Winning And Losing


Clayton_Kershaw_2010This past week has been filled with sports for someone like me who follows most sports and cheers for the teams in the LA area. Oh, and a Denver Broncos fan, too.

We had two teams in the Major League Baseball playoffs, USC football played on Saturday and a few hours later UCLA played as well. Then on Sunday the Broncos played in the afternoon.

The results of the eight games were mixed. First the Angels, after losing the opening game of their series against Kansas City in overtime, got swept out of the playoffs. Next the Dodgers, after taking a 6-1 lead behind the probable Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, ended up losing their opening game, 10-9.

At the same time, USC lost the game against Arizona St. after leading most of the way when they gave up a “hail Mary” touchdown as time ran out. UCLA, having crushed Arizona St. last week, faced Utah. They trailed most of the game, took the lead late in the fourth quarter, then gave up a field goal in the last seconds and lost.

So when does the winning start? Well, the Dodgers came back in their game two and won to even their series with St. Louis. Then the Broncos came through yesterday to hand the Arizona Cardinals their first loss of the season. Still, that’s a lot of losing in just a short period of time.

But here’s the truth about winning and losing: it’s transient. The team that wins in February will begin a new season in September and have to do it all over again. There is no permanent winner—at least not when we’re talking about sports or business or the lottery or contests or anything else you might expect to find a winner.

The Heisman Trophy winner receives the accolades for his accomplishment, but the next year either returns to school or starts a career as a rookie football player or as a newbie in a different field. In other words, people won’t pay him for life because he won the Heisman Trophy in 2014.

In that respect, wins and losses are equal. Once they are over, they are memories. Sure, wins are most likely happy memories and losses may be painful, but here’s the truth. What lasts is what a person learns through the experience.

Players can learn more through the experiences of winning and losing then can fans, I would think. Fans are emotionally invested but incapable of affecting the outcome of a game. Maybe the greatest lesson for a fan is to hold games loosely. After all, only one team will walk away as the World Series champs.

Most teams when they celebrate with a parade down their city streets end up making some sort of statement about the next year—usually something like, Let’s do this again next year. In other words, they understand another season awaits in which the just-completed championship win will mean nothing.

So why do we try to win video games or chess matches or employee-of-the-year prizes or bridal-shower games or . . . you name it? Winning validates our abilities or our emotional connection or city association with a team. But because of the nature of winning and losing, we’re quickly right back where we were, wondering again if we’re good enough, smart enough, talented enough.

As the fans of the New England Patriots. After getting blown out by Kansas City a week ago, fans and media pundits were questioning whether or not their highly touted coach and quarterback could still get it done. Was Tom Brady over the hill, they asked? Would the coach consider a change at that position? Of course all those questions went away when the Patriots dominated Cincinnati Sunday night.

So what’s the point? Winning and losing are both temporal. They need to be held with an open hand. A false view of winning leads to pride and a false view of losing leads to despair, which is really the flip side of pride. Both are exaggerated views of self.

The only thing that lasts is what we do for the kingdom of God. The rest ends up being the wood, hay, and stubble Scripture says will burn up. The eternal things are good works as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty stranger.

Those things God promises to reward, and His “well done, good and faithful servant, last for eternity.

In the end, the only winning that matters is that which Jesus Christ accomplished in His work at the cross where He triumphed over sin and death, over His enemies, over guilt and the law. As Corrie ten Boom loved to say, Jesus is Victor.

Being His follower is the only sure thing out there. We can’t be sure if we’ll have a job tomorrow or if we’ll arrive home safely after work or if we have cancer cells growing in our body or will get bit by a mosquito with West Nile Virus or will fall and break an ankle or a wrist trying to stop our fall. We expect things to go the way we consider “normal”—without glitches or interruptions or anomalies. And God graciously gives us what we need day after day, even as He gave manna to the people of Israel six out of seven days for forty years!

But there are those days when we’re out of water or a river separates us from where we’re going or giants are in the land or thick walls obstruct us from what we plan to accomplish. In those instances, we need to keep our perspective. God is still the Victor. The circumstances that appear daunting or even “terminal” do not change who God is or what His Son has done.

Winning and losing both, even in things as trivial as MLA playoff games, give us an opportunity to remember what’s eternal, what real winning looks like (that would be the sinless Son of God hanging on a cross for our benefit).

And you thought watching sports was just a fun thing to do! 😉

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Winning And Losing  
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Gotta Love The Dodgers


Dodgers_coach_Larry_Bowa_wearing_a_batting_helmet,_spring_training_2008No, there’s no metaphor here or any symbolism or spiritual lesson behind the scenes. I’m a sports nut, and I’m enjoying cheering for the Dodgers. They were the first major league team in any sport that I followed, so it’s fitting.

I admit, I went through a period after the latest strike and a series of steroid scandals in which I lost interest in baseball altogether. It didn’t help that the Dodgers experienced a change of ownership that could not uphold the proud tradition of the team.

Steroid scandals are still plaguing the sport, but at this point it seems the current crop of Dodgers are not connected with the ongoing league investigation. Most of them are too young. They’ve only been in the league for a few short years.

Well, “most of them” is probably an exaggeration. To be honest, I’m still getting to know who’s on the roster. I’ve only been following them for about six weeks–sort of that turn-around point when manager Don Mattingly said the season started anew for the guys in Dodger blue.

Don_Mattingly_(2011)The fact that Mattingly was still the manager was a minor miracle as the media pundits had him on the way out unless he had a particularly good series against . . . I forget which team. I think the Dodgers might have been swept.

But to the surprise of all those sports talkers, the new, new ownership–a group of sports lovers which includes Magic Johnson–stuck by their manager. They recognized that no one on the team had given up and that Mattingly hadn’t been playing with the line-up he expected due to a rash of early injuries.

As some of those players who had been on the DL (disabled list), returned to action, a new-comer burst on the scene, too–a raw talent with all kinds of enthusiasm named Yasiel Puig.

Those in the know call Yasiel a 5-point athlete. He is fast, has a strong arm, can hit for power, can hit for average, and plays defense. But he’s still a bit of a diamond in the rough, which is why he was in Triple-A. Sometimes he misses his cut-off man. Sometimes he tries too hard to hit home runs. Sometimes he makes base-running blunders. But he also gets key base hits and makes spectacular catches in right field. Sometimes he throws runners out or steals bases or stretches a single into a double.

He plays with abandon–at least he did until the All Star break. Now he’s settling in a little and seems aware that the world is watching. He’s a good human interest story, having come from Cuba by way of Mexico. His is a rags-to-riches story, and we still love to hear those.

But the Dodger success has more to do with the changes Don Mattingly made in the bullpen, so that the games the Dodgers had been losing in the late innings, they now are winning. And it has to do with improved defense, and key hitting.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has figured into both those last factors. He came off the DL days after Yasiel Puig joined the parent club. When was the last time a shortstop was a clean-up hitter? It’s new to me, but Hanley is managing to hit better than .380 in that spot. He’s either driving in runs or getting on base or moving runners over.

But from top to bottom the Dodger line-up can hit (in July the team batting average is .292). And now, after struggling through April and May and a good part of June, they are actualizing their potential. And they still have an ace up their sleeves.

Arguably their best player who isn’t a pitcher, Matt Kemp, is once again on the DL. After nursing a pulled hamstring for far too long, he finally sat down, healed, and had just come back. Oh, I forgot the shoulder thing. He re-injured the shoulder he’d had surgery on, so sat for a short while to heal that. Then he came back for a couple days and was smoking! I mean, home runs, key base hits, his usual outstanding defense.

Everyone was wondering how the Dodgers were going to juggle four outfielders who all deserved to start. And then Kemp slid into home. Well, he actually slid into the catcher’s shin-guard-covered leg blocking home plate, and broke his ankle.

But he’ll be back. And the Dodgers, full of confidence now, don’t look like they’ve got a mind to slow down. They just might be the best team in baseball. Since the All Star break they’ve won 10 of 11 games. Since the beginning of Don Mattingly’s season reboot, they’re winning 80% of their games. That’s unheard of in baseball.

The thing is, they’re winning in all the ways there is to win. They’ve dominated teams offensively, they’ve won pitching duels. They’ve even won ugly–ever heard of a team striking out 20 times in a game and WINNING? Yep, the Dodgers managed that just the other day. They’re winning at home. They’re winning away. They’re beating teams in their division and those outside. They’re beating AL teams as well as NL teams.

This time of year I’m normally getting excited about the start of football. But pardon me for staying focused on baseball a while longer. It’s pretty fun to be a Dodger fan these days. 😉

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm  Comments (3)  
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