The Perfect Game (Baseball) – T. Challies

Last week Friday following the annual MLB All-Star game and break, Tim Challies posted this wonderful article on why he perceives baseball to be “the perfect game.” Since it has been a while since I spoke of this game that I also love (other than my annual summer baseball “read”), and since Challies says it so well, I will simply let him speak of the perfection of this amazing sport.

By the way, speaking of the All-Star game, did you notice that the entire starting lineup of infielders for the National League was made up of Chicago Cubs?! And did you know that one of them (Kris Bryant) hit a home run?!

O, and did you notice that these Cubs are still in first place in their division, 6.5 games ahead of their rival Cardinals?! It is, indeed, a good year to be a Cubs’ fan! Hang in there, Cubbies!

Below is the beginning of Challies’ article; find the rest at the link that follows.

Baseball returns this evening from its annual mid-season classic. As the teams prepare to take the field I find myself thinking about the game I love, the game that has gripped and fascinated me for as long as I can remember. It is, to my mind, the best sport, the perfect game.

As a child I dreamed of mastering baseball and spent hundreds of sunny summer afternoons chasing the perfect fastball, the perfect swing, the perfect one-hopper from left field to the plate. When night came I fell asleep listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth as they called the highs and lows of the Toronto Blue Jays and when sleep took me I dreamed of taking my rightful place on my team—George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Dave Stieb, and me. Eventually childish fantasy gave way to adult reality but even broken dreams did nothing to temper my passion for the game. A son was born and soon I began to introduce him to my game and to my team.

The cycle began anew. What is it about this game? Why is it that every April I feel a new optimism, a new hope, a new excitement for a new season? Why is it that every October I find myself longing for just a few more games, a few more series? Why do I have such love for this game?

Source: The Perfect Game


Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 11:50 AM  Leave a Comment  

My Own Summer Reading List for 2016

My personal stack of books to read for this summer started growing this Spring, as did my reading of them (one can never start early enough!). After a winter of some heavier reading (those cold, dark nights stimulate the brain better!), I have added a collection of lighter books for my summer reading. But even these are stimulating my mind and soul well!

Here is my list in the order in which I obtained them, but not necessarily in which I am reading them (all are started now!):

Pope-Last-Crusade-EisnerHere is the publisher’s summary:

Drawing on untapped resources, exclusive interviews, and new archival research, The Pope’s Last Crusade by Peter Eisner is a thrilling narrative that sheds new light on Pope Pius XI’s valiant effort to condemn Nazism and the policies of the Third Reich—a crusade that might have changed the course of World War II.

A shocking tale of intrigue and suspense, illustrated with sixteen pages of archival photos, The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign to Stop Hitler illuminates this religious leader’s daring yet little-known campaign, a spiritual and political battle that would be derailed by Pius’s XIs death just a few months later. Peter Eisner reveals how Pius XI intended to unequivocally reject Nazism in one of the most unprecedented and progressive pronouncements ever issued by the Vatican, and how a group of conservative churchmen plotted to prevent it.

  • Honor: A History by James Bowman (Encounter Books, 2006; 381 pp.). This is our latest book club selection, and I am just getting started on it. This is not such light reading, but it will be profitable. Here’s the description in this one:

The importance of honor is present in the earliest records of civilization. Today, while it may still be an essential concept in Islamic cultures, in the West, honor has been disparaged and dismissed as obsolete. In this lively and authoritative book, James Bowman traces the curious and fascinating history of this ideal, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and to the killing fields of World War I and the despair of Vietnam. Bowman reminds us that the fate of honor and the fate of morality and even manners are deeply interrelated.

  • Conversations With a Barred Owl by Margaret Clarkson (Zondervan, 1975; 115 pp.). This thrift store find is a fascinating “nature” read – another type of book I like to read in the summertime. If you are familiar with Clarkson’s poetry and inspirational writings, you know that she is a fine Christian writer (Grace Grows Best in Winter).

Barred-Owl-ClarksonAs the title hints, this is a “confession of a new bird watcher,” and fellow bird watcher John R.W. Stott writes a complimentary foreword. Clarkson herself says in her Preface:

All of life is one, springing from the boundless, creative life of God. I venture to say that there is no natural phenomenon from which we may not learn something enriching about ourselves and our God and the Creature-creature relationship we share. Certainly there is much to be learned spiritually from a study of ornithology.

The few chapters I have read on the yellowthroat, vireo, and loon demonstrate the truth of what she says.

Republocrat-Trueman-2010I knew this book was out there, but it took processing Prof.D. Engelsma’s library to put it in my hands and dig into in. An election year and the prospect of reading Trueman on the Christian and politics added this title to my summer reading list. If you want to be challenged and perhaps become a little unnerved, read Trueman. But you will be led to think things through biblically and be a better believer because of it.

  • A False Spring by Pat Jordan ( Dodd, Mead & Co., 1973; 277 pp.). You knew there had to be a baseball book in here, didn’t you?! Well, this is it!

Another older work (like last summer’s) but it comes highly recommended. This is the true story of the author’s short-lived professional baseball career (the first chapter will already break your heart!), such that he went back to university and completed an English degree. After teaching for a few years, he became a free-lance writer, contributing to such magazines as Sports Illustrated. I just received my used in the mail yesterday, but the little I have read shows the writer has honed his skills well.

Here is a little about his story:

In A False Spring, Pat Jordan traces the falling star of his once-promising pitching career, illuminating along the way his equally difficult personal struggles and quest for maturity. When the reader meets Jordan, he is a hard-throwing pitcher with seemingly limitless potential, one of the first “bonus babies” for the Milwaukee Braves organization. Jordan’s sojourn through the lower levels of minor-league ball takes him through the small towns of America: McCook, Waycross, Davenport, Eau Claire, and Palatka. As the promised land of the majors recedes because of his inconsistency and lack of control, the young man who had previously known only glory and success is forced to face himself.

Now, what are YOU reading this summer? Do these lists give you some incentive and ideas? I hope so. Tolle lege!


Chicago Cubs give 100-year-old fan a special gift | Fox17

In case you haven’t noticed, the Major League Baseball season is well under way – and the Chicago Cubs are 25-8, in first place by seven games over the Pittsburgh Pirates, a divisional rival whom they play this weekend.

Yes, this could be the year Cubs fans have been waiting for for 108 years (they last won a World Series in 1908 – back-to-back WS wins, to be true to baseball history). And few Cubs’ fans have been waiting as long as this Chicago centenarian featured in a Spring training story back in March of this year.

Our local Fox News station carried the noteworthy news, no doubt realizing there are plenty of us die-hard Cubbies’ followers in West Michigan. Below find the summary of the story and then a video clip of the full story on Kate Harris and her love for the Cubs (follow the link below).

Cubs fans everywhere are crossing their fingers that this is finally the year. Few have lived through more of the team’s ups and downs than Chicago native Kate Harris. As she approaches her 100th birthday, the Cubs gave her a gift she’ll never forget. She threw out the first pitch at today’s Spring Training game against the Diamondbacks.

Harris says she wants to live to see a Cubs World Series win and thinks this is the year – but of course she’s been saying that since she was 12 years old and became a Cubs fan while home with Scarlet Fever.

Source: Not a World Series win, but Chicago Cubs give 100-year-old fan a special gift | Fox17

Published in: on May 13, 2016 at 6:03 AM  Leave a Comment  

My Favorite Books of 2015

Apologizing for the delay, yet posting it belatedly without hesitation, I present to you my favorite books for the year past, 2015.

Some of these are new books and some are older works, because that is the way I like to read. Keep in mind these are my personal favorites, not those for the Seminary library (perhaps I can compile that list at a later time for you).

Most will come as no surprise to you, since they have been featured here throughout the past year (and may continue to be in 2016). Some will perhaps come as a surprise because they were not previously noted here, and because I do indulge in a few novels each year (at least I try!), and actually did enjoy two.

My list is also an attempt to place them in order of significance to me personally, from bottom to top (#1 being the most significant).I also provide you with the link to further information on the book.

Perhaps from this list you will also find something worth reading or trying to read in 2016. In any case, read more and read better!🙂

10. The Psalter by Galen Watson (Kindle ebook, 2012) – a really good Medieval ecclesiastical thriller – at least for me! History, archives, rare books – what was not to like?!

9. The Heart of the Order by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 1989) – my annual Spring/Summer baseball read – and a really good one at that!

8. Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald (MJF Books, 2007). My summer vacation read – not the best book on “Teddy,” but still a good read.

7. Coined by God: Word and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Bible by Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003). One of many word books that I love!

6. A.D. 30: A Novel by Ted Dekker (Center Street, 2014). A thrift store find that caught my attention (as I have read other of Dekker’s works and enjoyed them) and turned out to be a fascinating (and easy) read. Try it, you may like it too. It has enough of everything to be enjoyed by a wide range of readers.

5. Just Dad: Stories of Herman Hoeksema by Lois E. Kregel (RFPA, 2014). An intimate, personal account of growing up as the daughter of noted CRC and PRC pastor and professor, “H.H.”. This was a fine – and fun – read; an important side to the man worth knowing.

4. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos (Vintage Books, 1995). This is another great thrift store find that I found toward the end of the year (I love early American/Puritan history). It is a detailed story of the capture of prominent New England pastor John Williams, his wife, and his five children during the French-Indian War. It was a story I did not know – quite incredible – and moving!

3. Prayers of the Reformers compiled by Clyde Manschreck (Muhlenberg Press, 1958). If you have been following my Sunday posts in the last year, you know about the power and impact of these prayers. A wonderful little volume to own and read!

2. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman (Zondervan, 2014). Again, if you have followed me through this book, you know why it is at the top of my list.

1. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, Joel R. Beeke, General Editor (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). Nothing beats the best book in the world – and a good study edition such as this one makes its use even better for spiritual growth. If you need to know more, read Prof.R. Cammenga’s review, posted here.


Here Are 18 Books You Should Read in 2016

I realize that in the last few weeks we have given you plenty of book lists with reading suggestions. But that was for 2015, and it is now 2016, and we need some fresh book ideas moving ahead!

The Heritage Foundation (a conservative think-tank) has put together some fine recommendations with a variety of titles and subjects – from American history to baseball to economics.

Here is their brief introduction and the link to their list, including one of the suggested books.

Looking for a good book to start the new year?

We’ve put together a list of recommendations by Heritage Foundation experts that will give you plenty of interesting reading options for 2016.

Source: Here Are 18 Books You Should Read in 2016

As for the book highlighted above, here is a description of it:

It’s a well-crafted history of the Underground Railroad, which weaves the stories of black and white American heroes who created an illegal, organic social network that helped thousands of slaves make good their escapes.

Bordewich shows how the Underground Railroad managed to balance and achieve two goals: shuttling individual runaways to safety and building a moral case for abolition throughout the North. It’s fascinating to see how a movement grounded explicitly in religious morality succeeded in the face of overwhelming secular opposition.

Salim Furth is a research fellow for The Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.

The Kansas City Symphony (Go Royals!) challenges the New York Philharmonic (Go Mets!)

A librarian in the Association of Christian Librarians (ACL) belongs to the Kansas City (MO) Symphony and passed along this great notice through one of the email groups to which I belong.

As you may know, Major League Baseball’s World Series currently pits the American League’s Kansas City Royals against the National League’s New York Mets.

This video introduces a friendly wager between the Kansas City Symphony and the New York Philharmonic – involving baseball jerseys, special music, and BBQ and Bagels – and includes a rousing version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Enjoy!

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 7:50 AM  Comments (1)  

1984: A Significant Cubs Collapse – T.Boswell

Heart of the Order-BoswellThomas Boswell’s outstanding baseball storybook, The Heart of the Order (Doubleday, 1989) contains a heart-rending chapter for every Chicago Cubs fan – “1984: The Year the Cubbies Lost the Pennant.” If the memory of their close encounter with the World Series isn’t painful enough, there are videos on the Internet to bring the pain back.

But while the memory kills, Boswell’s description of the Cubs collapse in that final NL series with the San Diego Padres will at least make you smile – because he writes so well. Small consolation, I know, but still worth the read. Allow me to share his side of the story of that September Fall (Yes, there is a double meaning in that word “fall.”).

In the absence of any ongoing drama, the doings of the Cubs became the game’s official summer saga. Perhaps a perennial losing team touches a far deeper chord in people than any mere winner cold. You learn wisdom in defeat, not victory. George Allen, with typical football myopia, said that losing is like dying. Cub fans know he had it wrong: losing isn’t like dying; it’s like living. So what? It ain’t so bad.

Maybe Chicago’s feelings about the Cubs were summoned up by a sign in a restaurant near Wrigley Field. ‘Any employee wishing to miss work because of death or serious illness,’, it read, ‘please notify the office by 11 A.M. on the day of the game.’

By the time the postseason began, the Cubs were practically the nation’s mascots. Perhaps those years of fantasy baseball had the whole country primed for an orgy of paeans to day baseball, old brick outfield walls and ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the seventh-inning stretch.

Then, just in time, the Cubs came to the rescue. The ancient order remained intact. The Cubs proved they were still the Cubs. The ivied park with its cheerful message – you don’t have to go to the World Series every year, or even every lifetime, to be cherished – was safe (p.133).

There is more to this sad but well told story. The painful details we will leave for next time.

By the way, have you noticed where the Cubbies are in the standings this year? Dare I say, poised to make the playoffs?!

The 40 Fiats of Chairman Boz – T.Boswell

wrigleyfieldWhat would you do if you were appointed the commissioner of baseball for a year?

“Chairman Boz” – aka Thomas Boswell, sports columnist for the Washington Post and author of The Heart of the Order – tells us in a section of his book titled “The 40 Fiats of Chairman Boz.”

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The home plate umpire shall have a button. If a batter takes more than thirty seconds to adjust his uniform, tighten his batting glove, wiggle his toe, call for time and otherwise delay the game, the ump shall push the button. The button will open  a trapdoor to a pit, full of reptiles, under the batter’s box. This shall be known as the Rickey Henderson Hole, in honor of the potential Hall of Famer whose career was tragically cut short. Carlton Fisk and Cliff Johnson: consider yourselves warned. The trapdoor will also work for home run trots, but with bigger reptiles. Jeffrey Leonard gets a free trial (pp.38-39).

8. Only nicknames shall be allowed on the back of uniforms hereafter. Instead of Jim Dwyer: Pigpen. Floyd Rayford; Sugar Bear. Give us Chicken Man and Oil Can. Who knows ‘Davis’? But Chili, Storm and Eric the Red are easy. This would have been especially helpful in the old days. We could have known the difference between ‘Puddin Head’ and ‘Available’ Jones or ‘the People’s Cherce” and ‘Mysterious’ Walker. Pittsburgh’s low-budget GM Sid Thrift’s name shall legally be changed to Sid Cheap (p.40).

And, in honor of the Chicago Cubs, this one – to which I strongly object!:

18. Let there be lights for Wrigley Field, for crying out loud – and not just for eight games a year. What’s all the fuss? Be honest. Who doesn’t like night games better than day games [Not I?!]? Man, it gets hot in July. If you can get a weekday afternoon free, go swimming, play golf or have a stroke in your garden. Don’t sweat your brains out in the bleachers. …Sensible teams long ago went to Saturday night games because people prefer them. Baseball is night baseball and has been for decades. Let those who refuse to learn from the Chicago Cubs be condemned to repeat them.

The only people who really want day ball in Wrigley Field are sportswriters (great deadlines – the Chicago scribes get home for dinner and the visiting laureates have more time on Rush Street).

All weekday World Series games shall be at night. All weekend World Series games shall be in the day [Now we’re getting sensible!]. It’s cold in October. Play a couple in sunshine, but don’t get carried away (p.42).

And that’s the “Friday Fun” for July 31, 2015! Have any fiats of your own, future baseball commissioners?

The Wizard of Oz – T.Boswell

On the back of his uniform should be the word ‘Shazam.’ Instead of ‘1,’ his number should be ‘8,’ but turned sideways, because the possibilities he brings to his position are almost infinite.

…Yet to understand Smith as a natural phenomenon is to deliberately misunderstand him – and wrong him – as much as if we thought the magician’s tricks were done without endless practice. Smith is, by temperament, a student of the game who devises new ways to do the old. For instance, he was the first to realize that, on Astroturf, you could dig a ground ball out of the hole backhanded while skidding on your knees in a controlled slide, then pop to your feet and throw in one sudden motion. The effect is that of an arcade-game toy, grown to human size, springing out of the ground through a trapdoor. Smith also was one of the first to use the deliberate turf-hop throw to first, recognizing a millisecond edge when he saw one.

However, he is also, by acrobatic talent, an innnovator who stretches the boundaries of infield play. Only a man who can take the field doing backflips could attempt the pivots at second base that Smith completes routinely. Dr. J brought terms like ‘hang time’ and ‘degree of difficulty’ to his dunks. Now Ozzie has introduced them to the double play. Smith’s all-time-favorite showstopper displayed both his reflexes and his gift for improvision. He dove behind second base for a smash by Jeff Burroughs, but while Smith was in midair, parallel to the ground, the ball hit a rock and bounced sideways. Smith reached back and behind himself to grab the ball – bare-handed. Then he did a somersault and came up throwing. Burroughs was out by days (pp.12-13).

Taken from Thomas Boswell’s wonderful book on baseball, The Heart of the Order (Doubleday, 1989). This is his description of longtime St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, whom I grew up watching. He always did a backflip when he came on the field for the start of the game, and his wizardry at “SS” is now legendary.

Below is one video of such a flip – and this when he was 40 years old!

if you wish to see some of his highlights, watch this video:

And if you want to see that amazing play that the Wizard of Oz made against Burroughs, watch this video:

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 7:23 AM  Leave a Comment  

Opening Week of ML Baseball! Tigers, Cubs & Boswell

Yes, indeed, though it was a typical cool, rainy week in the Midwest (especially the upper Midwest!), the Major League baseball season has opened once again! Amid off-season trades and ownership promises of improvement; amid renovated parks (more on Wrigley Field’s “improvements” another day) and player preparations (both good and bad!), the season has begun, with three-four games already under the belt.

And guess what? The Detroit Tigers are 3-0, with only one earned run given up by their three starters and the bullpen! And the Chicago Cubs are 1-1, with one rain-out – against the team predicted to finish first again in the NL Central, their despised rivals – the St.Louis Cardinals!

Not a bad start for the two teams for which I root (although you know where my full loyalties are – and it’s not to the east!). And speaking of these two teams, are you aware that they are playing a set of two-games series in each other’s ball parks this summer (in Detroit in June and in Chicago in August)?!

Heart of the Order-BoswellBut now, since it is so early in the season and the weather is so baseball-contradictory as yet (who wants to sit in the park when it’s 40?!), we take the time to focus on the deeper meaning of baseball – the personal and philosophical side. And to that end, we return to the “new” book I picked up this Winter, The Heart of the Order by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 1989). Having also read his “Introduction”, I pull together a few select quotes for you about what baseball is about. And with him, I find a kindred spirit. Maybe you will too.🙂

The lasting power of baseball for me – beyond the tactical and technical fascinations of the game itself, even beyond the excitement of pennant races and World Series – is watching how the game illuminates and probes the faces of its changing people.

…The Sparky Anderson of October 1984 looked like a worried, driven man who might burn out. Old friends were scared for him. Heart attack looked written on him. Somehow, by March of 1985, he was a significantly different man. And the change seems to have stuck. Sparky has remained the same new-and-improved, upbeat-yet-calm, philosophical-yet-competitive person right through the successes and disappointments of his Tigers’ amazing 1987 pennant-race comeback victory and shocking playoff defeat.

…We pretend baseball is primarily a game of teams, when it’s more about people. Ted Williams played in only one World Series; Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron and Roger Hornsby in two each. Who cares or remembers? The team may be the individual’s context, but its success is not his definition.

Each season, I find I have less faith in the hard certainty of baseball statistics and more in some attempt at commonsense psychology – murky as that area always is, for individuals or groups. The stats always come too late. They may measure everything, but they explain very little and predict even less. Because people insist on changing.

…Every season, baseball tries to teach us that the game has a human, unpredictable heart. And it is richer for it. Yet, every year, we insist the game should be less messy than the world around it. We pretend that potential is a hairbreadth from performance, and that what’s been done in the past should be readily duplicable on demand in the future.

The more we judge teams on paper, the more the sport insists that results be forged on the field by actual people. The game is a system in such flux that expectations are smashed to flinders. Its drives people batty. How on earth do preposterously ordinary teams like the ’85 Royals, ’87 Twins and ’88 Dodgers end up as world champions?

…The math professor who taught us that it wasn’t the answer to a specific problem that was important but, rather, learning to appreciate the interlocking coherence of the whole scientific view of the world. The English teacher who showed us the agonies of patience that went into crafting a poem so precise in its choice of words that we could read it a hundred times over fifty years and always find it powerfully true. The teachers, in other words, who taught us that love of learning – for itself – not love of grades, was the beating, enduring heart of education.

So too in games, the guiding principle that most often keeps people oriented through all their passages and changes is a governing passion for excellence. In baseball, that’s what you discover at the heart of the order (xiii-xix).