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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Life, Baseball and My Son...

The Sandlot...
"He's trying to kill us!" my nine-year-old son said exasperated, after his coach made the team run two laps following their game last weekend, even though they won!

I couldn't help but start laughing.  "No, seriously Dad," he insisted, as we walked towards the car.  He always uses "seriously" now when trying to make a point.  "He's really trying to kill us."

"Buddy, that's what coaches do," I exclaimed.

The coach was upset about their sloppy play, including my son getting picked off second with the old hidden ball trick.

"They break the team down," I continued, "then build them up again.  That's what they do in the army, you know."

"Yeah, but those are soldiers, Dad!  We're kids!"

Good point, but I pressed on, "Buddy, he's trying to build character.  He's old school.  By breaking you down and building you up again, the team grows closer together and you accomplish things that you may not have accomplished otherwise.  Don't you remember the movie, Remember the Titans?"  

"That coach was nothing compared to our coach," he maintained.

"Buddy, that coach made them run until they threw up.... and he wouldn't let them drink water!"

My son is a bit melodramatic.  He gets it from his mom's side of the family, my emotions and my brother's acting aside!

At any rate, in one of his favorite movies, The Sandlot, James Earl Jones' character, Mr. Mertle, a former professional Negro League player, who knew Babe Ruth (Yes, The Sultan of Swat, The King of Crash, The Colossus of Clout, The Great Bambino!) and went blind when he was hit in the head by a fastball (before helmets!), says "Baseball was life!  And I was good at it... real good...."

While I wasn't as good as Mr. Mertle, for the greater part of my existence, from the time I was nine-years-old, like my son, until about ten years ago, when I last played in a men's league at the age of forty-three, baseball was life for me. Although, my wife may argue it still is!

I often tell my kids that baseball is like life and the conversation with my son reminded me of the first line of the best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, which states, "Life is difficult." And, so is baseball, especially when you have a coach yelling at you and making you run when you're already tired!

They say the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball.  A ball coming in at 90-95 miles per hour, gives a hitter about .4 seconds (yes, that's four tenths of a second!) to see the ball, decide whether to swing his bat and connect.  That doesn't even take into account that you have to square the ball with the bat just right and you have to hit it where nobody is standing or can make a play!

Baseball is a game of futility much like life.  For the most part, you have to fail a lot before you succeed. In fact, the best hitters in the game succeed only three out of every ten times at bat.  And, just when you think you have it all figured out, everything goes to pot.

You can be riding high on the hog in a hot hitting streak, feeling like the Geico piglet with his head out the window, holding a pinwheel, and yelling, "Wee, wee, wee," and the next day, you're in a slump and feeling like you're running in place in a pool of mud, pushing a riffle up and down over your head, as someone is wetting you with a garden hose, and you're crying, "I got nowhere else to go.  I got nowhere else to go...," ala Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Now. every time I say, "baseball is like life," my son shoots back, "No it isn't!"

Hope springs eternal; at spring training with the kids....
He doesn't understand what I mean, which is probably lost on my wife and daughters as well, although our oldest is growing in her passion for the game.  Maybe, she'll be a future Doris Kearns Goodwin, writing books and appearing on documentaries discussing her love for the game that her father taught her to love.  

Anyway, what I mean to say is that, while it can be said about other teams sports, baseball, more acutely than possibly anything else, resembles life itself; one, because of it's long and grueling season, which starts in Spring Training in February and ends with the World Series in November. You can have good days and bad days but there's always a chance for redemption tomorrow.  Two, it's deliberate pace and three, it's timelessness; both in duration (a game always lasts until somebody wins) and history, set upon the canopy of American culture.

There's nothing I want more than for my son to first, love God and the Church but then, to love and play baseball, that simple, yet complex, game played on a clay infield diamond surrounded by green grass (Of course, there may be a wife and kids, a vocation and family to consider but baseball can come a close third or fourth!).

However, at this point in his life, it's only a burgeoning interest at best.

After several failed attempts at playing, where he would be interested one day and lukewarm the next, and would then say he didn't want to play anymore, even though I have never pressured him about playing, I decided to take a harder stance, thanks to the help of my parents, who take him to practice, and told him he had to play.

I signed him up to play in a league without knowing a coach or him knowing any teammates.

There were two main reasons.  I don't want him to be one of those kids that stays at home playing video games or Wii all day, which he most definitely could do, if we let him.  And, I wanted him to learn to be part of a team.  Unfortunately, it's a trait that many people lack nowadays.

He played coach-pitch several times with a good friend of mine in different teams but it was obvious that his interest was tepid and I wanted to change the environment to see if it would make a difference.  

He ended up playing for the academy team of the league.  At first, I thought he was going to reject having to go to practice twice a week and playing a game or two on weekends.  To add to my concern, his coach is a bit fiery and animated, which is something he never experienced before.

But, a funny thing happened.  He started making friends, having fun and, while he is still struggling as he learns to play kid-pitch for the first time, and, as you can see, he is not a fan of the coach, he is actually growing in appreciation for the game; from collecting baseball cards, to watching Mets games on TV, to driving his mom and sisters crazy by throwing a rubber ball against his bed and catching it, to asking me to work with him on weekends when he's not playing (like my father did with me) or having me get my catcher's mitt from storage so that he can learn to catch (he's still a bit scrawny for the position and I told him he needed to beef up!).

Baseball takes sacrifice, discipline, humility, mental and physical fortitude, hard work, patience and perseverance.  Then again, anything in life that's worth doing takes sacrifice and hard work as well. But, like anything, it comes down to loving it and having fun.  

Come to think of it, it's a lot like living the Christian life, which is about sacrifice, self-denial and picking up our crosses everyday and following Christ; sometimes, to places we may not want to go, and falling, but getting back up, and in the case of Catholics, going to Confession, picking up our cross again and starting over; all with love and joy in our heart.

My son still has a long way to go in baseball, in life and in his faith but I'm encouraged.  The other day, he made a great catch, dropping to one knee and snatching a line drive to center-field.  It came on the heels of a near meltdown after striking out.

Hopefully, he'll get it and one day, despite thinking his coach is out to kill him (And wanting to channel the Ham Porter from The Sandlot inside him, by saying, "You're killing me Smalls!"), love will prevail...



Monday, February 27, 2017

The Measure of Love...

The Gentleman Saint...
"The measure of love is to love without measure." 

 -- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...   

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Marriage, Love and Shattered Glass...

"At least you didn't break the wine bottles," my wife said in an irritated tone.

"Well, I guess, I did something right," I answered coyly, after shattering a glass punch bowl with the seat of our car when I slid it back to get behind the wheel.  The four bottles of wine next to it were not touched!

"No," she shot back, "You just didn't do more wrong!"

I love my wife.  She's very pragmatic and, as you can see, isn't afraid to tell me how she feels. Whether I want to hear it or not!

In this case, it was probably not an apropos way to begin a marriage retreat that we were leading but such is the reality of married life.  You take the good with the bad, although, for the most part, at least among the couples we are friends with, the good far outweighs the bad.

The great English writer and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton put it into perspective when he wrote, "Marriage is an adventure, like going to war."

I'm sure he meant its complexities; sometimes you're head over heels in love.  Sometimes you're at each other's throats.  Other times, you're side-by-side in the trenches fighting enemies from abroad, like your children!  While, occasionally, there's a little bit of both.  And, when you get two people with strong characters, like my wife and me together, you never know.

Nobody says marriage is easy (at least nobody who has ever been married!), but it's the most rewarding gift that God gave man and woman; a chance to participate in His creation and love through bonds of family.

A young couple from our parish recently lost twin babies at birth.  Certainly, there's nothing more difficult for a parent to have to endure than the loss of a child, and these two were the couple's first children, which had been long awaited.

The infants just lived long enough for a priest to Baptize them after an emergency Cesarean Section. It was a surreal scene, according to those who witnessed it.  

Pain and anguish are difficult to get through but having faith and a loving spouse by your side makes it almost bearable.

In a recent social media post, the husband and father wrote, "There's a unique peace - and dare I say joy - from the certain knowledge that my children never knew evil; that sin, pain and suffering will always be foreign to them; that they will spend eternity in the company of angels and saints, with our Lord and Blessed Mother for best friends...."

That wisdom and certainty derives from faith.  A faith that can move mountains and is centered on love, which fosters hope.  And, hope, as Chesterton also wrote, "means hoping when everything seems hopeless."

I'm sure their spiritual foundation and reliance on each other, will help them overcome their grief and move towards their next adventure.

Then, there's our neighbors across the street.  A young couple who months before their first baby was born was hit with a Dwight "Doc" Gooden curve ball, a.k.a. Uncle Charlie, in life.

The husband went to ride his bike one morning and hours later, police showed up at the expectant mother's doorstep to tell her he had been involved in an accident and was in a coma.

He survived but, for the past eleven months, she has been dealing with a newborn baby daughter and a husband who, until a few weeks ago, was totally immobile.  How's that to start your married life?

The husband is now getting up and learning to walk again but they have a long road ahead.

It's easier to love when things are going smoothly but much more challenging when rough times come our way.  But, rough times are part of marriage and you can go with the culture and take the easy way out, saying "I didn't sign up for this," or you can tighten your belt strap and say, "bring it on."

Unfortunately, we live in a throwaway society, where people throw things away instead of trying to fix it.

Notwithstanding, marriage is not something you throw away because it's broken.  It wasn't made to be.  God said, "It is not good that man be alone," and so He made man a helper in life and, when a man leaves his father and mother, he clings to his wife and the two become one flesh and are bound spiritually forever.    

I've heard it said that there's a part of you in every intimate relationship you've ever had because the union of a man and woman was always meant to be eternal.

Moreover, as I often tell my children, love is not a feeling.  It's a choice; a commitment.  Feelings come and go. A commitment endures forever.

Man and woman are made to complement and complete each other. All you have to do is look at our bodies to see that reality.  However, in that complement and completion, we are also made very different; not just physically but in the way we think, the way we handle problems, the way we approach situation, and often those differences lead to strife.

But, strife is not insurmountable, as long as there is love, a.k.a. commitment, just as the young couple in our parish and our neighbors across the street apparently have.  And love, as St. Paul writes, "Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,."  including shattered glass...





Monday, January 23, 2017

When Truth is Subject to Opinion...


"Relativism means everything is up for grabs; who's to say?... When there isn't common core values and truths that we all agree on and look to, you start to find that the one who wins the day is the one who shouts the loudest, has the biggest megaphone, has the most power, (or) is the richest... It's a struggle for power rather than, let's reason and think what's best for the human person."  

Msgr. Charles Pope; priest, teacher, retreat leader, spiritual director, blogger and published writer.  He is a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC., where he conducts weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House and writes a weekly column for Our Sunday Visitor.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Bad Reading, Mets Baseball and Mass Appeal...

Somewhere during the priest's mind-numbing rendition of an unemployed third-rate actor reading the obituaries from a local newspaper, I started to wonder, "What is he doing? When is he going to stop reading and get on with his homily?"

Gotta find a spot for Jose Reyes... 
Then, my mind started drifting even further, "What are the Mets going to do with Jose Reyes if David Wright plays third, Asdrubal Cabrera plays short and Neil Walker plays second?  Then again, what are they going to do with Michael Conforto with Cespedes, Bruce, Lagares and Granderson in the same outfield? Did I forget to give my son his medication this morning?  No, I remembered."

The priest continued, "In the second reading, St. Paul writes...."  At that point, I realized he was not going to stop.  That was his homily!

The poor clergyman, probably in his late 50's, was obviously not comfortable speaking freely in English.  His pronunciation was not bad but he probably felt he was doing the parishioners a favor.  It failed miserably, at least to me.

It wasn't that his writing lacked substance, it was just that he was reading!  It had no life, no color, no anecdotes and nothing to make it relatable.  It was as dryly delivered as a Steven Wright comedy routine, sans the humor!

It's hard to remember the last time I felt that type of disconnect during a homily; probably, before my re-version to the faith over ten years ago, when I would spend way too many masses thinking about the Mets' lineup, what I was going to have for lunch or the crying baby in the back of the church. Why doesn't his mom shut him up, already! I'm trying to figure out the trade or recall options the Mets' have in their minor league system! 

We were on a field trip to St. Augustine with my son's 4th Grade class.  A few of us snuck away from the tour itinerary to catch the early Sunday morning Mass.

I love to visit different Catholic parishes when I travel.  It's mind-boggling to think that the same Mass celebrated at any given city is the same Mass that my wife and daughters would partake in at home that day, my sister-in-law and her family would experience in London or anywhere else around the globe.  It is truly what first century bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch, meant when he referred to the Church as "Catholic," which means universal.

Learning about history and life...
I also like to teach my kids that no matter where we are, our obligation to God continues, even on vacation.  There's no vacation from God!

Anyhow, it was a beautiful and, apparently, affluent parish (their bulletin had fourteen full-color pages!) with a visibly active bilingual congregation, three priests, three deacons and almost 50 ministries (They were holding a ministries fair on the day of our visit), but their Spanish-speaking priest was celebrating the English Mass and it didn't translate well, pardon the pun.

While, I wouldn't say the homily was a total disaster, it did remind me of a conversation I had with my brother a few years ago.  He said that some priests were so uninspiring that it made him think twice about going to Mass sometimes.    

It's one of the reasons so many Protestant megachurches are filled to the brim; people looking for entertainment, fellowship and excitement.  They want to feel part of something but want to be attracted by charismatic preaching (many times that appeal to their taste in theology and philosophy of life!), lively music and vibrant social opportunities.

However, to me, as one of our parish priests put it recently, "Church is not about me and what I can get.  It's about Him and what I can give."  Let's face it, the least we can do is give God an hour a week of our time!

The Bread of  Life...
And, yet, we do receive more than we can ever imagine at Mass.  We receive the Eucharist; the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ; the same Christ who walked the earth two thousand years ago, performing miracles and dying for our sins; the same Christ who we call God and pray to; and the same Christ, and God of the Universe, who humbles Himself to feed his flock through the Bread of Life, otherwise known as "Daily Bread" we pray for in the Lord's Prayer.

Moreover, during the liturgy, we are actually drawn to the foot of the cross in first century Palestine to partake in the "once and for all" sacrifice of the Son to the Father.

As one of my favorite authors, Dr. Scott Hahn, writes in his book, The Lamb's Supper, the Mass is the where heaven and earth meet.  It is the closest we'll get to heaven this side of the grave.  It is where the entire Communion of Saints; those in heaven, including our loved ones, those on the way to heaven and those existing on the planet come together (in the Eucharist).

Hence, as I sat there in the pew that Sunday morning, being lulled by the arid reading, in a strange but all too familiar surrounding and thinking of Reyes' and Conforto's plights in the New York Mets' lineup, as I kept my son from laying his head on my lap, I regathered my thoughts and was able to focus on who and what I was there for...





Thursday, January 5, 2017

Peter Kreeft: More Heroes Needed...


"Our culture has filled our heads but emptied our hearts, stuffed our wallets but starved our wonder.  It has fed our thirst for facts but not for meaning or mystery.  It produces "nice" people, not heroes."

-- Peter Kreeft from Jesus-Shock.  Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College and The King's College in New York.  He has authored over 75 books, is a husband (one wife), father of four, grandfather of five, and public speaker.  He was a Calvinist, who regarded the Catholic Church "with the upmost suspicion" but when asked by a professor to investigate the claims of the Church to be the one founded by Jesus Christ, he was persuaded by the writings of the early Christians.  He applied to the Church the C.S. Lewis trilemma on Jesus, either He was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord (either the Church was "the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that she is just what she claims to be.") and was convinced by the latter.  He converted in the late '90's, well after being established as one of the most respected Christian writers of modern times.

Check out his conversion story here.



Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Tears, Terror and the Times of Our Lives...

What a year...
For better or worse, depending on your perspective, 2016 was one of the most remarkable years, at least, in recent memory.

It was the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a 108-year drought.

The year that Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro finally died (at the age of ninety, mind you!), in probably the most anticipated deaths in history, especially among Miami's Cuban exiles community, which I am a part of.  It took fifty-seven years for it to happen!

And, it was the year, the least-likely presidential candidate, Donald Trump, a man with no political experience ever, was elected President of the United States; after polls showed him trailing by double figures as late as a month before the election. No presidential candidate had ever overcome that type of deficit in U.S. history.  And, that was all in November!

As a TV news professional, for me, it was an exhausting month; long hours at work, lots of logistical and special coverage planning, continuous live coverage and far too many meals in the newsroom. In fact, the elections, its fallout and death of Castro, which carried us into December felt like a real-life version of Pulp Fiction, only we didn't have Harvey Keitel to clean up the mess!

Aside from President Obama's visit to Cuba in March, which was a big deal for all the local stations, especially mine, which caters to a Spanish-speaking and mostly Cuban-American audience, and this marked the first time an American President set foot on the island nation since 1928, the latter half of the year was when it really got busy.

It started with the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in June, followed by shocking death of Marlins baseball star Jose Fernandez in a boating accident in September, then Hurricane Matthew threatened South Florida.  Finally, there was November, which, while the Cubs were not something we covered extensively, Castro's death and Trump's win were.

By the time mid-December came around, we were running on fumes.

Winston in black.  Dante in gold...
On a personal level, we had a banner year at the Espinosa home-front.  We made an addition to the family in March; adopting an energetic terrier mix, who we named Dante, fitting for this high strung ball of fur that drove me crazy during his first several months with us.  He couldn't control his bowels and bladder.  But, he grew into probably the most lovable and affectionate member of our family.

We also took several trips this year; our annual family vacation to Sanibel Island in July, which has been an ongoing week-long getaway for my wife's family for the past forty years, give or take a few, and includes extended family and lifelong friends.

My wife and I also took the kids to New Orleans to celebrate our younger daughter's twelfth birthday in September.  We had taken our oldest daughter to New York City in 2013. Now, our nine-year-old son wants to go to San Francisco or Honolulu for his 12th!  We're going to need to start saving for that one!

We also traveled to Orlando for the girls' national dance competition in July, which after years of succeeding, took a turn for the worse this time, after several of the studio's top dancers broke off to start their own studio.  Let's just say, I lived the Dance Moms drama with my wife and daughters every night in the flesh!

Another highlight, albeit a bit melancholy, was our oldest daughter singing the National Anthem with her school choir at a Miami Marlins v. New York Mets game in September.  The New Yorkers are her, my son and my favorite team.  However, it happened to fall on the same night the Marlins were playing their first game after the Fernandez tragedy!  The girls were visibly shaken after singing by the emotionally charged pre-game ceremony.

Still, some lows included the deaths of a good friend due to cancer, which consumed him in three short months, and of our station's longtime anchorman (over thirty-five years to be exact), who was a beloved and respected figure by most of the staff, and I had the privilege of working with for eighteen years.  He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis just months after retiring in late 2015 and died in November.

Yet, amidst the sorrows, joy, loss and celebrations, 2016 without a doubt will be a memorable year for me; a year much like Green Day's song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life); replete with contradiction.

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.  Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.  So make the best of this test, and don't ask why.  It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time. It's something unpredictable but in the end it's right.  I hope you had the time of your life."

As another year goes by, our kids grow older and the memories we made soon begin to fade, I realize that we have to enjoy the moment for these are the times of our lives.

May 2017 be as memorable...





[photo credit: AP Photo/ Matt Slocum]