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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Perquisite Pumpkin

Per-qui-site (noun, formal)
“Another term for perk, as in extra or unexpected gift or benefit”

Thanksgiving is right around the corner! So about this time every year my wife starts baking dozens of loaves of Pumpkin Nut Bread to give to friends and family. Her Pumpkin Nut Bread isn’t just a “good eat” it’s absolutely 100% insanely delicious. I’ve told her many times she should start a business selling it and even though it’s only one product, she would probably get very rich with it.

However, my wife isn’t interested in getting rich. She just wants to put smiles on people’s faces…and boy does that pumpkin bread work!

On Saturday she gave me some pumpkin bread to give to each of my golfing buddies. We teed off super early in the cold and frosty morning air but finished in warm sunlight before noon. In between we had a great time golfing and sharing guy type stories and before I left, I gave each one of them a small loaf of my wife’s pumpkin nut bread. About an hour later I got a phone call from “JB” and he started the conversation saying, “I am not a considerate person. I mean I never call anyone to say thanks. But as I was driving home I couldn’t resist trying the pumpkin bread your wife made and it is really awesome. I don’t know…I just felt compelled and had to call you to say thank you!”

I laughed when I got that phone call from “JB”. He is such a great guy and I always have fun golfing with him, but his description of himself as not being a considerate person cracked me up. Maybe he doesn’t take the time to call and say thank you sometimes, but he is far from inconsiderate. He’s a single father who adores his son, an employer who is highly respected by his employees and a person who does a ton of charity work all year long. “JB” is a class act all the way and I actually feel guilty now that I gave him such a small loaf. (I’ll have to give him a double loaf at Christmas time!)

That phone call got me thinking about how the smallest acts of kindness can often have a profound impact on people. It might be a small loaf of pumpkin bread, or a quick phone call to say thanks, or even just a bright smile from a stranger. But no small act of kindness is ever a singular event. One person touched…touches another…who touches another… who touches another…and so on. Any act of kindness, even a perquisite pumpkin, is a gift that can keep on giving exponentially!  

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.
~ Cicero

Monday, November 17, 2014

Looking For Love

This is just my opinion, but I believe that most everyone born on this earth is born with an innate desire for love. It’s built into us from birth and since God is love and He created us out of love, then having love in our lives is truly a miracle, a miraculous gift from God! Maybe that is what is meant by “We were made in His image”.
However, we obviously have other desires as well, a better home, a bigger car, nicer clothes, or perhaps a real 40 hour work week, etc. But all of those things pale in comparison to our desire to love and to be loved back. Speaking of a 40 hour work week, one of my friends told me he was recently offered the option at his company of only having to work half days. The problem was he couldn’t figure out which 12 hours he wanted to choose. (LOL) Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is that human beings are wired for love and if we take the time to look around at the world and the people sharing it with us, it is absolutely on display 24 hours a day.

Yesterday I dropped my wife off at Rogers Gardens in Newport Beach so she could shop for some of their really beautiful Christmas ornaments. Her Charity is participating in the “Festival of Trees” this year where people donate their time and money to decorate Christmas Trees that are then auctioned off to raise money for needy people. People spending their time and their money to help others in need are obviously performing an act of love.
As I backed out of the parking lot, I saw an elderly couple getting out of their car. The woman unloaded a wheelchair and then very slowly and very carefully helped her husband into it so they could “stroll” through Rogers Gardens together. Obvious act of love.
I stopped at a gas station on my way home and noticed a woman on the corner with a small child and an even smaller cardboard sign asking for help. While I filled up with gas I saw at least three cars stop and give the woman money. I shouldn’t have been surprised that so many people were willing to help. Obvious act of love each time.

When I got close to home and drove down our narrow one lane street there a young father out front with his daughter. He was teaching her how to ride a bicycle but because the street is so narrow he put out cones to slow down the cars. He looked stressed but the young girl had a huge smile. Another obvious act of love.
And that got me thinking… If I ever feel sad or lonely all I have to do is look for love and I will find it….and then I will be reminded that inside each of us is a miracle!

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.
~ Anonymous

Monday, November 10, 2014

Carbon Copy Imprint

I have always thought that children were God's best invention. It's truly amazing how they grow so fast and learn so quickly. They get excited about everything and they take in everything around them like a sponge and that's where we as adults come in. Whether we have children of our own or just come into contact with children in our daily lives, we have to realize we leave an imprint. Children look up to us and picture us as supreme beings. So if we do leave an imprint on their lives, what should it look like? And would it be okay if it was a carbon copy of our own lives?

On Saturday I played in a baseball game with my Halo Baseball Club at Angel Stadium. It's our big end of the year charity event to raise money for Cerebral Palsy. Actually, Dennis Kuhl, Chairman of the LA Angels, started this event in memory of his father Bud Kuhl, and it's always a huge success. I mean who wouldn't want to wear a real Angel uniform and play baseball at the Big A in front of a couple hundred family and friends!

Everyone brings their children to this event and in between games kids are allowed to go onto the field and take pictures.  It's really fun because the kids get so excited and it doesn't hurt that former Angel Ballplayers like Clyde Wright and Rod Carew are usually there signing autographs and giving tours of Angel Stadium. Before the game even started I had a young boy, Tony, approach me and ask me for my autograph. He was only about 7 years old and even though I explained that I was not a real LA Angel, he wasn't buying it. He saw my uniform and was convinced I must be somebody special. I signed his baseball and off he went gathering dozens of autographs from everyone else in a uniform. One of the players even gave him a bat so that he could get autographs on a real wood baseball bat. That young boy never stopped smiling the whole game.

Our team played really hard and we gave it our best effort, but it didn't exactly go the way we hoped. We lost the game 8-4 but in all honesty, we had so much fun that it felt more like a win! After shaking hands with the other team the kids poured onto the field one more time. That same young boy, Tony, and his Dad approached me all excited and asked for a picture with me. Tony didn't care if I won or lost. He was just happy to be at a ball game and get to meet ballplayers. I admit that I was having so much fun, I didn't really care if I won or lost either and made sure that I was all smiles for Tony. I suppose I could have been dejected and felt like a loser, but then what kind of an imprint would that have left on Tony? Children need to learn that real "winning" is in the journey and the friendships you make along the way, not in the individual games played.

I have to admit that I am a very competitive person and I love to win as much as anyone. But I also realize there are always going to be little eyes upon me and they're going to be influenced more by my attitude than by my results!

Tony and Joe at Angel Stadium

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
~ Frederick Douglass

Monday, November 3, 2014

Don't Walk Away

Why do we sometimes let “fear of failure” keep us from experiencing the more awesome moments in life? I admit making that mistake several times and then regretting it afterwards, so recently I said yes to a very difficult challenge and discovered something “good” about “fear”.
I’ve been playing baseball on the Halo Baseball Club for over 10 years. I never played little league as a kid, so in the beginning when I started out with HBC, I wasn’t very good…and trust me…that’s an understatement! But I fell in love with the sport and made so many great friends that I decided to stick with it and see if could learn to be a decent player.
Slowly, over time, I became a solid defensive player but really struggled with hitting. Rarely did I bat over .200 for a season and it became a source of embarrassment and frustration for me. It got so bad that 18 months ago I was on the verge of walking away from the sport for good. But I remember sitting on the end of the bench after striking out…and praying about it…and shortly afterwards a teammate told me about a new hitting coach. His friendship and support touched me so I decided to give it one more try. I signed up for weekly lessons and started going to additional practices and really putting the work in. I read books on hitting, watched videos, and studied the good hitters on my team. I truly gave it my best effort and slowly things began to turn around. This past season was my best ever (.325 BA) and I found myself going to the plate with a new found confidence. My hard work was paying off and I discovered that the reward for hard work was that I was having a lot more fun!
Then in July…I got the news. I had been picked to play on an elite team that would be going to the 2014 MSBL World Series in Phoenix in October and competing in the 55+ division. I was in shock because I had never come close to being picked for a World Series Team before. After the news sank in, the fear started up. Playing in a team sport is scary because if you make a mistake, or drop the ball, you let down the entire team. Plus I would be playing with guys that are probably much better than I am and that scared the heck out of me.
The more I thought about it, the more I worried about it. After a few weeks the “fear of failing” was beginning to give me serious stomachaches. I decided it was going to be too hard and too stressful so I typed out a text message to the Manager, thanking him for choosing me, but declining his offer. However, I never pressed “send”. It’s funny, every time I thought about playing in the MSBL World Series my stomach got butterflies and I thought about sending the text message. I was basically making myself sick worrying about it but I still never sent out that message. And then it was time to go….
Upon arriving in Phoenix and attending the initial team practice, I realized my fears were fully warranted. These guys are good! I barely slept that night knowing our first game was the next day and I was literally so nervous the next morning I could hardly put on my uniform (#29). I knelt down and said a long prayer before leaving the Hotel room and it calmed me down because I pictured Jesus kneeling down right next to me, in the same uniform (#1 of course), telling me that he was on my team…and that no matter what happened I couldn’t let Him down. How cool is that!
We fell behind early in our first game but came back to win it in the end. Although I only came off the bench for one at bat late in the game, I did get a solid hit and felt great that I got off to a good start. The next two games were eerily similar. We fell behind in the first inning but came back to win both games. I now had a total of three at bats, with two hits, but also played some defense and surprisingly…didn’t drop the ball! My confidence was growing.
Game four was played at Tempe Diablo Stadium, at night under the lights. It was going to be videotaped so that was added pressure. I think our Manager was getting more confident in us as a team (and in me as well) because I got to play more than half the game and got two really nice hits to help us win. 
We exploded during games five and six, scoring double digit runs. I was getting a lot more playing time and surprising myself by getting multiple hits in each game. We were all feeling good but we also realized that playing 6 games in 4 days had taken a toll on us physically. Our pitchers were tired and we lost one of our catchers to a torn hamstring. We only had one catcher now and we had to play a double header the next day, and win both games, in order to make it into the Championship Game.
We won the quarter-final game! But in the semi-final game we fell behind early (as usual) and it looked like we were going to be stopped short of our goal. When I came up to bat in the 7th inning, we were down by two runs. As I approached the plate our third base coach took me aside. He reminded me I had been swinging a hot bat but he also reminded me to loosen my grip and, “Don’t swing for the fences, just try to make solid contact.” His advice worked and I drove in a run. We got another run in the 8th inning to tie the game and a close friend of mine on the team got a walk off hit in the 9th to win the game! I was so excited for him and so excited for our team…we all rushed onto the field to celebrate. Now it was time to play the Championship Game!
As the Championship Game started I thought about how I almost quit before I started. I laughed at myself because I realized now that no matter what happened in the Championship Game, I was having the best time in my life and I was so glad I didn’t send that text message. The game began and of course we fell behind in the first inning 2-0, but we fought back and tied it up. Over the next 8 innings we went back and forth. I was one for two at the plate so far and felt good about that, but when we got to the bottom of the 9th inning, tied up again, I was glad I wasn’t coming up with the game on the line. However, we stayed tied and went into extra innings and wouldn’t you know it…with two outs and two men on in the bottom of the 10th, it was my turn to bat. I fell behind early (that’s the story of our team for sure) and with two strikes I was trying to guess what the pitcher would throw next and yet somehow stay relaxed. The pitch was a fastball, slightly up in the zone, and somehow I connected to drive it into left centerfield. The runner on second was our shortstop, who was a great base runner, so he took off for home and never hesitated. There was a close play at the plate…but the umpire called safe him safe… and then all hell broke loose! Our team exploded off the bench and tackled me on the infield. At the bottom of the pile I’m thinking I almost “walked away” from this challenge but instead got a “walk off” hit.  I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life!
On the way home from Phoenix I thought about everything that had happened. It seemed like a dream, a dream that would never have happened if I had given in to my fears. And yet, the fear of failure is what drove me to practice so hard and prepare so well. So maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing after all. If we use fear as motivation to work might just help us achieve dreams we never thought possible!

The So Cal Zephyrs win the 55+ World Series!

You block your dream when you allow
your fear to grow bigger than your faith. 
~ Mary Morrissey