29 June 2011

Starting Over: A Small Reflection on My Second Year as a Baseball Coach

Last night the mighty Pelicans (the team I am honored to coach) finished the regular season with a two game winning streak and a 5-9 record. It was a great regular season; now we enter the playoffs; we are in the single elimination bracket. We face a good team, but if the boys played like they played tonight...you never know.

Baseball in New Orleans is like baseball nowhere else. You tell me what other baseball/softball field in America that sells cheap American beer and cheap Argentinean wine at the concession stand? Where else do parents, coaches, and officials shrug off a sky filled with lighting and dark ominous clouds? It is an interesting experience to say the least.

In retrospect it has been a great season. I was reluctant to coach my son's team for all kinds of reasons. But I am glad I did it. Every boy on the team is a great kid; I like being around everyone of them. There has been lots of laughs and lots of high fives and lots of ways to go. It is a thrill to watch the surprise on a kids face when they hit the ball for the first time, when they stick their glove out and make a catch, when they score a run. I am amazed at the athletic talent of the kids at this age (7-8). I can't get over their capacity to learn how to play baseball. I also cannot get over their capacity for laughter and enjoyment during the game. Last night while I was pitching batting practice one of the 8 year olds hit a line drive right up back at me, I could not get out of the way in time (I knew I should not have eaten dinner before the game) and the ball smacked me in the side. Instead of asking if I was okay, he said "finally." The kid was jumping up and down like, he was so excited he hit the coach. These kids...

After each game the team gathers to go over the game, congratulate the boys on their achievements, and pass out team balls. What happens next is beyond scientific explanation. The boys could have played to near exhaustion or played with the body language of near exhaustion but once we gather hands on top of one another for our last cheer and I dismiss them for "team drinks" they run like the wind. Boys that five minutes earlier could barely make it first base run so fast to the concession stand that their feet barely touch the ground - it is truly amazing.

As the season shifts to the playoffs I am struck by how fascinating it is to have the chance to start over. Tomorrow evening everyone restarts the season at 0-0. How many times in life I have wanted to start over with a fresh beginning. But human relationships are too complex for that kind of instantaneous reappropriation of relationships. It can and does happen over time but not like it does in baseball; in baseball it happens. I hope the kids soak this up somehow either consciously or unconsciously. I wonder if my rather hopeful outlook on life stems from all the years I played (mediocre) baseball? I think there is something there.

We will begin again tomorrow...and I can't wait.

24 June 2011

Happy Birthday Henry Ward Beecher

While listening to the Writer's Almanac this morning I was reminded that today is the birthday of Henry Ward Beecher - a great American Protestant preacher.


Beecher was an amazing man, a lover of flowers & jewels, a great jokester, and, and he usually did not prepare his sermons until the last minute! (The last statement amazes me).

I read the biography by Debby Applegate this Spring. My favorite section follows,

" On one occasion Mr. Beecher, riding to one of the stations of his mission, was thrown over his horse's head in crossing the Miami, pitched into the water, and crept out thoroughly immersed. The incident, of course, furnished occasion for talk in the circle the next day, and his good friend the Baptist minister proceeded o attack him the moment he made his appearance.

" ' Oh, ho, Beecher, glad to see you ! I thought you'd have to come into our ways at last ! You have been immersed at last ; you are as good as any of us now.' A general laugh followed this sally.

" ' Poh, poh ! ' was the ready response, '
my immersion was a different thing from that of your converts. You see, I was immersed by a horse, not by an ass/

"A chorus of laughter proclaimed that Mr. Beecher had got the better of the joke for this time.

(by the way today is also my father's birthday, he would have been 68).

12 June 2011

Southern Comfort

I think it must have been the pictures of my grandfather decked out and dressed to the nines, I think it must have been my father's dark suit and dress boots (which I have been known to wear on occasions), or maybe it was my professors in divinity school always wearing nice suits, or maybe it was my own desire to move beyond jeans and polos. Whatever the motivating factor(s) I love suits - I make no apologies.

In Rhode Island my wardrobe consisted primarily of wools and light wools. Believe it or not it does get hot and humid in New England on certain Sundays. And believe it or not most churches are not air conditioned. One day JosBank ran a $99 sale on seersucker suits, in a heartbeat I bought one. I had to buy it online, they did not sell them at the store in RI - naturally. Everyone at church laughed at me for it, but I didn't care. When I interviewed here at the New Orleans congregation I wore a seersucker suit (I think that was good for at least 15 votes, regardless of my sermon).

I think seersucker should be in every man's closet here in New Orleans - you just can't breathe in poplin and the humidity, which never stops, has no mercy for wrinkles! You can wear seersucker, walk to get a cup of coffee and hardly break a sweat (that is an exaggeration, of course). I like linen but after five minutes it looks like you wore them to take a nap, then woke up, rolled them in a ball, used the ball for a pillow, then went back to sleep for a half an hour. Seersucker, however, is made for New Orleans.

First my best ever seersucker story. On Friday afternoon I drove up to Oak Alley Plantation for a wedding rehearsal. Upon arrival the wedding cooridinator sought me out to tell me the wedding party was help up in traffic, advising me to enjoy the scenery for the next twenty minutes or so. I moseyed out front, found a iron chair and sat down with my glass of lemonade. I pulled out my emailing-machine-phone to check some messages. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a large group of tourists coming my way. I chuckled inwardly asking wouldn't it be a hoot if they took a picture of me in my seersucker suit. The group began to pass when all of sudden one of the ladies asked if she could sit beside me and have her picture taken with me, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another. It was the craziest thing I have ever experienced. They thought I was part of the ambiance of the place, they thought I was the 20th century re-enactor or something. It was hilarious.

I'll get to the wedding in a minute.

But seersucker ain't the only game in town down here though. Almost two years ago I read a blog post by Jim Sommerville, the pastor of the FBC of Richmond, VA - Disclaimer: For the record I have never met Jim but we have some mutual friends that speak highly of him; he seems like a good enough chap (he has some WV in his blood, so he can't be all bad). End of disclaimer - on the long forgotten tradition of wearing white suits to church in the summertime; I would surmise from Confederate Memorial Day to Labor Day. I was enamored by the white suit but thought I couldn't pull it off. Then one day JosBank had the white suit on sale, online, for $99. Again I snatched it up (this time my wife took care of hemming the pants).

I saved the suit for Easter Sunday; I even bought a pair of white bucks to wear with it. I have to tell you I felt like a million dollars in the white suit. I felt like revival could break out at any minute; it did not but it could have!

Back to the wedding. Last night the wedding party was looking dapper in their black wool tuxedos; they were also sweating like it was nobody's business. I, on the other hand, was cool as cucumber in my white suit!

Yesterday I also completed the outfit...a white belt.

Now I have instituted a new tradition, the first Sunday of June, July, and August is officially seersucker (for the men) and hat (for the ladies) Sunday. The inaugural event in June was a smashing hit. Many men said the day was just what they needed as the impetus for going out and purchasing the suit. I can't wait to see how this tradition will unfold. I am hoping Oxford American will come down and do a story on the revival of our fashion tradition... Until then I am wearing my white suit till the humidity stops beating down on me.

Did I tell you I that I heard J.D. Grey, a former pastor of FBC NOLA, used to wear a morning suit during the non-summer months.

the author on Easter morn

08 June 2011

In Memoriam: Joe Taylor

Hell he lived right across the street, I probably saw the guy once or twice a day for three years without ever exchanging a word. He would wave but that was about it. I thought he was one of the meanest guys around, it was the husky voice and the wide shoulders I suppose. And to beat all he would sit out in his front yard and wait till the church yard sale was over to rummage through the "treasures" we left on the curb. The nerve of the guy.

Then one day, after a yard sale to be exact, he walked up to me and inquired, "Hey Father, what time is mass tomorrow?" Normally I would have corrected him and said please call me Travis and it is worship not mass - but those times were over. I simply said, 10:00am. At 10:00am the next morning he showed up in his church sport coat, and he never left. After a few Sundays he stopped genuflecting, then he stopped making the sign of the cross, and finally he stopped wearing his church sport coat. He simply relaxed, he sang hymns, he laughed, he prayed, he read scripture, he was Joe - it was like he had always been there - across the street he always had been. Joe and his wonderful quickly became friends.

One day some guys from the church cleared some land around the outdoor chapel, the brush sat there for a few months drying out. One wet Spring day we decided to light it. There was Joe, and Jon, some cold beer, and fire - what more could guys want? Then the school janitor came over complained that the smoke was being sucked in by the school's heating system - but no one believed him. A little later Randy appeared to show off his car, then Jason swung by, then every cotton picking kid on Great Road. It was one of the best days of my life.

We started talking about art. He showed me some sketches, then he showed me his work shop, then he showed me the totem poles. He was an artist in the true sense of the word, word made flesh, art that was embodied with his bear paws for hands, for the love he showered on his kids and wife, for the greatest laugh in all of New England, for the way he put you at ease, for just being Joe - and doing a damn good job of it.

In divinity school they always said do not get too close to your parishioners but how could you not with Joe? He taught me to be open, honest, and loving to those I serve. I am thankful that I was able to be a friend of Joe Taylor. He was a great man.

When news of the cancer came I couldn't believe it. Joe Taylor was a mighty man, no way cancer would get him. But it did. I tried to block the similarities out of my mind but I could not. Nearly five years ago my father died of esophageal cancer. He too was a mighty man. But dad was older; not a young man in the prime of his life. So what do I wish now? I wish my father's friends would call me and tell me stories about my dad. I wish people from his past would look me up to say hello.

To the sons of Joe Taylor I promise to tell you every Joe Taylor story I can remember, hear of, or find. I promise to call you up on peculiar days just to tell you how lucky I was to know your dad and call him my friend. I promise to tell you how sweet the sound was when he played Amazing Grace on his fiddle over the phone. I promise to tell how your father grew bigger and better tomatoes than me. And I'll tell you how when I called to talk about him and the cancer or when I dropped by to see him a few weeks ago he didn't want to talk about cancer, he wanted to talk about you all.

till grace lead us home. Peace be with you Joe Taylor.