Friday, March 31, 2017

Seventeen Inches

Once again, I cite a story that was sent to me by Jim Ritchie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did at the start of the 2017 Major League Baseball Season:

In  Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA's convention.

 While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.”  Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter; I was just happy to be there.

 In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948.  He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate. Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

 After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage. Then, finally …“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.  “I may be old, but I’m not crazy.  The reason I stand before you today  is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.” Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the  room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”

 After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a  question than answer.  “That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”Another long pause. “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

 “That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?” “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.  “You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison. “Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”............“Seventeen inches!”

 “RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major  Leagues? “Seventeen inches!”  “SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause....“They send him to  Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this:  they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches.  We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'” Pause... “Coaches…” pause, "… what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today.  With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards.  We widen the plate!”

 Pause...Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today.  The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people.

 We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”  Silence....He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves!  And we allow it.”

 “And the same is true with our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer  serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate and we see our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch.”

 I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

 “If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today.  It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “… dark days ahead.”

 Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach. His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your  players — no matter how good they are — your own children, your churches,  your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."

And this my friends is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and how to fix it.

"Don't widen the plate."


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beware the Warning Signs

Several months ago I was giving one of our daughters a ride to Salt Lake. She commented that my car seemed "noisy" and wondered if I thought so. I dismissed her comment because she isn't often in town and I was giving her a ride to the airport. I thought she didn't know much about cars and probably wasn't in a position to make that judgment.

Then another daughter a few weeks later drove it home from Salt Lake when she was with Patsy, and the next time I saw her she made the same comment. "You know, Dad," she wisely counseled, "if you just let it go with a car things only get worse in time." "Women," I thought to myself, and once again I dismissed the warning.

Over the holidays we swapped cars with a son and his wife who live over in Heber City. When he returned it to me he wondered aloud, "Why is your car noisier than I remember it? Isn't a Prius supposed to be quieter?" Well, he didn't drive it as much as I did and I chalked up an explanation in my mind that it was probably a little noisier with snow tires on it during the winter months.

Then, after digging it out repeatedly in January and finally being able to drive it once more on a regular basis in February and March, I had to admit to myself - this car really DID sound noisier than I remembered it being. There was a distinct humming vibration in the steering at freeway speed that could easily be discerned in the steering wheel when I turned slightly left or right.

Then I took a group of colleagues (men and women) out to lunch last week. All commented on how noisy it sounded. Our collective wisdom led us to suspect a faulty wheel bearing assembly. One said, "In my professional opinion (he is not a mechanic) this needs to get into the dealership for an inspection."

I heeded the warning signs finally, and took it in for an evaluation. Sure enough, the right front passenger side wheel bearing assembly was badly compromised, and the mechanic told me I would have been a dead man at freeway speed had it failed en route. He thought it might have happened as early as the next two or three trips I took it on.

My purpose in telling this story is to remind us all that warning signs constantly seem to pop up in our lives on a frequent basis. Some we heed, others we dismiss. Some amount to nothing, but others may have life or death consequences if left unattended.

Recently, I have been made aware of some who are leaving the Church. There seem to be a variety of reasons, but each story suggests there are warning signs that left unattended can be catastrophic in time.

In one case, after a lifetime of service to the Church and a pension plan from "the Lord's university" in his hip pocket, it was reported a man and his family had exited the Church. He had been making increasingly bombastic statements about the humble servants the Lord has put in place. "Joseph Smith was the only true prophet," he maintained, "and all the others are just false prophets who have been leading the Church astray ever since." He asserts it is our Mother in Heaven who will judge us, regardless of what the scriptures have revealed. He is now helping Denver Snuffer raise money to distribute a new and improved version of the scriptures and build an "undefiled" new temple.

Another boldly declared, "The Church is talking out of both sides of its mouth on gays and lesbians. They are all our brothers and sisters, but same sex attraction support groups are nothing more than lip service. The leaders of the Church tell us to love them as our brothers and sisters, but they are not allowed to have full participation in the blessings."

Still another railed against the Church's policy to not permit minority-aged children of openly rebellious same sex couples from having the blessings of baptism and priesthood ordinations. They have been deeply offended and have asked that their names be removed from the membership rolls of the Church. "I cannot pay tithing to a Church that discriminates," he told me defiantly.

Most recently, I heard about a group who plan to protest next week's Conference proceedings because of a decades-old grievance about a Scout leader who was abusing Scout-aged boys and the activity had gone unreported for years until now when the boys had finally come forward. They have filed suit against the Church and are seeking judgment to avenge the loss of the innocence of those boys.

Still others, I have been told, plan to protest at the Conference for women to have priesthood ordinations, and others who would advocate for the leaders of the Church to overthrow President Monson because he is now senile. Stop me if you're old enough to remember that one before. News flash - the President of the Church is almost always an old man subject to the infirmities of the flesh.

These warning signs among us are real, and those who hold these often political and highly charged philosophical positions are certainly entitled to express their opinions. I believe most are sincere in their passionate assertions that they are right.

These conditions, it seems, are persistent now, but these conditions have always been with us. The Lord's servants have never had an easy path in this dispensation or in any other. The blood of the martyrs attests to their diligence and faithfulness in the face of all the opposition. In their lives we see a pattern worth emulating, I believe. We will be beset and besieged on all sides in the days and years ahead. The path will not be easier. The "noise" will become deafening until we must give heed and take action or risk death spiritually and even temporally.

I suggest that we chart a course and make up our minds early to heed the warning signs and take steps to repair those conditions that threaten our safety and our peace. The solutions will not come through political means. The Republicans and the Democrats are dead to me. The solutions to our frustrations may not always come to us through the leaders of the Church either. In our impatience with them we may be left to look within. What is the path we will take?

I ignored the warning signs of a bad wheel bearing assembly that persisted for months before I took action, seemingly just in time to save myself and my family from some dire consequences. But in acting to correct a simple malfunctioning part on a car I was spared. How like that simple story are our lives?

What warning signs are you detecting in your lives? Is it something you see? Perhaps something you can hear? Or is it more subtle? Is it something you feel that isn't right in your life? What do you need to do?

Maybe it's time to take it to the Dealer for repairs. You don't have to wait as long as I did to find relief.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Observed Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

"What a precious gift is divine love! Filled with that love, Jesus asks, 'Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?' Tenderly He reassures, 'Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come. . . will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.'" ("Abide in My Love," Ensign, November 2016).

He concludes: "Will you not love Him who first loved you? Then keep His commandments. Will you not be a friend to Him who laid down His life for His friends? Then keep His commandments. Will you not abide in His love and receive all that He graciously offers you? Then keep His commandments. I pray that we will feel and fully abide in His love. . ."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Donald Trump is NOT my President

It's time to finally turn the page into a New Year.

L. Brent Goates
Since my last entry much has transpired. Chief among the events in my life was the passing of my father, L. Brent Goates, on November 20th. It was surprising how many of his contemporaries and others seemed to pass during this holiday season. On the way to the cemetery in the mortuary limo, Patsy observed that it seemed so many people were dying, and she asserted most people seemed to die over the holidays. I challenged that statement, observing that people die every day. A brother-in-law, quick on the draw with Siri, queried, "What day do most people die?" The immediate response was a graph showing that Christmas Day, December 25th, is the number one day of the year on which people die. Who knew?

Dad lived a long and productive life. It seemed so appropriate that he died the week of Thanksgiving. We planned the funeral events for the Saturday following Thanksgiving, and providentially all our children and grandchildren except one family were in attendance. The night before the funeral, November 25th, we had a visitation for friends and family on what would have been my Mother's 91st birthday were she still living. Our missing family was sending a missionary off to Mexico and simply couldn't be in two places at once.

Dad's passing lifted a burden from my shoulders that was unexpected. He was the last of his generation on both sides of the family to pass on, and I felt all the uncertainty of his situation resolve in an instant upon his death as they rolled the gurney carrying his body down the sidewalk to the waiting mortuary van. It was the end of an era. I was so happy for him I could hardly contain my exuberance. Some people may not understand that emotion, but it arises from my certain faith in a life after death and a reunion with all his loved ones on the other side. Coupled with that I felt the moniker of "Skipper" that had attached to me in my childhood by my Grandfather had finally been erased. The release was tangible and welcomed.

He had reached a point in his existence where living became a burden for him. His body was slowly deteriorating day by day and the dilution of his physical, mental and emotional energy was palpable. Finding the exit door to mortality had seemed so elusive. He kept asking me, "Does everyone have to go through this? Why is it so hard?" Of course, those are rhetorical questions no one can answer except those who pass through the portal, and once they are gone it's impossible for them to tell their tale.

Despite his demise, because he lingered so long we had ample opportunities to discuss everything and to say our farewells until we were fully satisfied. I miss him a lot. I find myself reaching for the phone to talk to him, then realize he isn't here any more. But I rejoice in his escape from his decrepit physical frame. He and we were blessed that he maintained his sense of humor and his quick wit right to the end, an outcome for which he prayed continuously.

Just before his passing the Cubs triumphed in the World Series. Later the Utes would fade to number 21 in the final college football standings after losing to Washington, so in that one case things DID get worse.

And then the improbable election of Donald J. Trump happened. He received no help from me, and neither did Hillary Clinton. I've heard so many say since then, "Donald Trump is NOT my President." However, I am not one of those people. I was as gracious and accepting of Barack Obama when he was first elected and then re-elected as I knew how to be, but surprisingly I have not had such magnanimous feelings for Trump. Why? I guess it's because no one can predict with any accuracy where we're headed from here. On the one hand I believe his agenda more closely resembles mine, but on the other hand at least I knew what we were getting with Obama. After eight long years, the Republic survived, an outcome many doubted when he first took office. That's what leads me to hope we just might survive Donald J. Trump too. America is resilient, if nothing else.

On the day of our 47th wedding anniversary, December 19th, Packsize held its annual Christmas party. We're actually more politically correct than that, so it's now called a "holiday celebration." Because of the conflict in our calendar, I excused myself and took Patsy on a date to celebrate our anniversary. When we returned home later that night I was surprised (shocked, more accurately!) to learn that I had been voted "Person of the Year" at Packsize by my peers. It was a humbling recognition. My first reaction was to wonder if we had somehow lowered our standards as a company.

Donald J. Trump, 45th POTUS
I watched the inaugural in part on Friday, January 20th. "The most important election of our lifetimes" had mercifully come to a conclusion. I was mostly underwhelmed with Trump's inaugural address, seeming as it did a compilation of his campaign stump speeches with little or no substance I could discern in it. I remain convinced that our political system in this country is beyond help. Time will tell if it can be rescued, but don't hold your breath. I plan to look to inspired Church leaders and the scriptures for guidance from here on in. There won't be any political saviors anytime soon, though we all seem to cling to that hope. I'm still turned off by the media coverage, and the harder I seek to avoid political coverage the more pervasive it seems to be.

I can't conclude without a passing tribute to God for the prodigious amounts of snowfall that have landed in our front yard this year. In the thirty years we've lived in Pine Valley at 7333 feet above sea level, we have never seen so much snow so early in the winter as we have experienced this year. It culminated two weeks ago with snow each day and mechanical failures in the equipment owned by the man who plows our road. The snow kept piling up, drifting in, and once I got out one morning I could not get back in for over a week. Patsy remained behind snowbound in the house, and I camped out night after night at my father's home in Salt Lake. Finally, we secured the help of a local excavator with a robust 4x4 front loader who was able to scoop out the road so we could be reunited. This is the first year I have heard the term "atmospheric river," and I can validate it's a "real thing".

Any discussion about snow at our house is always a conversation against self-preservation. If I express gratitude for all the snow, I am expressing hope in the coming summer when we so desperately need the water from the reservoirs so we can drink and water our livestock. On the other hand moving this amount of snow around and navigating through it can be challenging (and expensive).

So those snow events led to the purchase of another gas-guzzling SUV with more clearance, more power and 4x4 muscle than my environmentally friendly Prius. I kept the Prius and now I have a 4Runner to bail me out on the dicey snow days.

We begin 2017 with hearts filled with hope and happiness for what the future may hold this year. For me at least, it is the beginning of a new era as we embark on an exciting and unknown future.

And like it or not if you live in America, Donald J. Trump most certainly is your President.