Category Archives: Sports

Quick Review: The Cubs Way

So as the 2017 MLB playoffs are just underway, what better way for a brief review on one of my favorite reading experiences of 2017 – The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci.

This book was like a drug for me. Re-living the 2016 Cubs championship season and World Series run was plain awesome. Doing that while getting a healthy dose of organizational change philosophy and culture shaping nuggets add up to a combination that was like a drug.  I loved this book – but I’m a Cub fan so I’m biased. But seriously – this was like a book version of one of those “snuggie” blankets from TV back in the day.

I would have liked more coverage of the NLDS series against the Giants and of the NLCS against the Dodgers, but the coverage of the World Series, as well as the accounts and storytelling of how the culture was shaped by new leadership and how each significant piece of the team was acquired, were excellent.  I loved the chapters on Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Kyle Hendricks among others. So much good stuff!

There are tremendous accounts of how the organizational leadership worked to change the culture – one of the most significant components involved a detailed manual about what the Cubs were going to be about called “The Cubs Way” and the implementation of personal development plans and face to face development conversations about those plans before the season.  Loved so much also the commitment of the organization to recruit and identify talent that has the character to take responsibility for weaknesses and areas of growth.  The other component from a leadership standpoint relates to Joe Maddon’s approach to leading the team as the manager. A lot of good stuff and nuggets.

This may become an annual read for me as I continue to live in the glow of the Cubs winning the World Series. I don’t know what 2017 or beyond holds – but 2016 was a dream and I cannot get enough of it.

 

A Virtue Family Oral History of Game 7 of the World Series

It’s been a couple months, but there are times I’m still nervous. I’m still in disbelief it actually happened. But the Cubs winning the World Series is one of my great life moments.  One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is him taking us to Wrigley Field in the early 80’s, before lights were installed. I remember the Cubs were playing the Dodgers when the Dodgers had players like Mike Marshall and Fernando Valenzuela. It’s the first baseball park memory I have.

Both of my grandfathers lived and died in Illinois without seeing a Cubs World Series Championship. My dad, born in 1950, had not seen it. I’m in my 40’s and it’s been a rough go. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get over Bartman and the 2003 experience.  2007 and 2008 were stuff that leads to learned helplessness.

So the last couple of years have been an amazing run. Like many others did with loved ones, when the Cubs beat the Dodgers to advance to the World Series I thought of that game with my Grandfather back in the early 80’s.

But I almost missed it. I almost didn’t watch Game 7.

Because I live in Manila, the majority of MLB Playoff Games started at 8am my time. And it so happens I spent most of October in PhD intensives starting at….8am.  It was a month of confliction, but I was getting used to not watching. In fact, Game 7 took place on a work day so I was planning, for some odd reason, to head to campus like normal. (What was I thinking?)  But that’s when fate stepped in…or God’s sovereignty…or sheer dumb luck stepped in.

My wife hit a tree.  Pulling out of our driveway she backed into a tree and shattered the rear-view window of our van. T minus 90 minutes until game time.  This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

Pulling out of our driveway she backed into a tree and shattered the rear-view window of our van. T minus 90 minutes until game time.  This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

This is the mighty oak of a tree that did such great damage to our car.

But it was raining, our kids needed to get to school, and our other car was coded. For those not in Manila, the system to help the traffic problem is that every car is banned from the road for one day out of the week. So we were in a bind – we couldn’t drive the coded car and we couldn’t drive the van without a rear window in the rain.

So we gave up and decided to let the kids stay home, while we balanced watching Game 7 with getting our rear window fixed.  Through the Filipino network – a friend of a friend of the guy raking leaves next store, we got a lead on a place that could do the window and my wife graciously offered to take the car in so that we could watch the game.

The game begins.  I felt sick to my stomach. But Fowler’s lead-off homer helped my nerves.

A few innings later, Kris Bryant scored on an improbably tag-up on a short fly ball.  I yelled something incoherent with intense excitement. My 9-year-old son looks at me, who only knew a few years of Cubs futility before this says to me, “Wow Dad. I’ve never seen you that emotional and excited.”

After the Javy Baez homer in the 5th, I start to let me myself dream a bit and it’s a party in the house. At this point, the van window is fixed and fully restored $100 later. Now our whole family is watching the game.

In the bottom of the 5th, the umpire makes an egregious call on a Kyle Hendricks strikeout pitch and prolongs the inning. I start to fume and bark at the umpire.  My six-year-old daughter looks at me with a disapproving look. This sets the stage for the pitching change and wild pitch and Cleveland scoring a couple runs. I start to feel sick again.

But in the 6th David Ross homers and all is well again and Lester starts mowing down hitters.  Things are looking good again and I’m starting to trip out that this might actually happen.  Then the 8th inning. That awful 8th inning.

Just prior to the Davis gut punch home run, my kids were sensing my excitement and decided to treat me to an early celebration. Bless their hearts. They don’t know about Bartman or Durham or all the other kicks to the groin Cubs fans have endured, leaving us to behave like battered dogs during these moments. My kids were all set to surprise me with full on head to toe Cubs gear, ready to kick off the celebration when – Rajai Davis ties it up with a 2 run home run. I go to my dark place and tell the kids anxiously – “Not now. Not now.  This is bad and they may not win!” My kids are confused. I feel like I’m starting to look at the very gates of hell.

But then, because we’re in Manila – the internet starts going out.  I struggle to watch the bottom of the ninth and rain delay because the stream has to buffer so long. We watch one minute and then wait two minutes, which adds to the agony of the experience.  I thank God for the rain delay but have hope because Schwarber leads off the 10th and he is Babe ruth reincarnated.

Because of the internet delays, I go dark on social media and we watch the 10th. I’m yelling, screaming, and talking at the television like a mad man.  My youngest daughter is disturbed and uncomfortable with the tension in the room – scared by the cheers coming with each hit and play.  She cries “Too loud! Too loud!” But I find out a couple weeks later than somewhere in this period of time she prayed to God that the Cubs would win...probably out of concern for her father’s well being.

The internet speeds up a bit and the Zobrist hit sends us into a frenzy, followed by Montero’s insurance RBI. I’m a nervous wreck that Carl Edwards Jr. is going to try to close the game, all 80 lbs of him. The Indians score and I start to feel sick again. One out away. So close, but so far.

But the internet stops. I have to re-set the router as there is a pitching change being made with the tying run on base. We’re back to internet buffering. My wife is looking at her phone and making a weird look.

The internet gives us just enough to watch the final out and celebration. I realize my wife was sneaking a peak online and got the news a few minutes before we got to watch it. Fortunately, she kept it a secret.

Then my family gave me an authentic Ryne Sandberg jersey (my favorite player as a kid) they found for 10$ at a local mall (God Bless the Philippines!).

And I haven’t been able to stop watching highlights and replays and bad youtube montages since.

I.CAN’T.GET.ENOUGH.

But I still feel nervous thinking about it because there’s part of me that has a hard time believing it happened.

So it was a stressful, gut-wrenching, exhilarating experience that is a life highlight, given I got to experience it with my family. It was especially fun to go through the playoff journey with Colin because he’s really gotten into the Cubs in the last year or two.

And it was all because my wife backed into a tiny, but powerful tree.

 

 

Quick Review – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  This book was written by longtime NFL player Benjamin Watson and was released about a year ago, so while not current to the events of the past year and the impact of Trump and the election, it was written right in the middle of a fairly racially charged season in America’s history.

Part of why I wanted to read this book is because it was a recent reflection on the racial divide in the context of the events of Ferguson, Charleston, Trayvon Martin, and several other high-profile moments that have surfaced much hurt, injustice, and gaps in perspective across racial boundaries in general. Most of these events took place after I moved my family out of the country, so I wanted to read some reflection and insight from an African-American as I lacked real opportunities to engage in much conversation on these matters. Tragically I was left at the mercy of some of the chaos on Twitter to process some of these events and what they might signify to the African American community.

I found this book to be really good.  It’s not an academic book in its presentation, but I appreciated how informative it was on recent events and in chronicling key events and experiences in the struggle for civil rights and in African-American history as a whole. The book was strengthened by many helpful personal experiences and anecdotes from the author’s own life and from his father and grandfather.  These issues need this kind of place – both helpful analysis in historical context as well as personal stories.

I loved that each chapter begins with an emotion such as angry, sad, embarrassed, hopeless, encouraged, or hopeful. These are emotionally charged topics because they touch so deeply on our identity. I found it to be really effective and helpful in the structure of the book to walk the read through the range of emotions on this topic. Such a journey avoids pollyanna theology as well as nihilistic darkness.  Tensions abound and Watson helps navigate a reader through these tensions well in a way that should help people connect with their own feelings and personal journey in these matters.

The book is thoroughly evangelical and it offers a clear roadmap to a spiritual solution in Jesus Christ. The whole book echoes the Scriptures, but he unpacks the gospel and its significance for racism and society in the final chapters. Essentially – he affirms over and over that racial conflict and racial segregation are matters of the heart and only Christ can change hearts.

The books origins are blog-like, so there are times where it reads like a blogger’s reflection. That’s not all bad – because they are good reflections.  The focus on this book also is fairly targeted to the divide in black and white racial tensions.  In the context of recent events, that is helpful for a focused coversation. However, there is not much here that specifically tries to incorporate other journeys.  Neither of the above points are bad, they just speak to the genre of the book and chosen focus amidst a pretty huge conversation topic in general.

It was a really enjoyable and helpful read.  It may be something I use to introduce my kids to some of these issues as they get a little older to be able to think more critically about race and relationships. I recommend it especially if you haven’t done much reflection in the aftermath of the explosive and racially charged events of the past few years.

 

Pre-School Theology: Game 7 Prayers

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

My daughter, who is in kindergarten now, believes she helped the Cubs win Game 7 of this year’s world series and thus, their first world series since 1908.

While stuck in typical Manila traffic last week on the way home from the kid’s school, she started this conversation.

“Dad. After that other team tied the game, I prayed that the Cubs would win. And then God answered my prayer and the Cubs won.”

My favorite part of this was that we really had had no Cubs related conversation or interaction in the previous week. It was something she wanted me to know.

I would love to know what her motivation was for praying for the Cubs and for letting me know God answered her prayer. Did she do it because she saw her father in an unusually vulnerable and rabid moment and it worried her?  Was it because she knew it was a big deal and important to at least her father and brother?  Something in her wanted a happy ending for the people she cares about so she prayed.

I loved the moment and it was fun to connect over the Cubs. But a great reminder that we need to ground our prayer life on solid theological footing.

Putting aside the fact that God is in fact a Cubs fan 😛 , I decided not to bring up the high likelihood that she had a 6-year-old counterpart in Cleveland praying the exact same thing for the Cleveland Indians.  What about her?

During the World Series I heard a record amount of animistic language from people on all sorts of teams praying to ancestors, former players, God, and who knows what else – attributing everything from good luck to timeline rainfall to the goodwill of long lost relatives and God’s partiality.   I was shocked at how much animism was alive and well in the western sporting domain!

But for now – I’m glad my daughter feels like she had a part in a great moment for me and our family.  In time, we’ll have to break the news that God probably doesn’t care much about our sports teams.

Though if God did care about sports teams, I’m still pretty sure He would care most about the Cubs.   😛

 

Succeeding From Shame

“We succeed out of our shame.”

-Mike Tyson

I’ve listened to a couple interviews with former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson in the last month and I’ve been really fascinated by learning more about his story, his roots, and some of what has been his story of redemption (from a life well-being standpoint at least since it is clear he is still is searching).  But I’ve been surprised by how vulnerable and how much depth Tyson has brought to some of these interviews about life and meaning and relationships.

One of the compelling anecdotes from one of the interviews was regarding when he first was chosen or seen as someone with potential.  As I write that it amazes me how being seen is a dignity building experience that brings a personal sense of feeling chosen – of being special.  Mike Tyson, like many others, was on a dangerous path in a dangerous world that might have led to early death had it not for being seen – being chosen.

Who saw him?  An old boxing lifer who from my understanding had been blackballed from the boxing scene.  Furthermore, it was an old white guy – “Cus.”  Tyson described the power of having this man speak value into his life, yet also the difficult journey of receiving it when one’s sense of value or worth is so low.  He even said that he had never had any white man speak such value or say such nice things to him about him that he wondered if Cus was perverted or if there was something sketchy about it. Such is the reality when you are conditioned to believe people only want to use you or abuse you – and abuse was part of his background. But Tyson’s recollection went something like this, “This guy chose me. He saw potential.  I was getting whipped and bloodied and he said, ‘This is the guy.'” That’s a transformational moment.

Tyson’s story is a roller-coaster, a wild ride.  It’s about Mike facing his demons. It’s about failure. It’s about addiction. It’s about losing control. It’s about second chances. It’s about re-inventing himself.  But it’s also the story about an outcast white guy empowering a young, poor black young man to rise above his circumstances.  In the craziness of Mike Tyson’s post champion struggles, his origin story of how he began his journey as a boxer really is a moving one.  You can check out these interviews at grantland.com

Tyson has recently re-invented himself as a media darling, a pop-culture icon, and even broadway star with his One Man Show.  It’s an impressive second act for someone most thought might not make it that far.  There’s a thoughtfulness and creative side that I would not have imagined being a part of the DNA of this guy who felt more animal and fearsome creature that was the most feared person on the planet when I was growing up.  There’s no doubt his time in jail, his work in recovery from addiction, and own self-reflection has produced a maturity far beyond what people might believe.

As I see it, from his own words he seems to have become more himself. He shares in detail how at times he was lost in who he was, how at times he was who he thought he had to be, or that he was being someone in order to not be who he deep down believed he was.  He’s comfortable in his own skin through his journey and his presence is significantly different.

Mike Tyson may not interest you. I’m not a boxing fan and you might not be either. But he serves as a great example of how we all sometimes can be driven to succeed or perform by deep and hidden areas of shame.  Such ambition or drive is a ticking time bomb. Like it did with Tyson, it will catch up with us unless we face it.

Do you have any thoughts on Tyson?  What are your impressions of his recent success in media and pop-culture?

 

Quick Review – The Power of Negative Thinking

I just finished The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results by NCAA Coaching Legend Bob Knight.  People who know me would recognize why I probably HAD to read this book just on the premise alone.  But this is essentially Bob Knight’s leadership book.

I fully enjoyed the book on the premise alone and because I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read a book where every page the author was kind of sticking it to all the blind optimism, happy talk, and militant philosophies of positivity that pervade our culture.  It was a pretty awesome reading experience personally speaking 🙂

But it wasn’t a negative book at all.  It merely was a book illustrating that it’s possible for prudent, prepared, problem solving people to be incredibly positive AND WISE in how they go about their business and accomplish goals.  There’s fantastic historical references and tons of great anecdotes from his coaching days.  I particularly loved the anecdotes from when he coached Jordan on the Olympic Team.  But there’s just great and honest and realistic perspectives throughout.  And you know what – I was prepared for a cynical and maybe edgy perspective, but that really wasn’t the case.

My favorite chapter was “A History of Negative Thinking Starting With the Bible” where he outlines the great wisdom found in Scripture and philosophers and leading thinkers that reflect admonitions of “No” or “Don’t.”  He starts with the 10 commandments with “Thou Shall Not…” and goes all the way to JFK’s speech “Ask NOT what you can do….”  All in all I found it to be a brilliant apologetic for why we have to be able to help ourselves and others understand not just what we should be doing, but what we SHOULD NOT be doing.  Loved the book in a lot of ways and I read it pretty fast.

The only thing I think was left was the elephant in the room about how people see and perceive him as being a “negative” and even volatile guy.  He never really addressed leadership from the lens of his own behavior and anger given it was such a significant element to his coaching journey.  I would have liked to see more reflection or perspective on that area of his leadership and coaching because it did feel like an obvious omission.

But if you’re a college basketball fan or just enjoy reading contrary or different leadership philosophies I highly recommend it.  I read it because I found it free on Amazon Prime and I easily believe it’s worth putting out a few bucks for.

 

 

 

Stats Lie Pt 14: You Think You Know But You Don’t

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes this all-time Jim Mora (former NFL coach) rant pops into my mind when people outside of my leadership and the cultural context I’m in make one-up judgments or bring criticism that is anchored in a totally different worldview or ethnocentric perspectives.  Sometimes criticism is fair and we always need to take it in with a humble ear and learning posture.  Sometimes it says more about those giving the criticism. So this is a post about a contextual reaction and polemic against non-contextual criticism.

This fits the general scope of my “Stats Lie” series as well despite not dealing directly with measurements. But this does deal with the presuppositions behind what measurements or clues we look for to define success (or failure).

And sometimes I can be the one to make the judgments or bring ethnocentric criticism unfairly onto others who know their landscape better than me or anyone else.  And every time I do that – I fully deserve the Jim Mora treatment.

This obviously has a lot of humor to it, but it covers some legitimate arguments as to why the best people to assess success and failure are those working with all the knowledge and who know the context and all the variables the best.  It’s actually genius and not just a reactive meltdown.

So next time someone “who thinks they know, but they really don’t know” tries to judge what you’re doing – be inspired by Jim Mora!  Just find a way to enter the dialogue in less of an aggressive way 🙂

**I just really love the breakdown too of how sometimes people think something’s bad, but it’s good and sometimes they think it’s good, but it’s bad.  And how sometimes you think it’s good and it’s good and how sometimes you think it’s bad and it’s bad.  Fantastic summary of cross-context success criteria challenges!

And my friend and were messing around with the iphone app smule and it generated this beauty of a song/video:  http://www.smule.com/p/51484037_2660855

 

Happy 5th Colin!

We’ve been having fun celebrating my son’s fifth birthday. Truly an incredible boy.  He’s a passionate, energetic, feeling, empathetic, sensitive, loving, athletic, and bright kid that is in a lot of ways the feeling heart of our family.

He feels everything.  In fact, I made the mistake of telling him he would never be 4 years old again – and he lost it with deep grieving.

Happy 5th Birthday!

 Colin chose a Cub themed birthday party this year. A highlight of his year as a 4 year old was going to Chicago with me and my dad and going to Wrigley for a Cubs game and his first baseball game.

 Props to my wife for finding these “eye black” stickers with the Cubs logo. Very fun party. Felt like I died and went to Cub heaven.

 

Stats Lie Pt. 11: Quick Review on the Book Moneyball

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

So after writing a multi-post blog series called “Stats Lie” and seeing the movie Moneyball and posting my reflections on that, I was encouraged by a friend that it would be worth it for me to actually read the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis because there was a lot more there.  I’m glad I read it because this kind of book really is in my wheelhouse for the issues and dynamics it covers and I couldn’t read it fast enough.

I stayed away for years from the book because I thought it was just a book on statistics and was primarily number driven. But it really is a book about leading change, battling and overcoming the forces of resistance, thinking creatively in innovation and taking responsibility for limitations without succumbing to a victim mentality.  It’s about a relentless pursuit into statistics and knowledge in a quest for something higher than measurements:  meaning.

This book has a couple examples where the title of this whole series is explicitly used – proving I’m not very original and that even Kenny Smith of TNT (see post 1) was not very original in his use of the phrase which triggered this series.

Here’s one by the author in response to Bill James’s work on defensive statistics and the widespread problem in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and later in regards to the inefficient use of metrics within baseball (which reflect what I address in post #7):

“The statistics were not merely inadequate; they lied.” (Kindle, loc 1196)

Here’s another quote from two of the “sabermetric” pioneers,

“Ken Mauriello and Jack Armbruster had been part of  that generation. Ken analyzed the value of derivative  securities, and Jack traded them, for one of the more  profitable Chicago trading firms. Their firm priced  financial risk as finely as it had ever been priced. “In  the late 1980s Kenny started looking at taking the same  approach to Major League baseball players,” said  Armbruster. “Looking at the places where the stats  don’t tell the whole truth—or even lie about the  situation.” (Kindle, loc 2168-73)

So in addition to providing a good apologetic for the title of this blog series, it also speaks to what is at the heart of this whole discussion about metrics and measurements and moneyball.  If there are accusations about stats lying, then it logically follows that the heart of the issue is about truth and trust.  What viewpoints or perceptions of reality are telling the truth and what can be trusted to be a light to your path of decision making and direction?

The book (and the movie) Moneyball is about the quest for truth and meaning and about the vision, the determination, and resilience required to bust through the illusions offered by those defending the status quo and general culture.  I loved this book far more than I thought I would, but it highlights dynamics and tensions experienced in so many places every day.  I look forward to highlighting a couple other things from it in the coming days.