“Stay In The Fight!” —  The 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals Deliver An Upset for the Ages

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The Washington Nationals have the distinction of being one of the most unlikely underdogs to win a championship, ever. There’s a long list of least likely, storybook, fairytale teams that no one picked to win it all. And yet they did. This is why we love sports. And this is why sports and the gospel are such good friends.

Winning it all after you’ve been down and downcast and downtrodden and looked down upon is not easy to do. But just like the Nationals did, with help from up above and hope in the one above, we all can rise from the ashes of defeat and despair and end our stories in triumph. The Washington Nationals did it, and in so doing they gave all the rest of us a double dose of hope and heart. The Nationals improbable win gave all the rest of us hope to believe that an upstart with heart can indeed kick start their fortunes and come back from way back to defy the odds.

Here’s a partial list from the long list of Cinderella champions:

In baseball, these Nats are right up there with the ‘69 Mets and the 2006 Cardinals’ and the 1985 Royals. In other sports, who can forget Joe Naimath and the ‘69 Jets or Eli Manning and the 2007 New York Giants who beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl? Turning to college basketball, we will never forget Jimmy Valvano and the ‘82 North Carolina State Wolfpack or Rally Massimino and the ‘85 Villanova Wildcats. Yes, these Nats have joined an elite club of Cinderellas, including the 1980 US Hockey Team who beat the Russian National Team to win Olympic gold. These indeed were upsets for the ages.

The Washington Nationals 2019 playoff run “was an amazing turnaround to watch. The Nats were able to win the National League Wild Card game in dramatic fashion coming back to beat Milwaukee, 4-3.

Then it was onto the powerhouse, the L.A. Dogers. The Nats going toe to toe with one of the best teams in the league. Howie Kendrick delivering a 10th inning grand slam in Game 5, giving the Nats their first-ever series win in the postseason.

“Stay in the fight” was the motto all season long for the Washington Nationals. Never quitting, never giving up.

And they played like it too, just absolutely dominating the St. Louis Cardinals, breaking out the brooms and sweeping away the Cardinals in just four games.” https://wjla.com/sports/washington-nationals/world-series-how-did-this-happen

Finally, there was the World Series itself! All four wins by the winning team came on the road. Top that!

How did it happen? Faith, hope, a great slogan and a wonky theme song. That’s right. The Nationals adopted the silliest theme song they could find and it worked. It all started when “outfielder Gerardo Parra started using the tune as a walk-up song while mired in a slump earlier in the year, as a nod to his two-year-old daughter.

‘Baby Shark’ took over Nationals Park in 2019 and the team embraced the undeniably-catchy children’s song as a part of its celebrations throughout the season.

Players and fans alike immediately embraced the silliness. “When Nationals players get a base hit, their on-field celebrations mirror the song. A single gets a finger pinch for Baby Shark, a double calls for hand-clapping like a Mommy Shark and a triple gets the full chomp for Daddy Shark.

It’s blown up pretty big. Everyone seems to be doing it,” Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin said before Game 3. “People are wearing shark outfits. It’s like Halloween out there. It’s great.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/playoffs/2019/10/25/nationals-baby-shark-song-world-series/2458499001/

So cheer up my brother. Live in the sunshine my sister. You too can comeback from way back. Get yourself a theme song and stay in the fight.

Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev: Survival Of the Fittest

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Rafael Nadal just won his 19th Grand Slam singles title as he was recently crowned the 2019 US Open Tennis Tournament champion. But it wasn’t easy. Nadal won because he outlasted his opponent. That’s it.  Nadal didn’t necessarily play better or serve better or volley better. He just lasted longer. And that’s the life lesson; sometimes you don’t win big by blowing out your opponent. Sometimes you just figure out a way to stay on your feet for five hours and will your way to a win. It takes guts and grit and resolve and a unanimous resolution to win the match we saw Rafael win on Sunday night. And it was one for the ages.

There were so many lessons and so many story lines and so many memories made that time would fail to capture them all in in one blog. But there’s one story line that I love. It’s about the heart of a champion. Here’s how a Washington Post writer described Nadal’s marathon match with Daniil Medvedev:

“In one of those occasional and stupendous sporting events that winds up flattering the runner-up every ounce as much as the winner, Rafael Nadal spent Sunday evening withstanding a championship match donnybrook rich in unbelievable volleys and awe inspiring, gasping points. A U.S. Open final that was an almost peerless, instant classic was built to such heights that the far-fetched story within it seemed to outweigh even the long-term significance it caused.

Daniil Medvedev, the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old Russian who looks as if he has never encountered a fat gram, spent the 4 hours 50 minutes of Nadal’s 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 win showing that his beanpole frame houses a humongous heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/08/us-open-mens-final-rafael-nadal-seeks-th-grand-slam-title/?noredirect=on

And so there you have it. Every time we outlast an opposition, we wonder how we made it over. The how is in the heart. And you don’t just need heart; you need a humongous heart, just like the tender, leathery heart of love that our Lord displayed for us on Calvary. The victory of the Cross wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Rafael Nadal would say the same about his momentous US Open Championship win.  And when we are still standing after the enemy has thrown his best at us, we too can say the same.

Tears of Sports Joy: Why Aren’t You Watching the 2019 US Open?

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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff at their joint Post Match Press Conference at the 2019 US Open

Talk about drama and theater and a showcase and an awesome show of showmanship in sports! I just started watching the 2019 US Tennis Open and now I can’t stop. Yes, this year’s US Open has it all. Upsets, comebacks and, you guessed it- turnarounds, especially on the women’s side.

Two matches are particularly of note; Taylor Townsend vs. Simona Halep and, of course, Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff.

When I tuned in to the Taylor/Halep match, it looked like Taylor was trying to LOSE her math to Halep and not win. Seriously. She made unforced error after unforced error, and had so many mental miscues that I said there is no way this American is going to win. But she did. Instead of losing, she pulled herself together and won the match that could easily have been lost. Kudos to you Taylor, your upset win made me cry for joy.

The New York Times reported is this way:

“Taylor Townsend stunned the reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep on Thursday by rushing to the net 106 times. In her match with Halep on Saturday, Taylor said ‘there was no reason to change what was working.’

And in her previous win, Townsend, ranked 116th, came to the net 75 times in her 7-5, 6-2 victory over Sorana Cirstea in Louis Armstrong Stadium, including 53 times on serve-and-volley points. In her on-court interview after the match, Townsend said she had been surprised to learn how many people had her phone number, based on the congratulations she received on her win over Halep, but had worked to maintain her focus.

‘I just tried to keep my head on straight,” Townsend, 23, said. “My coach and I talked about strategy, and just continuing what I did from the last round, and just trying to get better.’ ” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/sports/tennis/us-open-taylor-townsend.html

Townsend was playing in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for just the second time in her career, after losing at this stage of the 2013 French Open. She told the crowd this would be only the beginning for her, saying she planned to “ride this thing all the way.”

The Los Angeles times reported this part of the story:

“Unable to recapture the success she had enjoyed at the junior level, Taylor Townsend knew earlier this year she’d have to change something in her tennis life. Being routed by Simona Halep at Miami in March was the catalyst that drove Townsend, 23, to approach Halep for advice. Halep generously obliged. But on Thursday, Halep became a victim of Townsend’s rekindled hunger. In the biggest upset of this year’s U.S. Open, a confident Townsend went to the net early and often and outplayed Halep — the current Wimbledon champion — to earn a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory in a second-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. And so Townsend’s win wasn’t much of a thank-you to Halep. “Next time, I will not say anything,” she said, smiling.

Taylor said “she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it was good to hear it from another player, someone I just played, played a couple of times. Especially someone who is at such a high level, has accomplished so much,” Townsend said. “I’m not saying that everything she said I implemented into my training, but it was definitely in the back of my head to remember what she said and also remember why I asked, what drove me to ask that question, kind of that hunger and desire to get better.”

The triumph was a long time coming for Townsend, who became teary-eyed during a post-match interview.” https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-08-29/taylor-townsend-takes-simona-halep-advice-then-beats-her-in-u-s-open-singles.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631

And THEN there was the most anticipated match of the tournament; reigning US Open Champion Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff. If you didn’t watch the match on Saturday night, just watch the post-game interview. It’s a presser that will live in sports infamy.

I just dare you not to cry.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631

Back In Philly, “Cholly” Is A Hit

Charlie Manuel

“Cholly” Manuel is back home in Philly and he’s making a big and immediate difference.

Charlie, aka “Cholly”  Manuel, will be beloved in Philly forever because he won us a World Series as manager of the Phillies in 2008 and led the team to five consecutive postseason appearances from 2007-11. In nine seasons as Phils’ skipper, he went 780-636, a .551 winning percentage, accumulating move victories than any manager in team history. And before he left town Cholly said “I’ll be Back!” Well not quite, but it makes for a good story.

Now Cholly is baaaaaack! He’s back as the Phillies hitting coach, replacing  John Mallee. Here’s what Ethan Witte and John Stolnis from SB Nation, a Philadelphia Phillies community, had to say about it all:

“That John Mallee has been replaced isn’t too much of a shock. Something had to be done as there was such a malaise surrounding the team, especially the hitters. The fact that Charlie Manuel is tasked with taking the reigns is the shocker. We’ve all known how much Cholly loves hitting. That the team knows this and recognizes not only his expertise, but realizes that something had to be done is absolutely huge. However, the questions this decision raises are fascinating.

Manuel is the most successful manager in franchise history and is a beloved figure in the city. How will he work with the current embattled manager, Gabe Kapler? Will Kapler feel threatened? Will Manuel get credit for turning the season around if the offense improves and the team starts winning? Is it smart for the Phils to turn to a more old-school baseball figure in an era when most teams are hiring young baseball minds?”

These are all good questions. The jury still might be out but the early election returns are in: in the Phillies last 4 games they’ve scored 30 runs, and they scored 11 against they’re old teammate, Cole Hammels. Not too shabby.

Yes, Cholly is back, and what a comeback. And talk about a turnaround! 

So, even at the tender old age of 75, Cholly is making a difference. And that means that you and I, at whatever younger age we are than Cholly, can make a difference too.

Smokin’ Bert Cooper: A Hometown Hero Goes Home

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Bertram “Smokin’ Bert” Cooper: 1966 – 2019

I attended a funeral today. Actually we call them “homegoings.” This homegoing was for the brother of a dear friend. His name was Bertram Cooper, nicknamed “Smokin’ Bert.” He was only 53. He was born and raised outside of Philly in Sharon Hill, and he is the pride and joy of the Darby Borough. His life and legacy and faith and fearlessness in the ring are another of those underdog stories that we all love to hear and tell.

Here’s a tad of his tale:

“In very sad and somewhat shocking news, it has been reported how former heavyweight contender Bert Cooper has passed away from pancreatic cancer. Bert was just 53 years old. The rough, tough and often extremely exciting warrior who was once trained by the legendary Joe Frazier (who gave Bert his “Smokin’” nickname) fought so many top names during his up and down career.

Initially a cruiserweight, Cooper soon moved up to heavyweight, and on his best night he could rumble with the best of the best. The knock on Cooper was his lack of discipline. Throughout his long pro career – September 1984 to September of 2012, with numerous layoffs included – no-one knew whether or not Bert would enter the ring in top fighting shape. A lover of partying, this leading to his indulgence in drugs and alcohol – Bert once famously said before his losing fight with a come-backing George Foreman how he had “probably slept two or three hours in the last two or three days.”

But when he was ready to fight hard, Cooper was a force to be reckoned with. Fans still talk about the way Cooper, who was given just six days’ notice (and fighters today, some of them anyway, were moaning that six weeks was not enough time to get ready to fight Anthony Joshua for the world title), became the first man to drop Evander Holyfield. Cooper was eventually stopped but what a war he gave Holyfield.”

“Smoking” Bert Cooper (38-25-0, KO’s 31), 2-time World Heavyweight Title challanger (1991 & 1992), former NABF Cruiserweight Champion (1986-1989) & NABF Heavyweight Champion (1990-1990), former WBF Heavyweight Title holder (1997), former USA Pennsylvania State heavyweight champion (2002).

Victories over the likes of: Orlin Norris, Joe Hipp, Henry Tillman, Willie deWit etc.

Lost to champs & top contenders like: George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Mike Weaver, Corrie Sanders, Chris Byrd, Carl Williams, Luis Ortiz, Larry Donald, Fres Oquendo, Joe Mesi, Chauncy Welliver.

Cooper was at one point CLOSE to being a re-incarated Joe Frazier. He surely had his athletics and power, but not the hunger or discipline like Frazier had that made him to a great champ. And when Cooper started with drugs, that was a heart-breaking break-point for old champ Joe who threw Cooper out of his gym in disgust and disappointment for his former protégé.” https://www.boxing247.com/boxing-news/r-i-p-smokin-bert-cooper-1966-2019/117824

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

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Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

Tiger Woods Wins The 2019 Masters!

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In what might be the greatest comeback in sports history, Tiger Woods outlasted a loaded leaderboard to win the 2019 Masters and win his first major in more than a decade.

Tiger did it. He absolutely did it. After five years and major surgery, Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters golf tournament. And despite what you think of him or what he went through, his comeback is noteworthy. It took faith and guts and fortitude and gumption.

So here’s to Tiger. He came back and his comeback is a throwback to when we fell in love with him way back.

Here’s how Sports Illustrated reported the epic win:

“Tiger shot a final-round 70 on Sunday at the Masters to claim his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship, his first since 2008. Woods trailed Francesco Molinari by two shots entering the final day, but used a vintage back-nine to claim the tournament, redemption and a victory many golf fans thought they would never see.”

So you see, on this Good Friday, we look back to the Cross, the Old Rugged Cross, and remember that after death comes life. And for Tiger, after a meteoric rise and a very public and humiliating fall, he too has risen from the dead.