Here in "God's country" we're "Keepin' the Faith!"
Baseball is best known as the national pastime in America. At no time in the history of the grand old game has that been truer than this year when the country and world were fixated with the great home run race between Mark "Big Mac" McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy "Say it's so" Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, those loveable northsiders from the Windy City who once again took their fans to the edge of euphoria only to crash land in the first round of the National League playoffs on a cold night in Chicago in Wrigley Field. As all know by now, Big Mac accomplished the impossible by eclipsing Roger Maris' seemingly insurmountable 61 homeruns in 1961 by clouting 70 dingers in 1998. Sammy also surpassed the former Yankee rightfielder from Fargo, North Dakota with 66 slams to fall four short of McGwire's mark. It truly was a summer of excitement and accomplishments. Lost on all of this was the graciousness and great sportsmanship of both these men and the fans everywhere in the country (we make an exception to those in New York where the term "sports fan" means license to abuse). For once kids had two heroes to look up to who were worthy of emulation. Though McGwire is divorced, he is a good father and family man who was educated in Catholic schools. As for Sammy, he was brought up Catholic in the Dominican Republic and has given thanks to God not by taking the road of the ego-trip over-paid athlete, but by focusing his efforts and attention on the poor victims of Hurricane Georges in his native Dominican Republic even when he was in the thick of the playoffs. This good Samaritan is more respected for that than hammering all those four-baggers onto Waveland Avenue. Let's face it, you can't get into Heaven just by swinging a bat, but you can by going to bat for the Word of God and living the Gospel as best you can. This is Sammy Sosa, our MVCP for the year. We say MVCP instead of MVP for the former stands for "Most Valuable Catholic Player." There were many others under consideration, such as those countless Latin Americans who bless themselves before every at bat, not afraid to openly express their faith, but Sammy lived his faith and, in these days of anti-family sentiment in the media, shoved it right back in the moguls' faces by highlighting his mother. With the love he has for his family and mother who sacrificed so much, do you think Planned Parenthood might try to recruit him for an ad for abortion? Not a chance!!! Thank God for that.
And thank God for this baseball season no matter how it ends. To this editor it is very special because his Padres are in the Fall Classic for only the second time in their thirty year existence. There are many johnny-come lately Pad fans, but don't count this editor among them since he was there in person for the first National League game ever in 1969 at the brand new state-of-the art San Diego Stadium, later changed to Jack Murphy Stadium and then sold out to the corporate malaise of all other stadia with the name Qualcomm along with the coldness of an old stadium where bigger is not always better - though this year it might be with the 65,000 plus crowds packing the Mission Valley edifice. We were there in 1984 in the first row, third deck behind third base when they clinched the pennant against the Cubs in the fifth and final game and again for the second game of the World Series against Detroit when they won their only game. Our boys couldn't experience that exhilaration because Kevin was only two and Cyndi was three months pregnant with Kellin. Now, fourteen years later we were hoping our boys could experience the same euphoria we felt before, but ticket prices have risen so much that one would have to mortgage the future to afford a seat. But no matter, the games are on TV and we can turn down those obnoxious national announcers on FOX, the network for the inane, and tune in our local announcers who, even though they are the Padres' announcers, are more objective than the triumverate calling the game on Rupert Murdoch's network.
You might be asking why we bring all this up? Simply because the slogan of the Padres this year is "Keepin' the Faith!" or in Spanish, "Mantengan la Fe!" Talk about a great motto! San Diego was founded by Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1769 and the efforts and influence of the Franciscans who built the first California mission at Mission de Alcala just a few blocks east of the Stadium in Mission Valley. Chief among the Franciscan Friars was Blessed Junipero Serra. They brought the faith to Southern California to the native Indians there and it was passed down through the generations to all who migrated to the west coast and discovered this corner of paradise which we found in 1968. While serving as an Information Officer in the United States Air Force, I had been transfered from Sioux City AFB in Iowa in February 1968 to Mt. Laguna AFS, 50 miles west of San Diego where one could see the ocean to the west and the great Salton Sea and desert to the east. A love affair began and once released from active duty in 1970 I gained employ with the San Diego Padres baseball club, designing their program covers for the 1970 season and serving as assistant editor of the game programs. Having served as an apprentice in the press box ferrying stats to all the reporters and announcers during the 1965 World Series for the Minnesota Twins while taking my Journalism courses at the University of Minnesota, I was well familiar with the administrative side of Major League baseball. In this nostalgic look back it also provides hope for the Padres who currently find themselves down two to the supposedly invincible and hated Yankees as we write this. In that series the American League team (the Twins) won the first two games at home and were confident of a sweep heading to a far west coast city (LA). Lo and behold, the Bums swept three straight at Chavez Ravine and returned to Metropolitan Stadium up 3-2. Our beloved Twins took game 6 but ran into Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in the pivotal game 7 and, with the help of Lou Johnson's two-run homer high off the left field foul pole, the National League Dodgers escaped with a 2-0 win and sent the Twin Cities into mourning. It took quite a while to get over that. After all, it's not the best prescription to be down heading into a Minnesota winter which is a downer in itself. Now you know why we opted to settle in this Shangrila known as San Diego. Little did I know until after we were married that Cyndi's favorite player was Koufax. Had we met in 1965 a romance would never have developed! But now thirty-three years later (don't you love that number?) Koufax is forgotten and we are praying together as one that history will repeat itself.
Speaking of praying, one thing sports does is encourage kids to pray. Trying to get the offspring to pray is not an easy thing as anyone will attest to, but if it's something they really want, boy can they pray! Such has been the case throughout the playoffs when both Kevin and Kellin would drop to their knees during the game and pray like we haven't heard them praying before, beseeching the great Manager in the sky to help the Padres - if it be His will. We've always stressed to the kids that they add that stipulation no matter what they are asking for. Now there's an entire city and county, and, quite possibly the rest of the nation outside of New York City proper, praying along with Padre fans for a miracle - if it be God's will. You can imagine God's consternation choosing one team over another. It's not something God usually does for He allows free will and He also allows evil for good, such as allowing the evil Yanks to beat the good-guy, underdog Padres. After all, David was able to accomplish the impossible armed with the knowledge of the Psalms and a slingshot. If this editor sounds a bit prejudice, I'm guilty based on being a die-hard Padre fan whose cheered for the boys when they were in last place hopelessly out of the race and when they're in the thick of it like this year. Compounding the problem this year for the Almighty is the fact Joe Torre manages the pinstripers. Nevermind that convicted felon George Steinbrenner owns the New York team, Torre carries a big influence upstairs since two of his sisters are nuns and he himself is a good, practicing Catholic. So it's going to be quite a battle going against a good guy like Joe, but here in San Diego we still believe. After all, how can you go against the Franciscan influence and a team represented by the good friars who did so much to bring the true Faith to the New World? One New York columnist called Padre fans "a bunch of California Catholic mice." If so, we take that as a compliment and warn all comers that Padre fans are ready and waitin'. So bring on the big cheese from the big apple because here in "God's country" we're "Keepin' the Faith!"