Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Matter of Faith

There had to be a typo, right?

We’ve become anesthetized to the headlines in the sports world about steroids, salaries, guns, alcohol, gambling... you name it, we’ve heard it. We’re on a steady diet of pleas for forgiveness with a side dish of feigned tears and lumps in the throat. Nothing shocks us anymore.

Except when an up-and-coming major leaguer decides to give it all up to become a priest.

Come again?

Wait... he must be in the middle of some big salary negotiations and he’s trying to up the ante. Maybe he foresees a position war in spring training, and he feels this might give him the edge. I know, he must have gotten caught doing steroids or a hooker and he figures this is the best way to sneak out of the game.

It has to be one of those, right? Because who leaves the glitzy world of sports to pray all day? Instead of spending his Saturdays in a weight room getting ready to play ball in front of thousands of people, he’ll be sitting in a 3x3 booth, waiting to hear an old lady tick off the two sins she accumulated on her soul since her last confession the week before. Instead of pounding homers to increase his value, he’ll be doling out Rosaries to enhance his chances at the pearly gates.

Now that is shocking.

It takes a special person to enter the religious life. We can hold the door for the neighbor behind us or write a check to our favorite charity, but at the end of the day, most of us are still looking out for numero uno. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something more and Grant Desme is looking for it.

His God-given gift for baseball was overshadowed by his love for God, which says a lot about him and more about the state of sports today.

It’s the positive, decent stories that give us pause because we’re used to the bad apples.

Fans aren’t looking for players to be saints, but it would be nice to hear more stories about the good guys to restore our faith in the games we love.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Class acts are hard to come by. In the world of sports, it can often seem like looking for a needle in a haystack because they just don’t make for sexy headlines.

But on Friday, posted the following: Red Sox 3B Beltre empathizes with Lowell.

A tad bit warm and fuzzy among headlines talking contracts and missteps, don’t you think?

The article goes on to say that before signing with the Red Sox, Adrian Beltre was worried about Mike Lowell. He empathized with Lowell’s injury and predicament. He did not want to barrel into Fenway as the third base savior while a man only two years removed from World Series MVP honors was pushed to the periphery. It was only after being assured that he would not be stepping on the toes of Lowell, that the Red Sox would continue to think of Lowell as more than a cog in the wheel of Boston’s drive that Beltre felt free to make the decision that was right for him and his family.

We’re not used to hearing stories like this. All we see are numbers. How many years and for how much? Certainly other factors play into the decisions of players in contract negotiations, but we only hear about the bottom line and startling greed, which is what makes this story all the more interesting.

It says a lot about Lowell and Beltre and speaks volumes about the men behind the players that the nature of their characters made headlines.

They say that God always answers your prayers; it just might not be the answer you were hoping for. Like many other Red Sox fans, I’m praying that Mike Lowell stays in Boston, but the answer to our prayers might be that we’ve got another class act to follow in his footsteps.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Almost Full Circle

I didn’t feel like a princess and I sure as hell didn’t look like one either.

Decked out in two arm bands, one knee band, a visor with dangling iPod wires, and mismatched athletic gear, I looked like a schizophrenic jogger. I didn’t have the look of a svelte runner nor did I look like the type of girl who would glisten.

At the 1st Annual Disney Princess Half-Marathon, I looked like what I was: a 30-year-old sweaty mess of an aging athlete who had gotten herself into something she couldn’t back out of.

But I did it. All 13.1 miles of it in the exact time I was aiming for.

It’s been seven months since that race, and somehow the time to recap the events escaped me, but this weekend I found myself thinking back to that dark, cold morning when I stood with over 6,000 fellow women waiting for their moment in the sun… both figuratively and literally.

We all gathered in the parking lot outside of EPCOT, stretching out our legs and our nerves. We were women from very different backgrounds who had embraced this challenge and made it our own.

When we crossed the starting line with the sun just beginning to light the distant reaches of the sky, we set our individual paces and started counting down the miles.

The first two miles flew by with Dusty at my side, but when I could sense that she had more in her tank than I did, I told her to keep on going and I wouldn’t be far behind.

I spent the next two miles watching the sky grow pink and stared in awe as I ran by the gates to the Magic Kingdom, a stretch we had driven on just the day before.

As I approached a turn just before Mile 4, I saw Dusty ahead. I was close enough to yell her name and see her wave, but far enough back that I wouldn’t be able to catch up. Something told me though that I might catch a glimpse of Izzie on that very same turn, and sure enough I looked back and spotted her green fleece in the crowd.

In a matter of minutes, we were running side by side. Together we watched as Cinderella’s Castle came into view, knowing that we were almost at the midpoint of this incredible journey. We passed Meaks with the trusty race tambourine, which fueled us for several more footfalls. And when we rounded the corner of Main Street, our eyes beheld a most uplifting site. Lined up on either side of the course were the Disney cast members, clapping, cheering, smiling. As we wound our way up the incline towards the castle, it was as if the pain in our legs just melted away. The adrenaline and excitement of running through the Magic Kingdom was second to none, and it made us believe that we were really going to do the impossible.

The further we got from the Magic Kingdom, the greater our awareness became of the pain coursing through our legs, but Izzie and I pushed on, urging each other to fight through the aching for just one more mile and then another one and then another one. At Mile 10, we spurred ourselves onward by saying we had the equivalent of one of our lunchtime runs left. Images of the Mt.Vernon Trail flickered in my mind… the airport fence, the port-o-potties, the river, the mile marker, the rusty bridge, the 14th Street Bridge, and back. Somehow the remaining distance didn’t seem so daunting anymore.

And then when the marker for Mile 12 came into view with the EPCOT sphere just beyond it, our energy reserves kicked in. One more mile to go. We were actually going to do this!

That last mile felt like the longest mile, with well-intentioned people telling us, “One more turn,” when in fact it was much more than that. But finally, there really was just one more turn and we could hear the sounds of the finish line ahead.

As we ran towards that pink banner that hung above the finish line, the banner adorned with images of Cinderella, I’d like to say I fully appreciated the moment, but the only thoughts going through my mind were simple ones. In just a few yards, I could finally rest my weary knees and I could finally let out a deep sigh of relief.

But when Izzie and I were reunited with our fellow princesses, Hoops, Cheesus, J-Woo, Kimpossible, and Dusty, the moment was magical and intoxicating. When I had started the journey, I thought it would be just a one-time thing, but as I stood with my dear friends near the finish line, I knew it was just the beginning.

And it wasn't long after that when I set a new goal.

* * * * * * *

It was all supposed to come full circle yesterday. I was supposed to run the very race where this whole crazy scheme had first been hatched. I was supposed to rise early to compete in the 25th Annual Army Ten-Miler, but a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the finish line.

I lost the drive.

I took a hiatus after the run at Disney World, but promised myself I’d get back on track. When I ran the Race For The Cure, that was supposed to kick-start the training again. Then I was going to wait until after my vacation. When I was seven weeks out, I knew I still had enough time to prepare.

But suddenly I found myself confronted with a decision on the night before the race: do what was best for my mind or what was best for my body. With great regret, I chose the latter. I hadn't ventured out in a month, and even then, it was only four miles. Physically I just wasn’t ready.

So what would have been the poetic book-end of a year of running turned into a quiet morning of reflection about the ebb and flow of dedication.

Now the half-marathon almost feels like a dream, but I want to have that dream again. Maybe the Army Ten-Miler wasn’t meant to be a book-end. Maybe it’s always supposed to be the motivator I need to lace up my sneakers and get back out there.

And maybe the circle wasn’t meant to close yet because there are still other races to be run.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hitting Close To Home - Epilogue

With two outs and one man on base, a familiar form walked towards the batter’s box.

From my seat in the upper deck directly behind home plate, it felt like I was watching something unfold from on high. I could see every section of Camden Yards. I could see into the Red Sox dugout. I could see people gathered on a balcony beyond the park’s perimeter. Everyone was waiting for this moment.

And then we heard it... a cacophony of boos echoing throughout Camden Yards as Big Papi stepped to the plate.

Without warning, a feeling of defensiveness, a feeling of loyalty surged up inside of me. The past 24 hours had seen Red Sox Nation reeling with the news that our beloved slugger might have made a mistake or might have been a liar, depending on whom you talk to and what you choose to think. But none of that mattered in that instant. We might be mad at Big Papi, but we’re not going to let anyone else knock him down, especially not the fans of a team that has been tainted by the very same cancer that is ravaging the sport.

As Papi went into his stance, a few people down in front of us stood up. Then a few more. Then Izzie, Dusty, Meeks, and I jumped to our feet. From our perch, we could see hundreds of other red shirts rise to applaud Papi, not with an ovation of affirmation because the jury is still out, but an ovation of support, an ovation that said we’re mad, but we still love you.

Papi struck out in that first at-bat, but would not make the same mistake the second time around. With Red Sox fans on their feet again and the cheers for him drowning out the boos, Papi drove the ball into the center field bleachers.

And as he rounded the bases, the words of detractors disappeared. The suspicions were erased. There was nothing but pure euphoria.

Eventually the reality returned though, but just as I had hoped, he had given me one more memory for the reel.

One day ago, I stood with my dearest Sox friends and together we watched Papi silence his naysayers with a single swing of the bat.

I just hope he continues to do so.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hitting Close To Home

Three weeks ago, I leaned forward in my seat in Section 8 of Fenway and watched Big Papi’s 1,000th hit as a member of the Red Sox fly out of the ballpark.

Nine months ago, I sat in the Fenway bleachers and watched his home run sail into the crowd, igniting one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history.

And three years ago, I stood on the walkway behind home plate at Camden Yards and stood in stunned disbelief when I saw him launch a ball out of the stands in person for the very first time.

I’ve been to scores of baseball games in my life and have seen many amazing plays, but Papi’s moments are always at the top of my own personal reel of witnessed greatness.

Which is why this hurts so much.

When I saw the headline, it was like staring at an eclipse. I couldn’t look away even though the words were searing my eyes.

But I wasn’t shocked. Frankly no one would shock me right now. The state of baseball today has left us fans jaded and mistrusting and I’ve read too much about Dominican baseball not to think that its favorite sons haven’t tried this or that to get ahead because the desperation can choke a man.

So no... I didn’t think Big Papi was untouchable, but the fact that his name is now linked to this scandal makes the sting feel a little worse.

Do I believe Papi? I don’t know.

But I want to believe in him... in spite of what the answers might be.

And I don't think that’s being blind, naïve, or misguided. That’s wanting to feel that same magic I’ve felt before when Papi crushes one out of the park.

So when I’m sitting at Camden Yards tonight, watching Big Papi lumber to the plate, adjust his gloves, spit into his hands, and clap twice before settling into the batter’s box, I probably won’t be able to put this debacle out of my mind, but you can bet the headlines will be replaced by the same prayers I’ve uttered hundreds of times before.

“C’mon, Papi. Please.”

And maybe he’ll give me another memory for the reel that will eclipse all of the headlines... even if it is only for the duration of a trip around the bases.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Look How Far We've Come

You have to pick your battles when it comes to these things because no matter how many inroads are made, there are still inequities. We won “NCAAM” and “NCAAW” in the score crawl, but ESPN still lists “Women’s Basketball” under “All Sports.”

I wasn’t itching for a battle this morning, but that was before I randomly found myself on the NCAA website. The first line that greeted me:

“It’s The Girls’ Turn.”


I just couldn’t contain my anger.

Female athletes do not deserve to be cast in a diminutive role as if their participation is cute and quaint. Just because the public interest in their competitions may not reach the same heights as the men doesn’t make their athletic efforts secondary. They are just as good, just as dedicated, and just as deserving of respect as the men. No one would ever refer in print to male collegiate athletes as “boys,” so why is it okay to do that to the women?

I can’t say that I’m surprised by the remark, but I am shocked at the source. The NCAA is supposed to be an organization that represents and promotes its athletes, female and male, equally, but I guess that mission took a backseat to one sexist writer’s need for a synonym.

The ironic part... the best collegiate basketball team in the nation is a women’s team.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Plum Crazy

I love the feeling of the wind whipping in my face, the blood pulsating in my cheeks, and the outright feeling of abandon my legs get when I shift into high gear. I check the air in my lungs, holding it until I can finally push out one great exhale at the end. There’s one last leap as my oversized foot stabs at the base and then my body pulls up like a horse in the Derby, finished with the sprint.

That’s how I run. Anything more that 240 feet around the basepaths is too much for this girl.

I like sprinting. I do not like running. Long distance, that is. Even when I was a kid… give me a good 50-yard dash and I was golden. Put me on a track to complete my mile for the Presidential Physical Fitness test and I was miserable.

But somehow I find myself training for a half-marathon.

Call it a lark. Call it an adventure. Call it a new year’s resolution.

And please call it crazy.

Trying not to strain myself with a big ol’ pat on the back, I’ll admit that I excel at cheering for my friends in races, but when it comes to doing it myself… let’s just say that you’d have a better chance of finding me eating a jar of peanut butter with an expired Epipen at my side than contemplating a half-marathon.

Plum crazy.

But on one perfect Sunday last fall, with sweat from the Army Ten-Miler still fresh on their brows, my friends Hoops and Cheesus told me about the first-ever Disney Princess Half-Marathon.

I stared at them in disbelief. Maybe that runners’ high everyone talks about was still in effect for them. I showed them the tambourine in one hand and the homemade signs in the other and said that I would be there to cheer them on like the good friend that I am, but that was it.

Then when I was out of earshot, Cheesus said to Hoops, “If she were really a friend, she’d get her ass out there and run.” Touché.

They joked that maybe they could convince me to do it by saying it was like running around the bases 25,000 times. Instead of a starting gun, there could be the crack of a bat. Not a bad rationale, but it wasn’t enough to make me contemplate running 13 times the distance I had run in nearly 10 years... or ever.

What eventually did?

A mouse.

Even at 30, a trip to Disney World is a powerful motivator.

It’s been almost 4 months since I took my first steps toward a goal I never envisioned, and I never thought I’d see the day when I could run 3 miles without stopping. I never thought I’d voluntarily brave single-digit windchills to stay on course. And I never thought I’d have a legitimate reason to buy the Nike running gear I so desperately drooled over.

But here I am… exactly one month before the race… and I find that it doesn’t feel so crazy anymore.