Friday, March 30, 2007

Baseball 2007

Non-baseball fans: You may skip this post and be guilt free. Greg, this means you.

Opening Day isn't until Sunday (Cards vs. Mets), but I'm going to a game tonight, so let the season begin!

The Angels have looked very good this spring. Thanks to I have been able to watch a number of spring games. I think my boys could go far this year. Why? I'm SO glad you asked.

Gary Matthghews, Jr. probably had a fluke season last year and I don't quite get why anybody would BUY HGH but not USE HGH. Still, he unquestionably makes the team better. His center field defense is peerless and his bat is better than The-guy-who-played-third-last-year. Figgins will move to third when his fingers heal and give us a pretty solid batting order. I like Figgy hitting last. I think it brings his average back up to .290.

By the way, my blog is a public record. You may quote me on all of this.

Garret Anderson is healthy again. He looks great. He IS the bat that we were trying to pick up in the off-season. GA hitting behind Vlad is a potent 1-2 punch.

Scioscia continues to impress me. We will continue to steal a lot, go first-to-third a lot, and do all the little things that champion clubs do. I love the value the Angels put on fundamentals. Will we miss Ersty, Salmon, and Kennedy? No question. But Scioscia and Co. will continue to keep everyone doing all the right things.

On that note, how cool is it that Percival is going to sign a minor league contract on Monday so that he can retire as an Angel? There is a team loyalty and respect these days that didn't exist in the old days. Signing Shields long-term is another indication. You have to love it when guys want to stay with your team for their whole careers. By the way, Erstad will always be one of my favorites but I've seen him play this spring too and he's done. Vaya con Dios, Ersty. #17 will always be welcome in the Big A clubhouse.

And what about that pitching? Joe Saunders, a #3 or 4 guy on most clubs, will be in the minors when Colon comes back. Who's he going to bump? Lackey? Escobar? Weaver? Santana? This is one of the best rotations in baseball. What I love about it the most is that when those guys are done, they turn the ball over to Carrasco, Speier, Shields, and K-Rod (who the Fresno Bee identified this morning as "F-Rod." "Frod"???) We have the most dominant closer in the sport and two (count 'em, 2!) great set-up guys. There will be low-scoring games a-plenty this summer in Anaheim (in Orange County near Los Angeles).

The offense is not sparkling. But we are the best team in the division and pitching controls the playoffs. So we could go far. If GA has the year I think he's going to (and Cabrera, Kotchman, and Kendrick), we go a long way. If injuries prevail, we finish second in the division.

There you have it, sports fans. And now, it's a matter of getting through the day so I can pick up my brother, head to Dodger Stadium and catch game two of the Freeway Series. It should be noted that the Angels turned their THIRD triple play of the spring in last night's game. No, it doesn't count in the standings, but Dodgers/Angels is becoming a nice little rivalry, fueled mostly by Arte's name change. Hmmmmm...I wonder if he saw that coming? Then, Sunday night the DVR records the 5:00 game (while Lisa and I work the Mission's Auction) and so the first pitch of the season...which I NEVER miss...will be slightly delayed but in HD which more than makes up for it.

And then Monday night...ahhhhh, Monday night. I understand there will be some sort of basketball game televised that night. Enjoy it. I'll be watching Game #1 of 162: Angels vs. Rangers. ESPN 2. That one counts.

Fer cryin' out loud.....PLAY BALL!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lemony Snicket

I had a chat with Lemony Snicket last night.

If you have NO idea who that is, don't feel bad. It probably just means that you don't have kids, or that you have kids but your kids aren't cool. It's not too late. Don't despair.

Lemony Snicket is the nom de plume of Daniel Handler, author of "A Series of Unfortunate Events." The 13-book series details the misadventures of the three Baudelaire orphans. There is far more tragedy than triumph but the reader can never say that he/she hasn't been warned. Snicket all but begs us to put the books down and find something more palatable. Sadly the writing is too good, the story too compelling, the wordplay too much fun, the humor too...humorous. And so we are sucked in.

There is solace in knowing that we are not alone. Handler is the best-selling children's author in America. And the "America" qualification only exists because of one Ms. Rowling who dwells across the pond. The series has sold over 52 million books. And, oh, did I mention that I had a chat with him last night?

Handler is, as one would expect, pretty darn funny. He was quite experienced at glad-handing all the nice ladies from the Library Association at Fresno State. Also experienced at fending off their thinly-veiled flirtation. I was privy to many conversations among said ladies later and many of them mentioned Handler's "cute little cheeks." I was not there for the cheeks. I was at this private, pre-talk reception because I have a very cool mother-in-law with a lot of pull at CSUF.

I approached Handler with two books. One was for him to sign (my copy of the last book in the series, "The End") and one for me to read between the reception and the talk since I was flying solo on this mission. I had just started Abraham by Bruce Feiler. Handler grabbed it and looked it over. The subtitle of the book is "A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" and he asked if it was talking about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I confirmed that it was and joked that he was welcome to sign it if he wanted. He did, crossing out the scripture reference on the title page as he did. I noticed this later and kept my ears open for other indications of his spiritual bent. There were a few. It became obvious as the evening wore on that Mr. Handler was a lapsed Jew, fitting the stereotype of a 21st Century San Fransican. The disdain for conservatism oozed from each and every pore. Still, he was funny.

After signing "Abraham" (as himself, sadly...the forgery would have been better), he signed his own book: "27, III, 2007 Daniel Handler (allegedly L.S.)" I wandered off and chatted with some strangers (I knew next to nobody at this event but I found that middle-aged, book-reading women are quite easy to converse with...and since I am devoid of cute little cheeks, everything was on the up-and-up). Finally I saw a couple of good friends of my mother-in-law who I knew would want some updates on James. So I sat at their table for a few minutes.

It wasn't long until someone led Handler over to our table. One of the ladies was recovering from knee surgery and her friend was bringing the mountain to Mohammed ("Abraham" may be rubbing off on me). Handler was happy to sit with her and sign all of her books, chatting the while with all of us. The line followed him over and he remained seated next to me for about ten minutes, signing and chatting, chatting and signing. We talked about everything from kid's lit to "Throwing Muses" Oh, and "Hunkpapa." See? I'm conversant.

Soon he was spirited away for a sound check. Due to my mother-in-law's extremely high status in the CSUF cabal, I knew this was coming. Thus when he had to leave 30 minutes before the event was to end, I looked very cool when I glanced around at confused faces and said, "Sound check." At least, that is what I imagine "cool" would look like.

The talk was excellent. Well-written as one would expect. Handler charmed and amused. The kids (and there were many) were delighted as he incorporated audience-members into the talk. There was a brief question-and-answer period filled with exactly what you would expect if you've read any of his work: "Who's Beatrice? What is VFD? Is Lemony going to write any more books?" The answers were: "The woman to whom the books are dedicated. Three letters in the alphabet which stand for things. Yes."

I have to admit to being a little bugged throughout the evening by the crossed-out scripture. That seemed more important than anything else. And my antennae were raised quite high. But what a rare opportunity to get to discuss books you love with the man who wrote them. It was a real treat and I owe Grammie bigtime. If you've never read any books in the Snicket series, I do recommend them. They're not just for fact, Handler obviously has the older readers in mind quite often. They are light and fun but filled with a message that Handler revisited time after time last night: Things don't always turn out alright. Pluck is wonderful. But bad things still happen to plucky people. What really matters is how we handle the tragedy. That defines us far more than the tragedy itself.

Pretty deep thinking from a guy named Lemony.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My Visit

My first four years as a teacher were spent at Yosemite Middle School. I was part of the team creatively identified as "Team 7/8 A." That means that we taught 7th and 8th graders and we were on Track A (as Yosemite was a year-round school). There were 4 teachers on the team and we kept our students for both years of their Middle School lives. Three of the four of us were very close...two of us just beginning our careers.

A group of students came to us at the beginning of the second year that was just special. We all clicked for some reason and by the end of our two years together we were a family. We worked, fought, laughed, and cared together...just like family. We three teachers were as proud and protective of our students as a mother and two fathers, and the kids were fiercely loyal to each other. As a new teacher, I thought the situation was normal. It really wasn't.

To varying degrees, we kept in touch with each other and with those students through the years. One of them even stops by this blog from time to time. Hey, Faline!

There was a pair of brothers that everybody loved. They were smart and funny and kind and jam-packed with charisma. The "mom" of our trio kept in touch with them after they left us and let us know from time to time what was happening with them. Both strayed from the straight-and-narrow, getting involved with gangs, drugs, and crime.

The younger of those two brothers (V) walked into my classroom yesterday. He teased me for a while, making me remember his name. After some 16-17 years, that was no easy task. But he gave me a couple of clues and I finally got there. Then he plunked down his brank-spanking-new diploma on my desk, showing me the reason for his visit.

V had done time for eight years. During that time, he found Christ. When he was released, he went to work for a group called "Hope Now for Youth." He helps guys break free from their gangs and find jobs...and Jesus. In nearly 5 years of this work, he is successful in putting young men into gainful employment, and staying that way, around 85% of the time. V preaches at his church some 3 weeks out of 4. He has been married for two years and is helping raise his brother's kids among others. He's become a tall, strong, good-looking man and I can see why younger men would look up to him. His diploma was for a Bachelor's in Religious Studies. And he's going to go on and get his Master' least.

We caught up for a while and then V asked if we could find someone to take our picture. We did and he held his diploma proudly while I draped my arm around him, just as proudly. He asked me to bless him before he left and we prayed together. I practically begged him to let me know when his group needed help. What a perfect opportunity for the church to live out the words of the Master. As he left, he told me he was off to see the other two teachers from Team 7/8 A.

I know sometimes people wonder why anyone would want to be a public school teacher. Now you know.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good Scents

Apparently, laundry detergent smells.

With the headaches almost a thing of the past and the strange rash finally fading, I am beginning to feel human for the first time in many weeks. I'm nearly over last week's illness and I can feel some energy coming back. In other words, it's time to start reaping the benefits of the surgery.

Benefit #1: My smeller is working again. Last night I did some laundry and when I opened the box of detergent I was almost knocked over by the smell. Man! Is it like that all the time or did we just get a super-smelly box?

The upside here is that it's springtime and there are a lot of things I'm anxious to smell, not least of which is a nice baseball field. The downside is that I spend many days with teenagers. Hey, every silver lining's gotta have a cloud around it somewhere.

(Speaking of pessimism, somebody sent me a bunch of Steven Wright quotes yesterday and this one stuck out: "Always borrow money from pessimists. They don't expect you to pay them back anyway.")

Benefit #2: I'm very hopeful that the daily headaches that I just got used to for so many years may actually become a thing of the past. I can't tell you how excited I am about the thought of going days at a time without my head hurting. I may actually get something done! A bright prospect to say the least.

Benefit #3: It is an awesome thing to be the recipient of much prayer. I know that many, many people have been praying for me. It's a great boon to my faith to be able to feel God's answer in such a physical way. Words can't express my gratitude to everyone who has been lifting me up in this way.

So I may look like a fool for a while, but I'm going to walk around smelling things. And I hope I never take all of those wonderful scents for granted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Still feeling crummy. Blogging anyway.

The first perfect number.

The atomic number of carbon.

Al Kaline...Tony Oliva...Steve Garvey...and of course, Stan Musial.

No, I'm not getting kickbacks from Wikipedia today. I'm just commemorating 6 incredible years that I've been a daddy.

James has grown up so much this year. He is such a little boy. He is the greatest joy that Lisa and I know. We couldn't be prouder of who he is and who he is becoming.

He makes us laugh with his silliness. He impresses us daily with how much he is learning. His prayers are turning from requests for himself to requests for others. He has been so patient and loving while I've been sick and recovering from surgery. He is the greatest earthly gift I have ever been given.

I'm so grateful for him today. God blessed us beyond our wildest dreams when he put James in our family. Happy Birthday my sweet son. I love you so much!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Turning BACK Around the Corner

My 90 degree turn has become a 180.

I was sick last week. SICK. I started feeling better Friday and then broke out all over on Sunday. By the way, preaching with a hacking cough and a growing rash? Pure joy. At least, I counted it that way.

So, okay already. I'll go to the doctor. Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Turning the Corner

The drive to Stanford yesterday was as long and boring as ever. But three things saved the day.

My buddy, Kevin, took the day off work and tagged along. My wonderful wife, bless her heart, was ready and willing, but I wasn't sure how able she was. She got very little sleep over the weekend and she already falls asleep at the first hint of freeway. And when she falls asleep, I get sleepy too. So I pressed Kevin into service. The drive went fast as we had lots to talk about, mostly fantasy baseball. In fact, as we were approaching Fresno on the way back, Kevin was heard to say, "Oh man, we're almost home...we'd better hurry if we're going to get through the rest of this." It's true: good friends always have more talk than time.

The day's second saving grace came when my doctor peered up my nose, a situation I am unfortunately getting used to, and said things looked great. That sounds weird but it was music to my ears. He said it looked like I'd turned the corner as far as my healing went and the procedure was much, much easier this time. And shorter. We drove 3 hours both ways for a 5-minute appointment. But it was well worth it. The headaches are getting better and I'm almost to the point where I'm glad I had it done.

But the real high point of the day was meeting up with three of my former students at Stanford University. One is a junior now and the other two were in my class just last year. They met me on the steps of the bookstore and took me to the student dining hall (which the junior manages) for lunch. We caught up and told stories and generally had a great time. It was just a pleasure to see all of them. Sadly, two of them had Chem class at 1:15 and had to scuttle off, but it was a wonderful lunch.

All that and I still got back to town in time for the worship meeting. Hoorah.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

When Lisa is away, there are a few things you can count on. There will be pizza. There will be cartoons. And James will sleep in our bed.

I had forgotten that last rule. But last night as I toddled off to bed (I'm not sure what that means, but Dad used to say it), I saw his door wide open and remembered his pattern. So I went into our room and saw him, covered him up, gave him a kiss, and got ready for bed.

And so the long night began.

After checking my alarm, I climbed in beside the boy, moved him over so he wasn't completely in the middle, then turned over to sleep. Something was still crowding me so I reached back and felt his huge, disgusting slipper. I tossed it out of the bed, grabbed around until I found the other one and tossed it too. Time to sleep.

No, no, there's still something there. Ahhhh, Wiggly Snaky, James' enormous stuffed snake. Okay, I moved him to the other side, James somehow instinctively feeling the move as he turned with him, clutching Wiggly up to his chin. There we go. Time to sleep.

Relaxing. Calm. Fading. Fading. KICKED IN THE SPINE! Ow ow ow ow ow. Moved him over. Pushed his legs down. Relaxing again. KNEE TO THE TAILBONE! Man! Ow! Pushed him over to the very brink of falling out, pushed his legs down.

And so on. I got punched and jabbed quite a few times and I asked myself quite a few times why I let the boy do this. And then, in the dead of night, a small hand reached over and found my arm. He stroked it a few times and then just rested his hand there, safe with Daddy. This morning, the first thing I saw was his sweet face and bright eyes. And all of the pokes and jabs and punches were forgotten. What a sweet boy.

And, as my eyes came fully open, he began to talk. He was still talking after I dropped him off at school.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Spiritual Warfare

Our perceptions of spiritual warfare are probably as varied as our imaginings of God. One sees Him as the Old Man with long, flowing, white beard and hair...the other sees Him as an amorphous blinding light. One sees angels and demons locked in physical combat, bright swords clanging against crude orcish shields...the other sees flurries of prayer protecting us from invisible, invasive attack.

I don't know what spiritual warfare looks like. I only know it's real. I've been aware of the fighting raging all about me at times. At other times, I've been oblivious until it was over. I've seen Satan win and I've seen him lose. And as the years have gone by, I've gotten better at identifying when the war, which in truth is constantly ongoing, has intensified.

When a man with no previous heart problems gets set to lead a spiritual event but almost dies of a heart attack...then two more workers check into the hospital with possible heart attacks and highly elevated blood pressure; when a woman gets ready to lead the same event only to have her mother die suddenly; when two weekend retreats are met with broken ribs, broken hands, bronchitis, pneumonia, surgery complications, bouts of depression, and sudden workplace problems; when a church decides it is about time to get missional and is beset by a similar group of problems...well, can there be any doubt that the enemy is kicking things up a notch?

Can there be any doubt that he's scared?

I've been here before and I've seen people fold up their tents. I've seen people turn on each other. I've seen people abandon their ideals and give in. I've seen the enemy win.

And I've seen people redouble their efforts. I've seen them realize that if the devil doesn't want something to happen then there is every reason to be sure it does happen. I've seen the enemy lose.

I've learned that the single most important thing to do at times like this is to pray. I don't pretend to know how our prayer actually affects the battle. But I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it does affect it. God is faithful to protect us at these times and the devil will flee when rebuffed in Jesus' name. I beg for continued prayer right now. For the retreat Lisa will be a part of this weekend. For the continuing effects of the retreat I was part of last weekend. For the efforts we are making at College. For the decisions Cecil is helping to make in Florida. For Randy and Brady and Greg and everyone else who has purposed to help their local church be Jesus to the world. For protection from the blatant attacks the enemy is bringing. God's power is far greater and His love for us is perfect. Satan can't win the war. I pray he loses this battle.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Walk to Emmaus

There is a group of people that I met 3 years ago that I know as the Emmaus Community. That group has grown and my love for them has grown as well. If you've been on a "Walk to Emmaus", you understand just how special it is. If you haven't, I hope you take the opportunity someday.

I had the chance to spend this weekend with some guys from this group and to meet some new friends as well. I wasn't feeling great and I was pretty weak. But God gave me the strength to enjoy fellowship with an amazing group. I'm about as tired as I can be today, but so grateful for the things I saw and experienced over the past few days. I can't even express how much I love some of these folks. They have literally changed my life, maturing me and causing me to see Jesus in new ways and, in some ways, for the very first time. My relationship with Christ is what it is largely due to the willingness of these people to allow God to use them to minister to me.

Meanwhile, my church has been taking care of me...lifting me up in prayer...sending me cards and gifts while I recuperate. You truly do get better faster when people are praying and when you know how much they care. This weekend, I was prayed for--by name--at least 8 times and many more times when I wasn't around. So even though I'm tired, my headaches are diminishing, I haven't had a bout of double vision in almost a week, my doctor says things look good, and last night I slept on my stomach for the first time in over 2 weeks. If you don't think that was pure bliss....

As far as the overbooked appointment on Saturday, I pulled up to the office about half an hour before they opened, the surgeon pulled in next to me about 30 seconds after I arrived and waved me in behind him. They started the procedure at about 8:10 and sent me on my way about 8:35. It hurt. A lot. But I felt so much better after it was over.

This is what we have that other people don't understand...that they need even though they don't know they need it. We have communication with the Creator. We have a Daddy who cares about us and who listens to us. We have salvation and so much more. I shudder to think of life without Christ. I am so blessed to be surrounded by his presence in so many people.

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