The Church of Baseball

Halfway into Ron Shelton’s book “The Church of Baseball,” we were gifted tickets to the Diamondbacks/Phillies game at Chase Field on August 29.  As we drove downtown, I reflected on the book’s influence on how I may see the upcoming game. Shelton’s recounting of his minor league career revealed aspects of the game that had eluded me.  I resolved to sit back, soak it all in, and not get hung up on the score or who happened to be ahead. Given the Diamondback’s disappointing play in the first half of the season (they’ve lost more games than they’ve won) and their surging Philadelphia Phillies opponent, it seemed like a prudent approach.

Chase Field

We made our way to our favorite parking spot and little did I know this far-from sold-out game would turn into a remarkable battle, loaded with twists and turns. I now consider it the best live baseball game I have ever watched.

Ron Shelton grew up in a conservative, religious family and spent a good deal of time in church. In the late 60s and early 70s, he played minor league baseball with the Bluefield Orioles, Stockton Ports, the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, and Rochester Red Wings and grew disillusioned and angry about the Vietnam War when friends of his returned in body bags. Through the early and mid-1980s, he struggled to find a way to make a living in film, but mostly failed. Then he wrote a screenplay for a movie that eventually became Bull Durham.  The book provides deep detail on how the movie got made, along with his path to becoming a screenwriter and film director.  The book is great, but I most reveled in his approach to storytelling.  For instance, he talks about how he came to write Annie Savoy’s (played by Susan Sarandon) voice-over at the beginning of the movie, dictating her soliloquy into a beat up tape recorder as he drove his old Mustang across upstate New York:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. (sigh) But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology.

You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never borin’ (giggle) – which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Makin’ love is like hittin’ a baseball. You just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hittin’ under .250, unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.

You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him. And the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. Of course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe – and pretty. Of course, what I give them lasts a lifetime. What they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade, but bad trades are part of baseball. I mean, who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul – day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Arriving at Chase Field we found we had wonderful seats, maybe a dozen rows back, and overlooking first base. We also noticed we were not only behind the Phillies’ dugout but in a section filled with Phillies fans wearing Phillies hats, Phillies jerseys, and holding Phillies signs. We had little to worry about as after the first few innings, our section mates were in a great mood.  Each inning the Phillies were at the plate was a cheer fest for our section.  The Phillies pounded our pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, mercilessly and we trailed 7-0 after 3 ½ innings. The Phoenix radio announcers were glum, noting never in Diamondbacks history had they ever come back from a 7-point deficit – not once…ever.  They’d come back twice in the team’s 25-year history from being down by six points, but never seven. It wasn’t that the Phillies were just getting hits; they were hitting the ball hard — viciously so, and mean.  One ball hit by Phillies Bryce Harper left the bat at 113 mph, flying past our right fielder for an easy double.  Nine other hits were over 100 mph. I overheard the guy behind me say, “Wow, this is like batting practice.” What felt like the nail in the coffin came from Kyle Schwarber in the fourth inning, hitting his NL-leading 36th home run far into the right-field seats.

As the bottom of the fourth began, the stadium was mostly quiet, except for our Phillies section. But then things turned around. After Josh Rojas grounded out to first, Ketel Marte singled to left.  Then Christian Walker singled to left, moving Marte to second base.  Emmanuel Rivera whacked a double to deep right field, scoring Marte and moving Walker to third.  Stone Garrett singled to left, sending Walker home, and Rivera moved to third. We have 2 points, finally.  After Jake McCarthy struck out, rookie Corbin Carroll made it safely to first on a combination of a fielding error and blazing speed and, Rivera scores giving us 3 points.  Their pitcher walked Geraldo Perdomo, moving Carroll to second and Garrett to third.  Carson Kelly doubled to right, scoring Garrett, Perdomo, and Carroll and we had 6 points.  All of a sudden, in one inning, it’s a ball game!

When the inning ends (Rojas grounds out) we’re only behind by one point, 7-6.  Ten players have made it to the plate for the Diamondbacks.   In the top of the fifth, the Phillies batters were 3 up and 3 down and the Diamondbacks immediately went back to work.  Marte started things off with a double to left field.  Walker walked.  Then Rivera walked, moving Walker to second and Marte to third.  Garret struck out. Then, McCarthy is hit by a pitch, causing Marte to score, moving Rivera to second and Walker to third.  The score is now tied, 7-7.  Fans on all sides of us are mumbling. There are sounds of disgust. Then, in his major league debut, Corbin Carroll breaks the 7-7 tie with a double to left center, scoring Walker and Rivera and moving McCarthy to third.  The score is now 9 – 7, putting the Diamondbacks ahead. What a thrill for Carroll, but also for his family, friends, coaches, and former minor league players who’d made it a point to be in the stadium for this, his first major league game.  No one could have predicted this.  It was amazing!  But, would the Phillies rebound? Those around us certainly hoped they would.

Shelton was a relatively new and inexperienced director when he finally twisted the arm of an unlikely film studio to put up $6M to make Bull Durham.  He never dreamed the movie would earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and certainly, no one at the studio did either, given the constant second-guessing and attempts to change the film in major ways, including reshooting it with different actors.  And yet now, Bull Durham is seen as containing some of the best lines ever written, delivered by actors at the top of their creative work. For instance, the following line is one delivered by Crash Davis, Kevin Costner’s character, to Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) when she asks him what he does believe in:

“Well, I believe in the soul… the cock…the pussy… the small of a woman’s back… the hangin’ curveball… high fiber… good scotch… that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap… I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight.”  Annie responds, “Oh, my!”

Back in the stadium, the innings would pass and the Diamondbacks would add another score or two.  Then, in the bottom of the 8th, with the score 12-7, Stone Garrett (our left fielder) came to the plate, hitting a huge home run (396 feet) into the right field bleachers.  It was an anti-climactic final inning for the Phillies and the game was over. It was the first time in history the Phillies allowed six or more runs in back-to-back innings since 1997 before the Diamondbacks even existed.  At the top of the 4th inning, the Win Probability was 97.9% that Philadelphia would win.  By the top of the fifth inning, the probability Philly would win was 65.7% and by the bottom of the fifth, the Diamondbacks were projected to have an 88.3% chance of winning.

Shelton’s book connects on many levels.  If you are a fan of film, you’ll delight at Shelton’s inside stories and cinematic details movie watchers mostly miss. As a business guy, I loved learning the various roles people played, and the different departments involved (costumes, casting, camera and filming, lighting, sound, editing, set selection, location and design, legal and finance).  I never knew that nearly all films are made with at least one additional “second unit,” a team with a director, camera crew, actors, lighting, and sound going on at the same time the main scenes are being shot.  The only difference is, that those important scenes are the ones without the starring actors. But what was most inspiring in the book was learning more about the lives of minor league players; how hard they work and the constant fear of being cut or having an injury scuttle their dreams.

Standing in line for coffee this morning at Press Coffee – The Roastery, I commented on counter barista Michael’s arm tattoo, reading “Blessed” draped all along his arm from elbow to wrist in the largest lettering I’ve ever seen. I told him it made me smile every time I saw it.  “Ah yes,” he replied.  “I played college ball on scholarships but then tore out my ACL.  Every doctor told me I’d never play again.  I went back for one final second opinion and this doctor said,No, you can play, it will take a lot of work, but it’s possible.’ I got this tattoo the next day as I felt truly blessed.”

Top TV Pick #16: Tony Robbins: I AM NOT YOUR GURU (Netflix)

trailer for Tony Robbins film

It was in high school when a series of classic motivational literature found its way to me. It was after I’d begun to see there was a path for me to succeed in school. The books told me I wasn’t trapped by my circumstances. They said no one but me could decide how I wanted to think about something, and by controlling my thoughts and attitudes, I could impact my life for the better. The key books I recall reading at least once and several multiple times, were:

  • Napoleon Hill, “Think and Grow Rich”
  • Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
  • Norman Vincent Peal, “The Power of Positive Thinking”
  • “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Schwartz

I loved these books and believe they did indeed change my life. When Maggie and I met she’d had a brief experience working at a place she referred to as the “Rah-Rah Company.” Apparently, their hyper reliance on “positive news only” over realism, and questionable ethical decisions by their president turned her off and I too began to think these books might be too simplistic. As a result, I switched to books offering more practical advice on management, personal, and business techniques promising ideas that could be immediately implemented. In addition to reading every new top-selling business book on NYT’s bestseller lists, I occasionally dipped into the self-help genre and enjoyed things like the “Seven Effective Habits” book by Steven Covey, Tim Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Workweek,” and Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?”

Tony Robbins was a guy who was somewhere in the middle. I read a number of his books and bought some of his training programs and found them helpful, especially the courses which I would tend to repeat over and over in my car on my way to work. But I worried that Robbins may be attracting “groupie-types” or cultish followers who preferred to sit in seminars versus getting things done. It was with ambivalence and suspicion I watched the documentary “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru.” The documentary, however, changed my opinion of him. Yes, he’s still tall with a huge chin and deep growly voice, but I am now far more positively inclined to what he is doing. The documentary doesn’t sugar coat what he does. But watching this I came to believe if you want to see the positive in this you will, if you chose to see the negative, that is there too. It will depend a great deal on your personal perspective.

Kudos to Robbins’ longevity and the long string of powerful endorsements from credible and well-respected people. I liked Robbins’ approach in the documentary and his willingness to give the film crew nearly unfettered access to him and his staff as they plan and execute one of their events. The Robbins organization appeared to never once try to tell the filmmakers what they should say or not say and made no attempts to stifle criticisms or act defensively. I’m now of the opinion that on balance, he has figured out a way to help people find their path in life and to do it quickly, effectively, and honestly. He’s not perfect, but I have no doubts about his sincerity.

Here is his site: Tony Robbins – The Official Website of Tony Robbins

Here is a link to more about my book reading history.

Top TV Pic #15: Himalaya Calling and Pedro Mota’s YouTube videos

Himalaya Calling trailer

Following my recommendation of a series of YouTube videos made by Pedro Mota, two of my friends responded with how much they liked an Amazon Prime documentary, Himalaya Calling – Overland to the highest passes in the world. They were right! I’ve watched three of the four episodes, and they are great.  Plus, these have far broader appeal than Mota’s videos. Maggie loved the incredible scenery from a part of the world that is rarely photographed because it is so remote and empty.

This 4-epsisode film stars two German guys, Eric Peters and Alain Beger. They are not super jocks, handsome movie stars, or killer riders.  They’re mostly normal, although trained and experienced enough to take six months and spent it on an incredible adventure to a part of the world few visit.  Their real skill is the way they managed to capture this adventure with only hi-res cameras mounted on their helmets, bikes, and a drone.  No supplemental film crew, chase vehicles, or backups, and rarely cell phone coverage.  They got spectacular footage and edited it into a smoothly compelling movie series.  You don’t have to be a motorcycle rider to appreciate this amazingly ambitious accomplishment.

The original was made in German but the Amazon Prime version has an English language soundtrack.  I’m guessing the guy’s actual voices would have been better, but as I don’t speak German, this is an acceptable compromise.  Oh, and there is some salty language at times, but it’s not overdone. Check it out and let me know what you think.

For more hardcore riders, I also have to recommend Pedro Mota, who’s ridden his Transalp just about everywhere. His videos are on YouTube and are all genuine, unpolished, rough, and transparent.  They show what it’s like to explore roads and trails you’ve only heard about but never ridden.  This totally meets the definition of “adventure,” unlike the hyper-staged media extravaganzas like “The Long Way Down,” and its sequels.  Mota chronicles what actually happens, and does it all alone, without a camera crew or backups.

The first video is enlightening. I think I felt grit from his ride in my own teeth!  Skip down for notes and links to the second.

His second video, below, is a continuation of the one above.  It shows one of the most wonderful things that happen when adventure riding.  You meet incredible people.  You learn so much about what humanity is all about.  You get to really touch the world.

These aren’t professionally produced, the editing is spotty, the camera angles are sometimes horrible, and forget about the soundtrack.  And sometimes, things happen in languages you won’t understand and he forgets to translate.  To me, however, that is the magic of these things.  They’re raw and real and so reminded me of some of my rides in uncanny ways.  If today’s camera technology had been around back then, I could have made some cool movies, I think.

TV Top Pick #14: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople trailer screenshot

Do you ever wish for a compelling but simple story having no agenda? Something that every minute you watch you just smile, and say to yourself, “OMG, this is just so good!” If so, watch “Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The story here is funny and touching, the scenery spectacular, and the actors create strong, believable characters.  The original songs are hilarious and the occasional haiku poems a hoot.  I have to give credit for this film to the director, Taika Waititi, who also wrote the screenplay based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress.”  Waititi has won accolades for his other movies like “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Jojo Rabbit.”  He is so clearly at the top of his game here, confidently balancing comedy with superb story-telling, making it just magical in its simplicity and wonder.

My thanks for learning about this movie go to my niece, Christen Phaenuf, who is staying with us for a few weeks. Since we can’t be out and about with Covid, we’re watching movies.  It’s been a great time sharing personal favorites.  This was one of hers and after watching it, I can see why, and it is now one of mine.  It is a delightful experience to watch this movie.  We rented this 2016 film from Amazon Video but I now see that it is free on Netflix.  It stars Sam Neil and Julian Dennison, just 14 years old when the movie was made.