Monday, December 31, 2012

Back to the Cages

When I was still playing baseball, one of my favorite places on the field was the batting cages. It was a place of great solitude where I could work, sometimes endlessly, on the mechanics of my swing. I loved it for the feeling of working hard towards the goal at hand: to perfect an imperfect swing. Looking back, the hours and hours spent were not worth it because it produced a certain number of hits or success in the games, for many times it did not. Rather it was the process of preparation that made the cages so powerful. Without the cages, any accomplishment on the field that I experienced would have been less meaningful, because it would have come without knowledge of the sweat and blisters from the preparation.

I am now three and a half years removed from the last baseball game that I played and a full semester into my two year MBA program at Rice University. As the years have passed since I have placed the bats away in my closet, the more I realize that this preparation process that I love so dearly is not isolated to a batting cage. I have found that I enjoy Business School because the entire two year program is a 'preparation' for the next steps in our careers. Every class, test, teammate, company informational, and project brings value to our educational and leadership development. The pursuit of this new goal has been so enjoyable but if left to this end alone, it would be only temporal and superficial.

I know within my chest there is a desire to seek my own glory, honor, and wealth. This self-centered goal does not bring peace, but with it comes anxious preparation and the fear of failure. How small and short sighted my goal would be to pursue a MBA for only this one short vapor of a life I am living. Thankfully, the mercy of God in Christ is greater than my selfishness and sin, and I've been set free with new eyes and a new heart because of the cross. Because Christ has saved me from death, the passion I have to pursue excellence stems out of the desire to worship Him in all things.

One day Christ will make all things new (Rev 21:5); until then He is restoring the world to Himself, and it is for His glory that I want to be a part of that redemption, a part of that pursuit. Yes, my time in Business School will be spent preparing, learning, and growing...oh, but it will be for something so much more meaningful than that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Oh The Places You'll Go.....

"One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure."

-William Feather

One of the greatest blessings of playing baseball over the past three seasons has been getting to travel all over the country. Another player might view the traveling we do as a means to an end to play a game of baseball, but I see it as an opportunity to see, experience, and enjoy all that a place has to offer. I have found that you get out of something what you put in, and for those of you who know me, I like to throw my whole heart into things.

Now, you might be asking when does he have time to do anything when he plays 140 games in 152 days, and the answer my friends find a way! I have lost sleep occasionally, almost missed the bus for a road trip once or twice, but in the end it's worth it for the memories. More than the wins and losses, it's these moments with my teammates and host families below, along with many others, that will etch the walls of my memory for years to come...

On the beach in Vero Beach, Florida

Cliff jumping in Ogden, Utah

At Bear Lake, Utah with my host family from my first season

Swimming in Lake Michigan with my host family from the last two seasons

Canoeing with Paul De Pree on the Rifle River in Michigan

Hiking Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, AZ

Hot Air Balloon ride with my roommate Jordan over Midland, Michigan

At Wrigley Field watching the Cubs play in Chicago

Maybe Dr. Seuss was right all those years ago...?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fireworks and Freedom

Independence Day! For many, this day of celebration means picnics, boat rides, 3 day weekends, and special memories with friends and family. But for a minor league baseball player, the 'show' must go on. I have spent many July 4th's on a diamond all over the country, this year being Fort Wayne, IN. Even though we play 140 games throughout the season there is something extra special about this one. The stands are always packed with a sell out crowd anxious to watch America's favorite pastime as well as the one tradition that is shared by all, fireworks!

Following the game, I stayed in the dugout to watch the beautiful array of colors, patterns, and explosions from a front row seat. As I sat there I began to think about the celebration at hand. Two teams, thousands of fans, and all the stadium employees sharing the joy of our freedom together by looking up in 'awe and wonder'. In that moment there was nothing else that mattered; who got a hit that night, which pitcher won the game, what our record was on the year, or all the frustrations that this life brings. Just the excitement of the fireworks being shot in the air in response to what happened on July 4th, 1776. Not to sound cliche, but it was kind of a 'freeing' feeling.

In the hotel room that night I began to think about this being bigger than just a few cracks and pops in the air. I wonder what would happen if I just stopped and celebrated my freedom more often? Not freedom that can be given and taken away at the hands of men, but a freedom that is eternal. When I get anxious, frustrated with situations, or just overwhelmed with something, if only I just stopped and celebrated my freedom. In the same way as that 'freeing' feeling that watching fireworks brings, there is a weight lifted when I realize all that was done for me and given to me by the One who gives us the only freedom that we're looking for.

July 4th is just one day a year, it ends and the fireworks are put away until next year...

The freedom I'm talking about, makes me look 'awe and wonder'!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thirsty Thursday's

Let me share with you a great revelation about professional sports: you play in front of fans. Now, after such an astute observation you are probably wondering where did Parker receive such incredible teaching and instruction to form in him such wisdom and insight? The answer my friends is Texas A&M University, but I will save that for another day. WHOOP!

Playing in front of fans is true. All kinds. From the cute 5 year old who is experiencing their first baseball game to the elderly couple that makes their nightly outings begin and end with our games. I have experienced so many different types of people through the years, but for the sake of being politically correct, I will strictly say that minor league baseball brings out the best of them. However, there is a certain fan that I would like to share with you about..."today we salute you, 'Thirsty Thursday' fan."

While most fans come to the park to enjoy the game, you come for the dollar beer special. Grabbing two in each hand, you slide into your seat with the sly smile of a weasel as you begin your night of heckling the opposing team. No matter the family with three young kids that are sitting to your right, or the young couple on your left trying to enjoy a date night out, you fill the air with loud obscenities and crude phrases. You withhold nothing as the innings and beers continue to add up, and the more you scream the better the game is. Whether it is about the players looks, performance, or just the guy at the end of the dugout that won't leave your mind, you come with the perfect punch lines. Never stopping to notice people moving away from you or seat attendants pleading with you to be more courteous, you spur on the home team with vigor and gusto. In a place made for friendly entertainment you become the the entertainment and fill the memories of one and all....and for a blogger like myself none the less. So grab yourself another beer on behalf of the sheer brilliance of every Minor League Park who uses this promotion, and we'll see you next Thursday night!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reading Rainbow

I never thought all those years ago when I watched that show in my pajamas after nap time that I would enjoy reading as much as I do today, but given all the free time we have here it has become one of my favorite hobbies. (If you don't know what I am talking about, google Levar Burton, and you seriously missed out on your childhood experience.) But free time you ask? That is correct.

On a normal home game we will arrive to the field around 1 o'clock and besides hitting in the cage and getting some treatment if you are nursing an injury we will have around 2.5 hours or so to just hang out in our locker room and lounge area before hitting batting practice. In addition to that, following batting practice we will have around an hour and a half before we have to be out for the game. A lot of the guys will play cards, watch whatever is on t.v. in the afternoon which could be anything from a hunting show, Sportscenter for the 5th re-run that day, or a movie, or they will make a few phone calls to catch up with family and friends back home. Personally, I have found that if you don't stimulate your mind somehow then the routine of this life will really start to get to you. Outside of the occasional phone call and writing an email or two, which I really enjoy doing, I love to read during that time.

Something interesting that I have noticed over my three years of doing this is that when you have a few readers on the team, it spreads like wildfire. It just takes a book to be read by one or two guys and then instantly it is passed around the team with a waiting list formed for guys to get their hands on it. I thought I would share with you one book that has been passed around our team recently. It is called Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton. It is his story of being drafted 1st overall in the 1999 MLB players draft before succumbing to the addiction of drugs and alcohol which eventually drove him away from the game. He shares very candidly his amazing story of how after being out of baseball for two years Jesus changed his life, and freed him of his demons that had chained him for so long. He returned to the game he loved and is now one the best in the big leagues!

I have yet to see one of my teammates take longer than three days to read that book...even if they haven't read one in over a year. There is something inside them, in me, that loves the idea of redemption and of a baseball player getting a second chance in a game that has so few. I believe it's deeper and for all of us when we think of his story; the question being posed is "am I really redeemable?" To that I say, "yes my dear friend, you are!" Thank you Jesus!

Happy Reading

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cotton Candy, Beer, and a Proposal

Clinton, IA, home of the Lumberkings which is minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Sitting just on the west bank of the Mississippi River sits one of the oldest stadiums in all of Minor League baseball, Alliant Energy Field. Built in 1937, this historic site has hosted thousands of baseball games throughout the better part of the 20th century. Given all the games that have been played here and all the players that have had the blessing to compete between it's lines, I'm sure the stories are endless. Well...I have one to add to the list!

Just before the seventh inning of a game two nights ago, I was eating some peanuts on the bench talking with a teammate, and I heard a voice over the P.A. system that didn't sound like the announcer. It was a young man speaking of his love for a girl and I froze. Before I could find out where this was happening on the field, I immediately realized what was about to happen. Have you ever been in a moment when you see a car about to get in a wreck or a collision waiting to happen on a football field, where you actually cringe in anticipation of the moment of truth? So, the brave young man falls to a knee in front of the 1200 fans, two teams, a few umpires, and a million bugs that decided the lights of the stadium meant they were welcome at the game too. Now I am not dismissing the fact that these two love birds could very easily have met at a Lumberking game, had their first date there, or maybe they both grew up in Clinton and had gone to games here their entire lives and this was just an appropriate way of capitalizing this once in a lifetime moment. Though I wonder, what is it about the game of baseball with all the players covered in grass and dirt stains, crazy fans eating cotton candy and drinking beer, and the screaming kids that makes it so romantic?

In fact, once when I was in Ogden, Utah where I played my rookie season in 2007, I actually took part in a wedding ceremony at home plate right before the first pitch of a game. Our whole team stood in two lines facing each other and formed a 'bat' tunnel and the bride walked from the on deck circle through it to get to home plate for the quick ceremony. True story. Guys, if you are near that decision time and want to make a memory that will last a lifetime...and give stories for the rest of us...find your nearest baseball field and make her dreams come true!

Oh, and the girl from Clinton said yes!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Dirty Jock?!?

Something that makes baseball so unique is the vast amount of failure that is involved. In fact, it is just as much a part of the national pastime as the peanuts and cracker jacks. You have a round bat, hitting a moving round ball, with only 4/10 of a second to make up your mind to swing or not, as well as 8 players out in the field waiting to get you out. If one connects with the ball and finds green grass and not another player just 3 out of 10 times then he is considered very sucessful. But logistics reveal that even if a hitter does everything perfectly he will still get out at times. Due to the nature of the 'lucky' breaks that a player gets when a batted ball becomes a hit, it creates an entire plethora of weird superstitions to keep the 'baseball gods' in your favor.

On my team there have been guys who haven't washed their jock strap for 2/3 of the season, worn different colored socks than the rest of the team under their pants, used the same torn batting gloves, not shaved if things are going well, and others who have eaten Reece's Pieces, pizza, or a Red Bull before every game. Certain pitchers on our team will walk around the mound a certain way before they pitch and another kneels down and sniffs the grass behind the mound to get ready. These are just some of the many weird tactics that fill every baseball team in every league dating even back to high school. Personally, I don't believe in superstition, but I do believe in routine. Call it what you want, but I do many things the exact same way every day. I keep my locker in the same order, I use certain cleats and batting gloves for warm ups and different ones for the game, I run to center field before each game and push the wall before slapping it four time, and then when I get ready to hit I always rub the pine tar stick on my bat before doing the exact same warm up every time I am in the on deck circle, and I never step on the white chalk lines. Do I believe that any of these things will get me more hits, heavens no, but you will find me doing all the above every game in fear of breaking my routine. Or do I really believe in the 'baseball gods' deep in my subconscious and I'm only kidding myself when I say I don't? Who knows, but I did grow a mustache once, played well and thus kept it for almost a month.

The one other thing that I find with many baseball players, is that God is thrown into the superstitions. All you have to do is turn on the T.V. and see players point to the sky after hitting a home run, striking out a batter, and winning a game. I am all for honoring the Lord with our success, but the only problem I have is that when was the last time you saw a player point to the sky after striking out, making an error, or giving up a home run? Do we really want to honor the Lord, or do we want to get what He can give us in terms of success on the field? Just some thoughts, but truth be told baseball is so mental that players will do anything to be confident...anything!

So, next time you watch a baseball game look a little closer and see what you can find as far as 'routines' of certain players. Seriously, where else in life does one believe they will be successful because of eating a certain type of candy before going to work?