The Power of Pride

High school football player Isayah Muller.

He just led his team to a championship win.

He is dead now.

He was killed in New York after his father discovered a bottle of cologne missing from their car after a graduation ceremony.  When he noticed the bottle missing, he turned the car around and confronted the parking attendants.  The argument became violent, his son got involved, and was stabbed as a result.

Now we have one less 19 year old in the world, victim of a senseless murder because his father couldn’t live without a bottle of cologne.

Tell me America, that we don’t need a little more God in our lives, and a little less pride and conceit.

Tell me we don’t need to get on our knees and ask God to intervene in our lives.

Wake up America and start realizing what is important, before we destroy ourselves.

“Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. ”
–Psalm 73:6

The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
–Proverbs 8:13


And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

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The Dunes Golf Course, Sanibel Island, Florida

I like Golf.

I started playing the sport when I was a teenager. My dad was into the sport, and I got hooked after going to the golf course with him. I later played on my high school team. After several years away from the game, I am now back into it, and I’ve got the “fever” again.

So a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took a trip to the west coast of Florida, to our favorite getaway, Sanibel Island. We decided we would take the opportunity to play a round of golf while we were there, so we booked a tee time at The Dunes Golf Course. From the pictures of the course, it seemed like a real challenge. The course is cut out of the wildlife preserve, surrounded by water, and we were looking forward to playing on this unique course.

Our tee time was at 8 am. We booked it early so that we would have time for other activities later. When we arrived, we were one of the few cars in the parking lot. Our first impressions were very good. The Country Club consists of a club house, with a restaurant and pro shop, a driving range where you hit balls into the water, and the course itself. Everything was very clean, and quite inviting.

As soon as we got out of the car, one of the staff immediately took our clubs, and asked us to register at the pro shop. This was a nice touch. It’s nice not having to lug your bag around while registering. The girl in the Pro Shop was also very friendly, registering us quickly. The pro shop is small, not too different than most golf course pro shops. After registering, we went out to get our cart, and noticed that our clubs were already on a cart, and ready to go. The starter greeted us, letting us know when we would tee off, and also advised us where to get drinks if we wanted.

One thing I really liked about the staff here was how they handled teeing off. In some of the courses I play at, there is really no organization at the first tee. The result is that everybody bunches up and you end up in a long line waiting to tee off. Not here. The carts are all lined up and you are asked to stay there until it is your turn. The starter does an excellent job of checking to make sure the party ahead of you has gone far enough on the first hole before allowing you to step up to the first tee. It makes the round more enjoyable, so that you don’t spend too much time waiting to hit your shot, and don’t hold anybody up either.

As for the course itself, it is simply breathtaking. Most of the holes have water on either one or both sides. Some holes look as if they are an island unto themselves. However, the interesting thing is that even though the water is in play on many of the holes, the hazards are so strategically placed that if you know how to manage your game well, you can avoid them easily. The result is a great round of golf while enjoying the nature around you. I lost two balls during the round, which I consider pretty good for never having played it before.

You will need to be smart off the tee on this course. The fairways are not brutally narrow, but they are not wide by any stretch. If you tend to slice, you are encouraged to account for this by aiming correctly to account for it, or you will surely play from the rough. However, another interesting thing about this course is that because of how well it is maintained, the fairways are a joy to hit from, and even the rough isn’t so – well – rough, where you will be hitting from longer grass, not weeds. Since you don’t have weeds on this course too tangle up your clubs, hitting an iron out of the rough is very possible.

Because I had never played the course before, I decided to avoid keeping score. However, after about 7 or 8 holes, I realized I probably should have. I had read reviews that said playing here was like playing “target” golf. I disagree. As I said, the maintenance of the course and positioning of the hazards were such that all you really need to do is play smart and your score should be comparable to what you normally shoot on other courses. What you definitely cannot do is whack your tee shot or approach without carefully considering you landing zone. Because you have water and narrow fairways, you must play the odds and lay up or otherwise play conservatively at times. But so what? As amateur golfers, we should be doing that anyway right?

At the end of our round, someone was there immediately to help us take our clubs off the cart, and even cleaned our clubs for us. We were truly impressed. If you are considering a weekend trip that includes a round of golf, I urge you to consider The Dunes Golf Course on Sanibel Island. You will not be disappointed with either the staff or the course.

Now, if your are still disappointed with your round, that will be on you my friend, not the course.

Have fun!

My Love Hate Relationship with Golf

7:12 AM.

Shaking the sleep from my eyes.

Saturday morning.

Gooooooooooolf!!!!!

I spring to attention like an army private to the sound of revelry blaring. My mission is clear. I will play golf this morning. I will face 18 holes of fairways, bunkers, downhill and uphill lies, deep rough, doglegs right and left, water hazards, and hopefully plenty of pars and birdies. This will be the morning all becomes right in the world, the day I master this strange, Scottish game that has tortured many, and that few have conquered.

A quick shower and breakfast and I am ready.

Golf clubs – check.
Lucky Marlins cap – check.
Android phone golf GPS app – check.
Bottled water – check.
New and improved attitude – check.

I am driving now. I can feel the energy build up, the anticipation. Today is the day. I can feel it. All those lessons and practice sessions are going to pay off today. This morning is the culmination of all that hard work, all the sweat, all the blisters. Remember not to over think it. Don’t over analyze. You don’t have to think about 12 different things during the swing. The club pro gave you 3 things. Just think about that and you will be fine.

There it is.

As I turn the corner, I see it. The links. It is still early morning, and the sun is just starting to poke through. I can see the mist hovering over the rolling hills. There is a slight breeze and I can see the flag on hole number one as it flaps gently, as if waving to me, enticing me, luring me in seductively. As I roll down the window, I can experience it all, the sights, the smells, the sounds of nature. I am ready for this challenge. You will not beat me today, Scottish game of torture. Today I will persevere. I will not be beaten down. I will not be drowned in your water hazards, or sunk in your bunkers. There will be no barriers erected around those lush landscapes you call greens. Today, I will conquer you.

This morning, I love Golf.

I am on the first tee now. The excitement is unbearable. I am playing the perfect drive over and over in my head. In my mind, I can hear the crisp sound of my metal TaylorMade Burner as club head meets ball, then the sizzling of the ball piercing through the morning air as it flies straight, settling down on the fairway, about 250 yards away.

Darn…

Slice…

In the rough, about 190 yards.

I am not deterred. The morning is early. Even Tiger slices one every once in a while, I tell myself. The rough is not that bad, and I can recover. This is a par 4, with water halfway down. Since my tee shot was short, I dare not try to clear the water, so I will lay up just before the water, then go for the green in 3, and try to save par. You see, I am thinker, and today is my day. This course will not beat me. Not today. I take out a 7 iron, set up, and…

Shoot….

Hit it fat…

Ok, don’t panic. You are not in the water, and now you are on the fairway. Yes the shot only went about 40 yards instead of the 130 yards you needed, but all is not lost. A 4 iron should still get you to the green. Ok you don’t have to par every hole. After all, you are not Tiger Woods. The goal here is to have a good time. Relax! Relax! If you tense up, things will just get worse. Remember, do NOT let this course beat you! Think!

Keep your head down.
Relax the hands.
Swing on plane.
Turn the hips and shoulders.
Remember to create lag on the downswing.
Don’t swing out to in.
Don’t hit it fat.
Don’t hit in thin.
Hit down on the ball, not up.
Remember to follow through.
Keep your swing compact.
Avoid the “chicken wing” on the follow through.

Plunk!

Darn!

In the water.

What did your instructor tell you? He told you not to think of 12 things during the swing. I scored a 7 on that hole, and the rest of the round followed the same pattern. The Scots were victors today. I drowned in water hazards, sunk in sand traps, and greens were as elusive as the fountain of youth. Once again, my golf hopes and dreams were dashed. How depressing.

I hate Golf.

But I’ll be back next Saturday.

Playoffs!

baseballIt was a Saturday like any other. No school, so I got up a little later. Of course, for a 13 year old, that meant 9 AM instead of 6 AM. After dressing and the obligatory brushing of teeth, I stroll into the kitchen. Mami has cafe con leche ready, along with some toasted Cuban bread. Yeah, Cubans in Miami feed their kids coffee. I am not sure if that contributed to our hyper activity. This is 1980, so ADHD has not become the popular diagnosis for hyper active kids yet. We are just considered annoying young boys. Nothing a day of playing outside won’t fix. As I go to my room to grab my baseball and glove, the realization that today is not a regular Saturday starts to reach my brain.

Playoffs!

I was a baseball fanatic as a kid, and as such, was on a Koury League team, our version of Little League in Miami. Our team was in the playoffs that year. I can’t tell you I was the star on the team. I was small for my age, and I was struggling to learn to hit a fastball. I was a decent fielder, and I was progressing as a hitter though. Papi apparently had aspirations of having a Major League baseball player for a son, so he was very involved. I fondly remember seeing him at practice and at games, cheering me on. He had coached little league back in New Jersey, and even helped out with my current team as well. Of course Mami never missed a game. Those years were instrumental in cementing my relationship with both of them.

So in his attempt to help me reach my dream of baseball stardom, Papi had heard of the Charlie Lau batting method. Baseball fans will surely remember George Brett, the star third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Many will remember his chase of Ted Williams .400 batting average that one year, and the many thrills he gave us during his career. Well, he made the Charlie Lau method famous. It was a method that used the body’s own momentum, and a transfer of weight between the batter’s back and front feet to propel him through the ball. Papi took me to a local batting instructor who taught this method.

The change was pretty significant, not so much because I was suddenly transformed into a superstar, but because of the confidence it gave me. I had a new weapon at my disposal, one that none of the other kids on the team had, and the encouragement I received from Papi and the instructor went a long way. Suddenly I was connecting bat with ball in practice much more frequently, and best of all, the ball was flying off the bat. Where most of my hits had been harmless ground balls, I was now consistently hitting line drives into the outfield.

Game time!

The game was pretty exciting, going back and forth, no team having the lead for very long. It was the second to last inning and we were behind 4-2. We quickly get two hits, putting men on first and second. Suddenly a quiet ballpark comes alive. We are all standing in the dugout now, unable to contain our excitement. You can feel the energy in the ball park, as the chatter in the bleachers begins to build, parents and fans cheering on their family and friends. We have a chance to win this one now if we keep it going, but we are up against arguably the best pitcher in the league. This kid looks 2 or 3 years older than the rest of us, and I can swear he throws illegal pitches, since every ball seems to have a break in it, which is not allowed in this league. The next batter strikes out, and our hearts deflate. I am now on deck, as the next batter goes to the plate, hoping to be the one to get us back in this game.

“Strike one!”

“Strike two.”

“You’re out!”

Wonderful. This is not the way I had planned it. With two outs and the game on the line, we will have to see what Charlie Lau can do for me. Everyone is cheering me on. I am shaking like a leaf, and I am sure it shows as I move to the plate. The pitcher looks huge. Images of David and Goliath permeate my brain. The coach, probably noticing I am white as a ghost, calls time and calls me to over to talk.

“Ok kid, relax! You can do this. Remember this.. Keep your eye on the ball, and wait for for your pitch. No need to swing at everything. Just meet the ball with the bat ok?”

Henry – he was a great coach. He never yelled, and was never negative. He always had a way of putting me at ease and instilling confidence in me. I step in to the batters box, curling into my new batting position, confident I can make this happen. I am repeating in my head, “Wait for your pitch. Wait for your pitch…” The pitch is thrown, and it is right down the middle, no break in sight. A fastball. I can hear it sizzle as it flies towards the plate. It all slows down now as I unwind my swing. Back foot transfers to front foot, bat follows body, eye follows ball and then…

Crack!

The ball flies off the bat, directly over the pitcher’s head. The ball reaches the outfield before I even get a chance to run. The runners on first and second were moving with the pitch, and take advantage. Two runners score, and I stop on second.

We are tied 4-4!

I can see Mami screaming, Papi with a huge smile on his face, applauding. My teammates are jumping up and down in the dugout, some of them jumping on the runners as they cross the plate. I am of course serious as a heart attack. I can’t let anyone know that I think this is the absolute best moment of my short life.

“Stay serious John.” I tell myself “ It’s no big deal. Just a normal day at the park for George Brett, No different for you.”

We later scored again, winning the game.

We lost the playoffs that year. But that night – I went home a superstar.

Baseball Snapshot

It’s funny how as an adult, you remember some aspects of your childhood, and yet others are just a blur. For example, most of my years in catholic school were a blur. I remember a couple of the teachers, but most of them are just distant images in my mind. I remember specific moments very clearly, but very few.

There is one night of my childhood that remains clear in my brain. I was not just a baseball fan as a child, I was raving baseball lunatic. I remember more than one night sleeping with my glove and baseball. I could recite the entire Yankees lineup. I could tell you their current batting averages, who was leading the league in home runs, RBI’s, you name it. From the ages of about 7 to 15, I was the resident baseball guru in my house.

I will never forget the night my dad took my older brother and I to Shea stadium to see the Yankees play the Twins. The Yankees he says? At Shea? Yeah this was the mid 70’s and they were renovating Yankee stadium, so they were playing at Shea. At some point during the trip over the Hudson River to New York, my dad revealed that we were going to meet Tony Oliva from the Minnesota Twins. Apparently my dad went to school with him in Cuba, and was going to meet him after the game. Now, you might think I knew exactly who Tony Oliva was. I didn’t. Unfortunately, Tony was in the later stages of his career and had had several injuries, so he was not playing everyday anymore. I believe this was probably his last year as a player. I didn’t really care though. I was gonna get to meet an actual big leaguer. Wow!

So we got to the game late. My dad got three tickets at the ticket booth, and we went in. I still remember the smell of the stadium. You could smell hot dogs and popcorn all around you. When we got to our seats, I saw it. A real big league stadium. It was beautiful. The field was a perfect green. We were far away, but I could see the players and was pretty amazed at how big the field was. It was much bigger than the fields I played on. It was the last inning, and we only got to see the last couple of outs. I remember the last out was a grounder to the shortstop. I don’t remember the score but I know the Yankees won.

So we are walking out, and as we get outside, my dad leads us to where the players come out so we can wait for Tony to meet us. Soon I see in the distance one of the Twins, but it isn’t Tony Oliva. I can’t see who it is because of all of the kids around him, asking for autographs. My dad notices the crowd, and tells me to give him the ball I brought with me. He goes over and gets in the crowd, holding the ball up for the player to sign. It seemed like it took forever for him to see my dad, but he finally took my ball and signed it. My dad hands me the ball, a huge smile on his face as I take the ball back and look at the autograph.

Rod Carew!

Wow! Rod Carew – the great batting champ throughout the 70’s. He was one of the greatest Twins ever, and I had his autograph. The moment I saw that ball in my hands is one of those snapshots of my childhood I can never erase. The smile on my dad’s face as he hands me the ball, knowing the moment he just created for his son, is imprinted in me forever.

But this night wasn’t over. Out comes Tony Oliva. After he and my dad give each other a big hug, Tony says hi to us. I was always very shy, so I say nothing. But inside I am awestruck. What a night. Tony sees the ball and my dad shows Tony the autograph. Tony smiles approvingly, and signs the ball on the opposite side. I felt like the kid in the coke commercial when Mean Joe Green tossed him the sweaty t-shirt.

“Wow! Thanks Mean Joe!”

So Tony tells my dad he is hungry and we all go out to a diner in New York. We spend the rest of the night listening to my Dad and Tony talk about old times. Both my brother and I were falling asleep, but I just couldn’t let sleep take over. I didn’t want the night to end. So I remember the rest of the night as a battle to stay awake, hearing bits and pieces of their conversations, like Tony telling my dad that Nolan Ryan was the only pitcher Rod Carew was afraid of. Priceless!

Today I don’t have the ball anymore, nor do I have any pictures. All I have is my memories. Every once in awhile my brother, dad and I will talk about that night. Seems like that night was one of those snapshot memories for all three of us.

Funny how that works huh?