Friday, October 28, 2011

I admit it, I gave up. Tons of times. This Cardinals team earned my respect, my scorn, and my hope all in a vicious cycle for these six or so months. They blew a 6-2 9th inning lead against the Mets with about a week to go. They blew the most games they'd led in the final inning of any team in baseball. They are maddening to watch. I have almost nothing left as a fan. I just need to be honest here.
And so, after three errors that all led to runs and a 7-4 lead for the Texas Rangers, trying to win the first title of their existence as a team that made their maiden voyage in 1961, I thought, "It's over." My brother was swearing and asking Tony La Russa why Lance Lynn, only equipped for one inning of duty, returned to surrender the leading runs. As for me, I always lack faith. I pronounced our doom, as is my role as the realist yet again. When Allen Craig smacked a homer in the eighth to make it 7-5, I said to myself, "Why are you making it closer? It'll just hurt worse." When the Cards loaded the bases later that inning, needing only one hit to tie the score, Rafael Furcal's groundout to end the inning surely sealed our fate.
In the final inning, the team did exactly what they needed to do to make a run at it: first and second, no outs. The pitcher Kyle Lohse, batting because the Cards were out of position players, executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. Again, one hit ties the score. Craig was up again, and when he was surprised by an off-speed pitch with two strikes looking at strike three, I thought it was over. David Freese got two strikes on him as the final hope. A deep fly ball to left. It might go out, we thought. It started to die at the track. Nelson Cruz drifted back on what looked to be a season-ending near-miss. But Cruz doesn't like walls, and having failed to get back to the wall quickly, he was surprised when it carried. He jumped and stretched, but the ball hit the wall to the left of his glove! Tie score. Freese made it to third. 7-7. Another hit wins it for the Cardinals. But no such luck.
When Josh Hamilton, the drug-addict turned AL MVP, hit a two-run homer in the 10th, it seemed to this fan that the man with the pulled groin and Oscar-worthy life story would take his Texas Rangers to a title. But the Cardinals had other plans. Having scored another run to make it 9-8, Lance Berkman was himself down two strikes with two outs. "Texas is way too deep in the outfield," we said. Any hit would surely score the runner from second. Berkman got a cut fastball inside. Cut fastballs are designed to jam hitters and break bats. Mission accomplished. But Berkman was ready, and hit it hard. Single. Tie score, again! The Cardinals had trailed 5 times in this game. They still needed to survive the 11th inning after failing to win in their half of the 10th. Edwin Jackson had been announced as a pinch-hitter before Lohse in the 9th, and so was unavailable to pitch. There was only one pitcher left: Jake Westbrook. The same Jake Westbrook who'd surrendered 5 runs to Houston in the penultimate game of the regular season, who'd been left off the postseason roster for ineffectiveness. The team had of course won that game anyway. The teams in postseason play can adjust their rosters before each round. The great Tony La Russa must have figured he'd need another starting pitcher in an ugly World Series, so he put Westbrook on the roster. And here he was, in the top of the 11th inning of the World Series. When he surrendered no runs in that inning, I shouted, "We picked you up in Houston,"--in St. Louis, the fans are on the team--"now you're gonna pick us up!" For the first time, there was a structural advantage for the Cardinals: their final pitcher was a starting pitcher who'd not pitched. The Rangers brought out their final man, Mark Lowe, a short reliever. He'd have two innings, perhaps three. If we didn't win in the next, we were OK, we reasoned. Westbrook would not hamper the overall readiness of the pitching staff in a presumptive 7th game, no matter how long this game went. The Rangers may be another story.
All you need to know is that David Freese--the man who dropped a pop-up in the fifth inning, leading to the 7-4 deficit, who made atonement with the tying triple in the 9th, only to see his team fall behind again, he who was traded as an afterthought to the Cardinals for the aging Jim Edmonds, who played at Lafayette High School mere minutes from my house--hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th. And so, the greatest baseball game I had ever seen was concluded, 10-9. And the author of the game supplanted by this one as the best I'd ever seen, Chris Carpenter (who'd thrown a three-hit shutout in the fifth and deciding game of the opening playoff series against his best friend, Roy Halladay) will get the ball in this very last game with everything at stake. No matter what happens, he and the rest of his team have earned the respect of Cardinals fans that will not soon abate. The Comeback Kids come home one last time, to try to win one last game--the 180th of this long season--for the 11th championship in the city called "Baseball Heaven."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

5 Irritated Thoughts on Tim Tebow

5. Look, Bryan Phillips, we get it: You don't like Tim Tebow (or Brett Favre*, for that matter) but most normal people do, and seriously, what is it with you people?

4. Tebow wins. At every level. Why wouldn't you roll the dice in re-building mode?

3. You're darn right that we like how he appears to be exactly what he says--a real Christian--who's willing to stand up for that weird sub-cultural tenet that we shouldn't kill each other. What a freak.

2. They won the game, didn't they? And almost won the week before.

1. I'll take 10 Tim Tebows over a whole league of "real," "gritty," and "flawed" people you tell us to like.

*Brett Favre is, of course, (with respect) a scumbag, whose beauty queen of a wife would have divorced him long ago if she weren't Catholic. But he was fun to watch.
I had to link this as your "Socialism Sucks" Story of the Day, as if anyone with a brain and a history book needed proof. I mean, I pretty much hate cheese, but I DEMAND multiple cheeses! Better to risk gluttony than starve to death.
I believe in capitalism. I do not believe in it as a concession, a middle-ground until grace perfects something better. I do not hold my material goods with a closed fist, nor adore them as gods. I believe in the dignity of the human person, first as an individual, and then in larger groups. I will accept some limits on the rights of individuals to buy, sell, and trade goods, ideas, or anything of value, consonant with Christian truth, given by the Catholic Church (whether directly or indirectly). I DO NOT automatically accept appeals to the "common good" in the regulation of markets, because "the government" (or the State) cannot be called to account when its meddling creates the very injustices that we all decry. If the efficiencies of markets lead to the valuing of the wrong things, the Church exists to exhort her children (and everyone else, for that matter) to use our freedom to alter outcomes as she sees fit, guided by the Holy Spirit. It may well be unwise for the human leaders of said Church, absent a specific charism of infallibility in any one case, to pronounce upon matters outside their areas of expertise. Reason, experience, and empirical data all vindicate market capitalism as the most consonant with the dignity, freedom, and responsibility of human persons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You know, this world is tough. We might be tempted to anesthetize ourselves to this fact with pleasure or unreasonable Pollyannish optimism, but it doesn't take long to realize the futility of this. People die suddenly. Friends get sick and injured, the earth beneath us quakes and traps people in rubble and we're left wondering why. When things are going well, there is a part of me that waits for the other shoe to drop. I'm not cynical; in fact, I'm quite the opposite. But I am, as they say, acquainted with grief.
Right now, I struggle to love a person who doesn't like sad songs, who doesn't want to hear of misfortune, who doesn't know that we live in a sick, sad, world that would have nothing going for it but that Christ Jesus took on flesh and died for us. It's a beautiful world, too. But make no mistake: He made it that way, we messed it up, and Jesus came to set it (and us) right again. It's not that I don't feel joy, I don't laugh, or love; it's just that I don't find myself able to do those things apart from the truth of Christ.
I went to a trivia night the other day to raise money for a friend with leukemia. I would note for the sake of the curious that it was my first time darkening the door of a Protestant gathering-place since May. What I noted was the joy. You can feel the reality of faith in the risen Lord at times like this. It's in the air. I knew that this large extended family had struggled and cried and asked God just what the jimmy He was doing. None of us who were aware of such a struggle could fail to take note of its threat to life. But sure as I sit here, as if it was written in green paint on the wall, this sentiment was present: This is hard, but Christ has been raised, so we have joy. And we do not fear. Why? Well, why do we like redemption stories, stories of triumph, stories of endurance in the face of impossible odds? What is the story of humanity redeemed in Christ, if not this? People who refuse to look at the bad are just as bad as the misanthrope who sees no dignity in us at all.
If you will permit me, remember the final scenes of 'Top Gun,' where our protagonist Pete Mitchell is thrown into the climactic air battle with the Soviets bent on destroying a disabled US Navy ship? Still reeling from the accidental death of his navigator, Mitchell hasn't shaken off his fear or self-blame for the incident. He spends several long minutes on the periphery of the battle, while his rival (who'd warned their Commanding Officer of Mitchell's lack of readiness) yells at him to "Get in the fight!" He does, and victory is had. We too need to get in the fight, but we need to take accurate stock of what the fight is, and what we are equipped to do. If we find ourselves inadequate to the task--as we surely will, in our own strength--the logical course is to seek strength and meaning from the One who made us. It will not do to shut our eyes to this broken world, nor to fashion meaning apart from Him, but to actively take part in the drama of redemption. Because every fleeting joy, every great meal, every powerful love derives its goodness from God, who wills that it be perfected in Christ. Outside of the truth of Christ and His saving work, nothing good lasts. But nothing of sorrow or pain does either, in Him.
I just needed to say that, because I struggle to love and to abide in Christ. May He be the keeper and Author of all joys and sorrows, now and forever.