Spring Training

Winter’s dreary days drag a gray blanket over the cold world. Spirits plunge along with the mercury in thermometers. Bare branches, brown grass, and pale skin long for the sultry touch of sunshine, but all they receive is the chilly comfort of February rain as winter blues fade into bleak black.

Then one hears those four mystical, marvelous, miraculous words: “Pitchers and catchers report!”

The magical incantation causes Old Man Winter to vanish into thin air. Suddenly, the light pierces the clouds with golden streams of promise. Morning temperatures receive an early wakeup call from spring. Branches bud, lawns green, and the sun shines.

The Boys of Summer are back and spring cannot be far behind.

Winter does not officially end until March 21. However, baseball’s Spring Training is an early harbinger of warmer days. The American and National League teams are practicing in the sunny climes of Florida or Arizona in preparation for Opening Day. The first to arrive are the pitchers and catchers to warm up their arms after the off-season hiatus.

The Atlanta Braves call Champion Stadium in Orlando their home away from home. The baseball complex is part of Disney’s “Wide World of Sports.” The intimate stadium is modeled after historic fields of yesteryear. Veterans, rookies, has-beens, never-will-bes, and want-to-bes strut their stuff around the diamond. The fans laze in the Floridian sun and soak up the games.

Attending a Spring Training game had always been on my Bucket List. So in 2004 and again in 2007, my son and I headed south on I-75 to central Florida. The weather was perfect with balmy breezes and highs in the eighties. We arrived on Thursday with tickets for the Friday and Saturday games.

There is something magical about a baseball stadium. The grass is greener and the dirt browner. The white of the uniforms and baseballs glows with ultraviolet bright. Nowhere do hotdogs taste any better with mustard, ketchup, and relish dripping down the fingers and chin. The smell of the watered lawn and sprinkled dust accentuated by leather gloves and spilt drinks wafts through the air.

We joined other fans streaming into Champion Stadium for the afternoon’s festivities. The scoreboard kept a tally of the runs, but the outcome of the games was unimportant. For a few blessed weeks in Spring Training, it really doesn’t matter if you win or lose but how you play the game. I don’t remember the box scores, but I will always recall my son’s face filled with the essence of what makes men love the game.

During the seventh inning stretch, the entire stadium stood in the time-honored tradition. We joined in singing baseball’s anthem, “Take me out to the Ballgame.” For a few minutes, it really did not matter which team you rooted for. Baseball fans sang together for the love of the game.

At the conclusion of each ballgame, the announcer invited the children to gather around home plate. One by one they ran the bases before sliding into home in a cloud of dust. If there is a baseball heaven, then those boys and girls caught a glimpse of the eternal stadium that afternoon. Grins threatened to split the children’s faces in two. Almost every adult watching from the seats would have gladly joined them in a romp around the infield to “touch ‘em all.”

John Fogarty, who was the lead singer for the band “Creedence Clearwater Revival,” sings a song entitled “Centerfield.” The rock beat of the first verse declares:

 Well, beat the drum and hold the phone—the sun came out today!

We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.

A-rounding third and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;

Anyone can understand the way I feel.

 Then the chorus echoes with a sentiment that any child of the game intuitively understands:

 Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Look at me, I can be, center field!

We returned home late on Sunday night to face the real world of school and work on Monday morning. However, the memories will last a lifetime.

For a few precious days, my son and I joined the Boys of Summer.



Foreign languages never clicked with me. My brain is not hard-wired to speak anything other than Southern English. I took French in high school and German in college along with some Greek; and I am equally non-fluent in each.

However, today I want to teach you a little Hebrew. The word for the day is “Hallelujah.” Can you say “Hallelujah?” I KNEW you could!

Hallelujah actually combines two Hebrew terms. “Hallel” means “praise.” “Jah” is an abbreviation for God’s name of Yahweh. Combined the two words form “Hallelujah.”

In the Greek and Latin translations of the Bible, it is written as “Alleluia” with an “A.” The word is typically translated in English as “Praise the Lord.”

This exclamation of praise is primarily found in the Old Testament book of Psalms. The Psalmist repeatedly declares: “Hallelujah—Praise the Lord!”

It is an expression that the church continues to use in worship. The word often appears in our songs of faith. Our children sing, “Allelu, Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia, Praise ye the Lord!” At Christmas, we sing “Alleluia to our King” during Silent Night. On Easter morning, we celebrate the resurrection by singing, “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!” Perhaps the most famous use of the word in song is Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

We also use Hallelujah as an exclamation of praise. There are moments in worship when we are stirred to praise God out loud. Most people shout “Amen,” but some will use “Hallelujah” as well.

I have heard, said, and sang “Hallelujah” all my life. When I began studying the word, however, I learned something new about the term.

I mentioned earlier that the term is primarily used in The Book of Psalms. Today we read the Psalms as poems or prose. However, the Psalter was originally the hymnal of Israel. In other words, the Psalms are actually songs.

Only the words to the songs remain. At some point over the centuries, the music and tunes of the Psalms were forgotten. However, the Psalms still retain many of the musical instructions to the musicians, singers, and worship leaders.

Within the setting of the Psalms, “Hallelujah” is not just an expression of praise. It is also an instruction or command given to the people by the worship leader. The Hebrew phrase is actually an injunction rather than an exclamation. It literally says, “Praise God, You People!” It’s really a blunt command: YOU—Praise the Lord—NOW!

Someone saying “Hallelujah—hey, YOU, Praise the Lord”—is a good reminder in our faith walk. We all need to remember to take the opportunity to praise God in our personal and public worship.

Praise spans the emotional and spiritual spectrum. Sometimes we adore God with high energy and volume; other times we praise God quietly and reflectively. Praising God is a hallelujah-lifestyle for the Christian.

Sometimes we forget to express our praise to God through inattentiveness or ingratitude. Then we bump into some divine cue that reminds us to say, “Hallelujah!”

Laughter, joy, and praise bubble up in our lives. Carbonated spirits overflow in our hearts. We cannot contain it. And even if we don’t use the exact word, a hallelujah chorus is sung in our lives.

At times, we say it with an exclamation point. Other times with a period. Sometimes with a question mark. And there are times when there is silence . . . waiting for the time when we can say it all.

We sing and shout it. We sigh and pray it. We whisper and whimper it. But still we say it: Hallelujah!

HEY! YOU! Praise the Lord! NOW!

Coin Collecting

Ronnie Lichens and I attended fifth grade together at Wadsworth Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia. He played baseball for the dreaded White Sox while I belonged to the Red Sox team. Despite our on-field differences, we became good friends.

Ronnie lived on Ferris Circle—a slightly more upscale neighborhood than my own. When I discovered that several cute girls in our class lived down the street, Ronnie and I became the best of friends! Debbie Waddle, Melissa McFarland, and Leslie Elliott more than made up for any of Ronnie’s shortcomings.

During my initial visit to the Lichens’ split-level home, I discovered that Ronnie collected coins. I had never given the subject a single thought. Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters served as a means to an end—currency to buy Slurpies, baseball cards, and bubble gum.

CoinsRonnie showed me his collection carefully arranged in blue folders with precut slots for the coins. He talked about dates, engravings, mint stamps, double casts, wheatie pennies, and Indian head nickels. Then he showed me reference books that cataloged the value of the different coins. By the end of the conversation, the numismatic bug had bitten me.

I began my own collection, starting small but slowly building. I bought blue Whitman trifold folders with each slot marked for the appropriate coin. Ordinary change became filled with extraordinary possibilities.

After sorting through all the coins at our houses, Ronnie and I visited local grocery stores, exchanging dollar bills for rolled pennies. We examined each penny in turn, hoping to find coins to fill the gaps in our growing collections. Then we counted the remaining coins back into ten piles of ten before rewrapping them in one hundred count rolls. We biked back to the store to start the process all over again.

Like most boyhood enthusiasms, my new hobby lasted about a year before other pursuits garnered my attention (see my note above about Debbie Waddle, Melissa McFarland, and Leslie Elliott). The half-finished coin collections got shoved into the back of drawers and closets.

Today I still have a handful of the older coins preserved in plastic tubes stored in a safe deposit box. I have no clue about their monetary worth. Based on other investments over the past few years, I’m guessing that the nickels are worth about five cents and the pennies aren’t worth a dime.

The memories, on the other hand, remain invaluable. The notion that something possessed worth beyond its face value greatly appealed to me. Even as a child, I intuitively sensed this discovery held some greater, universal truth.

Only later would my theological understanding of God mature to a point that I understood this important lesson. We view others through human eyes, and oftentimes we sinfully dismiss people as empty of worth and value. However, God views each of us through the eyes of love. The Lord deems us worth the greatest price of all: His Son.

Others may judge us by our looks, intelligence, talents, or assets. The world assigns a price tag to our value. In our Heavenly Father’s eyes, however, we are a rare and matchless find.

You and I are priceless.