Blast From The Past: My Deep Connection to a “Silly” Game

I was very encouraged by a positive response to last week’s blog post, My Trouble With To-Do Lists. Because of that response, and because of the fact that I really enjoy writing, I’m going to attempt to post with some regularity (assuming I can come up with something mildly interesting to talk about every now and then).

Due to the fact that this week has been especially crazy (nobody ever told me that buying a house would involve work), this post doesn’t contain any new material. However, it’s a piece I was excited to post, because it allows me to share with you one of my lifelong passions. 

This post was originally a guest post for my dad’s blog, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a part of bobbyrossjr.com.  It’s been slightly edited to reflect a few more stadium visits and a couple new pictures. My dad is a gifted writer with over twenty-five years of experience – check out his work when you get a chance!

February 25th, 2015 

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Most baseball fans vividly remember their first major-league game. For many die-hards, it was the day they fell in love with the game. They can still recall the first time they saw the freshly cut green grass, or the first time they heard the crack of a bat or the pop of a glove resound throughout the entire stadium. They may not remember the final score, but they can certainly remember who was playing.

I can’t.

I can’t remember my first game. I can’t remember who was playing. I can’t remember the first time I sat in the sun for three hours, yelling my favorite player’s name, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch while I ate a $6 hot dog and drank an $8 Dr. Pepper.

However, I don’t resent this. In fact, I consider myself fortunate. I don’t remember my first game, because since the time I was born, baseball has been a part of life.

I attended my first major-league game before my first birthday. I’ve heard the story repeatedly over the years: I didn’t make it through the national anthem before the tears started. I spent the rest of that day in the hospitality room at The Ballpark in Arlington, which had opened just a few weeks before. While I was there, I had my first encounter with baseball greatness: Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan entered the room to ask a stadium employee a question. From that point on, I believe I was destined to be a Rangers fan.

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After that day, it was all about baseball for my childhood self. Sometime around my third birthday, I demanded that my parents call me Pudge, in honor of my favorite player, future Hall-of-Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who spent most of his career with the Texas Rangers. I wore shin guards and a chest protector around the house and dreamed of the day when I would take Pudge’s place as the starting catcher for the Rangers. My loyalty went to Pudge first, and the Rangers second. I wouldn’t watch the games if Pudge didn’t play. I still remember his backup’s name, Bill Haselman, because if I saw his name was in the lineup card, I took the night off along with Pudge.

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I was devastated when Pudge left in 2002, and Pudge’s departure led to a period of rebellion in my life. I asked my parents to buy me a Yankees hat, and for a short time, I became a Yankees fan. It didn’t help that we lived in Tennessee at the time, where we rarely – if ever – saw the Rangers on TV. This all changed in 2003, when we moved to Dallas — the heart of Rangers country. It was impossible to pledge allegiance to the Evil Empire when attending Rangers games was a highlight of the summer.

I would beg my dad to take me to games whenever possible, and my love for this game and this team grew to new heights. The early-2000’s Rangers teams were among the worst in baseball, but that didn’t stop me. One of my earliest baseball memories is standing on my upper-deck chair during a mid-July game that the Rangers were losing 9-2 to the Royals (another of baseball’s worst teams at the time), screaming my heart out to the at-bat hitter, Doug Glanville. He hit a solo home run to make it 9-3. I like to think he heard me.

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After we moved to Oklahoma in 2005, we were no longer within 45 minutes of the Ballpark, yet my love for the Rangers and for the game of baseball as a whole kept growing. I joined my dad’s fantasy baseball league and placed third as a 12-year-old. My dad took our family to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati in 2006, then to Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in 2008. On a trip to Wisconsin and Utah in 2011, we managed to sneak in a trip to Coors Field in 2011. Also, as you can imagine, we managed a few trips to Rangers Ballpark every year, back when Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young were in their prime.

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I could talk for hours about my memories of baseball growing up. I could tell you about our 2009 trip to Rangers spring training, where I stood in line to get an autograph from Josh Hamilton, who was near one of the practice fields getting ready for the afternoon’s game. As I stood in line, I watched a pitcher on the field wearing the number 45 on his back running a pick-off drill. I wasn’t sure who he was, but I decided to get his autograph anyway. I could barely make out his signature on the ball: Derek Holland. Little did I know that he would pitch almost nine innings of shutout baseball in the World Series less than three years later.

I could tell you about the time we purchased tickets to Game 3 of the 2010 American League Championship Series to see the Rangers and the Rays play in Arlington on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I could confess to you that I sat in the upper deck holding back tears most of the game, imagining what it would be like to see the team with which I had grown up win its first playoff series ever. I fantasized about telling my kids and grandkids one day what it was like to witness that celebration in person. A Carl Crawford home run in the ninth inning ruined that fantasy, but victory still tasted sweet as I watched a Game 5 win at home in Oklahoma.

I could go on and on. I could tell you about meeting my hero, Pudge Rodriguez, before a late summer game against the Tigers and getting his autograph. I could tell you about sitting through a two-hour rain delay in 2011 to watch the Rangers beat Verlander and the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALCS. I could even tell you about my first kiss, which happened in Parking Lot N west of the home plate gate at Rangers Ballpark! So many of my best memories are wrapped up in this game and this team.

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One of my fondest — and most recent — memories at Rangers Ballpark came April 11, 2014. I had been dating a girl named Mary for about a month and a half, but something inside of me was already telling me that she was the one. So, on a Saturday two weeks before finals, we made a quick trip to the Metroplex to see the Rangers play the Astros. She had never been to a major-league game before, and I hoped she would fall in love with baseball and the Rangers, just like I had.

To this day, I’m not sure if my dream came true, or if she realized that the Rangers and I would always come as a package deal. But her first game certainly was not her last!

 

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We look forward to continuing that tradition, and adding to the list of the stadiums we’ve visited together, which is already nine ballparks long (Note: If you find a woman that will put up with that much baseball, hang onto her and never let her go. Also, make sure she always gets her favorite snack at the games.)

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In reality, baseball is a silly game.

Throwing, catching and hitting a small, white rock has little bearing or effect on the big picture of life. I’ve been to hundreds of baseball games in my life, and with a few exceptions, I don’t remember scores or stats.

What I do remember is who I was sitting next to.

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Although it’s easy to get too high after a win, or too down after a loss, the pain rarely lingers longer than a few hours, and never longer than a few days (Yes, even the ’11 World Series and those Blue Jays losses…mostly). When I look back on my fandom, I don’t celebrate wins or mourn losses. Instead, I cherish memories made with family and friends, and thank God for the opportunity to spend time with the people who mean the most to me.

To wrap this post up, here’s my ranking of the 16 stadiums I’ve been extremely fortunate to visit in my 23 years. I look forward to, one day, crossing all 30 ballparks off my bucket list.

16. Coors Field – Colorado Rockies

15. Progressive Field – Cleveland Indians

14. Petco Park – San Diego Padres

13. U.S. Cellular Field – Chicago White Sox

12. Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros

11. Citi Field – New York Mets

10. Marlins Park – Miami Marlins

9. Safeco Field – Seattle Mariners

8. Angels Stadium – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

7. Great American Ballpark – Cincinnati Reds

6. Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City Royals

5. Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Busch Stadium – St. Louis Cardinals

3. AT&T Ballpark – San Francisco Giants

2. Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs

1. Globe Life Park in Arlington – Texas Rangers (Root, root, root for the home team)

My Trouble with To-Do Lists

Ministry can be challenging, especially for somebody like me who values productivity. This is not to say that I’m the poster child for productivity – there are many days when I feel like I have done far too little! 

What I mean to say is that I am, in a way, addicted to productivity. I judge a day based on how much I get done. I put off rest so that I can achieve more productivity, thinking that present work will lead to future rest. Rarely, if ever, does this happen like I expect. 

If your goal in ministry is to complete a to-do list, you will never stop working. There is always one more lesson you can study for. One more event you can start planning. One more phone call you can make. One more note you can write. One more book you can read. So much more that, if you’re not careful, you begin to sacrifice the things that really count. 

As somebody who prioritizes productivity, I find myself gravitating towards the things in ministry with tangible results. Things like, giving a lesson that demands students’ attention (and by this, I obviously mean giving a lesson and never seeing a student looking down at their phone). Planning an event where everything goes as planned. Having a groundbreaking heart-to-heart with a student on the fringes. Things that we, as ministers, file away on our mental wall-of-fame that we look at from time to time when we need a pick-me-up or reminder that we belong in ministry. 

All of these things are great, but if this is where I find my sense of belonging in ministry, I have “rejected my first love,” to quote the words of Jesus in Revelation 2. 

The hard truth that I’ve recently had to come to grips with is, the most important task of a minister is not one with tangible outcomes. It’s not one that many people can – or will – hold you accountable for. It’s not one that offers instant fulfillment or satisfaction for a productivity fanatic like myself. But it is the ultimate purpose of mankind, not only for somebody in ministry, but for all people everywhere. 

We MUST take care of our hearts. We must carve out a place for Jesus that faces competition from nobody or nothing. We must devote ourselves fully and passionately to his purposes for our lives. Finally, as somebody in ministry, I must find my sense of self-worth in my relationship with Jesus, and not from any status or accomplishment that ministry has to offer me. 

Most of us know the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at the well in John 4. Jesus compares the Christian walk to the process of seeking water when thirsty: some draw from a well that offers temporary fulfillment, but eventually leaves one feeling empty and thirsty. He presents himself as the better alternative, as one who offers lasting satisfaction. 

Truth be told, many of us know this passage and fail to apply it. We may not have had five husbands, but we look for fulfillment in all the wrong places. Because of this, we never find true joy or happiness. Jesus’ challenge is for us to not only give up sin, but to give up our own sense of satisfaction. What he has to offer, he assures us, is far better. 

If I look for a sense of meaning in productivity, I’ll find disappointment. If I look for my self-value in ministry, I’ll have bright and happy days, but I’ll also have dark, gut-wrenching days. If I find my purpose and status in my relationship with Jesus and as a child of God, I’ll be drawing water from a well that will never leave me feeling thirsty or empty. 

And although it will never be an item I can cross off a to-do list, it is the most productive decision I can make.