Five Reasons to Hate the Miami Heat

My favorite baseball team is the Cincinnati Reds. My second favorite team is whoever is playing the New York Yankees. I have long thought people who are Yankees fans would have probably also pulled for Goliath.

I do not dislike the Miami Heat with this same passion, but it is close. And since the Heat are currently in the NBA Finals and since some of you are undecided about whether you should dislike them or not, I thought I would give you a few reasons to do so.

1. Lebron James’ headband. It’s wide. WIDE. Grotesquely wide. Ridiculously wide. So wide it could be used as a tube top on most of the world’s female population. So wide I have written a whole blog post about it. Do I have issues for disliking the wideness of Lebron’s headbands? YES! But I’m trying to get over it.

2. The spelling of Dwyane Wade’s first name. Who am I to say he spells his name incorrectly? Someone who spells his name correctly, that’s who. It’s “Matt,” not “Myatt.” Sheesh.

3. The way they flop. And the Oscar for Best Flopping in a Basketball Game goes to….the Miami Heat.

4. There are rumors that James, Wade, and Chris Bosh are looking at restructuring their contracts to add Carmelo Anthony next season. And if that works out look for them to add a couple of the Monstars from Space Jam.

5. They are very good. There–I said it. Or wrote it. Whatever.

You may not have noticed it, but I purposefully used the word “dislike” instead of “hate.” I don’t really hate the Miami Heat or any other sports team. I don’t even dislike them, really. I just hope the Spurs win. I don’t care that Lebron’s headbands have enough fabric in them to clothe every child in the world. It’s fine that Dwyane Wade spells his name like someone who just pulled out letters from a bag of Scrabble tiles and said, “I’ll just go with it.”

The Miami Heat are made up of guys who are created in the image of God. I hope they know the greatness of the Gospel and have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus.

I used to say I hated this team or that team, but not anymore. It’s hard to hate a team made up of people you have been given a commandment to love.

Mayonnaise, on the other hand, is a different story. I hate Mayonnaise and always will.

How do you feel about the Miami Heat? What is something you hate?

(Note: The stuff about Lebron’s headbands and Dwyane Wade’s name is satire and is not to be taken seriously. Laugh a little, folks–it’s good for the soul.)




A Hard Truth for the New Year

Coach Darden didn’t mince words; being old-school meant that you weren’t expected to.  Let the younger coaches care more about a players feelings than about building their character or producing results.  This wasn’t his way and there was no need for him to apologize for it.  Issues were meant to be dealt with, not pondered on and then hidden.  He loved his players, but he believed that loving his players, and loving people, brought with it the responsibility to tell them the truth.  And if hearing the truth stung them, so be it.  Learning that love often produces pain is essential to coping with the mess of life.

My goal was to not just be a member of the high school basketball team; I wanted to be an integral part of it.  To play, play a lot, and bear responsibility for the team’s success.  Seeing my physical limitations, I understood that I probably would  go no higher in my athletic endeavors.  It’s fine to tell children that they can be whatever they want to be; it’s just not altogether true.  We all have deficiencies that prevent us from being and doing certain things.  I am tall, but not extremely tall; I’m 6’7” not 7’1”.  And my quickness and jumping ability were lacking.  High school basketball would be it, if I was good enough for even that.

I had tried out for the middle school team for three years.  I never made it.  But I didn’t stop trying.  Fortunately, I also didn’t stop growing.  By my first year of high school, I was 6’2” with the prospect of getting even bigger.  I tried out for the freshman team and made it.  The next year, I was 6’4” and on the junior varsity team, edging closer to my goal of being a varsity “baller.” 

By my junior year, I was 6’5” and on the varsity team.  I had hit my goal with a year to spare.  Then something strange happened.  After starting the first three games and playing a lot, I didn’t play at all the fourth game.  Or the fifth.  Or the sixth.  Coach Darden had decided that someone else gave the team a better chance of winning.  He moved me back to the junior varsity team and I was a substitute for the varsity team.  I played occasionally for the varsity, but it was nothing like I had hoped.

I wanted to quit.  To give up.  But I couldn’t.  My father had raised me to persevere, to stick with it during tough times.  He had warned me countless times through the years that my coaches would often do things and say things that I didn’t agree with or like.  When that happened, he said, I had to keep going.  Keep pushing.  Keep looking up.

I grew another inch that year.  For those keeping track, I was now 6’6” (I grew an additional inch during my early 20’s).  The season ended and I wondered what my role would be during my senior year, or if I even would have a role.  I didn’t have to wonder long.

Coach Darden wanted to talk to all of his players who would be returning for the next season individually.  This included me, I hoped.  I was nervous when it was my turn to meet with him, like a child meeting his principal for the first time.  He started off by telling me that he liked me.  This was good, I like him, too.  In fact, I had grown to love him in the way a young guy loves and admires a mentor. 

He told me that I was “coachable.”  He knew that I was trying hard.  He told me that I was going to be on the team the next year even if I didn’t improve much at all over the summer.  But if I wanted to play, to be an integral part of the team, there was some work that I needed to do.

He wanted me to run a mile every day; this would increase my stamina and speed.  And hopefully help me lose some of the weight that had kept me from being as explosive as I needed to be.  He wanted me to be at the gym during the summer every time he opened the doors to work on my skills and toughness.  He wanted me to lift more weights and run more sprints and take more shots and run more drills and do more of everything else that would help me to improve. 

He told me that I would still be on the team even if I didn’t do those things, but I probably wouldn’t play much, if at all.  But if I followed his instructions during the off-season, he was confident that I would have the opportunity to make a difference for the team.  I would get to play and play a lot. To bear responsibility for the team’s success.  I would achieve my goal. 

I took his words and ran with them.  Literally.  Every day I ran a mile, often more.  When the gym doors were open I was there; taking shots, lifting weights, running sprints, doing the drills.  I gained muscle and lost fat.  By the time the season started I weighed 210lbs, could run a mile in six minutes, finally had the ability to dunk a basketball, and was making more shots than I ever had before. 

And I got to play, to play a lot, to be an important part of the team.  I hit my goal.

Let me be like Coach Darden for a moment, to convey some hard truths that you and I both need.  In the coming year those of us who are followers of Jesus will be on His team whether we seek to improve or not.  We are loved by God and held closely in His arms.  But if we don’t follow his instructions, we won’t get to truly enjoy being an integral part of His team.

There are tremendous blessings with being able to be more effective in God’s Kingdom.  But being more effective doesn’t happen by chance.  It happens as God’s people being filled with God’s spirit commit to doing God’s will.

Let’s commit to not being satisfied with merely being on God’s team.  Let’s seek to grow in faith, to hear His voice, to decrease and allow Him to increase in our lives.  Let’s see 2011 as an opportunity to get closer to the goal of Christ-likeness.

Coach Darden taught me a valuable lesson that wasn’t just applicable to basketball.  It is applicable to life in God’s kingdom. 

I’m thankful that he told the truth with grace and that I had ears to hear.

(What life-lessons did you learn through sports?  What are some of your goals for the new year?  Let’s hear them!)

The Wisdom of Derek Dooley

I have had both stitches and staples a few times since marrying my lovely wife over eleven years ago.  No, it was never her fault.  I’ve had a few of minor procedures that required stitches and there was the time that I needed staples after nearly decapitating myself while going to the bathroom (read about it here  Did that really happen?  Yes.  Was it humiliating?  Yes.  Have I gotten over it? Almost.

Because this has happened a few times, I know what will happen the next time.  And there will be a next time.  When it is time for the stitches/staples to be removed, my wife will beg me to let her do it.  I’ll say no.  She’ll beg some more.  I’ll say no.  She’ll beg some more.  I’ll continue to say no. 

The reason that she thinks she is capable of removing my stitches and staples is that she used to work for a veterinarian.  In this role, she assisted in surgeries and treatments and in removing stitches/staples from dogs.  Since she did it for dogs, she thinks I should allow her the opportunity to do it for me.  I’ve got two main problems with this.

First, I’m not a dog.  Sure, I have dog-like tendencies at times.  When I’m in a new place I walk around a few times before sitting down.  When someone is eating and I’m not, I look at them hoping that they will offer me some.  And when my rear end itches I drag it all over the carpet.  But I’m not a dog.  (Just kidding about the rear-end dragging thing….as far as you know).

Second, I’ve seen the joy she takes in squeezing my back zit.  I know this is gross, but I have  a bump/zit/pimple of nastiness on my back that won’t go away.  We can get all of the pus out of it and think it is gone, then BAM!–it’s back with a vengeance.  I think Kristy likes this.  She likes knowing that every couple of months or so I’ll ask her to inflict the pain of a thousand jackals on my back.  She revels in it.  I can only imagine what kind of joy she would take in “accidentally” tweaking a staple imbedded into my skull.  No thanks.

I know that she has the basic knowledge to remove staples/stitches, but I prefer someone who works on humans to work on me since I am a human.  I don’t want someone who should be able to do it, I want someone who has proven that he or she is able to do it. 

This is kind of how I felt when I heard the announcement that Derek Dooley had been hired as the head coach of my beloved University of Tennessee football team.

Philip Fulmer served as the head coach from 1992-2008 before being fired during the 2008 season.  He accomplished a lot, including a national championship in 1998, and I am grateful for the memories.  As he spoke with passion about his team during the press when his dismissal was announced, I cried like I had lost my best friend.  Real tears, big tears.  The kind of tears I usually only cry while watching the movie Click.  I know that Click is an Adam Sandler movie, but if you are a man and your eyes don’t moisten during that movie you may want to hit the yellow brick road in search of a heart.

After Fulmer came the brief, one season era/error of Lane Kiffin.  He accomplished very little before bolting for the left coast.  It was sad really, to go from someone who loved the University of Tennessee so much to someone who didn’t seem to care at all. 

This is when Derek Dooley came in.  I didn’t know much about him, except that he is the son of an SEC coaching legend and that after being the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years his record was 17-20.  I expected the Athletic Director to hire a proven, winning coach not the son of a proven, winning coach who had a sub-.500 as a coach in a much weaker conference.  I expected him to hire a proven coach who had previously shown the ability to bring a football program back from mediocrity, not a coach who should or might be able to do so.

Then I started listening to him and I liked what I heard.  He has a compelling combination of intelligence and wit that few other coaches possess.  I mean, how many other coaches have the ability both to reference details of World War II and then make an off-the-cuff comment about Nuke Laloosh a few weeks later?  Answer: not many.

It wasn’t just his humor though that made me really buy in to his leadership.  It was a philosophy that I heard him speak about several times concerning his team as they were going through a rough stretch of losses.  I’ve boiled it down to a few words for better memorization.  It helped me, maybe it will help you.  Here it is:

Focus on the process, not the results.

Simple, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, no.

We know what we want the desired outcome to be.  We obsess over the right things happening at the right time.  We want “this” much money in the bank by the time we are “this” old.  We want love to blossom during “this” particular period of our lives.  We want “this” many people to attend our church services and “this” many people to be reading our blog by “this” particular date. 

We want the results that we want.  But when we focus on the results, they rarely come.

Our focus should be on the process.  The little things we do day by day by day must have our attention if any progress is going to be made when it comes to our goals.  There are too many independent variables in play to accurately predict the exactness of particular results.  The process is what we can control.  And if we focus on the process, results will come.

This is especially true in spiritual matters.  We can want people to be born again, but saving people is not my job.  That is the realm of Christ.  My responsibility is proclaiming the gospel—it is Jesus who saves.  We can want people to become more committed to following Jesus, but changing people is not my job.  My responsibility is to faithfully proclaim God’s Word—it is Jesus who transforms.  We can desire to have a certain number of people attend our church services, but growing the church is not my job.  My responsibility is to pray, preach, love, and pastor—it is Jesus who builds his church.

Derek Dooley hasn’t even been on the job a year yet, but I like what he is trying to do.  I also like that he has helped me without even knowing it by giving me a nugget of wisdom that I have been repeating to myself again and again.  Maybe you need to do the same.

Focus on the process, not the results.

(Have you had difficulty doing this, too?  Or is it just me?  Please tell me it’s not just me?)

And just for “funsies,” here’s a video of some of Derek Dooley’s greatest hits:

Derek Dooley–Call Rommel

“I like that you are blogging every week-day, but what will you do if you don’t have time to blog?”

My reply–“I think that I will post a video that I find amusing.”

That day is today. 

This is from a recent press conference by Derek Dooly, the head coach of the University of Tennessee football team where he compares his team to German soldiers in WWII.

Take a look:

What do you think?  Is it funny, strange, or sad?

Brian Wilson’s Beard

I did not root for the Texas Rangers to win the World Series.  There–it’s out.  I’ve kept this more or less to myself and the burden of the secret was getting to me.  To many Christians, this admission is bordering on an admission of heresy.  Sort of like one of us wondering why Chris Tomlin is so popular.  There are some things that Christians just don’t admit.  Until now. 

The reason that I feel this way is because Josh Hamilton plays for the Rangers.  If you do not know who he is, you should.  Jonathan Acuff from Stuff Christians Like ( described him as “some sort of genetically engineered Christian athlete made in a lab of awesomeness.”  I agree.  His story is amazing.  After the Rangers won their first trip to the Word Series his teammates opted to spray ginger ale instead of champagne.  That a whole clubhouse of men altered their behavior out of respect for him is a testimony to his genuine faith.

So why did I cheer for the San Fransisco Giants to win the Word Series instead?  Why did I turn my back on a man with one of the most compelling stories in sports?  What caused me to do something so semi-sacrilegious?

I blame it on Brian Wilson’s beard.

Brian Wilson is a closer for the Giants and a 2-time All-Star with a fast-ball that hits 100 mph from time to time.  More intimidating that his fastball is his appearance on the mound.  With his shirt not fully buttoned and a glare that makes hardened criminals shudder, he walks all over the mound like he would rather run up and choke batters rather than hurl baseballs past them.  I wouldn’t be shocked if this happens one day.  The dude is as intense as a chained-up rottweiler on speed watching a kitten steal food out of his bowl. 

But the most intimidating and intriguing thing about Wilson is his beard.  It’s the best facial hair ever.  It makes Chuck Norris’s beard jealous.  In fact, I think ESPN should film a reality show called Brian Wilson’s Beard that would follow his beard around and record all of the hijinks.  Maybe there could even be a national holiday where every man in America would wear a fake beard that looks just like his.  Call it Crazy Beard Day or Scare the Children Day, whichever.  It really is that great.

He started growing it in August of this year and began dying it black in September.  When I say black, I mean BLACK.  Blacker than coal.  Blacker than black.  Uber-black.  I can go into a room without light, close the door, and shut my eyes and it still wouldn’t be as black as Brian Wilson’s beard. 
Brian Wilson’s beard is the reason I cheered for the Giants.  It’s the reason that I did not pull for Josh Hamilton and his Rangers.  It’s the reason that I will continue to be a Giants fan for at least as long as he doesn’t shave. 
But it isn’t the reason that I live. 
That would be silly, wouldn’t it?  Saying “I live for Brian Wilson’s beard” would sound insane even coming from a person who is insane.  Having a man’s beard be the reason that you live doesn’t make sense no matter how awesome the beard might be.
Actually, living for anything other than God and His glory makes as much sense as living for a man’s beard.
Some live for their jobs that could be taken away from them in a flash.  Others live for relationships that could easily sour, dissolve, and end.  Alcohol and drugs seem to both be the lives of some and what is likely to end the lives of many.  Living for our children sounds noble, but looks foolish once you realize that our children are not perfect and holy and that they are not the source of life.
Life comes from God.  The purpose for our lives come from God.  True, lasting, eternal joy can not be found apart from embracing this truth.
I like Brian Wilson’s beard.  I think it’s cool. 
But it is not God.  Only God is God and only He should be the focus of my life.
 What do you think about Brian Wilson’s beard?  What do you think about God?  Share away.
Brian Wilson and his beard

Loving Kobe

Kobe Bryant has been called one of the best basketball players ever by many and the greatest basketball player of all time by a select, ignorant, lobotomized few.  He has been called a first-round draft pick, an MVP, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, the NBA Player of the Decade, and the greatest Laker of all time.  I’m sure his wife called him a few other things after his well-documented “indiscretion” that occurred a few years back.  Now, he can be called 5-time World Champion. 

I don’t choose to call him any of these things.  To me, he is the Johnny Lawrence of the NBA.

You remember Johnny from the original Karate Kid movie, right?  He was the blonde-haired  king of the Cobra Kai dojo and the defending All-Valley Karate Tournament champion.  Only a crane-style kick to the face from the impish Daniel LaRusso kept him from repeating.  Even though over 25 years have passed, I still grin whenever I see Daniel-son get into his constipated flamingo pose and kick his way into icon status on behalf of all of us who have ever been outcasts.

Johnny was the archetypal 80’s villain, but he didn’t need to be.  He had everything that one particular portly 8-year-old boy who will remain nameless wanted: perfectly coiffed hair, rugged good looks, rad karate skills, a passel of buddies with slightly less rad karate skills willing to back him up, and plenty of attention from the ladies.  Daniel was just the skinny new kid who happened to have the misfortune of getting too cozy with his ex-girlfriend.  Being a nice guy was a viable choice, but Johnny chose to be an arrogant jerk.  He chose to torment Daniel.  He chose to only care about himself.

The Karate Kid had Johnny; the NBA has Kobe.

Kobe might be the most generous person in the world.  At Christmas, he might turn into Santa Kobe and be carried around on a sleigh by a bunch of reindeer, much like he was carried in Game 7 of this year’s Finals by Ron Artest and company.  Maybe he is Robin Kobe, stealing from the court side crowd at Staples Center and secretly dispersing it to those in need.  It is possible that Kobe is planning to retire soon to start an orphanage or serve in a homeless shelter or at the very least become Pau Gasol’s personal stylist.

To me, Kobe is a jerk.  I don’t like viewing him in this way, really.  Normally I do a decent job of seeing the good in people.  Even Johnny Lawrence had some good qualities; he presented Daniel with the highly coveted trophy after being on the bad end of an upset and declared Daniel to be “all right.”  I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities from Kobe.

There probably are some, though.  He probably doesn’t have a curt answer for ever question or a scowl for every fan.  He may give to charity and spend time with those who are down and out.  He may have even hooked Artest up with the psychiatrist that he is crazy about and mentioned in the best postgame interview of all time.

But what if there is nothing at all good about Kobe Bryant other than his ability to play basketball?  What if he is a punk to the bone?  What if the people who know him the best, dislike him the most?

He is still loved by God.

Just like that guy you work with who always seems to steal the credit that you deserve, or the parent who hit instead of hugged, or the spouse who traded you for a newer model, or the boss who refuses to see your worth, or any of the people who have wronged you throughout your life.  Or even me and you. 

That is just one of God’s “things.”  He loves.  We don’t have to understand it to accept it.  Kobe the 5-time world champion is also Kobe the beloved.  And you are beloved, too.  Seeing Kobe as God sees him is a good thing; seeing ourselves as God sees us is even better.

We are beloved.

Baseball and Better Days

The ball rolls slowly to the left of the mound.
The pitcher lunges toward it, gracefully scooping it off of the ground. He stands up and throws it perfectly in my direction as I wait for it at first base. I focus on the ball and nothing else, knowing that if I catch it we will beat the unbeatable team. All I have to do is catch it and the game will be over. That’s all.
Just catch the ball, Matt, just catch the stupid ball.

To be honest, I never derived a great deal of joy from playing little league baseball.  I loved t-ball, though.  It was an easy sport to love.  The ball was placed upon the tee by the umpire and just sat there, waiting patiently for the next pummeling from some kid who barely knew how to tie his own shoes.  Talent was not necessary and, in most cases, not present even in the smallest of quantities.

There were also very few expectations in t-ball.  The first year, my coaches were ecstatic when all of us  on the “Livewires” team learned that third base was not the first base we should run toward after hitting the ball. And if any of us actually caught a ball in the air they behaved as though they just found out their children could poop gold. 

We weren’t very good and we didn’t care at all.  The outfielders just wanted to catch the next butterfly and most of the infielders were pre-occupied with trying to spell their names in the dirt.  After each game, we got a free drink from the concession stand.  Most of us chose the “suicide”–an unholy concoction created by combining all available soda types into one indescribably horrendous drink.  I am still baffled by the popularity of it to this very day.

That second year of t-ball went much better.  The coaches found out I could catch just about any ball thrown in my direction, so they placed me at first base.  It also helped that I was about a half-a-foot taller than the next tallest kid.  Freakishly big may have been the best way to describe how I looked compared to most of my teammates. 

I enjoyed playing first base and because I was so tall, very few balls got past me.  If the ball was thrown  outside, I could reach out and catch it.  If it was thrown too high, I could reach up and catch it.  If it was thrown too short, I could reach down and scoop it up.

The Livewires improvement was dramatic.  We improved so much that we were the Holston-Chilhowee T-ball Champions that year.  It was great to be a part of a championship team, even if it was just t-ball.

And then it got quite a bit more difficult.

Back then, there was no such thing as “coach-pitch.”  Once you graduated from t-ball, you moved up into a league where kids who were just a couple of years removed from learning to control their bladders were learning how to control a baseball that they threw as hard as they possibly could. 

My rear-end seemed to be a baseball magnet that first year.  Every time I got hit, my coaches would run out to check on me.  They acted like they really cared whether I was hurt or not, but I secretly suspected they were just glad that I got a free ticket to first base.

While hitting a ball in motion was not a strength, catching still came easy for me.  First base was my home when my team was in the field.  Defensively, I rarely ever let my teammates down. 

I don’t remember the name of the team that I was on, but I do remember that we weren’t very good.   But being on a sub-par team in little league baseball was different than being on a sub-par team in t-ball.  The coaches seemed to care a lot more, the parents seemed to fuss a lot more, and the players wanted to win.  Catching butterflies and drinking suicides didn’t diminish the aggravation of losing on a regular basis. 

We were hopeful, though, of better things to come.  Especially those of us who played t-ball together.  If the Livewires could go from worst to first in one season, surely our baseball team could do the same.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

Sure, we improved some.  Just not enough.  It seemed like we all became better fielders, but very few of us became better hitters.  We won a few and lost more, often by the slightest of margins.  At least I got to stay involved in the action by keeping my job at first base. 

My misery in losing was compounded by the fact that Chad, my best elementary school friend and seat-mate on the school bus, was on the best team in our league.  The day after the games were played were the worst.  He would tell me how many hits he had and how badly they had beaten the other team and I would tell him that we had lost and then try to change the subject to how Inspector Gadget managed to fit all of those awesome gadgets into such a little hat.  And how did a moron like him make it to the level of Inspector even with the help of Penny and Brain, anyway? 

When we won, it was easier to talk about the games.  Of course, he still out-did me even on those days since his team always won more handily than ours did. 

After trudging through another less than fun losing season, we finally made it to the last game.  It was against Chad’s team.  They had already beaten us badly once that year.  In fact, they had not lost a game and were assured of winning the championship whether they beat us or not.  School was already out for the year, so I didn’t have to talk to Chad about it.  Even though Chad was a good friend, I wanted to ruin his team’s perfect season.

As I arrived at the ballfield and saw my teammates, I was pretty sure that we were going to get slaughtered.  I don’t think that I have ever seen a group of 9 & 10 year-olds look so downtrodden.  Then our coaches got to us.  I guess they saw the same dejected look in our eyes that I did.  Suddenly they all became little league versions of Vince Lombardi, motivating us boys with passion never before seen on the hallowed fields of Holston-Chilhowee.

OK, so I may be overstating it a bit.  But they did speak to us with purpose, reminding us that any team can beat any other team on any given day.  Sure, we had lost to them badly earlier in the year and hadn’t won many games, but this was a brand-new ballgame with a brand-new chance to do something special.  We could beat the team that no one else could beat.

I don’t remember the specifics of most of the game, but I do remember a lot of shouting.  The coaches were really into the game and the parents acted like blood-thirsty zombies.  My teammates and I played with more emotion than I had seen in all of the other games combine.  Chad’s team didn’t start out as focused as we did and got behind early before fighting back.

Miraculously, we made it to the bottom half of the last inning clinging to a one-run lead.  We were three outs away from victory and I could taste it.  All of the parents were standing and cheering and the coaches of both teams had bulging veins in their necks.

We manage to get two outs and they manage to get runners on second and third base.  A hit would mean that one and possibly two runs would score which would either mean a tie or victory for Chad’s team.  I figure that anywhere the ball is hit, the players on base will be running.

It is Chad’s turn to bat.  He isn’t normally a power-hitter, but he usually makes it on base.  My body becomes tense as I stand near first base.  If he hits it in the infield, I have to get to the base and make the catch in order to preserve our unforeseen victory.

The pitcher hurls the ball toward home-plate.  Chad swings his bat with all of his might and makes contact with the ball.  I quickly head toward first base.



 The ball rolls slowly to the left of the mound. 


The pitcher lunges toward it, gracefully scooping it off of the ground as the runners on second and third take off at full speed.  He stands up and throws it perfectly in my direction as I wait for it at first base. I focus on the ball and nothing else, knowing that if I catch it we will beat the unbeatable team. All I have to do is catch it and the game will be over. That’s all.

Just catch the ball, Matt, just catch the stupid ball. 

The ball speeds toward me and I have my glove in the correct position to make a clean catch.  Chad is fast and I can hear him approaching, but the ball will get to me before he does. 

Everything seems to slow down at the ball makes it to my glove.  But before I can close my glove and make the catch, the ball pops out and drops to the ground.

Chad makes it safely to first base and the lead runner has already crossed the plate.  I look and see that the runner that started at second base has rounded third and is heading toward home.  I pick up the ball and throw it toward home, only it’s a bad throw.

The runner slides safely into home plate and their team erupts with joy. 

Chad’s team has won and our team has lost.

And it was all my fault.  If only I had caught the stupid ball.  It was a play that I had made over and over again all season long and I had failed to execute it on the last play of the last game of the year against the team that I wanted to beat more than any other.

Tears started to well up in my eyes as I walked toward the dug-out.  No one said a word to me; not the coaches, not the players, not any of the parents.  I was in my own personal solitary confinement.  The coaches said a few things to the team about a tournament that we were going to play the next week, but I wasn’t listening.  It didn’t matter.  I had screwed up.  I was a failure. 

My dad tried to make it over to me to console me, to tell me that it was going to be all right.  But I didn’t let him.  I walked ahead of him and my mom up the hill to the car.  I opened the door of his old Ford Grenada and flooped onto the old, red vinyl seat.

And I sobbed.  Uncontrollably and unashamedly. 

My parents tried to encourage me.  They told me it was just one play and that I would get more chances in the future if I just kept my head up and kept trying.  They said that games aren’t lost on just one play.  They said that my team would need me and support me in the upcoming tournament. 

I believed them a little until I arrived at our first game of the tournament.  My coach told me that I would be playing left field instead of first base. 

I was devastated.  My parents had told me that my coaches wouldn’t blame me for losing the game, but with that one decision I found out that they did blame me.

We lost both of the games that we played in the tournament. 

I never played organized baseball again. 

My dad tried to encourage me to try again next year.  He said that I would get better and enjoy it more.  He said that every athlete has setbacks, but that I should look at it as an opportunity to improve and  prove people wrong.  I told him that I had made my decision and that I never wanted to talk about it again. 

So we didn’t. 

But there have been times when I look back on it and think that he was probably right.  If I had stuck with it, maybe I would have improved greatly.  Maybe I would have proven my coaches wrong and enjoyed the ongoing camraderie of being on a team. 

I really regret not trying again the next year.  If only I had listened to my father.

I try to do a better job now of listening to my Heavenly Father.

There have been times I have failed and felt like a failure.  There have been times that I wanted to quit.  There have been times when the mistakes have piled up and I have felt like Iwas to blame for all of my families problems.

When God felt so far away, I could still hear His voice. 

 He encouraged me not to quit.  He reminded me of better days to come.  He spoke light into my darkness.

He gave me the ability to hear His voice above all of the others. 

He can do the same for you.

Maybe a mistake on your part has caused a loss for you and your family.  It’s possible that at this very moment you consider giving up to be an option.  It could be that your boss is blaming you or your spouse is blaming you or your kids are blaming you.  Maybe you deserve some of the blame.

Take a deep breath and listen.  Do you hear it? 

The voice of the One who holds all things in His hands is calling out to you.  Telling you to trust Him, to try again, to never give up.

The mistakes that we make in life are more serious than the one that I made on the baseball field that night so many nights ago.  But the results are often the same.  Maybe you are  sobbing on the inside.  Maybe you are sobbing on the outside.

Either way, your Father wants you to hear his voice.  You need to hear his voice. 

We are not alone in our manifold miseries.  God is with us.  If we listen to His voice above all of the others, there are days filled with sunshine ahead.

Be still and know that He is God.  Be calm and focus on His voice.

We may have lost badly during parts of our lives, but there are victories ahead if we only listen to the encouraging words of our Father.

Need a Coach–Coach Johnny Darden is Available

Yet another article about Coach Darden in the Knoxville News Sentinel here:

A well-deserved award to the best coach I ever had the privilege of knowing personally.  As stated in a previous post, he helped tremendously in reinforcing the lessons that my parents taught me.  It was not just about basketball, of course. 

Perserverance, patience, passion, purpose and a whole lot of other words that start with letters other than “p”. 

Thanks again, Coach Darden.  I’m praying that another group of young men will have the honor of calling you “Coach.”

Hoping for One More Win (At Least)

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported today that Coach Johnny Darden was let go as the boy’s basketball coach at CAK.  You can see it here:

Coach Darden was my basketball coach at Carter High School.  He is a good coach and a good man who tried to instill in his players moral character as well as teaching them the game of basketball.

He leaves CAK with 599 career wins.  I know that winning basketball games is not the most important thing to him.  However, I wish him at least one more win.  600 is a nice, round number.

God Bless you, Coach.

First, an Admission

Yeah, I know.  I haven’t really kept up with my blogging very well.    So, here are a few quick hits (with apologies to 2 guys named Larry).

When a man all of a sudden decides to leave his wife, he is committing murder.  That “one” that was formed in marriage is dead and he is to blame. 

It’s ironic when people complain about people who complain.  Think about it.  This also goes for gossiping about people who gossip or being ungracious to people who are ungracious.

March Madness has to be the best time of year for any true sports fan. 

I went to the Bristol Race this past weekend.  According to this sampling of people, 85% of the world’s population drink beer; 50% have mullets.

The other day, I looked out the window and saw our youngest boy pull down his pants and poop in my Mother-in-law’s front yard.  Lord, help me.

My nominee for the funniest word to write:  poop.

Our March Gladness services have been awesome.  The last one is this  Monday (March 30th) at 7pm.  Dr. Hollie Miller will be preaching.  You should come.  Really.

I like it when people smile.  Even if they have teeth like mine.

I’m disappointed that both of Tennessee’s basketball teams lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  I’m even more disappointed that more people care about that than they do about all of the children who are aborted, all of the people who go to bed hungry, and all of the people who have not yet begun their relationship with Jesus.

To quote Carl Williams, “Be good to yourself…and each other.”