Saturday, March 19, 2016

Morals, Values, and Baseball

With Spring in the air, it's easy for many people to start thinking about activities to do outside. One of those, that pops into my mind at least, is baseball. The regular season is only a couple weeks away, and things just got interesting on the South Side of Chicago. Struggling slugger Adam LaRoche of the Chicago White Sox just announced his retirement this week, and on Friday, released a statement as to why he did so. It wasn't necessarily because his play last season had been horrible; he had already started spring training. But the reason was because he couldn't bring his son into the clubhouse anymore, something he has done in previous seasons with two different teams. So what does this have to do with Catholicism?

Well, first off, LaRoche describes himself as a "non-denominational Christian", however his sense of morality and being a courageous Christian witness should be applauded. Seen in the article I just linked, he's been responsible for several "Faith Nights" with both the Washington Nationals, and the White Sox last season. He's described as often engaging his faith with fellow teammates, which makes me like him much more than I did before.
Faith Hope and Charity- Joseph Winterhalter

Dare I say, I wasn't a big fan of him last season as his average hovered just a little bit above .200 and hit only around 12 homers the whole season. Most disappointing, to say the least. But now that I got that little bit of venting out of the way, I can safely say that I admire LaRoche's courageousness. This comes in the wake of comments made by rising phenom Bryce Harper who recently said in an interview that he wants to see more egos akin to what we see in the NFL and NBA. That is players, who revel in self-indulgence in the end zone, and pout when things don't go their way in games. Players that are disrespectful to their fellow competitors by flipping bats and eyeing down pitchers after getting big hits, instead of being modest. Basically, he's advocating for selfish players, devoid of any virtuous character, so that today's self-absorbed millennials will find baseball more attractive, because supposedly, that's what sells today. Well, I can now say I want my son to model himself off of LaRoche, and most cetainly not Harper. When I found out that LaRoche had retired because of his son, I was floored. Look what he says in his statement, so you can get the whole picture:

Over the last five years, with both the Nationals and the White Sox, I have been given the opportunity to have my son with me in the clubhouse. It is a privilege I have greatly valued. I have never taken it for granted, and I feel an enormous amount of gratitude toward both of those organizations.  
Though I clearly indicated to both teams the importance of having my son with me, I also made clear that if there was ever a moment when a teammate, coach or manager was made to feel uncomfortable, then I would immediately address it. I realize that this is their office and their career, and it would not be fair to the team if anybody in the clubhouse was unhappy with the situation. Fortunately, that problem never developed...
Prior to signing with the White Sox, my first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement...  
With all of this in mind, we move toward the current situation which arose after White Sox VP Ken Williams recently advised me to significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse. Later, I was told not to bring him to the ballpark at all. Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox. Upon doing so, I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy,.. I understand that many people will not understand my decision. I respect that, and all I ask is for that same level of respect in return. I live by certain values that are rooted in my faith, and I am grateful to my parents for that. I have tried to set a good example on and off the field and live a life that represents these values. As fathers, we have an opportunity to help mold our kids into men and women of character, with morals and values that can’t be shaken by the world around them. 
Baseball has taught me countless life lessons. I’ve learned how to face challenges, how to overcome failure, how to maintain humility, and most importantly, to trust that the Lord is in control and that I was put here to do more than play the game of baseball. We are called to live life with an unwavering love for God and love for each other...
I will leave you with the same advice that I left my teammates. In life, we’re all faced with difficult decisions and will have a choice to make. Do we act based on the consequences, or do we act on what we know and believe in our hearts to be right? I choose the latter.
Adam LaRoche
These are some powerful words from LaRoche, and come from a man who stays true to his convictions. While I won't go into detail about whether I believe a major league clubhouse is the place for a player's child, I will comment that I totally respect LaRoche's decision to walk away from the game at this time, instead of going the whole season without his son by his side. Look at it from his perspective. He's made millions of dollars from playing a game, and he knows it. that's why he thanks God for allowing him to do so. He and his family has been abundantly blessed. So what's another few million dollars going to do for him? Really? Is money more important than spending time with his family? To LaRoche, the family is of utmost importance. Isn't "molding our kids... with morals and values" everything that Catholics should aspire to do for their own families? Look what Pope Francis has exhorted us to do, in a similar line of thinking, when he said this to the bishops of Brazil:
"In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”
It sounds to me that LaRoche is living out this call. He puts his faith first, and passes it on to his family by showing them that time together, and time glorifying God, is more important than a game. Especially when that game has been so generous, allowing the LaRoche to live very comfortably. And there's no doubt in my mind that because of his Christian faith, a good portion of that goes to those in need. So I say good on LaRoche for making this decision. Although it seems to be causing controversy in the White Sox's clubhouse, I don't think the decision should be regretted. Players with these types of convictions should be the ones our children look up to, not arrogant players like Harper or Jose Bautista. Luckily, I know there are virtuous ballplayers out there that I hope for my son to model himself after, because let's face it, young kids always look up to sports stars. Jose Abreu, also of the White Sox, comes to mind as one of those players. Another that comes to mind is Miami Marlins pitcher David Phelps, who I've written about previously. He has shown and talked about how his Catholic faith informs every decision in his life, and that his family of five is of main importance, as we can see in his practice of Natural Family Planning:
 "I've been fortunate to have a lot of friends in baseball who are passionate about their faith. most of them are Christian but not Catholic. I've had some pretty in depth conversations about NFP because those who are devout [non-Catholic] Christians understand that Catholics don't believe in contraception, so everyone asks the question: "Oh, what, are you gonna have 10 kids? You're on your way to have a whole baseball team of your own." A lot of non-Catholics have an interesting view of what it means to be Catholic. They believe there are a lot of rules to follow and that we do things just because we're Catholic, not because we're convicted about it. I think that's a big thing my teammates take away from talking to me about NFP."
Stories like these prove that there is still holiness to be found in sports. Hopefully other workaholics can look at LaRoche's story and think to themselves, "Hey, maybe my family does deserve more of my time. Maybe it is my duty to instill morals and values in my children by being around as much as possible." I would like to think I would make a similar decision if a comparable situation such as LaRoche's ever arose. I see it as a selfless act, and definitely something that should be praised.

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