Same story, different year.
My beloved Dodgers, yet again, won the National League West, swept the favorites to make the World Series, and then got bounced by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS...back to back years. I like to think it's just as well because baseball's bullies, the New York Yankees, look unstoppable to win their 27th world title...and I'm not sure I could stand to watch the boy's in blue lose yet another World Championship to the Bronx Bombers. There have been 11 such match up since 1941, with the Yankees grabbing 8 of their 27 titles at the expense of the Dodgers. That includes the back to back years of '77 and '78 when Reggie Jackson personally convinced me I was really a football fan.
There's plenty of blame to go around as to why the game's second best regular-season record didn't make the final stage. Talking heads and blogging fans point to the overall youth of the team, the teams's lack of a true number one pitcher, the loss of focus by the team in the season's final month, and...of course...there's Manny.
Manny Ramirez. A God gifted talent when it comes to swinging a near 40 ounce piece of maple that can at a given moment change a baseball game with a single swing....as he has on a number of occasions over the past decade. Traded to the Dodgers last season as exile from his throne over the self-proclaimed Red Sox 'Nation', Manny brought his hakuna matata attitude to the land of laid back called Southern California. He was welcomed with open arms and immediately went on a hitting tear that literally pulled the Dodgers up the standing to the top of the West, past the Cubs in the playoff's first round before running out of gas against...that's right...the Philadelphia Phillies.
But 2009 started with a bang and lots of promise. The season opened with a record setting 13 straight wins at home before the first loss and the best start in MLB. Then, the first week of May brought the suspension of Manny for use of a banned substance...a women's fertility drug none the less...and the slugger was gone from the line up for 50 games. Not deterred, the team played hard and actually had the best record in baseball when Manny returned the first week of July.
Despite Manny's continued selfish behavior, he was welcomed back by baseball, teammates, and the fans who pay his $25M per season salary (which he forfeited $7M for the suspension). Manny just being Manny as the saying goes. A phrase coined by his manager in Cleveland, Mike Hargrove. A phrase that if I never hear again will be too soon for me.
There a number of Manny stories that either make you chuckle or turn your stomach based on what team you cheer for. The latest Manny-ism to make news was from the pivotal fourth game of the NLCS with the Dodgers up by a score of 4-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Manny was removed from the game for defensive purposes (because he stinks on defense basically and this is the National League where all nine players must play defense), and as he has been reported to do often, he headed for the showers while play went on. The Phillies rallied for a 5-4 win and a 3-1 series lead. It was all over but the crying at that point. I can't imagine walking into the locker room in complete dejection to meet Manny coming from the showers humming Take me out to the ballgame...
It would be easy to put all the blame on Ramirez...too easy. But baseball is a team sport, and games/series are won or lost by the collective effort of the entire roster. As I was writing this, my thoughts continued to point to the similarities in our churches. Yes...the mission of the church is by far more important than the outcome of any athletic competition, but metaphorically...there are parallels.
Do you know the 'Manny Ramirez' in your congregation? The talented attendee who flashes moments of brilliance in the name of God only to slide back to obscurity when pressed to do more. The ministry leader that feels there are no rules or standards if the means are justified by the end. The worship leader that forgets worship is about what God wants and finds pleasing and not about what makes them look best in front of the congregation.
I've been the Manny at my church at certain times...and it shames me.
We play God's game. He made the game, the field, the rules and all the players. Will you be ready when He calls your number to hit? Will you stand by your teammates when it's their turn to shine for His glory and your place to cheer for them? Will you put a supportive arm around a teammate if he strikes out and remind him there will be more chances to bat?
But when the last game is finally played and there are no more to play, will you be able to say I used the talents and gifts God gave me to play as hard as I could play each and every single day?
The last thing I want is for people to remember me as a Manny just being Manny. It carries a ton of negative implications that I just don't think God finds to His liking...and He deserves for me to give my best effort in living to His liking...to living in His will.
The day is coming for each of us when we will no longer be able to say... Just wait until next year!