Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Faith and Baseball

Last night the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays in game 5 of the American League Division Series to advance to the next round of Major League Baseball's playoffs. The Rangers have been through a lot this year. Prior to the season their coach, Ron Washington, failed a drug test and admitted to having used cocaine. He retained his job, but not without much public scrutiny. During the regular season the team's owner, Tom Hicks, had to file for bankruptcy because of a series of bad financial decisions. That led to a hearing to determine what would be done about the ownership. It was determined that an auction would be held in which the highest bidder would own the team. That set off a bidding war between team president and former Ranger great Nolan Ryan and Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban for the ownership rights. Nolan Ryan and business partner Chuck Greenberg eventually won but not before many lawsuit threats and much courtroom drama. The whole scene was prime for a cheesy made for TV movie. Amidst all this the Rangers kept playing baseball, and played well.

That brings us to today, the day after the Rangers become the last MLB team to win a postseason series despite being in existence for almost 50 years (they had previously won just one playoff game all-time). I was listening to a local sports radio show this morning and the hosts were fielding phone calls from fans about the Rangers' success. A lady called in and said that she had been close to the team, been around and talked to players and coaches on multiple occasions. She didn't say in what capacity she had this privilege, but her comments that followed caught my ear. She said something to the effect of, "you can talk about baseball all you want, but I want to talk about faith.....many players on this team have faith in God.....and God is with this team.....there is a higher power at work here.....He will get them to the World Series...." I admired her courage to bring that up on live broadcast radio and it made me wonder, "does God affect the outcome of baseball games?"

On one hand, baseball is just a game. It's a sport that was designed for recreational enjoyment and as my wife pointed out last night, the men that play it professionally seem like little boys out there. With all the significant events that are going on in the world and in people's lives, does God really care who wins a baseball game? On the other hand, this game is a profession to some people. It's their career, their livelihood, their identity, their life. Winning or losing can influence and sometimes determine the fate of players, coaches, managers, trainers, and many others involved in baseball. As believers, don't we believe that our own life path was given to us by God? So why wouldn't the life of someone who's involved in baseball, who is defined by the outcome of games, be influenced as much by God? Then again, there will always be a winner and loser at the end of a baseball game, how would God decide who it is?

I don't know that there is a clear cut answer for these questions, but as a believer I know that we're not defined by earthly victories and losses. Whether we are experiencing success or failure, prosperity or destitution, winning the game or losing the game, we need to praise God. And that whatever happens to us on this Earth, our real reward lies in being with Him in heaven.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Unorthodox Workout

I've been exercising on my own avidly for about the last 4 years. When I say "on my own", I mean compared to when I was in high school and was forced to exercise when playing sports. Near the end of high school and most of my freshman year of college I enjoyed the freedom of not having to exercise by......not exercising. Instead of gaining weight and acquiring a bloated gut the way many people do I got skinny and weak. Near the end of my freshman year I decided to get back into exercising, this time on my own terms.

Anytime I go into a gym I see guys doing the same few exercises. I see bench press and curls mostly. I guess these kind of guys are exercising for cosmetic reasons and want a built chest and bulging biceps for when they take their shirt off at the pool. The worst are the ones who grunt after every rep trying to draw attention to themselves. I affectionately refer to them as meat heads. I worked my way back into shape by doing many of the same exercises you'll see the typical guy do (though without the boisterous grunting). There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but lately I have been wanting something more from my workouts. Something atypical.

I stumbled upon a high metabolism workout in Men's Health Magazine a little over a month ago and thought I'd try it. I had no idea at the time what I was getting myself into. It had exercises with names like swings, burpees, thrusters, and getups to name a few. It had rep counts that are known as pyramids where one set consists of 15 reps, the next 14, alternating two different exercises until you reach 1 rep. It had a routine that was made up of 4 circuits to be completed 10 times. Each exercise had 10 reps making the routine a total of 400 reps (500 if you count left and right arm separately for a few of the moves). It had a routine in which you go from one exercise to the next without resting continuously for 20 minutes. I think that 20 minutes was the longest 20 minutes I had ever experienced. At the end of each session I was absolutely drenched in sweat. People would sometimes look at me funny while I was doing it, but I took this as a good sign. This was definitely the unorthodox workout I was looking for.

I just completed 4 weeks of this high metabolism workout routine and it was one of the most physically challenging things I have ever had to do. At the end of routine it felt like I had just won a battle. Now I'll move on to different routine, maybe not quite as challenging but I'll try to make it just as atypical. There are many rules to getting the most out of exercising but I think that if you do something each day that makes you'll be alright.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jamie Cullum

I like to think that I have an eclectic taste in music. I can enjoy the works from such variable musicians as Miles Davis, Culture Club, Pearl Jam, Tchaikovsky, Eminem, and many, many others. I also like to think that I have a discerning taste in music as it has been difficult for me to get into much of the modern artists that are taking the world by storm like Lady Gaga, Kesha, and Miley Cyrus. I have attended numerous great concerts of noted veterans in the music industry. My two favorite concerts that I've ever been to are of the same person.

Jamie Cullum is not a household name in the United States. He may be in England, however, where he is originally from and seems to have a wide, devoted following. His latest album was released in the UK four months before it appeared here in the states. His music might be characterized as jazz/pop though it's difficult to pinpoint specifically. He is a multi-instrumentalist though he spends most of his time at the piano. His vocal style calls to mind Harry Connick Jr. but with a rougher, gritty edge.

I have been a fan of his for the last seven years and finally got to see him perform live in 2006. I was in awe of his show and knew that if I ever had the chance I was going to see him again. That chance came again this summer as I just saw him last week. I went with my wife who had never seen him before but is also a huge fan, and two other friends. As he walked out on stage the audience immediately erupted in joyful and applause even though he had yet to sing or play a single note. It was nice to know that even in a somewhat small venue in north Texas he had fans that were as enthusiastic as me. His band consisted of a set drummer, bass player, trumpet/guitarist, and tenor sax/keyboardist with Jamie on piano. He started the set with a new tune called "I'm All Over It" and the first sound that came out from his voice put a smile on my face that didn't leave for the at least the next two hours. His set list had a nice variety of tunes from the various albums he's recorded over the years. It was a perfect blend of fast, get up and dance type songs like "Get Your Way", poignant, mellow pieces like "Photograph" and others that lie in between like a sultry cover of "Please Don't Stop the Music" which in my eyes is a vast improvement from the original. He came out for an encore and did a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary" and his original ballad "Gran Torino" that he wrote for the motion picture and which was nominated for a Golden Globe. He stands at only about 5'6" and weighs no more than 125 but his stage presence is enormous. He truly grabs the members of his audience and takes them on a musical adventure that they will probably not experience the likes of very often. Even when he just talked between tunes his charisma made him seem like the kind of guy you could chill with have a meaningful conversation. The concert was just unbelievable and my description does not come even close to giving it what it's due. My wife said it was the best concert she's ever been to hands down.

After the concert we found his tour bus and waited with a small group of people for 45 minutes to an hour with just a hope that we could see him and possibly get an autograph. When he finally emerged from a back door of the theater he seemed happy to greet his fans and spend a little time with us. We got his autograph, picture with him, had a little conversation, and he even kissed my wife's cheek, which I guess is standard practice where he's from. She raved about getting kissed by Jamie Cullum all the way home. If you are not familiar with Jamie I implore you to check out his work and I don't think you'll be disappointed. If you ever get the chance to catch one his shows don't even give it a second thought, just buy the tickets immediately. You will be in for a phenomenal musical experience.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dogs and Golf Part II: Can they really be considered elite athletes?

Below you can read Part I of this series. The first thing that's really been burning me up lately is dogs. The second thing is game of golf.

I know that many people play golf. Men and women, young and old, middle class, upper class, not so much lower class. Many businessmen play golf with potential clients. Many older men play to relax and get some peace and quiet. Many women play because they are good at it and its enjoyable. That is all fine. But as I think about all these people that play golf, are they really considered athletes? Is what they're doing really considered a sport? Is it really an athletic endeavor? I turned on my TV to ESPN last weekend just to see what was on and unfortunately they had golf on for the next several hours. It was the Masters tournament. The guys that compete in the Masters are the best in the world. They are called elite athletes. As I looked at these guys for a few moments before changing the channel I noticed something. Almost all them looked out of shape. They had protruding, pot-belly guts, moobs (that's man-boobs for those that don't know), they walked like ducks, and they had a defeated looking, sulking stature. Does this fit the description of an elite athlete? At the time there was a 60 year old in the top five of the tournament standings. A 60 year old. Can a guy that's 60 years old truly be one of the best at something that is considered an athletic endeavor? Is this honestly a sport if a 60 year old is competitive against 25 year old's? I watched for a few more moments. Here's what a physical task golf is. A guy hits his golf ball. Then he gets in a cart and rides to wherever his ball landed. If its a short distance and he walks, someone else carries his clubs. And these are the professionals. Can this really be in the same category as football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis, or even marching band? I was in marching band and I can tell you that there is far more energy expended doing that than there is in playing golf.

Tiger Woods was named the Athlete of the Decade for 2000-2009. He was by far the best golfer of the decade and he is an extraordinary athlete. But playing golf is not what make him a great athlete. The way he trains does. He would probably be great in any sport if he chose to focus on that from an early age. He physically works his body the way elite athletes are supposed to. But do you know why he's so dominant at the game of golf? Because he's competing against fat guys, slow guys, guys who eat too much fried food, guys who are sedentary when they're not hitting golf balls, guys who have man boobs, and 60 year old's! Can someone really be the greatest athlete across an entire decade when this is his competition? The guy who won the Masters this year, by the way, Phil Mickelson, seems like a really nice guy. And he's had to persevere through his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer. Congratulations to him for winning this year's Masters. I respect him as a person. But he looks like he's about ten years removed from being in really good physical shape (see photo below). And there are other professionals in far worse shape. Its clear that being in top notch physical condition is not a requirement for being good golfer. This makes the game of golf different from almost everything else that is considered a sport (the exception is Nascar, don't even get me started on that).

I don't mind that a lot of people play golf. I have no problem with how much they enjoy it. But let's stop kidding ourselves. Stop calling it a sport. Stop calling the people that play it athletes. And please stop calling the professional golfers elite athletes! It's a skill, but not a sport. And on the continuum of things that are athletic endeavors its somewhere in between watering the azaleas and checking the mail.

Dogs and Golf Part I: Perros = Los Diablos

I've been burning on a couple of things lately. This might make some folks mad because they are two things that many people enjoy. Some people make both a significant part of their lives. But I don't care because each has really been burning me up lately.

I'll start with dogs. There are some good dogs out there. The kind that live outside, provide some quiet companionship, and maybe even keep intruders away. I don't mind this kind of dog too much, but its another kind of dog that I do mind, one that has become all too common for the American family. Its those little dogs that live inside, have a high pitched squeal of a bark, and become the center of attention at any social gathering. The kind that are about the size of a brick or two. They resemble a furry brick with four legs and a snout. I digress. Anyway, my neighbors have a dog like this. Every time I walk into or out of my apartment I hear this incessant high pitched yip yip yip followed by its owners shouting, "Boss! Stop that Boss! Get over here! Shut up!" And yet despite its owners' imperative commands it continues to bark as if it doesn't even understand English. I think the first problem with this situation is that they named their dog Boss. I feel that this is symbolic. A boss is the head of group. It has the final say, the most authority. When you name your dog boss you're saying that you are no longer own the dog but the dog owns you. I enter and leave my apartment several times each day. What kind of life is it to hear an abrupt high pitched repetitive interjection of a noise, yell at the top of your lungs for it to stop, and it doesn't even listen to you. If that's man's best friend then I'd hate to encounter man's worst enemy.

My fiancee's family has a similar dog. All too similar. Every time I visit her when she's visiting them I ring the doorbell and......"Yip yap yip yip!" "Shut up!" "Yip yip yip!" "Get in your pen!" "Yip yap!" "Quiet!" "Yip!" And then finally when my fiancee answers the door its, "Sorry about that." [look of disgust on her face] "Ugh...stupid dog." And this happens every time, no exceptions. What a way to begin a visit with my future wife that I don't get to see all the time at the moment! Her mom always says, "one of these days you'll come and that dog won't be here anymore." [with a 'what a relief that will be' look] And they always offer to send it home with me whenever I leave. Does this sound like a playful, loyal companion that many want to treat as part of the family? Its bad enough to do it to babies, but at least there's a chance they may pick up on something one day. With dogs, the best you're going to get is another high pitched, "Yip!"

Another thing about this kind of dog - people react to them the same way they do with babies. What I mean is, a group can be sitting around having a semi-intellectual conversation, then the furry four-legged brick runs in. These same people who one second before may have been discussing the threat of capitalist degradation are now babbling incoherently to a thing that has no capacity to comprehend this dumbed down form of human language. Have you seen these people? The ones that baby talk to dogs? It's sickening.

Maybe I'm just a despicable person. But maybe some of you now understand why I don't like dogs that much. Like I said, not all dogs are like that, some a very good. But even the good ones seem like a nuisance to me. And for the second thing that's been burning me up........above entry

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It has been too long since my last blog. For that I apologize. Lots has happened since then. Maybe I'll take some time to catch you up. Maybe not. I could write a whole series of blogs on an awful experience I had with the Best Buy Geek Squad when my computer got a virus. I could write a blog series on my observations of middle school coaches. I could write about how to and how NOT to study for exams in grad school. That would probably be an insomnia cure though. Most importantly, since my last blog entry, I proposed to my then girlfriend and much to my surprise she actually said yes! But the subject of this blog entry will be something that recently had a profound impact on my day and maybe my life.

Part of my job as a graduate research assistant is going into area middle schools and helping give fitness tests as well as administer a survey. We give students two surveys - one is demographic and the other is psychosocial. Yesterday I helped a special needs student fill out the psychosocial portion. As we were walking down the hall he noticed that it was storming outside and told me that he was frightened of thunder and lightning. I tried to comfort him by telling him we would be going to a room safe from the storm. Every time he heard the thunder he got a concerned look on his face.

Part of the survey asks about the student's outlook on his or her future. It addresses optimism, self-efficacy, and other similar concepts. After this student finished the survey we walked back into the hall and by that time it had stopped storming and the sun was coming out. He stopped and looked out the window saying, "Hey, the sun is coming out! I wrote (on the survey) that I thought something good was going to happen today and it did!" He repeated this sort of thing a few times and then said something that I won't soon forget. "Maybe Jesus saw what I was writing and made the sun come out." I told him that he was right then walked him back to his class. This student has no idea the profound impact that he had on the rest of my day and probably for many days to come. In his candid expression he painted the perfect picture of faith, hope, and optimism. Christ said that we should have faith like a child. This was no better illustrated to me than by this special needs student that I will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Bell-Shaped Curve

I was sitting in my research perspectives class maybe a month ago and my professor was talking about the bell-shaped curve in statistics. He said something profound about it that I have been thinking about lately and may answer some questions that I have always wondered. "The bell-shaped curve is a pretty good way of looking at life." -Dr. Allen Jackson. If you look at a bell-shaped curve with normal distribution, you'll notice that most of the space occupied in the bell-shaped curve resides in the middle. When applied to humanity, what the bell-shaped curve says is that on any given topic, most people will fall somewhere in the middle. Let's take intelligence, for example. What the bell-shaped curve says is that if you take any ten people that provide a decent representation of the population two will be highly intelligent, six will have average intelligence, and two will have low intelligence. You can apply this to just about anything - athleticism, musical ability, height, etc. What this means is that on any given subject most people are average. This is not meant to be insulting because most people will be on the high end of some subject, albeit quite obscure in many cases.

I have often wondered why in the field of entertainment there are some things that appeal to me so much, that are of such high quality and depth and complexity, yet they never reach the masses. I read recently that arguably the most influential and popular jazz record of all time, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, has sold more than two million copies worldwide. I think that Kind of Blue is masterpiece, and yet it has sold a mere two million copies compared to Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf which has sold over 43 million and Millennium by Backstreet Boys which has sold over 40 million. How this applies the bell-shaped curve philosophy is that if most people are average then for something to appeal to most people it must be average. It is the same thing with classical music like the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 which I was in utter awe of after I heard it. There are very few people in the world, however, that would name that piece of music as one of the best they've ever heard. I can see this being applicable in the movie industry as well. Movies like Transformers, which to me was absolute garbage, continue to be smash hits at the box office. My favorite movie might be What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, no mass appeal there. Shows like Friends, whose series finale had 52.5 million viewers, have massive audience appeal yet are pretty average to me. There are exceptions of course, but the fact that there are exceptions concurs with the philosophy of the bell-shaped curve. Exceptions prove the rule, as they say.

I enjoy Michael Jackson's music, the TV show Seinfeld, and watching the Super Bowl just like multitudes of other people, but the bell-shaped curve makes me feel better about some of the things I like that others don't as well as the things that many others like that I don't. Does that make me elite? Of course not. Does that make me condescending? Absolutely not. Does that make me average? I hope not.