Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hard time talking baseball, BassAckwards, and Eagles?

I'm in Atlanta doing a dream job as an analyst for Fox Sports South.  It's not as easy commentating right now as it has been in the past, and it's not because the Braves are currently 27 games below .500.  Talking about baseball is difficult right now because I lost my voice.  

"How did you lose your voice?'' you may ask.  I lost my voice yelling while coaching a Tball All-Star team.  Let me clarify that most of the yelling was me trying to make my voice heard over the parents on both teams "cheering." That "cheering" was more coaching from the stands, but that's what parents do.  What coaches do, is try to direct, and to do that, I crossed the line into yelling.  Whether it's yelling TO or AT five-year olds really doesn't matter, either is ridiculous!  It is asinine, and it has left me with no voice trying to talk about real baseball pondering where we've gone wrong.

I've thought a lot over the past two days about this. I've gone way further in my thinking than I thought I would.  (See when I'm forced to be quiet I can actually sit back and think)

Our society as a whole is bassackwards when it comes to our kids.  Think about it.  We are setting world records left and right for "youngest child ever to _______." 

Check your Facebook feed, and you'll see things like "5 year-old Pele" "Pint sized Steph Curry" and one I saw today, "Mini Thor is just as dangerous as Noah Syndergaard."  

It's not limited to sports parents.  It seems like everyday there is a new piano prodigy, chess wiz, or singing sensation that goes viral.  Are talented kids a bad thing?  Absolutely not!  Do I think parents being proud, even bragging, about their kids is bad? Of course not.  I just posted this picture myself to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! (Way to go Jake!)

So where's my problem?  I think my problem comes as I look at the kids that are now 15-18 years old.  Stay with me please!  We push and push our 4-11 year olds, but as our kids get older somehow we accept laziness and mediocrity.
Extreme Example:  A parent wants to raise the next Taylor Swift.  The now 15 year-old daughter didn't get 100,000 views on her latest cover of 'I Will Always Love You' on her YouTube channel. She feels like a failure because she had 250,000 views when she sang the same song as a toddler. The 'prime years' to make it big are gone.  The dream is over.  The child has now accepted she is just average, and the parents to make up for the guilt of dragging their daughter to 6 dance classes a week and making the girl sing bars in the mirror every night before bed even though she wanted to read 'Good Night Moon' as a little girl, let her be and feel average.  They accept the fact that it's hard to get A's in high school, and almost impossible to graduate college in 4 years.  After finally getting her degree at twenty-four, in this economy there is no job worthy of her degree so she's living at home finding herself.
This scenario plays out in varying degrees in a lot of areas, but let me circle back to what I know well, youth baseball. There is a fear that if a kid is not the best in Tball, he will never make the high school team.  If they don't make that team, they cannot ever achieve 'their' dream of making the majors.  So parents push.  They push to year-round baseball.  They push and pay for hitting lessons for 7 year-olds.  They push and become "team hoppers" so their kid can play short and bat 3rd, because if their 9 year-old is an outfielder they'll never make it.  They push the child away from a game that I love, and that angers me.  
Steve Springer nails it in the video linked below.  "Kid’s are quitting…because they’re playing with tension anxiety and pressure instead of calmness, toughness, and focus created by a little bit of funness."
I know funness isn't a word BUT IT SHOULD BE, and to the parents of 'Mini Thor' if you want your kid to grow up like the real thing, he'll need to struggle though certain aspects of high school (he didn't make varsity until his junior year), sign with Dallas Baptist as a hitter (according to Syndergaard's Wiki page the only offer he received), but have him come into his OWN as a senior after gaining nearly 15 MPH on his fastball.  

I hear some grumbling as you read this.  "You played baseball for a living. Don't lie to us and say you weren't pushed.  Your brother, Jonny, is an accomplished singer, surely he was pushed." 

I will never tell you we were not pushed.  I will tell you that we were pushed hard!  We just were not pushed in the ways parents are pushing kids today.  

Jonny wrote a couple of songs in high school, but didn't record a thing until he was 19 years-old.  He gave up his baseball scholarship he had at Florida State, took some friends to Texas over Christmas break his freshman year, and recorded an independent CD.  He spent the next four years of his life playing any show he could to help pay for college.  He was not on a parental 'full ride.'  Jonny had options, he could work at the Gap, he could cut lawns, or he could grind it out as a struggling musician/college student. What he could not do was join a Fraternity on my parents money or spend 7 years getting a 4 year degree.

For more of his story here's a great interview with CBN

My story is the same but different.  I told my dad and my high school baseball coach I wanted to play college baseball when I was 16.  With that statement I was met with a deal from my dad.  I could forgo the summer construction job I had done the previous summer as long as I spent those hours working toward playing baseball.  I had options.  I could lift weights, hit baseball, long toss and run, or I could go back to cleaning PortaPotties or find another summer job.  What I could not do was hang out with my friends doing nothing. 

You see we were pushed the same way an eaglet is pushed when it's time to leave the nest.  It's really amazing the way things in nature get it.  The mother eagle will literally make it uncomfortable to stay.  She will take out all the soft feathers she spent weeks assembling to allow the sticks to poke her now able children out on their own. Those same soft feathers were very carefully placed to make the nest as soft and safe as possible for her helpless eggs and babies.  When it is time for a mother to protect she does with all her might, but when it is time to challenge her offspring, she meets that task head on too.

If I have not totally messed this blog up I think you'll get where I'm going.  Our 'nests' are way to prickly and hard right now for young kids.  We are expecting excellence when we should be rejoicing in messiness.  We are frustrating and exasperating our kids by expecting things from them God never designed them to do.  As a Christian father I have to repent of this.  I am specifically commanded not to do this:

Colossians 3:21  Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they 
                become discouraged. 

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring    
                them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

In the same way though, our 'nests' have become too soft and comfortable for our older kids.  I am asking us to stop demanding perfection from our young kids, but I am challenging us to call our older children to greatness.  I do not mean fame or riches!  I am  looking for character, passion, and work ethic. 

Coach Carpenter, the baseball coach I mentioned earlier, once put it this way to me, "MattE, if you pick up trash, do it better than anyone else.  When you're working out alone remember that you're not alone.  Finally, if you want to achieve anything, ask yourself every night before bed if you did everything you can to achieve that goal, and if the answer is no, get up, and go do more."  This is when another Bible verse became real to me.

•  Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for     men

Let me wrap this up.  We are pushing our young kids (for the sake of argument let's call 'kids' anyone who is too young to drive) too hard.  We are expecting adult like performance from them.  We are frustrating them by asking them handle things they were not designed to handle.

We are coddling our young adults too much.  Society is accepting way too much childlike behavior from them.  We are allowing them to behave in a manner that they were never designed to behave.

This is Bassackwards and I'd love your help stopping it!  If you think I'm sounding preachy though, please remember how this blog started.  I cannot possibly preach right now, I'm hoarse from yelling at 5 year-olds!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Best way to Travel Ball?

It's time to face it.  For me, it's difficult.  I'm a traditionalist and I do not like change, but youth baseball has changed.  It has morphed into something hard to recognize.  It feels like it's an all or nothing proposition.  I have set out to find a balance in this change, and believe I have.  Some of the change has been for good and some of it for evil.  I jest about the evil, but there is an element that is a terrible thing to see.  I'll get to that in a bit, but first, the change.

Gone are the days where a kid can show up to a recreational league, go through a tryout with no politics, get drafted by a coach who genuinely knows what he's talking about, play 15-20 games of baseball during the spring and summer and be considered the typical youth baseball player.  The typical youth baseball player today starts in T-ball at age 4 or 5 (sometimes even 3).  By age 7 he's playing close to 100 games per year through his travel ball team, rec ball team and all star team.  I met an eight year old last year who played in two rec leagues so he (or his parents) could choose which all star team to play for.  He was over 150 games on his way to close to 200.  That is not typical, but you get the point.  More kids are playing closer to 100 games per year than 20.  A lot of these kids are practicing 2-3 times per week.  These kids are doing this 9-10 months per year.  That's a lot of baseball!

As the parent of two boys who are coming into youth baseball and the uncle to three who leaving the ages of youth baseball, I've taken a big interest in this new normal.  I've really tried to have an open mind.  Some men I respect as parents and people are some of the best travel coaches in our area.  I see the good.  The kids that play so much baseball are so far ahead of where we were as kids.  They hit the cutoff man at age 7.  They routinely turn double plays by age 9.  These kids play a more real brand of baseball than I ever dreamed of playing at their age.  The kids love it.  I love seeing a group of friends together at a restaurant eating pizza in their uniforms laughing about the previous game.  (even though they all have flat billed hats on, thanks Kris Medlen for adding to that trend!)  There are a lot of good things coming out of travel ball.

There are of course some negatives.  First, kids are getting hurt.  If common sense didn't tell you that more is not always best, there is now scientific proof that physically a kid's body is not meant to do baseball activities as often or for as long as we are asking them to play.  The "Pitch Smart" initiative put forth by Major League Baseball is amazing.  (http://m.mlb.com/pitchsmart)  We are also keeping our kids from developing as athletes.  "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein is a fascinating read.  It does a great job of detailing why sports specialization especially before the ages of 14 or 15 actually can hurt an athletes ability of playing at the highest level in their sport.  It has decades of data to back up its claims.

If health and athletic development aren't reasons enough, this new brand of youth baseball has started turning baseball into a country club sport.  Andrew McCutchen did an amazing job in his blog for The Players Tribune http://www.theplayerstribune.com/left-out/  Recently there was a tournament in my state in a beach town more than 2 hours away.  Three local teams went.  Only one of the teams has any kind of financial aid for their players that I'm aware of to help lower income families participate.  I was told by a mom from another team that their family's out of pocket expenses for baseball for one of her son's in 2014 was over $4200.  There is a reason, we are losing the urban youth to our amazing sport.

So what do we do?  I was faced with this last year.  As the father of a 7 year-old boy and a former major leaguer other parents came to me asking to start a travel team.  My first response was, "are you nuts?  Our kids are seven and eight."  This response softened as the parent's concerns became real to me.  Their thoughts were that if Little Jonny is so far behind other kids in a sport, Little Jonny would be discouraged and not enjoy that sport.  That fear hit home.  I want my boys to enjoy baseball.  I've blogged about my love affair with the sport.  It is one of the three main influences that made me who I am.  I want my kids to play.  It was time to get to work on a new strategy.

I worked hard to find a group of like minded parents.  Notice, I didn't say, "I worked hard to find the best baseball players in town."  These parents wanted their kids to enjoy baseball, grow though baseball, and get better at baseball.  We came up with a plan.  We would all play recreational baseball, but last winter we started practicing two times per month, and playing one tournament each month locally to save on travel costs.  We wanted to help our kids play a better brand of baseball FOR SIX MONTHS ONLY!

It was ugly.  In our first tournament we got run ruled every game.  Kids were stealing on us at will, turning double plays, and even backing up bases on overthrows against us.  The next tourney we actually won one game.  We only went on to only win a total of two travel ball games in all of our first six month season.  We then broke for the summer and fall with the resolve to get back together in the winter.

Something amazing happened when we got back together this past December.  Our kids were faster, stronger, and more mature.  We started our season at the end of December.  We won two games in a very competitive tournament with only three practices under our belts.  In our four tournaments so far this year, we won a smaller tournament, and this past weekend in a very big tournament we came in second.  That was a big deal.  We're number 2 and proud of it.  We lost to a team that may have beat my teams when I was eleven!  I don't know how they come up with these rankings but a statewide ranking system has our group of part-timers ranked #7 in the state.  We will probably never be ranked much higher than this, and that's ok!  We will play our last games of the year in early May.  Some of our kids will play all-stars for their recreational leagues, but by July 4, our goal is that all of our kids will be done playing until December.  Again, we try for only two practices per month and only one tournament a month on top of the recreational schedule for the months of December-May, and it seems to be working.

One last note.  I can hear a lot of parents and travel coaches at this point saying, "I get it, but my kid doesn't get anything out of rec ball.  He has kids on his team that have never played baseball before.  He's getting worse."  Are you sure of that?  Where else can your all-star travel ball playing son be a leader, a teacher, a facilitator?  You cannot manufacture opportunities for your child to be looked up to and asked to help others get better.  Recreational ball is the perfect opportunity for travel ball kids to do this, but if you're playing 120 games per year in travel ball, you child won't have the opportunity to experience this growth as a person not necessarily as a ball player.  

Your child in rec ball also has the chance to broaden his baseball horizons.  On his travel ball team my son primarily plays third and outfield  (all of our kids play at least 2 positions, one infield and one outfield).  In rec ball he gets to catch, play pitcher, first base, as well as the other positions.  Remember me as a below average outfielder for the Braves?  Well before that I was pigeon holed as a catcher.  I would have never thought I would play in the outfield in college or the big leagues, but that's what happened.

I hope this has helped at least start a conversation in your home.  I want to reiterate that I have found the key to doing travel ball this way is the parents!  This can be done inside academies but the academy's primary goal cannot be making a profit or winning trophies.  If that's the case, your child will suffer.  Academies that understand what makes an incredible youth player is not what benefits a player as he gets older and plays in high school are out there.  They may be hard to find, but they are there.   Leslee and I have been blessed with likeminded people when it comes to parenting our kids through sports.  I highly encourage you to find the same support system.  It helps keep us in check when one of our coaches, parents, or even ourselves start taking youth sports too seriously.  We really hold each other accountable.  I pray you can find a sports community like that.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What happens when an unwritten rule is....written?

Today I'm perplexed.  I heard someone say, "even though it's against the rules, in the unwritten rules of baseball all players are ok when a pitcher puts sticky stuff on the ball to help his control."

What?? Help me here please!

First let's get the notion out of the way that what Michael Pineda did was some how allowable by the definition of the rule.  Below I've posted rule 8.02 (b).  It's pretty clear that not only was he in the wrong but Pineda has a ten game suspension coming.

(b) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

Second, let's quickly hit on the often mentioned, "Unwritten Rules of Baseball."  These rules are part of the beautiful fabric of our game.  There's no rule saying that when you ground out that you should run all the way to first base, but there is an unwritten rule that you should, and if you don't out of respect for the game your manager is in the right to bench you.  You should never, EVER, talk about a no-hitter while it's in progress.  You should stick up for your teammates on and off the field.  All players should be in the dugout for the national anthem, and on and on.  (yes, I've broken some "unwritten rules" and payed for it:)  The point is this, the "Unwritten Rules" by nature are not in contrition to written rules, and are for the overall good of the game.

It'd be hard to find a player today to publicly say that those people using steroids should not be punished.  Yet when you have a P.E.S. (performance enhancing substance) illegally used, somehow now it's for the "safety" of other players.  Yes that is a strong stance to compare illegally used pine tar to PED.s but the longer I think about it, the more logical the comparison makes sense.

I coached a travel ball team made up of 13 year-olds this fall.  Many times, the pitchers would get wild.  My pitching coach would jog out to the mound, come back, and the kid would then throw a strike.  I would ask him what he told the kid, and his response was, "I told him to try throwing slower to be more accurate."  Yes, the kid would usually give a hit or two or three, but he was now throwing strikes.  If a high school control pitcher cannot throw hard enough to get drafted, would you recommend him to cheat with PEDs  to throw harder?  I'd really hope not, and in the same way, I'd pray that you wouldn't tell your hard throwers to break a rule to throw strikes. 

Michel Pineda has had his velocity scrutinized by so many since his arm problems last year, and I'm sure he wants to quiet the critics.  But cheating is not the answer.  For former colleagues of mine to come out and insinuate that all baseball players are ok with a pitcher doing this is flat wrong.  That pitcher is trying to get a hitter out.  If a hitter get's out enough, he loses his job.  If any person loses their job because of a blatant disobedience of a rule by a majority of workers in an industry, a serious injustice has been done.  It may be time to tell pitchers what you'd tell a 13 year-old.  If you are so concerned with the other players "safety," learn to throw strikes legally!  At whatever velocity that may be!  It may be time that pitchers velocities come down, and control goes up.  

If MLB doesn't rewrite this rule, it is now it's duty to in force it similarly as they did when they decided to try to restore the games reputation with the cheating of 90's and early 2000's.  The game we all love doesn't have the black eye steroids caused, but it does have some sticky stuff about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high on it's neck, and a clear tacky substance on it's glove hand wrist, and the whole sports world is watching to see if it cleans itself up.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Birthdays! Baseball! and Books?!? (You missed my birthday now get me a present!)

It was my birthday yesterday, and you didn't get me anything, so here's a gift idea!

By the title of this blog you know that I'm about to talk about a book.  Not that I'm holding you hostage with my blog, but I'm purposefully writing this part first before you get to the rest of my blog..It's for you own good, and you can save a life!  There's a book that's come out, an incredible book.  One that outlines the purpose of work, the design of work, the reasons why we do and don't succeed.  It's a funny, easy read, but deeply impactful.  It's called "Breaking out of a Broken System!" by Seth and Chandler Bolt.  The Bolt brothers are two wildly successful brothers on two ends of the work spectrum.  Seth is the bassist for NeedtoBreathe, a full fledged rock star as well as a talented producer, and Chandler is the entrepreneurial one who is a young gun in the business world.

I would love you to  buy this book for yourself as a present to me!  Here's the kicker, the money that Seth and Chandler make from this book is being GIVEN AWAY…ALL OF IT!  And not just given away, but given with a purpose.  Every penny of proceeds goes to Palmetto Medical Initiative.  It just so happens that the profit from one book equals the cost of one malaria pill, that will save a real life!  I saved this fact, because the book on it's own merit is well worth the purchase.  I did not want the great cause of this book to hinder your understanding of how great I think the content is, however, now that you know what you get for your money and what you do with your money, the purchase of the book becomes a no brainer!   #1book1life

On with the blog:

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was my first without being on a baseball team since I was 3 years old.  I love having a March birthday in Florida.  I remember taking my friends to a Tigers spring training game instead of having a party.  I remember watching the Royals play from atop 'The Hurricane' roller coaster at Boardwalk and Baseball back in the late eighties.  My birthdays have always brought great memories, and most of those memories have dealt with baseball.  My first spring training with the Braves was as a guy with no guaranteed job.  The game happened on my birthday.  I hit a homer and had a double in the first game of the year with my entire family there to celebrate.

It may then seem to you like yesterday may have been a let down.  In a sense, I can understand your assumption.  The day was spent crammed away in an office studying for a securities test I have to take later in the week.  I ate lunch in a conference room accompanied by my laptop, course books, and cell phone in airplane mode (I needed it for the calculator).  As I was leaving the office I turned my phone back on, and holy cow!  One of the best birthday memories I will ever have was the seemingly unending ringing in of text messages and voice mails.  It was one of those moments where you feel the love.  Then the day finished with what else baseball and family!  Nathan had a game that I coached, the kids played great and had a blast.  Anna, Jake, and Leslee had snuck my favorite, Boston cream cake, into the house and we crushed it!  So baseball and family were once again part of my birthday, and I wouldn't want it any other way!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Derek Jeter (clap…clap…clap.clap.clap)

It was a blink of an eye.  One stop of many.  Just an attempt to hold on on a minor league deal with a spring invite that didn't last, but I was a Yankee for a spring.  I am going to sound a bit like Crash Davis here, but it was glorious.  I tweaked my back early in camp and had TWO great massage therapist and a chiropractor at my disposal.  I had lost weight that off season and didn't want it back, so the chefs (plural) asked me what foods I liked that were on my healthy list.  It was different to say the least!  We had a GM in a wheel chair from a sky diving accident.  There was a future Japanese Hall of Famer who was also a future MLB Hall of Famer three lockers down.  For crying out loud Al Roker worked out with us!  The thing, however, that stands out the most from this memorable spring was #2, the captain and how he leads more naturally than any person I've ever met.

I've never been big on captains in baseball, but all it took was a brief stint in an exhibition season with Derek Jeter, and I changed my mind.  Before you accuse me of having a man crush, don't bother, I know I have one.  It has absolutely nothing to do with his rumored and famed life off the field.  (in fact, as a Christian dad, when teaching my sons and daughter! about some of the greatest players of all time, I will not even mention his dating exploits :) It had everything to do with the way he commanded the respect, without trying, of every alpha male, in that locker room.  

The very first day of camp, there was a rookie being really loud, and let's just say overly confident.  It was such that my face must have let on that I was really annoyed by it, and the strength coach walked over to me and said, "he'll quiet down as soon as #2 gets here."  Not ten minutes later Derek walks in and the room, and the rookie, came to a respectful noise level and tone.  I don't want to come across that the captain being there made things too serious.  Not at all!  He was a kid at heart.  He has as much fun as anyone playing the game, and helps his teammates do the same.  I think this last story will capture what I'm trying to say:

The first game in spring in a new locker room you're never quite sure what the rules are.  Do all 70 in camp have to stay for the game if they aren't scheduled to play?  If not what level of service time lets you leave early?  If you do stay, and there's no room on the bench is it ok to watch the game on the T.V.s  in the clubhouse?  You can understand my questions now.  So who better to ask but the guy who's been there 20 years.  His locker was only two from mine so it was easy.  Our brief conversation went something like this:
           Me: "He Jete, what are the rules about leaving?"
           Jeter:  "Oh man, you can leave, it's  no big deal around here, and besides, with 70 people in         
           camp who will even notice."

Ten minutes later I was in my street clothes and heading for the door when I hear a voice.  Not just any voice, the voice I spoke about earlier that brings a locker rooms volume down and commands respect.  So I turned around, and sitting at his locker with the wryest smile I've ever seen is Derek Jeter saying, "Hey DYE-az (I think he got a kick out of me saying my last name incorrectly) you just going to leave without watching a single pitch?"  With 140 eyes staring at me, it dawns on me that his whole "who will even notice," speech was a set up for this moment.  I go blank!  I have no answer!  I just walk into the video room and wait a minute and then leave.  (I had seen a player or two already leave so I talked myself into it) 

 By the time I get to my car Jeter is being pulled into his car next to mine on the golf cart (he had a bad ankle so they carted him places).  He hadn't watched a single pitch either, and he was so proud of setting me he could hardly contain it.  I was proud that I was worthy in his mind to be set up.  I no longer felt like just another minor league invite.  I felt like part of the team.  Like I said I didn't last.  I don't think I hit a ball out of the infield all camp, but on the first day of games Jeter didn't know that.  All he knew was that maybe I could help the Yankees at some point that year.  He, without trying, without forcing anything, in a fun way brought me in, by calling me out.  (that only makes sense if you've lived with or been around a bunch of guys but it works!)  

It's no mystery that Derek Jeter will be remembered as one of the greatest players ever.  One of the best on the biggest stages.  But if you ask players one word to describe him, I'm sure the word they would use the word, WINNER.  There's a reason for that.  I would venture to say that talent and leadership have never collided in one person like it did with Derek Jeter in our sports history.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What's next?

     This is a blog that I've known for a while I was going to write.  I just didn't officially decide to write it until last night.  I'm moving on in my life from playing baseball.  Notice, I didn't say, I was done with baseball!  How could anyone who loves the game ever "be done."  And certainly I love the game!  I love the way it taught me to fail and get over it.  I love the way it helped me become the man I am today.  I love the way it's provided for me and my family.  There's so much to love about this game.  I just don't love playing it anymore, and that's how I know it's time to not pursue a job playing this year.      
     When I was talking to my dad about this last night, he said, "you should have no regrets on the field or off of it."  This was a great thing to hear, but really since 2011 I have not been as driven playing as I had before.  And, to be totally honest, this has led to some regrets on the field.  Sure I hustled when I'd put a ball in play, and I'd work out hard in the off season, but mentally, I was not as focused or as hungry as I had been earlier in my career.  That is regrettable!  I knew if I played this year, not only would I have regrets on the field, but I knew I'd have regrets off.  See the pictures below :)  I'm ready to be daddy.  I'm ready to tuck my kids in bed most nights, and if I leave for work, I want Leslee and the kids to be able to be home, not in some rental house in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Orleans, etc.
     These feelings were confirmed as I was saying our night time prayers with Nathan, my oldest, last night, and I thanked God for giving me peace about not playing baseball anymore, and he literally tore the covers off of him and grabbed me in the hardest hug he's ever given me.  With happy tears in his eyes he asked me if I was serious.  So family time is next for me!  But there's a lot more too!
     I don't feel though that I can go any further in this blog without looking back.  There are so many people to thank.  I truly feel that I would not have made it to the big leagues at all or at least stayed as long with out these people and many others.

My Family:  

Leslee, Nathan, Anna and Jake:  The baseball life is pretty cool, but most people don't understand the sacrifices you made to let me do what I loved!  Leslee, you became a single mom 6 months a year, but loved me so perfectly that you let me jump in as Daddy as soon as I came home.  I love you more now than ever, and I still feel like I did the first time I called you after getting called up to the big leagues, "WE made it!"
 Dad, Mom, Zach, Ben, and Jonny:  Everyone of you played a part in making me who I was on the field and off.  Mom and Dad you were my first coaches, Zach, my favorite teammate of all time, and Jonny and Ben the younger brothers that made me want to leave a good example.  While I strived to succeed for the name on the front of my jersey, I never forgot that I represented the name on the back too!  I hope I did it proud.  (even with the few expletives that could be heard on TV :)
Barry, Drew and Ashley:  I have the best in-laws ever!  Drew and Ashley your council after getting sold to Japan in 2007 by the Braves was invaluable.  Thank you for skipping the play you were at to come remind Leslee and me that there was a bigger picture, and baseball was about more than money.  (For those of you reading this Leslee and I ultimatly said no to our first multimillion dollar contract that night, and decided to stay in the states)

My Coaches:

Coach Carpenter:  You taught me so much, I could never fit it all in here.  Please know I love you!
Eleven:  You toughened me up, and helped me become a man on the field, Thank You!
Meat:  You are the most underrated coach in all of college sports, you gave me a weird swing that worked for me.  Thanks for not being a "cookie cutter coach"
Charlie Montoyo, Bill Evers, Skeeter Barnes, Steve Henderson of all the minor league coaches I had you guys stand out.  Thanks for keeping us focused on getting better and not bitter :)
Bob Schafer:  The day you took over as interim manager in Kansas City you called me up, and you were the one who told John Schuerholz that I may be a fit in Atlanta, I'll never forget that.
Bobby Cox: You helped me be better than I ever thought I could be.  You taught me how to lead, and that's one of the most valuable traits I've ever learned.

My Teammates:

There are too many of you to list, but just of few who I cannot go any further without thanking.
Chipper: Why a future Hall of Famer decided it was worth his time to help a career AAA guy still escapes me, but I thank God you did!
BMac, Frenchie, Kelly, Pete, Langy, Huddy:  Some of my best baseball memories are that 2006 season and each of you played a part in making that so fun.  (Kelly even though you were hurt you really showed me how to be a teammate)
Nortey, Hinske, Rossy, Prad:  I sat the bench many nights with y'all and really enjoyed every minute.
Like I said this list could go on forever, just know how much I enjoyed sharing the baseball life with all of you!

My Influencers:

Larry Reynolds, Pat Murphy and Mike Dillon:  You guys set out to have a family like agency, and you have more than accomplished it.  I could never have imagined loving my agents the way I love all three of you.  Larry, thank you for your spiritual and life guidance as much as your baseball wisdom.  Pat, I know there's no one in your profession that works harder or believes in their players as much as you do.  Mike, who'd of thought that a New Yorker and a country boy with a Latino name could become such good friends you are amazing at what you do.  I look forward to continuing my friendships with all three of you!

Matt Kinzer:  At some time in my life you have taken on almost all of the above roles,  Family, Agent, Coach.  You are the HEAT!

Chuck Foss:  Thank you for getting ahold of me early and helping me understand that million dollar contracts don't last forever.  Thank you for setting me and my family up financially for life.  Lastly thank you for believing in me enough to let me come work with you to help others use money as a tool to help them do good for their families as well for projects they are passionate about.

I have missed so many people here.  I appreciate and respect all the clubbies I've ever had.  My video guys, especially you Rob Smith, had to deal with me perhaps more than any other player.  Thank you!  I cannot even come close to naming all the people I want to right now.  

Lastly I want to thank my fans.  It's still surreal to say that.  I had/have fans.  I'm a very average baseball player who enjoyed a lot of blessing and good timing.  The fact that you all cheered me the way you did, especially in Atlanta, will stay with me the rest of my life.  I'm humbled, amazed, flabbergasted etc!  What a ride it's been, but it's not over.

This is the turning of a page.  This makes me sound like a dork, but I've read all the Hunger Games books, and all the Harry Potter books, and in those books it gets so exciting, you literally cannot wait to turn the page.  I actually skip ahead I get so excited to see what's going to happen when reading a good book.  I have never, in my life, been so excited to turn a page as the page I am turning right now.  

As I mentioned before I'm going to work with Chuck Foss at Core Financial.  I will take my series 65 exam within the month.  I've been studying and continue to do so in hopes to help people realize that money is a gift.  It is a good thing, and when used properly "mo money" does not make "mo problems."  Leslee and I will also continue to pursue our passion of helping kids through the Diaz Family Foundation.   Also, I have a broadcast agent who's working their tail off to keep me in baseball.  This is a passion of mine (I actually went to college thinking I'd broadcast baseball long before I could play it for a living).  I have no mixed emotions.  I am completely at peace.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I promise my twitter feed will not turn into family picture time.  I am excited to keep using it to talk baseball with y'all and continue to use it to "glorify God by aiding orphaned and disadvantaged children in Polk County, Florida, and throughout the world!!!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Strong Christian?

I recently heard a quote that hit hard the other day at church.  It was something to the effect of this, "There is not such a thing as a 'strong Christian.'"  Now think about that for a second.  I cannot tell you how many times I've heard this 'strong Christian' as a compliment or adjective.  Parents have thanked me for being a 'strong Christian role model' church gossips have asked me who are other 'strong Christian's' on my teams were, and I've loved both of these.  I love being called strong, and even more that someone thinks that I'm such an authority on this that I am worthy of answering who else fits in this fraternity.

So why if I am so confident that I'm a strong Christian did the idea of someone saying that there is no such thing bother me so much?  Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.  To be a Christian, I must first admit that I am weak!  I must admit that I cannot fix what needs fixing in terms of my disobedience toward God.  I need help!  A strong Christian is indeed a contradiction in terms!

As I've pondered this for the last two days I realized a few things in my life, and I hope maybe my time of confession will help some of you.

1.  The times when I have seemingly been the strongest in my faith are usually the times in my life when I was putting on an incredible front.  Notice the helmet over my mouth as to keep up appearances and not cuss...I promise you there are some amazing words that helmet has heard. :) How ridiculous is that.  I know I don't want kids to hear what I'm yelling, but to go so far as to hide my mouth rather than to work harder to control my tongue is just laziness.  When I get this upset over a job, it is also a form of idolatry, but you'd never know that by my post game comments.  I had to be a good boy and keep up appearances of being strong.

2.  During most of my successes I'm very forgetful.  When I'm in the middle of hitting well, or even if the team I'm on is hot, I buy the lie that I'm some how a big shot.  A few of you have met this version of me outside hotels not willing to sign or something like that.  My quiet times become more of a superstition than a time with my Father.  Earthy success when left unchecked ends up leading a lot of us down this road of narcissism.

So What?  Why write this?  I'm hoping that if this finds you in a weak place today.  If the Christmas time makes you feel helpless and alone, good, admit those feelings.  Reread some of Jesus' greatest words in the Sermon on the Mount.  "Blessed are the meek, poor in spirit, those who mourn."  Not blessed is the 'man who has it figured out.'  You see earlier I said that a strong Christian is an oxymoron.  For this reason I feel that I am correct, the more I see and look at the power of God, the more I understand my weakness.  The more I understand my weakness the more I admit that I am not good enough, I will never have enough, and I will never be strong enough.  In essence as I get to know God more, I'm getting weaker, and that's awesome!

Lastly, in any religion the goal usually is to pattern oneself after the deity worshipped.  In Christianity's case, our God, the one we say was, is, and ever shall be.  Our God we claim made everything by His words alone.  Our God, does not show us his love by over throwing all evil in a mighty show of strentgh, he weakens himself into the weakest form, a baby, and dives right into the chaos.  This Christmas, let's celebrate God's willingness to be weak to ultimatly save those of us who are able to admit we are not strong.  Let's let our weaknesses be seen not hidden this Christmas, and this will let us truly celebrate.

Lord forgive my weakness, but thank you for it too.  Thank you that it ultimatly points me to you, and your strength.  And your strength, God, you never have to fake.