Pastor’s Message May 7th, 2017

A priest-friend sent the following to me, and I thought that I would share it with you for this week’s message:

In the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon Nashville, Tennessee, for the annual ABCA’s convention. While waiting in line to register with the hotel staff, many veteran coaches were chatting 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? Wow! It’s worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who was John Scolinos? At that time he was 78 years old and five years retired from a college-coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled onto 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.

Some wondered, “Who was 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 him 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.

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. “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.”

When Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room, several hands went up.  “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!” he said. “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!” was 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 loud laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy.  If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target, we’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches, so that 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, what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice; or 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 just 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)

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

“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 backside – “We have dark days ahead!”

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. Don’t widen the plate!!”