Courage

I was 9 when I first learned about Jackie Robinson. My family owned a series of hard-cover books published by Value Communications. Each book celebrated a different person whose life illustrated a noteworthy value. Hans Christian Anderson and fantasy. Beethoven and giving. Marie Curie and learning.

Written by Dr. Spencer Johnson, Jackie’s story taught the value of courage. I started reading the book one night before bed and became completely obsessed with it. The book stayed next to my bed for weeks. I’ve been drawn to Jackie’s story ever since.

Jackie courageously dared to keep playing baseball through countless death threats, antagonistic opponents, ambivalent teammates, opposing pitchers who sought to knock his head off, and hotels and restaurants who denied him service in every city. Words cannot effectively capture the degree of hatred and animosity Jackie experienced. Even so, Jackie played with a perpetual chip on his shoulder determined to prove that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Through baseball and his civil rights work, Jackie truly made this world a better place.

Last summer, as part of Catch 365, my family visited Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the home of the Daytona Tortugas. On March 17, 1946, this field in Daytona Beach, Florida was the first venue to host an integrated game as part of affiliated baseball. Jackie then played for the AAA Montreal Royals and wore number 9. Each year, every major league baseball team honors Jackie by wearing his Dodgers number 42. The Tortugas celebrate — shellebrate — by wearing number 9.

I wrote a poem about Jackie and keep it on my desk in the Royals room. It serves not only as a reminder of his remarkable courage and passionate perseverance, but that baseball stories can make a difference in this world. The ripple effect of his story opened doors from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to President Barack Obama.

Long Ball City is celebrating one of Jackie’s most famous quotes on a t-shirt honoring the legacy of #42. This quote should be a mantra for each and every one of us.

This year, however, I’m leaning into a different quote from Jackie.

Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.

I think, if I had the opportunity to sit down with Jackie and tell him about my desire to play ball again, he’d probably get a good laugh. But it’s because of Jackie that I know baseball stories can make a difference in this world.

Take courage, friends.

Losing

“Losing builds passion,” says Olympian Natalie Dell O’Brien. She contends that losing can help athletes focus and do the hard work necessary to win.

“Find something that is worth doing so much so that you are willing to risk failing in it,” the bronze medalist challenges.

The Royals won the first two games of the 2019 season. I was beside myself giddy with hope for the Royals to surprise the MLB community. One series victory under their belt in the first weekend. My spring optimism had been rewarded on the field. And then…

They were never really in Game 3, falling behind 6 – 0 before rallying and scoring 3 runs in the last three innings.

In Game 4, the Royals were winning 4 – 3 through eight innings, then gave up a run in each of the 9th and 10th innings.

Game 5, the Royals had a 5-run fifth inning to go ahead 6 – 3. The Twins tied the game in the 8th and won in the 9th.

Game 6 — Tied through 5, the Royals lost to the Tigers by 1 run.

Game 7 — Ahead 4 – 2, the bullpen surrendered 5 runs in the bottom of the 7th for another loss.

Game 8 — A “no offense” loss.

Game 9 — Seattle hit a lot of home runs.

Game 10 — It was 2 – 2, and then it wasn’t. More Seattle homers.

Game 11 — A two-out, 9th inning home run gave Seattle another victory.

Game 12 — Up by 2 runs going into the 9th, with two runners on, two outs, and a full count, a freak accident on the warning track allowed the tying runs to score. A 10th inning home run won it for Seattle. Whit Merrifield’s historic 31-game hitting streak ended when he struck out to end the game in the bottom of the 10th.

The Royals are now 2 – 10 with a lot of hard losses.

Last year the team lost 104 games, recalling the three years of baseball comical tragedy in the mid-2000s:

2004 – 104 losses.

2005 – 106 losses.

2006 – 100 losses.

In fact, from 1995 to 2012, the team only had one winning season. Royals fans are experts when it comes to cheering on losers.

The agonies of so many defeats made the thrill of 2015’s victory all the more extraordinary.

Losing sucks. It is demoralizing and depressing, like an April blizzard in the middle of spring.

Losing at a 2 – 10 pace is historic.

“Losing builds passion.”

I’m taking out the losses on the plastic dimpled balls at Fun Acre batting cages.

There is a singular silver lining to losing:

Affordable game-day seats.

New Site

My friend Brent made fun of my old blog. I can’t say I blame him. It was cumbersome and awkward. Whenever people asked where I was writing my catch-playing stories, I often had to explain the origin of the title, “Whispered Writing.” The phrase is a tribute to someone I consider my writing mentor, Robert Benson.

My friend Byron owns a bookstore in Pennsylvania, Hearts & Minds Books. It is truly one of the best bookstores in the country. Under the “Books” header, you’ll find Byron’s email address and phone number. My dream is that Hearts & Minds Books will send my books all across the country. Byron packages each book with care and opening one of his plain-paper-wrapped book bundles is sheer joy.

In the 13 years I’ve known him, Byron has sent me a book for free exactly twice. “I read this book and thought of you,” he wrote on a post-it-note and stuck it to the cover of The Echo Within by Robert Benson. I started reading the book the day it came in the mail. It felt like Benson was sitting at a table giving me life advice. It is one of those books I’ve since purchased several times and can’t seem keep a copy on my bookshelves; I keep giving it away to friends. I’ve even checked it out from the library multiple times.

At the back of the book was a note saying that, should I want to contact the author, I could. So I did. I wrote a letter thanking Benson for his story only to receive a postcard from him the following week with an invitation to call at my nearest convenience. I called and accidentally dialed a wrong number. I called a second time and learned that Benson would be coming to Kansas City on a book tour and wanted to know if I would like to have dinner with him.

How’s that for serendipitous timing?

I picked up Benson at his hotel, we ate fantastic Italian food, and we talked for hours. After dinner, I returned him to his hotel and scribbled down some of his words on a napkin. Benson told me these words that resonated deep in my heart, “This world is desperate for good sentences, for good stories, and for those who are willing to do the hard work necessary to bring them to life.”

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” That’s what John Keating said in Dead Poets Society. As a 15-year old freshman in high school with ridiculous dreams, I believed him. We live in a storied world. We are a storied people.

Time to lace up and double-knot my shoes, stretch, and make new friends as I seek new, dream-chasing, fear-conquering stories of baseball, life, and faith.