Many years ago a minister in Houston, Texas, Rev. Drew Garner, picked up the phone and called me in Illinois to encourage me in my spiritual journey. Drew is still a unique guy and a man who has always loved younger ministers and reached out to them as a true friend. He visited in our home, preached in my former church, and to this day calls me to see how I am doing now and then. He especially likes to call when it is sub-zero in Chicago. (I return the favor when it is really hot in Houston in July!)
Through my friendship with Drew I was introduced to his son, Phil, who was at that time a star for the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. (Yes, the Pirates once had great baseball teams!) Today Phil is the manager of the Houston Astros, who won the National League pennant in 2005 and came within one game of making the post-season again last season. Next month Phil turns 58 so we are the same age and we both grew up in Tennessee. (Phil previously managed the Milwaukee Brewers and the Detroit Tigers as a major league manager.) Only in Houston was he given the kind of team that could win and there he has proven his ability to manage successfully when given good players to work with day-in-and-day-out. He has also demonstrated time and time again a rare knowledge about this great sport and a deep love for this game. He is demonstrable, passionate and extremely intelligent in the broadest sense.
Today Phil spent a good bit of time, after batting practice, visiting with Stacy and me through the screen behind home plate. It provided us both that rare glimpse into the game that few are allowed from the outside of the sport. Phil can discuss almost any subject intelligently and communicates with a rare ease. He also happily signed a picture that we took last year in Chicago with Phil standing by my granddaughter. This will be a treasured present for her, my newest, and maybe the biggest, baseball fan in the family.
Phil and I talked about the economy, culture, religion, politics and baseball. It was a great way to end this little spring fling that has refreshed me with a few days away from the cold Chicago climate. Tomorrow reality sets in as we fly back to the Windy City. All good things must come to an end, or at least in this life they must. What a joy to think that the day is coming when no good thing will be missed and life will be full and completely satisfying, without sin, sickness or sorrow. Until then we make do, by living faith in Christ and by enjoying God’s good world, which includes this great sport of baseball. I feel badly for those of you who think this is a dull, slow, and boring game. It is the quintessential thinking game for those who understand it. And everyone who knows the game at all likes to pretend they know more than the manager, thus the boos and/or cheers for his every decision. In Phil’s case I know for sure that I don’t know more than he does so that made this day even more fun.
When I was a young boy, struggling with God’s calling on my life, I asked my mom, "If I follow God’s will in my life will he allow me the pleasures that he has given to me in things like baseball?" She wisely said, "If this is how he wants to give you happiness and enjoyment he sure will." I so wanted to become a baseball writer but I was plainly called to the ministry. But I have enjoyed the work of the ministry more than I can explain and also many great pleasures through this game of baseball as well. I followed God’s calling upon my life and have discovered that he is good, very good, to all who fear him and affirm that his creation is good. I don’t know if there will be baseball in the new heavens and the new earth but I tend to believe, and I am very serious about this, that there must be.
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