Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 2 J's of Baseball

2 J’s of Baseball

Matthew 16:26 for what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Matthew 5:3-6 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.

A few weeks ago my childhood friends were posting memories on Facebook that caught my attention. Yeah, I remember him, too. What an impact a humble man had on lives of so many of us! Dear God, I hope you let the people in heaven know the positive influence they had on the lives of others. Do we get to eventually learn that when we meet our maker? I hope so. Jimmy Porter is one of the J’s of baseball and one of God’s children whose simple acts of kindness affected so many children of Carrollton TX.

These are words from the newspaper story of 1984 recounting his life:

Porter, a Carrollton institution for more than 50 years and a onetime player in the Negro American League died Tuesday. He was 84. Born and raised on a Farm in East Texas, he began playing baseball at the age of 6. Porter's family later moved to the Dallas area, and in the 1920s he went to St. Louis to pursue a career with the Negro American League. Friends remember Porter talking about playing ball with the greats - but homesickness for Texas brought him back after two years. Porter then started the Carrollton Cats, a black semipro team in the late 1920s. He also began teaching area youths about baseball, an avocation he pursued for at least half a century until failing health slowed him down. Porter was a driving force in establishing Little League baseball in Carrollton.

I remember views of him walking down Perry Rd. with a couple of baseball bats hanging from his shoulder and draped on the handles were a few worn baseball gloves. The neighborhood kids got excited when we saw him because a “sandlot” baseball game was about to happen. We followed him like Pied Piper and listened when he taught us all the game of baseball. You didn’t have to be a boy and you didn’t have to have talent – you just had to join in and have fun!

Classrooms at school all had windows that opened – we didn’t have air conditioning at Carrollton Elementary or at Dewitt Perry Jr. High in those days (the 1960s). Nearing the end of the school day in March-May students would listlessly gaze out the windows while hoping to have a turn to be seated near the box fan. When we spotted Jimmy walking along the edge of the playground, never without his game equipment, our spirits lifted. A game was on. Soon. Oh joy!

Rick McDonald posted a picture and wrote a sweet memory that initiated a slew of Facebook posts. Here’s part of his story that I used in my Sunday school lesson today:

One of my fondest memories of Jimmy was when I was about 12 years old. I was hiking thru the wooded area behind Hilltop Cemetery with, I believe, Russ Pugh and Bubba Beckner. This was before that area was developed with apartments and houses and it was a wonderful large nature playground for us to run around in. On this occasion we came upon an old red railroad caboose that had been transformed into a home. It had chicken wire running around it with several chickens inside. This was Jimmy Porter's place. He came out and greeted us. I guess he recognized us from the ballpark. It was a hot summer day and he invited us inside and gave us cold water and shade. I was amazed that he lived in an old caboose and I thought it was pretty cool. I was touched that what little he had he offered to us. We stayed and talked with him for a little while and then we left thanking him for the water. I've never forgotten that day. He was a very special man and a gentle soul who loved people.

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger and you invited Me in. then vs. 40, and the King will answer and say to them “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.

The Claterbaughs were a family who lived in my neighborhood and the dad, David Claterbaugh, had grown up in Carrollton. He was interviewed for the obituary when Jimmy Porter passed away. My mother remembered that the Claterbaughs at one time had fixed up their backyard shed for Jimmy to call home. This is Mr. Claterbaugh’s quote from the newspaper story of Jimmy’s death:

"When I was a little ol' kid growing up in town, he was just always here," said David Claterbaugh, 47. "All the kids went out to his house and played ball with him. He took us hunting. He always had Pepsi Cola and cookies for us."

Several years ago, Claterbaugh said, Porter had to have surgery for cancer.

"It never seemed to slow him down," Claterbaugh said. "I would always see him going down the street with a bat over his shoulder and a baseball glove strung on his bat."

My high school friend, Bridget, whose dad was the R.L. Turner baseball coach, remembers Jimmy riding with her family to various playoff games…many of us home town Carrollton kids owe thanks to Mr. Porter for happy hours of play. He doted on us out of his meager stash of refreshments and out of his vast knowledge and love of the game – America’s pastime – baseball.

So now to J #2 of current baseball fame and personal notoriety…my favorite Texas Ranger’s player for the last several years has been Josh Hamilton. He has such blessed skill, confidence, charisma, muscular presence, professed faith in God – but (like all of us) has his weaknesses. Unlike most of us, his demons are alcohol and drug addictions and his mess ups are national sports news. I admire Josh for fighting his way through rehab and minor leagues to become the elite player that we have watched throughout the seasons to be honored in the All-Star games and the Play-off series. I admire his club for celebrating wins with ginger ale instead of champagne to accommodate his needs. These stories brought me to choose Josh as my hero character for Red Ribbon week at school. Near the end of October, TX schools participate in anti-drug education activities and one of the planned events at Colleyville Middle School was a dress up day with the theme, Be a Hero, Not a Zero. I dressed up in my #32 Ranger jersey, carried a bat and a jug of ginger ale and sported painted arm tattoos by my sister-in-law, Alyce, who is a pro body artist. Besides the regular math lesson for that day, the 8th graders also got a short story on the life of Josh Hamilton.

I admire Josh for sharing his personal faith in the YouTube video for I Am Second where he declares God to be first. In that 2009 video, he claims the scripture verse James 4:7 as his personal message,” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” I will go on to add to the message with James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord; and He will exalt you.” I admire Josh for publicly admitting his mistakes and working to reestablish his relationship with God.

I worry about Josh who lives in the constant spotlight of media and so-called fans who hover and wait for sensational stories of downfall. His career is not finished, his life has not ended and there is still time for him to reconnect to his core values and live by them.

A park in Carrollton TX is named in memory of the legendary Jimmy Porter. His greater legacy is the time spent with countless Carrollton youth, teaching us his passion, baseball, and sharing his snacks along with simple wisdom. Josh Hamilton, I hope you too achieve such greatness. As for the rest of us, what is our legacy? In the end, we are all just God’s children – regardless of working as a plumber or accountant, teacher or radio announcer, pro-sports player or academy award winner, handyman or homeless – how did we spread God’s love?

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