STAY AT 17 INCHES..a note on Our Nation

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I just came across this post by Chris Sperry. I don’t know where it was first published, but the message is powerful and right for our nation today! Enjoy!
STAY AT 17 INCHES

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 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 the hell 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 in the hell 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. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “No,” he continued, “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?” came 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 is home plate 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 simply, 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 curveballs 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 and churches and 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, ALL, at seventeen inches.

Written by Chris Sperry
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A World Full of Surprises!

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I woke up this morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and began preparing notes and a presentation for my upcoming speaking engagements. My joy is palpable as I so enjoy sharing what I have learned with others. Grabbing my iPad, I read my devotions and then caught the headlines of the news. The United Kingdom voted to break away from the European Union and the Prime Minister had resigned. Although the news was startling, to me, the people’s choice to leave the EU signals the uneasiness around the world that  no one can explain. We feel it in our own nation, as well.

I slapped my coffee cup to the table and laughed right out loud thinking that my days were mostly quiet.   Then it hit me that I hadn’t had a quiet day in months! I began to think of all of the startling days I have had recently. My wonderful publisher closed its doors. Then I had a request for my new manuscript. A dear friend lost her mother. Another friend lived through a certain death heart surgery. I travelled to Florida overnight to visit an elderly friend. I taught an awesome creative writing class this semester. I was confined to bed for several days due to a muscle spasm. I got three rejections. News poured in day after day. Some news has been good, others, not so much.

I couldn’t help but smile, as I realized how surprising EVERY day is! I don’t need the news to tell me that something wild and crazy is going to happen today. It is how I react to the news that keeps my head on straight and allows others to see I have a Rock to cling to even in the dark times. I’m learning to expect the unexpected….and with that to enjoy whatever comes my way.

 

Why Hope Matters…

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A couple of weeks ago, the subdivision I live spruced up the city entrance into our subdivision with some flowers and delightful little bushes. It was a gift to both the city and the people who live in our lovely little area. A few days later all of the shrubs were stolen. Undeterred, we planted them again, praying that whoever stole the plants really needed them. It was backbreaking work by the same few people who do all of the work in the association, for nothing I might add, to make our area more beautiful for over 300 families.

A few days later, they were stolen again. We then decided to plant perennials, at a much lower cost, but the same backbreaking work.

They were stolen again last night. These same lovely people, to the anger of most, have decided to plant again, as they see their work as giving and hopeful, even though others see it as foolish and wasteful.

Then yesterday, my publisher announced that they are shutting down, a devastating move for any administration, authors and supporting artists alike. I sent a note of encouragement to the CEO thanking he and his staff, grateful that they gave me a chance to showcase my award-winning work.

Then throughout the day, I watched Facebook as many, many of my fellow authors accused, ripped and tore at the owners and workers of the publishing house, obviously angry at the business decision that was made. Their whining and complaining did little to solve any of the unknown issues that forced the closure of the publisher, nor did it do anything to ease the ache of those affected.

Today I realized I woke up with the same joy I had yesterday, undaunted by the difficult decision my publisher had to make or the stolen flowers. That’s when I realized that my hope doesn’t lie in how many books I sell, it lies in the hope my living God gives to me, a hope that cannot be taken away.

So today, I am changing course, like a ship out to sea. The wind has changed, so I need to change my course. I have decided to pitch my just completed mystery to a new publisher! This new wind of hope has given me a new course and a new chance to succeed all over again! In fact, with another work already in my head, maybe this is the time I will land a residency in order to complete a totally new work! Whatever the case, it is wonderful that I have hope beyond the effect of what others can do to me or what happens in life. What a great feeling!

Now, it’s time to join my neighbors and plant some new flowers!

 

 

 

Things Like This Are Happening…

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A short excerpt from my new manuscript..The Bequest.

The engine of the 767 roared as the departing plane raced down the runway. Juicer Alexis’ white shirt was drenched in sweat, half-hidden beneath the wrinkled linen jacket. Surrounded by sick Syrian refugees, he pushed his hand through his rumpled hair and tried to steady his shaking limbs before blowing a sigh of relief. He’d remained hidden for several weeks in the house of an art lover in Dumayr before the invitation from Tyler College arrived via the sporadic email system inviting him to review and appraise a large collection of donated artifacts looking strikingly like others Jucar once housed in his museum.

He stared out the window of the humanitarian plane, one of the few allowed to enter and exit, and surveyed the beautiful city. A vast arid plateau lay below him, fingers of streams spidering into the Barada, the river responsible for the creating the fertile Al Gutah Oasis, site of his beloved city, Damascus. Just an hour earlier, he’d barely escaped detection at a terrorist roadblock on the way to the airport.

“Don’t even breathe when they stop me,” his friend whispered from the front seat. Jucar hoped the hidden compartment beneath the back seat of the man’s car could contain his fear. The opening was small as Jucar tried to endure the cramps rising in his extremities. He clutched his computer to his chest, praying the reputation for hating the West his friend was known for, would be the decoy they needed to get Jucar out of the country. He felt the vehicle slow and then slam to a stop. The tires slid on the gravel, sending dust seeping into the hiding place, nearly choking him. He closed his eyes and felt the sweat trail down his face and drop onto the laptop encased in his balled form.

Voices outside rose and fell. He heard the slap of a man’s hand across someone’s face before gunshots ripped through the trunk just behind him. He jerked suddenly, stilled himself and held his breath. A moment later he heard a gun bang on the trunk and an unfamiliar voice screaming at his friend to open it. Finding a pair of jumper cables and three gallons of water, the trunk slammed shut.

“Search what you will!” his friend’s voice was calm and certain. “If there is anyone to be found in my car, I shall kill them for you!”

The door behind the passenger seat creaked open. A man kneeled on the seat above him, crushing his full weight onto the hidden man, forcing a wheeze of air from Jucar’s mouth. He could see the fingers of someone brushing inside the seat inches from his face. He hoped they could not smell his fear or the stench of the sweat rising from his body.

Shortly after the door closed, the car started and pulled away, the gravel again spitting behind them. He remained quiet for several minutes before he heard a voice.

“We did it, Jucar!” His friend whispered, as though someone might still hear. “They took my old computer and my wallet, as we suspected, but they knew of me, which is why I am not dead at this time.” He laughed, but Jucar was well aware of the attack his friend had just been spared. He’d witnessed the brutality boldly broadcast on the networks of the television stations now controlled by terrorist groups across Syria. “We must hurry, as they said the refugee plane will be gone by nightfall.”

Jucar’s lungs expanded and then deflated in gratitude. Outside the airport terminal entrance, Jucar said a bittersweet goodbye. He held his friend closely, knowing he might never see him again should one of them be discovered before his return. If he returned.

A Ray of Hope for the World of Antiquities

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News has recently surfaced that the government of Syria has advanced on and taken back the city of Palmyra, from insurgent rebels. Palmer is a city once known for beautiful and very historical Roman and Greek architecture and artifacts. It was the center of Syria’s tourism industry.

Sad to say that most of the architecture was destroyed or stolen away, a great loss to art lovers around the world. Thanks to those whose love for art and history had seen enough ahead during the insurgents march on Syria, many priceless objects were removed, copied and sent away to foreign countries for safe keeping until the was is over.

Many of those caring men and women lost their lives protecting the ancient art, including the 81-year-old anthropologist who gave his life to hide the relics.

The retaking of Palmyra does not signal the end to the ongoing war, but it does offer hope to those who seek to hold on to our world’s artistic past!

A Gift of Time…A Residency

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I did something out of the ordinary for me today. I stretched myself. I just completed my first suspense manuscript about stolen Syrian art, a new genre for me. Although typing THE END is, for any writer, exciting, but we also understand that once the work is “completed,” doesn’t mean we don’t have more to do.

We read. We revise. We edit. We send the manuscript to beta readers or other writers to tear it apart, so that we can put it back together again. We usually don’t include close friends or family members as readers, because they love us and would never want to hurt our feelings. Then, when we have the work back in our hands, we go back it again to be sure it is the best it can be before we “shop” it around to editors and publishers. This all takes uninterrupted time, time that we usually cannot find in the midst of our busy lives.

So, because of Hope Clark’s wonderful website, Funds for Writers, I decided, on a whim, to apply for a residency. Now don’t get all excited, as I just completed the application. If you do not understand what a residency is, here is a quick run-down.

Residencies are available all over the world. Most include a free or low-cost place to stay. Some have all meals paid for in addition to a studio. Some include transportation. Very competitive residencies may offer a stipend.

Timing is year-round, though most residencies have set times with set dates of submission. Residencies can be from a few days to a year or more. Many are four to six weeks of interrupted time. Most are for single people and families are left behind. As a writer’s life is lonely, that kind of solitude is exactly what is necessary when completing a project.

Days at the residencies are self-directed. Usually there is a group of various artists, including painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, as well as writers. Most groups are small, from four to twelve people, each usually having a separate space in which to live and work. What is great about residencies is that the artist gets to work in uninterrupted space and engage with others only as they need a break. Everyone is there to focus on their work. It is challenging and expectations of each artists is high. Competition is also fierce, and filled with necessary documentation that takes days and days to get just right.

But today, I threw it all to the wind and pressed the “submit” button for my first attempt at winning a residency. My expectations are high because I am committed to writing and the difficult learning process I know I must go through to make my writing better. I am lucky to have the support to even think about this, as it was not always so.

I will never win if I never try. You might want to think about that, too!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never thought you’d ever have the time, the money or support to do it? It doesn’t have to be writing. Maybe it is helping someone else fulfill there dream. Maybe it is giving to a cause that supports something you love. Maybe it is as simple as stopping to make a phone call to an old friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile.

Whatever your dream might be, is now your time to try?

 

 

 

Theft in the Middle East

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Back in 2013, the National Museum of Jakarta, Indonesia, reported the theft of some ancient treasures just weeks after beefing up the museum’s security.

Knowing that art is a link between present and past, I was amazed at how little some countries ignore it’s value. For instance, in this situation and according to the Jakarta Post newspaper, this was the third such a loss for the museum with the other two thefts found to have involved employees. All four of the items were enshrined in the same glass case. After the theft, it was found that the security system had not been working at the time of the theft.

Listed below are the items as reported by the news outlet.

1. Item: Crouching dragon-shaped golden plaque
Characteristics: Found in the ruins of Jalatunda royal kingdom bath at Mojokerto, East Java, in 10 B.C. The dragon is still in good condition with a clear shape to its mouth, teeth and tongue.

2. Item: Scripted crescent-shaped golden plaque
Characteristics: Found in the ruins of Jalatunda royal kingdom bath at Mojokerto, East Java, in 10 B.C. The crescent has triangles on the tip of both sides, which look like claws.

3. Item: Small round golden box
Characteristics: Found in the ruins of Jalatunda royal kingdom bath at Mojokerto, East Java, in 10 B.C. The box is small with an uneven surface and is made of a thin gold piece.

4. Item: Harihara golden plaque
Characteristics: Found in Penanggungan temple at Mojokerto, East Java, in 10 B.C. The plaque has a Harihara god relief and a blossoming flower decoration.

More than likely these pieces were immediately sold off to private collectors through the black market. It is just as likely that either an employee or the government had something to do with the loss of the precious works. How sad that this continues to happen as it robs all people of our world’s rich treasures.

Might make a good story, don’t you think?