Friday, June 25, 2010

Annointing a Saint

Don't call it a comeback. Call it a Revival.

Wrote a few words about the passing of a good athlete & great person over at a blog I do with a buddy that we call "Saints, Sinners, and Sports." You should check it out.

"Of Sinners & Saints"

Thursday, June 03, 2010

'Nobody's Perfect'

No, I will not be exegeting the hit song by Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter.

They say that sports is a microcosm of life. That being the case, Armando Galarraga taught the world how life is supposed to be lived: with a smile on your face, and with no malice in your heart.

In case you're not a baseball fan, I should help you catch up. On Wednesday night, the young Galarraga was on the verge of throwing a perfect game. It's so rare that it's only happened 20 times in Major League Baseball history. What's a perfect game? That's where a pitcher retires all 27 batters he faces without allowing any walks, hits, hit batsmen, or errors. That last one is critical, because it means your team-mates have to be perfect, too. And as we learned tonight, so do the umpires.

Let's pick it up in the 9th inning. Galarraga had faced 24 batters, and none of them had reached first base. The first batter of the 9th inning steps in, launches a rocket, and Armando got a little help from his friends with an incredible catch by Austin Jackson. It was so stunning that Armando himself unleashed a grin at how good his fortune was that Jackson hauled in that fly ball. 2 outs away.

After a groundball out to shortstop, only one out separated Galarraga from a perfect game. What happened next, as FDR once said, will go down in infamy.

You just have to watch for yourself.

The first base umpire blew the call. He admitted it himself. [ESPN]

"It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it," Jim Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires' locker room. "I just cost that kid a perfect game."

"I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

Never has wrong been so unanimously wrong.

And as far as we know, nothing can be done about it. Major League Baseball's instant replay rules didn't allow that play to be reviewed. So it stood. Perhaps the Commissioner could make a special ruling, but that would be unprecedented.

A perfect game -- baseball immortality -- robbed by the proverbial blind ump. It's the stuff of a Classic Greek tragedy.

But that's not the end of the story.

Sports and social media went into a firestorm as the game ended. Twitter was all aflutter. Every single baseball analyst was getting their words in. Even former sportscasters that now host shows on cable news networks. The consensus? "This was wrong!" You can probably identify with it: an overwhelming injustice was done. I think it's fair to say that our nation hasn't seen anyone upstage a big moment like this ever since Kanye West did the deed to Taylor Swift. It's that big.

And if you still don't quite get it, maybe this will help. There are scant few things in life that you can point at & not criticize. Especially in your own life. How many things have you ever completed in your life that you can look back upon & call it perfect?? Unless you're one of those people who grew up never missing a day of class in school, and never had so much as even an A-, and never so much as saw a pimple when you looked in the mirror, you've never been perfect. We've all had blemishes; we've all had ink blots on our record at one point or another.

Which is what makes the luster of a perfect game all the more special & sacred. For ONE day -- for one brief moment in time -- a pitcher can point to that and say, "That was perfect."

Until that moment is robbed from you by someone else's imperfection.

And then, in the locker-room after the game, with more maturity than anyone else in the world demonstrated on Twitter, on the diamond, in the press box, or anywhere else, Armando Galarraga shrugged off the bad call by saying, "Nobody's perfect." I'm not sure how you muster the will to say those words. But he did. Twice. [MLB]

Galarraga said he gave Joyce a hug when Joyce apologized to him after the game.

"He really feels bad," Galarraga said. "He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect. I give a lot of credit to that guy. That (an apology) doesn't happen. He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect. What am I gonna do? His body language said more than a lot of words. His eyes were watery, he didn't have too say much. His body language said a lot."

And here's where the game being a microcosm of life pivots from mere entertainment to teach us something about our existence. Armando's right. Nobody is perfect. Life is not fair. It is one of the more difficult discoveries of life when you begin to realize this fact yourself. And I'm not just talking about the cruel twists of fate where the ball doesn't bounce your way. It's especially heart-breaking when people let you down. And they're going to. 'Cause nobody's perfect.

And how we deal with that fact determines in large part how we deal with life going forward. It is perhaps the definitive hallmark of maturity for one to be able to be able to react in a positive way to other people when they deliver to you a negative experience. Extending mercy when outrage feels better, or even right. To give your wife a hug when she locks her keys in the car for the third time this year. Or to give your husband a kiss when he gets lost despite the presence of a Rand McNally map, an iPhone, and a Garmin. Or cracking a wry smile on the field, and effectively shrugging your shoulders in the locker room, when an umpire blows your perfect game.

Armando Galarraga's reaction begs me the question, and I pass it along to you as well: am I that sort of person? Or am I way more impatient?

I want to be like Armando. I want to be the kind of person that gives people permission to be human. I want to be able to not break bruised reeds or not snuff out smoldering wicks (Is. 42:3). But there are far too many moments where I'm not.

I wish I had a visual reminder. I think that would help. If I had an image that stood before me day after day that would remind me for all time that nobody's perfect. Because no matter how much I look in the mirror, Satan always seems up to the challenge to twist my thinking.

I think I have just such an image in mind. A poster. A wide-lense photograph from down the first baseline, back in the stands behind home plate. It would be of the moment right after Galarraga touched first base with his right foot. He's starting to lift his arms in triumph & he's looking up at the umpire. And Jim Joyce is emphatically extending his arms to make his infamous, heart-breaking call. And in true Successories style, this poster would have a caption.

I think you know what it would say.