Ok: Breather again.
Terry Franconca, the beloved manager of the Cleveland Guardians Major League Baseball Team, is an Aristotelian philosopher of sports. I’ve always taken something from his interviews with broadcasters, especially as he leaves them scratching their heads and totally flummoxed as to how they might respond. Francona never cuts competitors at the knees. There is never name-calling or frustration over an opponent’s win. He is shrewd but open-minded about the opponent such as when he admitted the Guards had to find a way to pitch to Aaron Judge, the Yankee homerun king. It’s up to us said Francona to find the right pitch because “He’s too dangerous.” In game five of this year’s post-season playoffs with the Yankees, Francona chose not to challenge a call in which a Guardian was clearly safe at first even as verified by the judges of replay. He as much as said, it wasn’t worth challenging given all the other considerations to be made. Maybe it was a bad decision on his part, but Francona thought it was right to accept the call preventing what might have become a combative explosion.
Later, in a brief dugout interview, a broadcaster asked Francona if the Guards could pull ahead as they did in memorable game three where they scrambled to overcome a losing score in the ninth inning and win the game. Francona said they would pull ahead in this one too; the guys are determined. We are ecstatic when we win, he said, “and when we lose, we bleed.” He walked away from the interviewer, head down, hoping a win was coming. One of the national broadcasters said he had never heard a remark like that from a manager and he “will never forget it.”
This says a lot about Terry Francona and his team. Most assuredly, he is headed for the Hall of Fame. But accolades aside, here is a man who brought the best out of his players and has often called the game ‘fun,’ and his players, ‘skilled,’ and ‘talented.’ In the past ten seasons the team made the payoffs 6 times. Ours is what reporters have taken to calling a ‘scrappy team.’ We are currently fourth lowest in payroll with the youngest roster in the Major Leagues. Our star hitter, Jose Ramirez, could have gone elsewhere this year for more money but he explicitly said he wanted to stay in Cleveland. He became a model player for the many rookies we took on. But, why the ‘bleeding’ from a loss? Broken hearts. For sure, it’s broken hearts. Young, scrappy players who poured everything on the field beaten by an established, all-too-frequent champion in a city who lathers its team with endless flowing cash and rabid fans. Cleveland is a city that is always building from the bottom up; New York is always re-building from top down while looking for space. New York does not have a lot of room to expand and build in new places as does Cleveland. Maybe that’s a metaphor for the baseball teams of both cities. New York may have to stabilize a high-rise of salary allurements while Cleveland will have to expand and build a great team on what it has already: a lot of heart. Even if it is bleeding now.
I’ve heard it said that baseball is the thinking person’s sport. And then, I’ve heard it is the ‘gentleman’s’ or now ‘gentlewoman’s’ sport. I do think it’s a bit of both. It has more numbers than an honors calculus class and it can surround every summer’s day with moments of leisure and lemonade. But it requires precision from its players as well as strength and athleticism. Most of all, it requires from them community, teamwork and congratulatory deference to every person who does something exceptional in a play. There is no place for jealousy or angry criticism.
I wonder about our treatment of the communities to which we belong whether it be family, religious community, or parish. It might be helpful to ask if we practice what we expect our ballplayers to practice as team players. Perhaps we can close the season thinking of some reflective questions:
I love to see my team shake each other’s hands and jump for joy when something great has happened on the field. Do I really welcome people coming into or joining my church? Or do I prefer to keep my head down so as not to ‘waste time’ getting caught in a conversation, especially as I walk to the parking lot?
What kind of team player am I when the parish asks for volunteers, and I say no immediately? Where am I when a neighbor is going through a hard time? Jesus believed and taught that our lives as God-centered must be lived in community. What communities do you belong to and how do you see your self in those communities?
Thanks to the Guardians for a great season! Rest well. See you next summer. And congratulations to Aaron Judge, the Yankee who broke the home run record this summer beating Roger Maris’s long-standing record. Baseball aficionados might argue about another player breaking the record several years back but it was done during the time of doping among sluggers so I accept Judge’s achievement as the real record!