The Phillies won last night. They beat the Marlins 7-4 and have now won five games in a row. Is this a big tease? They had the identical record—10 wins, 9 losses—this time last year and then ended up punishing me for the rest of the season. Only time will tell.

I’m pondering baseball this morning—and my Uncle Bob—because I’m thinking about Tom. Tom loved baseball. “It was the sweet spot of my life. Maybe it was because Mickey Mantle and I were born on the same day and year in Oklahoma, but I have always been captivated by the game of baseball. Whenever Mantle and Joe DiMaggio were on the same field, my ear was glued to the radio.”

I wonder if Tom’s love for baseball and love of theology were related. Both require focused attention to detail, patience, and the ability to see the big picture in the small intricacies. One good pitch can save an entire game. One bad pitch and you’re headed for the showers. “I always thought of baseball as the perfect game. It contains the exact combination of distances and speeds to make a competition both fair and unpredictable,” Tom writes. “Even today I still love watching the story of a game unfold with all of its maneuvering and strategizing. I was blessed by baseball, but more blessed by a grandmother who prayed for me every day, even though I did not pay much attention to all of her prayers.”

I’ve experienced similar blessings. I recall the thrill I felt watching Willie McCovey hitting a long home run for the Phoenix Giants in the late fifties, just before he got called up to the big team. I think I was around eight years old. And I remember the faithfulness of Uncle Bob.

A couple of months ago I found the New Testament Uncle Bob, my mom’s brother, gave me in 1968 as I began my college days at UCLA. He could see I was a searching, frustrated, angry young man; I longed to know God but had little idea how to reach him. God seemed distant, inaccessible. aloof. Uncle Bob’s consistent, patient, often humorous coaching and care over the years, in his words and in his life, brought Christ close to me.

On many weekends, I would drive up the coast to Uncle Bob and Aunt Ern’s house in Portola Valley, oftentimes showing up unexpectedly. There was always a spare room for me. I’d hunker down with earphones over my head, listening to the Doors for hours on end, and occasionally making an appearance at a meal. I was not at all averse to voicing my displeasure with God, Christians, and the world in general. My aunt and uncle would listen patiently, often to the same rant repeated ad nauseam, and tried to answer my questions, sometimes with greater success, sometimes with less. I wonder if they knew how closely I was listening and watching. Their words helped, but the way they lived and loved made all the difference to a lost college kid.

I wish Uncle Bob was still was us, as I do Tom. Sadly, in the mid 90’s he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Before long, the disease spread to his lungs. One of my happiest memories of that hard time is having dinner with Uncle Bob at a Red Lobster restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. He had flown out for a visit – it would prove to be his last trip east – and I had picked him up from the airport down in Baltimore. On our drive back to Philly we managed to visit four states as we continually lost our way, immersed as we were in discussions about Christ, the Eucharist, the cross, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and heaven. That night at dinner Uncle Bob teared up whenever we talked about the Eucharist. I shared some thoughts from the church fathers with him on Communion, and he ate it up. It still makes me smile to remember Uncle Bob’s happiness at finding Jesus in the most unexpected places—bread and wine. Or maybe a baseball game.

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