery of a coaching staff, their sliver-spoon owner who ruined a historic team, and their empty stadium seats because “fans” prefer to watch inside the stadium on TVs all disgust me. Most all, moving the team from San Francisco to a nightmare stadium that takes longer to get to than a trip to Tahoe on a Friday night insulted every loyal San Francisco fan that ever donned a jersey or bought a ticket.

But here’s the rub. I still find myself flipping to sports page every morning. I read the stories about the 49ers like a jilted lover stalking their Facebook page. I still have their abysmal games on in the background when I do something else more interesting with my Sunday afternoon.

This odd mix of boredom and fascination with sports came to a head this week when I dedicated parts to three nights to watch the Golden State Warriors play basketball. I gave up any interest in basketball back in the 1990s when the beauty of the LA Lakers Showtime and drama of the historic Magic Johnson v. Larry Bird rivalry came to a close, the day Johnson announced he had contracted HIV. I was such a huge fan, I recall exactly where I was during that announcement. It devastated me and my love of basketball with it.

But these Golden State Warriors are so damn interesting I couldn’t help but be caught up in it. Now they have a potentially record-breaking winning streak and I found myself nervous the last couple of games as they nearly lost. Even as I felt thrilled with the Warriors victory, I wondered why the hell I even cared.

Being a sports fan is confusing if you take a step back from it. It’s not art. it’s not doing much for humanity. It’s often not entertaining. Looked at from afar, it feels foolish. Why care this much about a game? Why spend money on such things. Why do I own sports jerseys that I feel too silly actually to wear?  And more importantly, why do I feel so compelled to think about why I still care about sports?

Here’s why. I’m getting older. I’m more aware of those grains of sand in my life and how I use them. I look back over the life I’ve lived and how many of those grains were spent poorly or harmfully or stupidly and especially carelessly that it absolutely fucking matters how I chose to spend them now. I don’t have near as many left as I used to, so the idea of spending 30 minutes of them every morning reading the sports page feels… empty.

I am choosing to live my life full. But like everything, there is a balance. It can’t all be so purposeful that it lacks normalcy. Sports, I’ve realized, is the white space in my life. It’s needed, just not too much of it. So my task is not to curse my clinging attention to sports but to mitigate it. To remove the banal waste of time and replace it with the best of sports: socializing with others, a bit of joy around the dramatic moments, the compelling stories of people who use it for good or simply a way to rest and relax and turn my mind off a bit.

In all these ways, sports can work for me. In all the others, it is time to let them go.

Facebook redefines ‘family’ in unexpected ways

If a guy named Matt Smith meets a guy named Steve Smith it may, at best, raise a nod of acknowledgement. It means nothing.

But somehow, especially for my father, if two guys with a weird name like Bolsinger meet, it’s a family reunion.

My father is the keeper of all things Bolsinger. For more than a decade he kept a blog called The House of Bolsinger documenting Bolsingers from the past and connected them to each other in the present.

Thanks to Facebook, these associations are far easier than ever. Pop has “met” a gang of Bolsingers from all across the country, including the mother of a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher named Mike Bolsinger, who my dad calls “my cousin.”

When Pop heard Mike would be pitching in AT&T Park in my beloved San Francisco, he suggested (that’s putting it mildly) that I go do a story on “your cousin Mike.”

Fair enough. I try to please him when I can. I nabbed a press pass and headed down to the yard.

It sounded silly, especially trying to pitch this to various magazines with a straight face (and explain it to the media people of both the Dodgers and the Giants), but as Ole’ Cousin Mike took the mound on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I sat in the press box and felt this odd sense of pride for a stranger I’d never met.

I had first heard of Mike back in 2007 when he pitched for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  I was covering the Oakland A’s at the time and doing a lot of writing about the minor leagues and the draft. That strange name connection stuck and I’ve “followed” his career arc, very loosely ever since. When he first started in the big leagues, last year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, my brother noticed and sent me a text.

I went on and saw Mike struggling to get out of the fifth, if I recall. I texted the update to my brother.

“Well he’s a Bolsinger like us. Probably has a weanie arm,” he joked.

We are nothing but self-effacing. But still, both of us love baseball.  We were both just a touch pleased to see our odd name on the back of a baseball jersey.

As I sat in the press box, flipping through the press packet, I noticed Mike Bolsinger on the big screen of my favorite ballpark in the entire world. I snapped a photo and smiled. Cool, I thought, knowing full well it had absolutely nothing to do with me as a stranger with the same name took the mound.

I made the most of this day, like catching up to Mike’s manager Don Mattingly who said, “I thought he did really good. Got his breaking ball over and changed up with it. He did everything we asked him to do.”

I kept score the entire game, something I don’t do much anymore, but loved to do as a kid:

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Later I ran over to the Giants locker room and interviewed second baseman Joe Panik. He looked a bit confused when I asked him only one question.

“What did you think of Bolsinger today?”

Panik gave the customary quote of he did well, he made us battle, etc.

“Cool, thanks,” I said and walked away to his surprise.

Despite myself, I felt that familiar sense in my gut of pulling for him to do well, against my favorite team no less, a team whose World Series Championship last year made me so happy, I made it a point to go see the trophy they won.

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After the game I watched as a the gaggle of reporters surrounded Mike in the locker room asking him questions about his start. Mike’s on the fringes of the big leagues. He has had about dozen starts in his career. This experience was still pretty new to him and it showed. Not in an awkward big-headed way, but in the coolest way: He was digging it. And no, I didn’t know him, but I was…happy… for him as I watched.

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After the rest of the reporters left in search of other quotes, I was introduced to Mike and asked him questions no other reporter likely ever will.

“So what were the worst nicknames you were called growing up?”

His eyes rolled knowingly.

We swapped stories about the butchering of our name. He used the exact same words I’ve muttered so many times when he said, “I don’t get it. It’s said like it sounds. I tell people all the time, ‘there are no As, the L is before the S…”

“I know right,” I said. “Look, there’s no balls, no slinging.”

We both laughed and grimaced.

I shared some of my nicknames: Slinker, Bowlbutt, Ballsucker.

He’d heard similar. He said he’d raise a fist for emphasis until the nicknames cooled.

“I got lucky I guess, being a pitcher. I was called Bullseye.”

“Shit,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

I was genuinely jealous.

 

So there we stood in the middle of the Dodgers locker room after one of life’s truly big moments for Mike “Bullseye” Bolsinger and the only thing that brought us together is our strange last name and my father’s affinity for Facebook.

Somehow in this era of Facebook, the definition of “family” means something entirely different from I think ever intended. Most of the time I hate it, which is why I don’t go on it. These posts are placed remotely. I don’t “socialize” through Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening on Facebook. I avoid the ever-present reality show that we make of our lives on Facebook that may have something to do with the rampant narcissism that author David Brooks chronicles in his latest book, The Road to Character.

I can’t tell you how many family spats, dustups, hurt feelings and broken relationships started with the words “friend” or “post” or “like” or “didn’t like” related to Facebook. I’ve blissfully unaware of such nonsense. I’ve made my protest of this version of “social life” known with a T-shirt I wear often:

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My family and friends are the people I touch, the people I take pictures with, the ones who speak to me in person, not this loose cabal of stalkers who relate only via likes and posts.

You get the point right? I’m not a Facebook fan.

But…

But…

But this day in the sun that only came about because of Facebook and my father and my father’s affinity for other Bolsingers, I had to confess, it was pretty EFFin cool. Facebook “family” for a day? Sure. I’ll take it.

Mike made it easier. In all of the five minutes I’ve known him (yes, he’s my new BFF, but he doesn’t know it yet… maybe I’ll send him a “friend request!”) he showed the ability to laugh at himself, showed genuine humility and showed class.

As I listened to the gaggle of reporters asking him about his start, he admitted he was gacked (my word, not his) to face Buster Posey in a crucial situation in the 6th.

“That was fun,” he said.

I’ve interviewed several pro athletes. Few let reporters in on the joy of the game.

It wasn’t BS either. During his next start he gave up a monster home run to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton that actually left Chavez Ravine… left the whole stadium not just the ball park. His reaction?

“I looked back and thought, ‘that was awesome,’ and then got on with the game,” he said.

A game he went on to win, no less, earning himself another start this Sunday, with Vin Scully, my all-time favorite of favorites announcing the name “Bolsinger.”

“Did he pronounce it right?” Mike asked me.

We both agreed he probably did and the legendary Vin Scully saying our name is right up there with pretty great days.

What’s not to like? His Twitter account highlights on my favorite Bible verses, Joshua 1:9:  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” It also has a photo of quote from my own hero, Martin Luther King Jr, taken at his D.C. memorial. I’m surprised a bit by our common interests.

If five minutes shows anything, it showed me Mike’s mother and father did a hell of a job.

“So congratulations on being the most famous Bolsinger now,” I told him. “Make us proud!”

He laughed. “I’ll do my best,” he said.

Even though I despise all things associated with the team of my youth (except Vin Scully and pitcher Mike Bolsinger) I find myself thinking ahead to Sunday and watching the game and listening to Vin say Bolsinger on the mound and knowing I will want him to win. How’s that for Facebook “family?”

It’s weird man, really weird. But in this day and age when Facebook dominates so much of our culture in so many tragic, disconnect, silly, ways, it’s nice to know that it does some good too, by connecting dots no matter how loosely in this great karmic world we call home that would likely have never been connected any other way.

‘My’ name in lights: Bolsinger pitches for Dodgers

I grew up in a Los Angeles suburb listening most nights to the crooning play-by-play of the maestro of broadcasting Vin Scully calling Dodger games. I had an overly active imagination, so more than once I heard Vin Scully announce my name in my head as I swung a mighty whiffleball bat.

Today, Scully finally introduced my name as a Dodger on a broadcast–well, the last name anyway– as pitcher Mike Bolsinger took the mound at AT&T Park against the San Francisco Giants.

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Sitting here in the press box and seeing the name Bolsinger on the big screen is sort is weird and sort of cool in a weird, cool kind of way.

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I first heard of Mike Bolsinger seven years ago when he pitched for the University of Arkansas.  I was writing for The Bleacher Report and SF Examiner covering the Oakland A’s. I took a lot of interest in the baseball draft, which wasn’t much of an event back then. I noticed Bolsinger drafted in the late rounds. I was mildly curious and began to read clips about his starts. He seemed a marginal prospect at best but still the best known Bolsinger by a wide margin. Last year he became a major league baseball pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a testament to his hard work to climb through the minors and keep at it until his dreams came true.

Somewhere around that time my dad, a self-appointed keeper of all thing Bolsinger Including A House of Bolsinger blog, began to tell me about my “cousin” Mike the pitching star. When Mike finally broke into the bigs, a handful of Giants and Angels fans from California who share his name and took notice. Why not? “Family” in the age of Facebook is a very broadly defined term.

So today’s a good day for we Bolsinger clan, a small, hearty group with a funny last name as Ole Cousin Mike does us all proud (we are I  the 4th inning and Mike’s dealing a shutout so far). After the game I’ll head down to the locker room and interview him for a lifestyle story I pitched (believe me, I’ve pitched weirder stories in my day). We will talk a little baseball, family, swap awful nickname stories (“no sir, no balls no slinging, just Bolsinger,” I’ve said to more than one coach in my life) and whatever else comes up, just one Bolsinger to another.

Sadly, Giants #everyotheryear pace will continue

It’s a day of worshp… tomorrow. We celebrated Easter on Holy Saturday (much like how Black Friday shopping leaked into Thanksgiving gluttony, which first seemed like an afront, but actually makes sense of what Thanksgiving has become if you think about it… bottom line, in this impatient culture we’d have never stood for Jesus in a tomb for three days. You get two-and-a-half and then get your live ass out here, thank you very much). I think God allows me a fair amount of sacriledge when it comes to baseball. She’s a fan too, and likely a Giants Fan. How else can you explain the 2014 playoffs? More on that to come.

No, the holiday I’m now focused on as we enjoy the other side of Easter today (chocolate, family, fun and a teaser night baseball game, which too is early and out of place, but we’ll take it!) is Opening Day!

Opening Day is something of a holiday for me, far more than the Super Bowl or even some of the three-day weekend holidays that crop up expectedly unexpectedly each year. When Opening Day finally arrives each year, I try to turn on the early day games and keep watching until the last one on the West Coast is played. After several months of absence I’m ready for the background music of baseball to re-enter my life.

I also make predictions each year though nobody but me has much invested in the picks. But writing about baseball while watching baseball is about as good as it gets. Come tomorrow as Opening Day launches, I’ll be happily doing both.

Before the pitch is tossed on this season, lets put the last historic and exhilarating season to bed, with a final look at my predictions.

My picks last year were a strange brew of very right and very wrong: I picked all five NL playoff teams only getting the Dodgers and Giants mixed up as division winner. The American League was more of a mess.  I got three of the five playoff teams in the Angels, A’s and Orioles, but none in the right place. The Indians pick was a year premature and the Rays a year or six too late. Eight out of ten is pretty strong but like the rest of the free world, I went 0 for 2 picking in picking the World Series teams and eventual champion. As a Giants fan, I’ll gladly admit I was wrong.

Here’s the rub though. I picked the Nationals to win it all. Had the Giants not pulled off what history will show as one of the great upsets in baseball, the Nationals would have been champs. This is the missing story from the 2014 season and deserves a book of its own to cement the legacy of that incredible turn of events that gave the Giants a third, #everyotheryear crown. They were, at best, the 8th best team in the playoffs last year. Yet they ran the gauntlet of three straight series as the decided underdogs and won by a single run in the 7th and final game. Shoot, I need to write that book.

The Nationals were the best team last year. They far outmatched the Giants at virtually every position. Had Bruce Bochey not schooled Matt Williams like an old Kung Fu master, my pick would have turned out correct. Had the Giants not somehow won an 18-inning game because Williams didn’t let the dominant Jordan Zimmerman finish the ninth, the series would have been over right there. Anyone seeing that lineup of five lefties against the Nationals Gio Gonzalez should know how badly the Giants were over-matched and outgunned. They had huge holes throughout and Triple A guys all over the bench, their highest paid pitcher and their lead-off hitter were injured and yet, they still won. Amazing. Move over ’69 Mets, I think the Giants will take that title now.

And let’s set the record straight over the shibboleth that great managers don’t impact the game in baseball? Look back the records of a Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter, Mike Scoscia, Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona and a handful of others who simply win where ever they go. None of this cast of greatness though can match The Boch come playoff time.

Bochey is simply a shaman. He’s the best, which is why the Giants have won a World Series #everyotheryear this decade.

But those holes, that mediocre lineup, the lack of talent on the field at AT&T Park, the lack of depth, the aging, overpaid guys, well their all mostly back which means sadly, the Giants are in no position to repeat. I blame Brian Sabean as much as I exalt Bruce Bochey. The Giants won’t win this year. That much I’ll bet the house on. Their will be plenty of room on the water this October in McCovey Cove.

As for my predictions this year… check back tomorrow. As I said, I love to write about baseball on Opening Day, so I’ll be writing all day as I watch the games that will add so much to the next several months of my life.

Brian Sabean is the worst HOF GM ever

Well it’s April. I know that not because of the fool’s jokes being played, but because I can’t stop thinking about baseball.

I also can’t help my blood pressure from rising over the smallest things, like this: Why the hell isn’t it Opening Day already when the World Series is already played into November??? Who are the mensa schedule makers that started the season even later this year? Fire them all.  Baseball should start by March 31 and end by October 20. End of story.

But the real story here is not these minor irritations but my massive, coronary defarctualizing, fury inducing, appal meter rising abhorrence of San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean.

Even as I write this I know it is pure insanity. The GM has brought us THREE world championships. He made mediocre teams around Barry Bonds perennial contenders. He deeply loves the team, the city and the character of all things that contribute to the San Francisco Giants.  I can’t help but admire him and respect he’s one of our great city’s leading citizens. He is also likely headed to the hall of fame someday.

But… I simply hate him. I think he’s awful. I know for a fact what he won’t and will do long before he does it and I hate it all. Yep, it’s April. Baseball’s back and with it my daily gnashing of teeth over Brian Sabean.

Why do I despise thee, let me count they ways.

1) He tried to give Pablo the Fat $90 million. Thank God Pablo is nuttier than a filbert farm and feigned insult so he could rush to Boston and join his buddies Big Papi and Hanley Ramirez. Still, Sabean wanted him back. Sigh.

2) He was willing to spend $125-$135 million on Jon Lester when the only thing the team has are pitchers. Does Sabean see just how awful the offense is? I’m reminded of Bill Simmons one-liner after Sabean gave creaky, old Edgar Renteria $18 million to play shortstop. “Does Sabean watch baseball?” Simmons cracked.

3) He overpays old guys (see Renteria, Tim Lincicum’s last contract, Barry Zito, the Jon Lester attempted signing, Jake Peavy, etc. etc.) and overvalues old guys (see Zach Wheeler in a Mets uniform for a few months of Carlos Beltran).

4) He ignores the obvious needs in the lineup by trying to find value in the scrap heap. It actually works sometimes for a few months like Brandon Hicks first couple of months, about half a season of Michael Morse, Pat the Bat and Cody Ross in 2010. But then we get stuck with contracts like Pagan’s $40 million for what will likely be about a season and a half of play, Marco Scutaro’s millions for nothing, the dude that came over from the Pirates before Scutaro, etc. etc. etc. We have no payroll space because Sabean squanders it and then we can’t get guys who can actually help, like say, ANY OUTFIELDER???

Which leads me to today’s vitriolic screed about what seems so obvious I can’t even imagine why it hasn’t happened yet. We are about two real games away from Angel Pagan’s next back pain layoff, which means we will have an outfield of Nori Aoki, Blanco and Justin (who?) Maxwell. Not in August when the season’s grind has set in, but in April when the GM’s plans are most evident. That outfield will hit less than Madison Bumgarner combined.

MadBum should be shagging balls because in this lineup he could hit fifth if he can play even a little left field on his off days.

Solutions abound, but all we hear is Sabean is content to wait it out. For what exactly, since we have no major league ready outfield talent in the minor league system anywhere?

Fact 1: His minor league system ranks among the worst in baseball. The Giants have exactly ZERO prospects in the top 75. Not a one.

Fact 2: The Giants system’s players that even have a sniff of being starters in the majors are pitchers (with the exception of Andrew Susac for some other team), of which he has impressively stockpiled many arms with future potential.

Fact 3: He has only three healthy outfielders so they’ve had to keep Maxwell, a 31-year-old castoff who has a lifetime batting average  of .224 and designate first round pick Gary Brown for assignment.

Fact 4: IF there is ONE thing the Giants HAVE NEVER during Sabean’s tenure its a bonafide lead-off hitter who draws walks, plays stellar defense and can steal bases blind. Since proven by Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, et. al. the leadoff hitter creates havoc from the game’s start and gets better pitches to hit for the power guys that followed. Angel Pagan, when healthy is a poor man’s leadoff hitter and yet the G-Men are much, much better when he bats lead off.

SO… Can someone tell me why Jackie Bradley Jr., who may be the best defensive centerfielder in baseball right now, who can steal 50 bases in a season without really trying, who draws walks like a veteran, and who appears to have corrected his long swing that killed his one shot at being a starter last year is NOT being acquired by trade? Anyone?

Sabean gave up TWO quality arms to the Red Sox last year for Jake Peavy. It will likely take only one and some parts to get Bradley, especially if they paired him with one of the Red Sox contractual problems like say Allen Craig, who could be a dynamic bat off the bench. The Red Sox have Bradley, Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino not starting because their OF and 1b and DH are set in stone with all-star potential players.

The Red Sox love young arms like the Giants can offer. Any of the above mentioned players would RIGHT NOW beat out ANYONE in our OF other than Pence (who is hurt) and Pagan (who is already taking injections in his back). Conceivably we could take Bradley, Craig AND Victorino and ALL three could start games for us. Imagine Craig as simply as right -handed pinch hitter, first baseman. If we have one of those we may not have had to play five lefties against Gio Gonzalez (a lefty killer) in the playoffs against the Nationals last year (Thank God Gio couldn’t field his position allowing us to win on throwing errors, because that was the worst playoff lineup I’ve ever, ever seen). The hole in the bench was so obvious that it is unconscionable that Sabean didn’t fix it this off-season, and yet he still can!

But Bradley is the key. He is cheap, he can be controlled for several more years and if he doesn’t hit, he is still better than Blanco, Perez, Ishikawa, Maxwell or anyone in our system as a backup, defensive OFer who can steal a base. If you give up Zach Wheeler for three months of Carlos Beltran, you have no excuse for not giving up whoever for six years of JBJ even if he turns into nothing more than a better Gregor Blanco.

Yet, just as I knew Sabean would come up short in the bidding in all three of the recent Cuban all-stars who each could have plugged in as a starter for the Giants (Castillo, Moncada, Tomas), I also know Sabean won’t get the needed right-hand 1b/ph bat and even more won’t get a vital player in Jackie Bradley Jr.

Brian Sabean will be in the Hall of Fame someday. When that happens I will still think he’s the worst Hall of Famer ever.

Glimpse: On Earth as it is in Heaven

This is really one of those “to be continued” posts. To get the full flavor, click back one post here, before you read this.  But if you’d rather not, here’s the “what you missed” part like you see in sitcoms:

Heaven used to scare my silly. As a result I ran amok more often than not. Then I read books by this guy, and realized heaven is not “out there,” but “right here.” This now colors most of what I do including…. (big finish!) a novel I’m writing called, On Earth as it is in Heaven. 

There. you’re all caught up.

I think I love writing fiction more than most anything else I can do it day. I love sitting outside with friends drinking coffee and wasting time. I love sex. I love eating great food (with chocolate at the end). I love snowboarding (and wakeboarding and biking and hiking and other stuff of its ilk). I love when an ocean wave hits me smack in the face. I love writing novels. I think that’s the top five (err… six?).  When I started to realize that I could likely do some form of all of this in heaven, my view of life and the life to come, and really the whole freaking purpose of this thing called me, made a lot more sense.  Ponder that. Does your view of the life to come mean you can do the things you love? I suspect it should. When I think of streets of gold, I see the Embarcadero colored in dusk lights and San Francisco Giants fever (see photo above). That’s heaven.

One of the characters in my novel I have came to love is an old Italian priest named Joe (Uncle to the story’s flawed heroine Annabel). In a portion of the book over drinks in a fun San Francisco restaurant in the heart of SoMa, Joe explains this notion of heaven on earth to an agnostic scientist named Sam (she’s a she… despite the masculine name). I think he does a nice job of it, so I’ll let him speak.

Enjoy:

Annabel nodded. They all drank. Formalities and titles dispersed, they were seated and orders placed. The grip of social tension released its grasp on her shoulders. Despite herself Annabel soon grew immersed in the spirited debate. Sam maintained an aggressive, friendly offensive on Uncle Joe’s unshakable faith. Uncle Joe, in his self-effacing style, refused to cede ground, staunchly defending his assurance that God remained alive and well.

“So we just wallow around here amid all the depravity until we croak and if we’re lucky we get zapped up to live in streets of gold and play harps of praise for eternity,” Sam chided.

“Evangelical sentimentality,” Joe groused with a dismissive waive of his thick, hairy hand. “Americans have created an entire mythology around heaven that would shock the likes of St. Augustine. It looks nothing, absolutely nothing like heaven as the desert fathers and mothers envisioned.”

“So what’s your heaven like?” Sam said.

“I’m just arrogant enough to believe it is not what my heaven looks like but very much the real thing,” Joe said. “The short answer is very much like this. La buana vita.”

Joe spread his hands and looked around the restaurant.

“The good life,” Annabel translated.

Sam smirked. “I understood that one.”

“My Uncle Joe takes very seriously the Lord’s prayer,” Annabel said. “From the time I was little he taught me that Jesus of all people knew what he was doing in prayer, so when he said ‘when ye pray, pray like this,’ he meant it.”

“Absolutely!” Joe chimed in. “And he prayed, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On Earth…’” Joe emphasized, pointing around the room, “as it is in heaven. Heaven is not up there in the stars for goodness sakes. We’ve been up there. All the way to the edge of the Solar System. Nobody’s run into the angel with the flaming sword protecting the Garden of Eden yet. Heaven is right here… Sulla Terra come in Cielo!

“On Earth as it is in heaven,” Annabel again translated. “He speaks Italian when gets excited. His parishoners love it, but only a few can understand him anymore.”

“Sadly,” Joe said.

Sam laughed and flipped her hair behind her ears.

“Joe, I’ve studied your Augustine and read through your Catholic history.” Sam said. “I don’t know too many Catholics talking this way. I dare say your own church might have torched your ass at the stake for saying these things once upon a time.”

Joe gave a hearty laugh.

“It’s not so heretical,” he said. “Nor is two thousand years of Catholic thought so linear. It’s a wide river of theology and faith; these views, as I say, aren’t my own, but flow from a deep, ancient stream of orthodoxy long before the Evangelicals began to claim inerrancy the last few decades. Besides, I’d argue these views are not too different than Augustine’s City of God.”

A large smile spread across Annabel’s deep red lips. She loved her uncle most of times like these, his reserve loosened by the company and the wine and his passion and intelligent faith unleashed from behind the constraint of his clerical collar.

“So if heaven’s on Earth.” Sam said. “Where are all the saints? Where’s God? Where’s your Garden of Eden?”

“Oops,” Annabel said happily. “You’ve been caught in his trap.”

Sam looked at Annabel and then back to Joe and back again.

“I knew you two were scheming with all the Italian when I came in!”

“Oh no,” Annabel said. “This was all you’re doing. You’re asked the questions. You took his bait.”

“Annabel you imply chicanery. I have merely helped escort Sam beyond the dogma of today to find a more authentic picture.” Joe said, feigning injury.

Now Annabel waved him off. He continued.

“Heaven is all around us, interwoven in the fabric of God’s creation, not built separately, at all.”

He held his thick fingers near, as if clasping, but not touching.

“Reread these miracles of Jesus and see what he was doing. He wasn’t performing magic. He was aligning heaven and earth exactly as it was originally created. Five thousand spiritual sojourners are hungry. ‘Why feed them,’ Jesus insists, as if it makes all the sense in the world. The loaves and fish are bountiful and prove plentiful by the simple faith of a prayer: that they would be fed, on Earth just as they would be in heaven. Thus, they are fed, and abundant leftovers remain. This looks like heaven to me.

“Same thing for the transformation. He and his inner circle of disciples trudge up a mountain for a heavenly meeting with Elijah and Moses, likely bringing further instruction or assurance to Jesus for the mission that lay ahead. Peter is so stunned he merely wants to build tents. Why? To stay, of course. Egli è in cielo! He’s in heaven, right there on Earth. It’s the most natural reaction in the world. If we stumbled into heaven, wouldn’t we want to pitch a tent and hang around?”

Joe reconnected his fingers, shifting them together, clasped.

“When by faith we breakthrough, it is like the tumblers align, the curtain between us–how we are, and us how it’s supposed to be… in fact how it will be — is removed. We see Jesus’ prayer answered. That is heaven.”

Joe took a quick breath and scanned his audience. Pleased at the rapt attention, he ventured further, telling a story about the angel with fiery sword at the ready gaurding Eden for Millenia. His hand moved around excitedly, imagining the angel on guard. Sam and Annabel shared a pleasant glance, smiles across their faces.

“But see, God put him there because he had faith in us. He thought someday we’d have the faith to get back there. So he kept it guarded.”

“And the Garden of Eden?” Annabel asked, knowing full well the answer.

“It’s right there! Likely. I feel pity for that angel assigned to guard the gate. No one that we know ever challenged him. But it is right there where God put it, right here on Earth. And so far we’ve been collectively too daft to figure it out.”

Sam stared at Joe, eyes wide, engrossed in the image. Annabel had seen these reactions before. She had felt it herself many times, this Ah-ha feeling that comes when something just clicks and suddenly seems obvious.

“So,” Sam said. “What do we do when we go through the wormhole to the other side?”

“This!” Joe said happily. “We eat, we talk, we love. We create! Can you imagine what Mozart has dreamed up over the last several hundred years?! What Da Vinci has painted? I can’t. But I know I can’t wait to see it.”

“So I’ll still be trying to figure out telomeres in heaven?” Sam said. “But people will already be immortal.”

“True, but your gift is investigation and experimentation. Your mind! Consider the things God will want you to solve? Amazing!”

Sam shook her head.

“Heaven where I still get to be a scientist…Now that is news to me. I can’t believe I’ve never heard this before. Joe, you really are a heretic…But I love it.”

“You may be right. Jesus was executed as a heretic after all. That tells you all you need to know about orthodoxy,” he said with a smile.

Is God a sports fan? A question for a spiritual slump

I’m in a spiritual slump.

Like a hitter than can’t get good wood on the ball, or the San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick against the Seattle Seahawks, I am not living up to my full purpose lately. So I’ve tried to spend some time with God sorting it out. But true to my slump, my energy and focus during those times isn’t sharp at all, certainly not enough to reconnect me to the God who inspires most everything I try to do these days.

That discordant reality brought me around to a basic primer I often employ in my ongoing 11th step process of Daily Moral Inventory taking. I often ask myself how do I spend my time? How do I spend my money? Both reflect my priorities better than my hopes, talk, and wishful thinking of well-intended beliefs. They are true tests of my spiritual condition.

Which brings me full circle to the opening question: is God a sports a fan? Because I spend a lot of time lately watching sports. I spent some money lately on sports, like San Francisco Giants playoff tickets and a World Series Giants sweatshirts and a big spread for the Oregon Ducks thrashing of Stanford.

Despite it being Thanksgiving with my family and a really beautifully simple day, I found my mood turn plenty sour watching the 49ers beating by the defending Super Bowl Champs. It all feels a bit out of balance.

I am not one of those sports fans. You know, the crazy eye-black wearing fans, the dropping numerous C-Notes on the latest gear fans, the watch a full slate of games Saturday and Sunday and watch two hours of ESPN fans. I don’t “live and die” with “my” team. But the current 49er offense sure can ruin any given Sunday.

During the season I watch the Giants most nights, but the Bride and I do that together while doing other tasks. Our whole family loves baseball. I rarely feel guilty about my lifelong love of the beautiful game because it binds us all together.

We are also a family of Ducks. Three generations have ties to the University of Oregon. My loyalties to the Green and Yellow (back when they still wore their colors… before they became a weekly habashery of Nike fashion) go back prior to the Kenny Wheaton interception that turned the Ducks into a real college football team back in the 1990s.

It remains one of the top five favorite moments I’ve ever had in sports.

And of course the San Francisco 49ers, my longest standing loyalty to a team, dates back to when I was a kid and watched a fellow Catholic become the team’s new quarterback in 1980. Joe Montana remains my favorite player of all time and The Bride’s favorite player, so much so she chose to name our youngest after him even though she’s a girl.

So while I may not one of those fans, I’m still pretty invested in sports. It still takes a decent amount of my time, and a chunk of my money and assumes a priority in my life that could very well be outweighed with other things if in fact, God is not a sports fan. 

Even as an athlete I mocked the idea of praying for victory. I roll my eyes at the gyrations players go through to cross themselves and point to the sky and even pray after games, all in an attempt to bring God into the arena of sport that seems … well… weird, if you consider it for very long.

It’s hard to see God giving a rats ass about the 49ers injuries and ridiculous front office sniping. I see Her rolling her eyes at me as I pout following the 49ers loss on Thanksgiving.

The easy answer of course is hell no, God is not a sports fan. Consider that about the only thing God gets really, really pissed at in the Bible is idolatry, then look at the idol worship, egoism, gross extravagance and insular narcissism of professional sports and even thinking there is a chance that God is a sports fan seems ludicrous.

But…

But…

But, I think God may well be a sports fan. I could make a list the length of the the Book of Isaiah on the good sports does and the values it instilled in me. But it’s easier to recall that impressive speech in Chariots of Fire, when the humble servant of God who would become a missionary and die in China after devoting his whole life to God says, “But when I run, I feel His pleasure…” and I get all chocked up and know God is a sports fan.

If Eric Liddell could compare faith to running in a race, much like St. Paul himself did, then its not hard to believe God can be a sports fan.  I remember back when I was a young athlete and young believer and heard this comparison. I felt inspired both as an athlete and a follower of God.

I could use some of that inspiration these days. Perhaps God’s not a sports fan. Perhaps She is. Perhaps it doesn’t matter and like many things I obsess about it has little to do with my spiritual slump. Perhaps. But I know that by taking the time to consider what God thinks and what God wants and what God prefers for both my time and money, I get closer to breaking out of the slump than if I go on without a care.

Is God a sports fan? I dunno. But what matters is that I care about it one way or another.

So what do you say? Is God a sports fan?

Build a SF Dynasty: Quality over quantity

What would be off-season baseball without playing a little general manager. I don’t play fantasy baseball, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of wasted time thinking what I would do if I had the single best job in the world: General Manager of the San Francisco Giants.

This envy is probably why I am certain Bruce Bochey is the greatest living manager and yet Brian Sabean, who by all rights built this team from the ground up, rates barely above George Bush’s approval ratings. I try to be fair, but I can’t help it. I’d sell my soul to the devil to come back to this life in Sabean’s job.

Truth be told I’ve spent a fair amount of my life second guessing the great ones like Terry Francona during Boston’s historic run and Bruce Bochey during every torturous decision over the past five years. But right about the time Bochey put a lineup that couldn’t win a Triple A game, chalk full of lefties against a lefty flame thrower, against the powerful Washington Nationals and won is the time I realized the Bochey is a warlock, shaman and zen master rolled into one. I vowed to never again think I could do his job.

But Sabean… well, I truly believe I could do better so the second-guessing will continue long after both of us are gone.

We dispensed of the bad news in the last post: Sandoval has to go on to other adventures in other places. Take the pebble from my hand Kung Fu Panda and see you in ten years at a reunion where fans will give you the longest of standing ovations. Just don’t put on the uniform as a player again because I don’t want to pay you. No hard feelings.

That sets up the good news. If I was Brian Sabean today, I think I could actually build a team that would win a World Series in an odd number year. Next year in fact. Back-to-back. Remove all doubt about the Dynasty. Cement it.

Timmy

Here’s how:

First: do nothing. Let Panda go. Do not reach out to Jake Peavy (we already have him signed; he’s named Tim Hudson), Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo or Michael Morse. Each played well, each is in line for a better pay day, and each will find suitors willing to over pay despite the flaws we saw in them over the season.

Thanks guys, see you at the reunion too. Romo is a tough one because he’s been such a staple for the Giants through this whole championship era. But he wants closer money and closer responsibilities and as we found out, he’s a right-handed specialists in closer camo and nowhere worth the $10 million a year his hometown LA Dodgers will give him. Say goodbye.

From the moment I heard Morse using the 1980s classic Ah Ha’s “Take on Me” I knew I loved the guy. His playoff at bats were probably more important than any other player on the roster not named Panda. But he’s lost in the outfield and went a better part of three months with fewer home runs than can be counted on one hand because teams busted him inside and he couldn’t adjust. His future is as an American League DH, so go forth my friend and prosper. We really will miss you.

Second, take all of that money, every last bit of savings and sign one guy. For once, go against the Brian Sabean grain to spread the wealth, win some and lose some philosophy of overpaying veterans trying to catch lightening in the bottle and find one true superstar. We absolutely need a cleanup hitter, and don’t say Nelson Cruz. We need a younger cleanup hitter. Think Giancarlo Stanton. Empty the minor leagues, load up the vault. Pay him the $25 million a year you saved by letting all those other guys go, give away your top three prospects, throw in an Andrew Susac or Matt Duffy (anybody but Joe Panik) and go get Stanton.

It’s exactly what Sabean should have done with Adrian Gonzalez four years ago but never tried.

If that fails try to raid the Kansas City Royals for Lorenzo Cain or go get Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox’ crowded outfield. Or if all else fails, open the check book and make sure you sign the next great Cuban, according to the USA Today:

Yasmany Tomas, Industriales in Cuba: Tomas is often compared to other Cuban outfielders like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, and Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman said body- and strength-wise he can hold his own with Puig. But Tomas’ plate discipline is even less refined than what the Los Angeles Dodgers star showed in his early days in the minors. And while Tomas, about to turn 24, throws well, he doesn’t match Puig’s arm, speed or zest for the game. Tomas’ size and athleticism, as well as the Cuban lineage, make him appealing – perhaps enough to garner a contract in the $60-70 million range – but he figures to need some time in the minors polishing his game.

I’ll give Sabean credit. He already signed one cheap alternative, Daniel Carbonell, who might become a great outfielder from Cuba. And folks think the Giants are going to make a strong push for Tomas, who baseball writer George King says is better than the Red Sox’ Rusney Castillo.

The Giants have lacked a true cleanup hitter since the retirement of Barry Bonds. One can argue the lead-off spot has been a decade-long problem, but when Pagan is healthy he may not be Rickey Henderson, but the team wins. Signed for two more years, we have to ride with him for now. That leaves the four-spot as the one glaring need that would make everyone else in the lineup fall in place.

Pagan, Panik, Posey, XXX, Pence, Belt, Crawford and 3b.

Admittedly replacing Sandoval will be tough, but this is what Sabean does best: bargain-basement signings. He found Cody Ross and Pat the Bat and even Morse on the scrap heap. He can find a 3b for this year or even let the dynamic Matt Duffy play there despite his absence of power. Or give Adam Duval a real chance to unleash his power. Regardless of who plays there that’s a team that can can dominate with bench players like Ishikawa, Arias, Blanco and Sanchez who are proven role players.

The rotation is just fine: You have to give Tim Lincecum one more chance. Matt Cain should be back and better than ever. Petit earned a chance and is a bargain. Bumgarner is worth two starters. Hudson at 40 is the best end-of-the-rotation guy in baseball. Finally, once the off-season signing hysterics play out, Sabean will find some talent off the scrap heap or some of the talent in the minors will rise just as they did this year.

We don’t need much. We simply need one highly quality linchpin to bring this fabulous team together from overachiever to true powerhouse.

There it is. April 2015 can’t get here soon enough but for now, it’s time I become like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch, the normal winter guy who doesn’t obsess about baseball every waking moment. Let the baseball diet begin. Happy off-season.

Building a SF Dynasty: don’t re-sign the panda

Let’s just get the bad news out there first: Pablo Sandoval, beloved, chubby, enigmatic, playoff heroic third baseman for the World Champion San Francisco Giants should not be re-signed this off-season.

It will be a disastrously unpopular move if the Giants, but it is the correct one. This will feel like John Lennon leaving the Beatles or Joe Montana in Kansas City Chiefs uniform. But it still needs to be done.

The ticker tape is over, the billion-dollar debacle that is Levi’s Stadium is now open and our beloved AT&T Park closed for the winter. The love remains, but if we want to celebrate at City Hall again anytime soon, the tough love part of the thankless job of general manager must begin now.

Yet I know it likely won’t. GM Brian Sabean will likely overpay the Panda out of loyalty and love. For the next six years we will have a ginormous dead weight on the books that will rival Barry Zito’s awful deal. (Note: Barry Zito is a true member of the Giant. He is a better person. He saved us in 2012. His grace under fire proved him a true role model. I love the guy, but his contract remains one of the worst in baseball).

Because that’s what Sabes does. He overpays for veteran talent, even when it’s not ours. Remember Edgar Renteria’s $18 million?

Bill Simmons of ESPN did when he wrote simply of the Renteria signing, “Does Brian Sabean even watch baseball?”

Old, disinterested and slow are not what you pay over-market for a shortshop, but Sabes did and it was disaster right up until the 2010 World Series where Renteria made his last stand as a clutch ballplayer and led the Giants to a historic first championship. $18 million for a World Series is a steal. But toss in Barry Zito’s nine-figure albatross and Marco Scutaro’s millions not to play, Angel Pagan’s $40 million for part-time work and Tim Lincecum’s $35 million for long relief and well, you get the picture. Loyalty pays a dear price, which may just explain why the Giants can only win every other year.

Pablo Sandoval

Of course it sounds ridiculous to expect better than three World Series in five years. It’s astounding and nearly historic. But I’ll say what most everyone really believes: The Giants overachieve and win unlikely championships despite Sabean and his obvious problems in the roster because of sure-fire Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochey.

The reason the Giants are always underachievers? Because of those loyalty contracts weighing down the roster every single year. The team has a $150 million payroll that in reality is like a small-market $90 million payroll because of the dead wood contracts.

Sandoval is a charismatic talent and a great playoff player. During the season, he is prone to huge slumps, excessive weight gain, up and down years and a decided lack of power for a guy so… robust. Those Octobers makes you see what you miss during most of the season except for a few hot streaks when he single-handily carries the team. We love Sandoval because his energy is terrific, he is a model team player, he comes to play every single day and plays through pain. He loves baseball and plays like it.

He has vastly improved his defense, but remained a guy Bochey subbed for in the late innings. He couldn’t hit left-handers this year. He was a platoon player in disguise. You don’t pay $100 million for a platoon?

But what happens when he turns 30, gains another 30, and his love for other life’s pleasures tips the delicate scales of his unique talent toward debauchery?

Sandoval hitting .330 when he was a spry, agile catcher who had to train to stay in the lineup was a budding superstar. But since moving to 3B, he’s added weight, become a .270 hitter who never really did have much consistent power.  Now he wants — and some fool team like the Yankees will pay him — superstar dollars in excess of $100 million guaranteed. This is a man who ate his way out of the lineup in 2010 and couldn’t keep the weight of this season with a huge contract on the line. Do we really think he’ll stay in shape with $100 million bucks?

Just think of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth years of this deal? For a guy with a clearly neurotic compulsion to avoid waste, the thought makes me anxiously scan Google for a shrink.

I love the Giants. I love Pablo and the Panda hats. I’d hate to see him go, and knowing Sabean’s past I suspect I won’t. Instead I’ll see his contract become dead wood over a painfully long period that will cost the Panda all the love he’s stored up over his wonderful time here in San Francisco. Some good things must come to an end. This is one and it likely won’t and there won’t be much good to come of it.

Thoughts on sobriety do change over time

Yesterday was one of those days. Sun warmed the city like only it can do in San Francisco in October. Then as day headed to sleep, it and the moon conspired to bathe the city in a celebratory orange glow.

It was one of those days. The bitchen ones (to use my favorite old school word). The ones you wish could keep on going.

It was also a day that in the past would have been flavored with alcohol, or more accurately, defined by alcohol.

The Giants were playing in the World Series — the final game of the year at our neighborhood ballpark AT&T Park– and the festivities were underway early. The Giants are a rolling holiday in San Francisco. Few things match the intensity of the fan following, night in and night out. The entire city turns into a festive bar, aka Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

2014-10-26 15.52.25

I wanted to be out in it, amid the jubilee. I wanted to experience it even if I couldn’t dream of paying $1,000 for a pair of nosebleed tickets.

The Bride and I wandered around the park, watching the tailgaters (sans tailgates) lining the waterfront and filling McCovey Cove, both on dry land and on the water itself.

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We stood among the crush of people watching legendary ballplayers like Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson arrive.

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(the true Home Run King… the other one, the Giant fraudulent home run king was also in attendance we learned from a tweet of him with Kanye and Kim Kardashian).

We dodged the lines to neighborhood eateries charging $10 cover with a velvet roped line of people waiting for entrance simply to watch the game on TV across from the park where it was being played.

Then we went to a neighborhood dive that we once loved, sitting on the bay, with good food and plenty of booze flowing. We used to drink a lot there and I hadn’t been back since I went into rehab.

We found a table and ordered. Club soda and a diet coke. We felt guilty, like our server would spit in the drinks. But she didn’t. She was nice. We ordered food and watched the first couple of innings.

The Bride asked me once if I was OK. It took me a moment to realize what she was asking. Did I feel triggered to drink was what she meant?

“I feel great,” I said. And I did.

The Bride said she still felt guilty holding down a table, so we ordered dessert. I tipped her generously. She really never complained. It was all in our head, the past irrationality coming back to life in a boozy setting: That somehow everyone else in the world drinks all the time just because we once did.

The Bride got caught up in watching some very loud people over in the bar area making very loud jokes to each other they alone thought were hilarious. She likes watching the theatrics. They remind her: There by the grace of God go we.

We found a couple standing in the way of the server around the 5th inning. We gave them our table, slipped out and walked home down the harbor. Back at our place we watched the rest of the game, a joyful 5-0 victory for the hometown nine.

I woke up this morning without a hangover. I ran through the still trash-strewn streets and smelled the  faint odor of sour mash and old hops and urine that is distinctly urban after a big night. As the sweat worked its way up through my head I realized I had a great day and didn’t miss out on thing. In fact, the lack of alcohol enhanced the day in many ways, not the least the great feeling when my feet hit the floor after a restful night sleep.

I would have never thought the day would come when not only would I not miss alcohol on a big festive night, but actually be glad I didn’t drink anymore. Five years ago the thought would have been laughable, a punch line or a curse. Now it’s a simple truth.

Days go by and in them are some that I miss drinking more than others. Sometimes I feel its loss and sometimes I feel like I’m living just a bit compromised because of my own problems in the past.

But then more often than I not I think something different. Life is full, far more vast and colorful and beautiful than it ever was in my drinking days. I think, “I am blessed.” I know I’m not missing a damn thing.

Thoughts do change. They do indeed. So take it one day a time as they say, and let your thoughts catch up the sobriety you may only now be learning.

Because if you stay the course, I promise you, you too will think differently. You will see a better day.