*** Phillies walkoff Dodgers in wild 9-8 affair at Citizens Bank Park on Bryce Harper's two-run double on Tuesday night *** Phillies control the second NL Wildcard berth *** Visit PHILLIESNATION.com and follow @PhilliesNation on Twitter and Facebook for updates on the Philadelphia Phillies all year long ***

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Surrender Like Christ

Today is Palm Sunday, celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem to begin the pentultimate week of his life which would end in the most important event in human history.

As Christ willingly surrendered himself for our sake, we should follow his lead. Our inspiration can be found right in the Bible, in Proverbs 16.

It is the Old Testament's Book of Proverbs chapter 16 where we learn to "entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed." This important chapter of God's own book of wisdom is full of lessons and inspirational sayings that guide us to surrender our lives to the Lord.

We all make plans and set our lives on a course. But no matter how well-meaning or well planned that personal direction might be, you will not find ultimate success without the blessings and guidance of the Lord. You must not only make your plans, but your plans must include yielding to God's ultimate plan for you.

"In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps" says Proverbs 16. "Happy is he who trusts in the Lord." 

Make your plans, they are necessary. But just as necessary is to both pray on your plans and to include in your prayers to God an acknowledgement that He might have another direction for you. Make your plea that His will be done.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Philadelphia Union

There was a big local football event last night that was covered fully by ESPN2 for hours in prime time. No, I'm not talking about the Philadelphia Eagles and trade talk involving Donovan McNabb or their other quarterbacks or their upcoming draft. I'm talking about the game that the entire world outside of the United States knows as 'football', but that we here refer to as 'soccer'.

A new era dawned for our sports-crazed town when the Philadelphia Union stepped on to the pitch at a jam-packed and rowdy Qwest Field in Seattle to take on the host Sounders in the Union's first-ever official MLS regular season match in franchise history.

The sport of soccer has been the fastest-growing sport in America for two decades now. Youth programs have exploded across the country since the 1980's. Yet still the game has generally floundered here at the pro level as it has attempted to emerge from the huge shadows cast by Major League Baseball, The NFL, the NHL, and the NBA. Those days may fast be coming to an end.

The youthful generation that grew up playing the sport is now reaching the age where the spending power of their pocketbooks and their interest in watching such events is opening up a legitimate place in the market for Major League Soccer to succeed and now even expand here in the States, including now finally returning the game to the Philly market.

Soccer's professional history in Philadelphia has been mixed but ultimately futile in the past. On April 16th, 1967 the Philadelphia Spartans took to the field at Temple University and shutout the Toronto Falcons 2-0 in front of more than 14,000 fans in the inaugural game of the fledgling National Professional Soccer League. It would ultimately mark the only season in the team's history.

At the end of that season, the NPSL merged with United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League (NASL), but Pennsylvania lost out completely when both the Philly and Pittsburgh teams from the NPSL were folded. NASL would last from 1968 all the way through 1984, and would see a return to Philly of pro soccer as well.

In 1973 the Philadelphia Atoms were born for their first season of play in NASL at the new Veteran's Stadium. Led by one of the earliest big American stars, goalkeeper Bob Rigby, the Atoms won the East Division and then won the NASL championship in their first season of existence when they downed the Dallas Tornado 2-0 in the title match.

The first-year success of the Atoms did not last. The club played on for three more seasons, the final one at Franklin Field, and never again recorded a winning season. The franchise was finally placed in 'receivership' by NASL, and Philly would find itself completely without pro soccer for the 1977 season. Few seemed to know, and even fewer to care.

Then in 1978, NASL returned pro soccer to the city with the birth of the Philadelphia Fury. The Fury was owned by a rock star group that included Paul Simon, Peter Frampton and Rick Wakeman and would be an 'indoor' team playing at the Spectrum. Rigby played for the Fury, but the team itself failed to secure a winning record in any of it's three seasons and drew just over 18,000 total fans in those years. The team was sold after the 1980 season and moved to Montreal before being dissolved after the 1983 season.

It was a long dry spell for pro soccer fans in Philadelphia at this point before finally in 1996 the indoor Philadelphia Kixx were born in the National Professional Soccer League. The club would go on to win two titles in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 2002 and 2007. The Kixx continue to compete in indoor professional soccer, playing to a mostly niche audience.

The wait for real, full-blown, world class outdoor-style professional football/soccer stretched for almost three decades until finally it was announced that Philadelphia had been awarded a franchise in Major League Soccer. MLS had begun in the early-90's, and has proven to be the most successful and stable professional league in American history.

The Philadelphia Union name was selected by a combination of fan and ownership input, and a site was chosen on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester, PA for building a brand-new 18,500 fan capacity state-of-the art outdoor soccer stadium. That stadium, PPL Park, is near completion and should open this summer. The Union will play their first two home matches, including the April 10th opener vs. DC United, at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly.

For last night's franchise debut, the Union could not have been given a more formidable task. The opponents were the Seattle Sounders, one of the leading contenders for the Western Division and overall MLS titles in 2010. The Union took the field with the youngest roster in MLS, while the Sounders field a lineup of strong, skilled, experienced stars.

Seattle was an expansion franchise just a year ago, and proved to be the most highly successful such franchise in league history. Fans flocked to Qwest Field and made noise from start to finish. The team responded with a winning record before being shocked out of the playoffs. This year, Seattle and their fans are primed for a run at the MLS crown, and last night both the team and the fans were in roaring form.

Manager Peter Nowak's young Union actually came out pretty strong, mostly setting the pace for the first 10 minutes. But a breakdown in their defensive zone in the 12th minute resulted in a fairly easy goal for the Sounders' Brad Evans. The Union had yielded the first goal in team history and were down 1-0 on the road, and momentum for the rest of the first half shifted overtly to the Seattle side.

As the Sounders continued to apply pressure to the Union side and halftime approached, things went from bad to downright ugly. In the 41st minute, Union defender Toni Stahl's rugged play dealt them a fatal blow. Already yellow-carded (warned) once for rough play, Stahl received his 2nd yellow and the accompanying automatic red-card (ejection), leaving the Union to play the rest of the match a man short.

This was a bit too much for the youthful expansion club. Less than two minutes after Stahl's exit, Seattle star Fredy Montero banged in a shot from close range, and the host Sounders had a big 2-0 lead. The Union appeared on the ropes and were lucky to get to halftime trailing by that same margin.

Having to play an entire 2nd half on the road in a steady rain against a more experienced opponent in front of a vocal crowd and already down 2-0, things looked bleak for the Philadelphia side. However, the team acquitted itself well for the most part. The shorthanded situation generally kept them from any real, quality scoring chances, but they were able to dodge some bullets and play securely enough that the same 2-0 halftime score would end up being the final.

The bright side for the Union on the field came from the performances of a number of players. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz was generally steady and showed that he can succeed if given a full opportunity as a starter protecting the Philly nets and leading the back end. Forwards Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno looked good and each had bright moments on the offensive end. Tiny American teenager Jack McInerney showed steely-eyed determination, speed and skill in a late cameo appearance.

The Union were also forced to play the entirety of their inaugural game without Fred, the 30-year star Brazilian forward who is expected to be a huge part of their team. Fred was serving a 1-game suspension for an incident while playing at the end of last season for D.C. United, and will return to the Union lineup for their home opener on April 10th at the Linc against his former team.

So professional soccer is back in Philadelphia. The Union will play approximately once a week now through a 28-game season that will end in October. There will be a 2 1/2 week break in mid-June for the playing of the World Cup. The team may be young, but it has talent and showed under extremely adverse circumstances last night that it has heart as well. That characteristic is something which will serve it well in this always tough sports town.

I turned in to the MLS Cup championship last fall and watched a thrilling game as Real Salt Lake battled David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy to a 1-1 tie in regulation, then won 5-4 on penalty kicks. That game and the pending birth of the Union have me excited about and interested in pro soccer for the first time in my life. My wife and I will be attending the Union's first-ever home opener, and I'll be following them regularly.

It's time, Philadelphia. This is a truly great sports town, and there is really no reason that we cannot devote a portion of our loyalty and attention to this extremely worth game. The franchise seems to have made a longterm commitment to our area, so we can safely put our affections into it's hands. Go ahead, watch some games. Go to a game or two. Let down your guard, Philly, and embrace the new kids in town, the Philadelphia Union.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pensions Not the Problem

Last night the local Fox News affiliate here in Philadelphia chose to devote a large portion of their 10:00pm news program spotlighting what they call "The Pension Problem" in Philadelphia, New Jersey and other places. In calling pensions the problem, Fox misled the public and missed an opportunity to highlight the truth for tax-payers.

Once again, the local news media, this time Fox in particular, cow-towed to liberal politicians and let them off the hook for a mess that they singularly have created. But not only that, they also portrayed hard-working city and state employees as the problem, seemed to be trying to pit tax-payers against pensioners, and never once keyed on the real problem.

That real problem? Out of control spending on issues, services, and frankly outright budgetary 'pork' over decades and decades as well as regular, intentional under-funding of employee pensions. All of that going on with little to no outcry from media watchdogs.

Fox missed an opportunity when they once again identified the real problems improperly in stating that "Pensions are at the heart of budget troubles in the state of New Jersey and in the city of Philadelphia."

Pensions are not the problem, politicians are the problem. Politicians who spend money that the city's citizens simply do not have and never did have on programs that make them feel and look better.

No, I am not going to take any time whatsoever to point out any particular program or project that I feel falls into this category. I will make one simple statement, however. If any fiscal conservative individual had been put in charge, this would not have happened.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'LOST' No More

In the single biggest plot-revealing episode, and one of the best overall, in the long and entertaining history of the TV show 'LOST', last night showed that the writers and producers have indeed taken it's huge audience on a worthy morality trip.

For those who do not watch the show, the references to the story line herein will be over your head, but you can still understand the direction this article will take. For those many who, like me, are already strongly addicted, you might even find yourself farther along than these thoughts will travel.

For the unwashed, 'LOST' is a program on the ABC network that is now running it's 6th and final highly-rated and award-winning season. It's story began with the crash of an airliner just off the coast of an island in the South Pacific, and the efforts of the survivors to, well, survive on that island in the aftermath of the crash. That has been even more difficult than it might sound.

It would take me forever to lead anyone who has not watched through the various characters and story lines, so I won't even try, but suffice it to say that there have always been a number of underlying mysteries to the plot line, not the least of which has been that the island has some type of mysterious, mystical quality to it. So what indeed is this island supposed to be, or represent?

There is also a character named Richard Alpert who, despite flashbacks to the island's past and flash forwards to it's future, always remains the same age whether the show is taking place in the present day, or in the 1950's, or in the 1970's, or a few years into the future. Who is Alpert, and how is it that he never ages?

There are a number of characters that have died during the course of the show's run, and yet somehow turn up either 'alive' again or as apparitions, appearing to various other characters at pivotal moments, often with important advice or messages. Who is really dead, who is alive, who is an apparition, who is really who they appear to be?

Even the main characters of the program such as Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Locke, Sayid and more all seem to have multiple elements to their personal backgrounds and human characters that defy definition. Who are these people really? Why are they here on the island? What is their individual, specific role in the ultimate story line?

Most importantly perhaps has been that ultimate story line. What indeed is 'LOST' really all about? Early on it appeared to be a 'survivor' type program. Some people survived a plane crash and had to learn to live on a deserted island while hoping for a rescue. Then it became apparent that the island was in fact not deserted, and their survival became even more difficult and deadly as they banded together to overcome the new and ever more mysterious challenges.

But as the show has moved along and the story line has progressed through the years, the plot line has revealed that the program is, in fact, about something much bigger than a 'stranded on an island trying to survive' story. 'LOST', it turns out, is about the ultimate struggle of good against evil. And not in some generic idea sense, but in the very nature and origin of good and evil.

As was revealed last night (disclaimer alert for those fans who have not watched), the island actually represents the very 'cap' or wall that separates hell from the earth. The character Jacob is apparently a sort-of angelic 'protector' of the island who has been bestowed with power to keep the island safe. He is, however, not immortal and if Jacob were to be killed the island could cease to protect the earth from the evils of hell spilling out directly on to the earth.

That evil, of course, comes in it's most dramatic form from the devil. The shows 'Man in Black' who can take on the form of a 'Smoke Monster' and who has now taken on the form of the deceased character John Locke is in fact Satan himself. With Jacob out of the way, the devil is free to escape from the island and loose hell on earth.

The devil, unfortunately for him, cannot directly kill Jacob himself. He must get some human to step up and do it willingly. For centuries, Jacob has been luring men and women to the island via shipwreck and plane crash as a sort of test for humanity. He believes that men will ultimately prove to be of a 'good' nature, but appears thus far to have been disappointed. He begins to sense that one day soon, the devil may make good on his long-standing threat to "find a loophole", finally have Jacob killed, and make his escape from the island to earth.

This was the reason for the crash of Oceanic flight 815, the plane crash that brought most of the main characters to the island. Jacob had been scouting for years for someone to ultimately take his place should the devil actually succeed in having him killed. Jacob has ultimately found six candidates to replace him, and directed all of their lives towards the point that placed them on that doomed flight. All six are now on the island, though the actual successor has yet to be revealed, perhaps not even yet been actually and finally selected.

As was already seen in the show, perhaps the single most conflicted character in it's history, Benjamin Linus, is finally deceived by the devil to kill Jacob. At the current time, the devil is preparing to make his exit from the island. What might try to stand in his way ultimately, who will become a 'successor' to Jacob, and how that battle plays out will make up the rest of the story line, in all likelihood.

But the important point in all of this is that 'LOST' has come out of the closet. It recognizes publicly that there is indeed good and evil in the world. It recognizes that there is indeed a real place called hell, and a real devil that means real harm to the world. It recognizes that the only way to overcome that evil power is for good men to recognize those facts and to be willing to stand up and fight against it.

Richard Alpert was a man driven by complete love and devotion to his wife, a woman whom he lost in her youth before they could really even begin their lives together. At his lowest point, he was drawn to the island by Jacob, who touched him with the ability to live forever and bestowed on him the role of 'messenger' and 'guide' to those others who would be drawn to the island for their own test.

Alpert himself finds that after generations of service to Jacob, who promised him a pivotal role in some earthly epic, that with Jacob now dead his life appears to have been lived in vain. He believes that he has strived and worked all this time for no reason, and he abandons his faith and prepares to instead turn himself over to the devil, who he now believes may have the actual ultimate answers and truth.

It is at this low point in last night's episode that Richard is finally comforted by the soul and spirit of his deceased wife, through the translated words of the character Hugo 'Hurley' Reyes acting as an intermediary. Alpert appears to have been pulled back from the abyss, and last night left us with at least the impression that he would now refocus himself on his work towards ultimate good that Jacob assigned to him.

The show 'LOST' has never been simple, and there have been many opportunities to question the outlandishness of some of it's basic premises and plot lines. But as the last few seasons have wound down towards what should be a dramatic ultimate conclusion, most of those questions are indeed becoming answered.

'LOST' fans should no longer be lost. The show has clearly defined it's basic premise of good against evil. Both fans of the show and those who have never watched would be wise to understand that it's basic premise is indeed true. There is a devil, there is a hell, and he does want both to bring hell to earth and to capture your immortal soul for eternity.

It is a part of the job of every one of us during our lives here on earth to recognize that evil, to open ourselves to God's love for us, to embrace Jesus Christ as did Alpert and his wife, to love one another and find inspiration to go on in the most difficult of moments, and to overcome or at least to willingly fight against evil whenever we are faced with it. Like the direction that the show finally revealed last night, this will leave you lost no more.

NOTE: as always, the title of this article at the original www.mattveasey.com website is actually a link to further information on the topic. This time it links you to the official site for 'LOST' at which you can view all episodes, including last night's highlighted herein.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elections Have Consequences

For the past year it has become the public mantra of Democratic Party politicians: "Elections have consequences." Whether they were talking about bailing out large corporations or taking over the banking, auto, and health care industries, that simple phrase has been their fallback position.

To some extent, that is true. When the nation elects a leader such as Barack Obama, the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, it has definitely sent a message. A majority of the citizens of the United States spoke up in November of 2008 and sent the message that the direction the country was headed during the Bush years was not one that they wanted to continue following.

The American electorate sent a clear message for 'change' to Washington politicians at that point. The problem, however, and it is a big one for the Dems, is that the voters quite obviously wanted 'change' with a small 'c', not the "Change" that marked the Obama campaign's signature slogan.

What Obama was trumpeting was "fundamental change", a message that he banged home time and time again. The mass electorate heard those words and decided that he meant a simple change in direction, something they wanted indeed. What he actually meant was to change the very nature of what it meant to be America as a nation.

After winning election, Obama got his house in order, got his Democratic Party leadership organized, and then set out down the path towards that fundamental change from a democratic, capitalist society to a full-blown European-inspired socialist one. The American 'system' that had made us the envy of the world for generations had somehow "failed" in is words and needed to be almost completely trashed.

Problem was, the American public didn't go along for the ride. As the depth and scope of Obama's vision of change came into view and practice, as Dem national leaders like Nancy Pelosi in Congress and Harry Reid in the Senate began to push the legislative agenda, it became crystal-clear to Americans that socialism was the order of the day.

The Democrats were making a fundamental political mistake, one that the Republicans had made a couple of times in the last couple of decades. They assumed that their election to power now gave them a mandate for major changes to America, and they began to institute those major changes.

Quickly, the American public began to voice their concerns. In every major public opinion poll, the public shouted at the top of it's lungs for the Dem leadership to slow things down. Some changes were needed to the system, yes. But almost no one wanted socialist restrictions and control to replace democratic capitalism's freedom and liberty.

Socialism has failed everywhere that it has every been tried on earth. The reasons are quite simple. Taking away incentives from individuals to work harder, to dream bigger, to achieve more results in less production. Citizens come to rely on their government to provide for them. Eventually, the government can no longer do so, because it simply lacks the resources.

You cannot possibly tax individuals and businesses enough to sustain government control. And let's face it, that is the only place that government gets it's money. Government is, in fact, you and I. We pay into the system to keep it functional. We elect people to run things as our representatives. In a socialist system, those representatives just keep raising and raising our taxes to take on more and more control over our everyday lives.

Eventually a system such as the Obama administration is attempting to install will collapse on itself because it is economically unsustainable. But before it does, society will degenerate into a mess of ennui and disillusionment, or worse. If those who have control in a socialist system see that control slipping away, their response has often been to use force to remain in power. They change the laws and keep themselves in the life boats to protect their own interests as the ship sinks around them.

Many Americans did understand that this would be the direction that Obama and the leading Dems would take once in power. Those are the tens of millions who voted against them. They are now being joined by the millions 'in the middle', those Americans who wanted the small 'c' of 'change', not the capital 'C' of Obama's socialism.

Yes, Democrats, elections have consequences. However, what you are failing to remember is the lessons of politicians and Parties past. That there is always another election coming. This November, Americans will again go to the polls. All signs point to the Dems losing control of Congress, which will seriously cripple Obama's ability to continue his agenda.

Obama and Pelosi and Reid have led America down this path of 'Change' at full speed, recklessly disregarding the public's wishes time and time again. Reid and many of his Dem leadership co-horts will undoubtedly pay the price in the Fall of 2010. They will pay that price because, despite their election victories in 2006 and 2008, they are now ignoring the American electorate in 2010.

Now is a time of opportunity for the Republican Party to reassert itself, but it must be willing to return to basic American principles of democracy, capitalism, and traditional exceptionalism in order to take full advantage. The Republicans must reflect core American values, pledge a change in direction to fiscal sanity and responsibility, and to fully and effectively preserving and defending our nation and it's founding principles.

In the fall of 2010, the Democrats will be reminded that elections do indeed have consequences. When they lose their control over Congress, their control over the purse strings and the power and the direction, then they will cry and wail and moan. They will blame one another, point fingers, and become disgruntled. And they will have no one to blame but themselves, because elections do indeed have consequences, the next one as strongly as the last one.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The End of the Age

Some people of faith who believe in the prophetic teachings of the Bible look around at the obviousness of increased dramatic weather and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years, at the increase in warring conflicts and tensions around the world, at the incredible pace of technological advancement and grow concerned.

I for one believe that their concern is not unfounded.

As Jesus Christ wound down his final days on earth that would culminate with his final teachings and his ultimate sacrifice, he stopped to rest on a hill east of the city known to many as the Mount of Olives.

Christ and his followers had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festivities, and during his first visit to the city he had been questioned by the scribes and Pharisees at the temple. When they left, Jesus pointed the temple buildings out to his followers and stated that "there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

This got some of the disciples to thinking about Jesus' promise that he would come back to the world at the end of the ages, and one of them asked him directly as to "What sign there will be of your coming?"

For all of the studies that many have undertaken of books such as 'Daniel' and 'Revelation' in the Bible, worthy studies of valid information supplied to mankind by a loving and just God who wants us to be prepared and who hides very little from those who seek knowledge, it is Jesus' own reply to the disciple's question at the Mount of Olives that yields the most direct answer as to when the world as we know it will come to an end.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Real American Hero: Jared Monti

Operation Enduring Freedom began less than a month after the 9/11 attacks on America. Designed to wrestle control of Afghanistan from the Islamofascist Taliban regime and install true democratic reform, the military operation has been highly successful in it's mission to bring and maintain some sense of stability to what has historically been one of the most difficult to manage areas of the world.

It was to this effort to help stem the rising tide of Islamic terror that 30-year old U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti of Massachusetts deployed in June of 2006. A career soldier, Monti loved his country and had joined the army at age 17. His Afghanistan deployment would find him serving as a forward observer with the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Upon his arrival, his 71st Cavalry Regiment, a recon team, was preparing for what was known as 'Operation Gowerdesh Thrust' in the Gremen Valley near the Pakistan border. This are had been used for troop movements and as a staging area by enemy combatants, and so it was deemed important to secure.

While the main squadron would move through to clear the Valley, Monti was assigned as a part of their supporting recon mission. His group of scouts and snipers would move along a ridge line above the Valley and provide real-time intelligence as to the enemy's troop and equipment movements during the operation.

After spending the night of June 20th into the 21st alternating rest with recon assignments, Jared Monti began to prepare for his role as an assistant leader of the 16-man recon patrol that would move through these rugged mountains of Nurestan province in Northern Afghanistan. What the young military veteran had no way of knowing was that it would be his final wakeup call.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Torii Hunter Plays the Race Card

If you don't know him very well, let me clue you in on Torii Hunter. He is the centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels in Major League Baseball. He is one of the most outgoing, engaging, personable players that I have ever seen interviewed in the game. Oh, and he is African-American.

That last part normally wouldn't matter a hill of beans to me. By the time that I was growing up in the 1970's, the civil rights battles fought over the previous few decades had left me a sporting landscape to accept as normal and to view and enjoy as a young fan that included players of every race, ethnic background, and nationality.

But in an interview conducted a few weeks ago and released by USA Today on Wednesday as part of a series on the state of baseball today, Hunter revealed a lack of his own understanding on racial issues that is surprising considering his obvious intelligence and his usually keen insight.

In Part III of what is a 5-part ongoing series of articles this week titled "Efforts to develop black talent in USA insufficient", Hunter opines that the public looks out at black faces playing in the game and incorrectly assumes that they are African-American when in fact they are Latino players. In his words "They're not us, they're imposters."

Hunter then goes on to attempt to make his point by referencing a particular star player. Speaking of his former star teammate Vlad Guerrero, Hunter states "Is he a black player? I say "Come on, he's Dominican. He's not black."

Folks, on this particular issue, Torii Hunter is simply wrong in his thinking and view point. Have you ever seen Vlad Guerrero? The man's skin color is as dark as the night sky. There is nothing at all wrong with that, of course. But let's not trivialize this discussion by pointing out who is and is not 'black' when the issue is obvious.

Would Torii Hunter then accept an argument, following along with his line of thinking, that I am not 'white', but that I am Irish because the majority of my familial heritage is from that country? You mean to tell me that Dominicans can't also be black? Does Hunter even know what 'race' is?

But it's not just that Hunter makes one slight off-the-cuff remark that might be blown out of proportion. He goes on to explain in detail that he, and in his words the majority of African-American players, believe that baseball intentionally tries to use Latino players as an "imitator and pass them off as us."

"It's like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper." In making comments such as this, and in actually thinking like this, Torii Hunter and any other player or fan who cares about the game who buys into this line of thinking is only doing the genuine issue a disservice.

The genuine issue is an apparent dearth of African-American players at the Major League level in today's game. It has been noted by everyone involved in the game, from baseball writers to fans to team management to the Commissioner's office that the percentage of African-American players has been in steady decline since the 1970's.

When I was growing up, I was able to enjoy a large number of outstanding African-American players. Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Vida Blue, Fergie Jenkins, Lee Smith, Bill Madlock, Billy Williams, Dusty Baker, Gary Matthews, Dick Allen, George Foster, Dave Parker and many more. Heck, I was even lucky enough to get to watch Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Willie McCovey play, albeit at the tail end of their lengthy careers.

But to look around today, you almost need a microscope to find an African-American player on your home team active roster in most towns. Here in Philadelphia, we have been blessed with a rarity in having two starting, star-caliber African-American players in the lineup for the past few seasons in Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

When the Major Leagues first overcame the 'color barrier' with the arrival of Jackie Robinson, a wave of ex-Negro Leaguers and emerging African-American talent swelled their representative ranks to the point where, by 1983, a little more than 1 in every 4 Major Leaguers was African-American. By 2006, that number had slipped from more than 25% to just 8.4% of players at the highest level.

Now that is certainly a number that, on it's face, would seem to indicate that something alarming has taken place. But has it really? Is Torii Hunter correct in his belief that baseball has a prejudice against African-American players? Hardly, and any fair examination of the issue would reveal that the problem is not as bad as it seems.

First of all, let's see where those jobs have gone. A small percentage have gone to Asian players. The fact is that there was almost no Asian presence in Major League Baseball 2-3 decades ago and earlier. Today with the opening and expanding of international competition, approximately 2.5% of players are of Asian racial origins.

The actual percentage of 'white' players has stayed pretty much the same, even gone down slightly. The majority of the jobs lost to African-American players have gone to ethnically Latino players. But while Hunter's accusation is that Major League Baseball has gone for the Latino players from other nations "because you can get them cheaper", the fact is that is simply not the case.

In South American nations such as those he highlights in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic as well as in other Caribbean nations such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, baseball is king and it is played year round. Kids are born and raised on baseball diamonds of the genuine and makeshift variety. They talk, eat, and dream baseball. And again, they play it all year long thanks to the continuous warm weather.

Here in America it is a fact that among the vast majority of African-American youth, baseball is a distant third to basketball and football in popularity. In his commentary, Hunter states "Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have (agent) Scott Boras represent him, and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?"

Well, Torii, for one thing, you can't find that kid from the South Side of Chicago playing baseball. Not for the most part. He is running the basketball courts indoors for the 9 months out of the year that Chicago is experiencing it's non-baseball friendly cold weather. The rare player that is talented enough and is interested enough in the game to be good enough to attract pro baseball attention does attract that attention.

Black Americans make up approximately 13% of the population in our country today. If you want everything to be exactly proportional to race, then you need to increase the Major League Baseball talent level of their numbers by just a few percentage points. That is hardly alarming when one considers that white players of any ethnic background make up just about 30% of NBA players and an even lower percentage of NFL players.

There is no rule, and it should not be expected, that every single sport is going to have an exact proportional number of players to the overall population. There are tons of factors, from the better weather in the Caribbean to cultural traditions here in America to expanded scouting in those places and in places such as Japan and Korea that the African-American population in MLB has dropped.

Baseball has not ignored this drop in numbers, however. In fact, it has specifically targeted the African-American community with it's founding of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-cities) program, a program that it markets aggressively in it's television advertising.

Just last year, The Institute For Diversity And Ethics In Sport released a report titled "The 2009 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball" in which it gave MLB a grade of 'A' for 'Race' and 'B' for 'Gender' as categories. The report noted that in 2009 the African-American player percentage increased for the first time since 1995.

The IDES report also stated that MLB began the 2009 season with 10 'managers of color' at the helm of their on-field operations. The report stated that, led by Commissioner Bud Selig's efforts, "MLB continues to have an outstanding record for Diversity Initiatives which include the third annual Civil Rights Game, Jackie Robinson Day and Roberto Clemente Day.”

The statistics do not lie. The percentage of African-American players in MLB is admittedly down over the past few decades. But people like Torii Hunter who resort to typical race-baiting comments whenever there is any appearance that black Americans might be getting slighted in some way do nothing but harm.

In fact, Torii Hunter and every single major African-American today who wants to see their racial population increase in the game would be better served in not pointing fingers elsewhere, but instead in getting out there on a regular basis in their community, directly inspiring with their presence and investing in that effort with a portion of the tens of millions of dollars that they are earning.

Major League Baseball and every other professional sport have one responsibility. That is to put the best, most entertaining product on the field, court, pitch, rink, or diamond that it possibly can. To suggest that any of them would ignore a source of potential talent is ludicrous. But then it has always been easier to point ones finger at others than to roll up your own sleeves and get to work, or to write your own check.

Sorry, Torii Hunter. You're a good guy, and you're usually a great ambassador for the sport of baseball. But this time you're simply wrong. Leave the race-baiting comments to the Al Sharpton's of the country, and get yourself and your fellow African-American players more directly involved in an organized, aggressive way within your communities if you want to have a real, positive impact.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Corey Haim Should Have Just Said 'No'

Of all the truly great legacies left to us by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of the truest, simplest, most enduring messages is the one that came from the campaign during those years of his wife, Nancy Reagan.

The validity and importance of her anti-drug campaign with the slogan "Just Say No" was brought home once again today with the overdose death of popular 1980's child movie star Corey Haim.

This death comes on the exact 22nd anniversary of the death of 1970's teen heart throb, musician Andy Gibb, the kid brother to the Bee Gees who also abused drugs. Haim was a child star and Gibb died during the very year that the First Lady was popularizing her vital message.

"Just Say No" is a simple slogan, and some of it's detractors have stated that it is not only simple, but that it is simplistic, even simple-minded. Of course these critics are always the same old liberal "I can do whatever I want with my body and who are you to tell me different" crowd. Funny thing is, when the Haim's and the Gibb's die of their excess, these folks are never heard from.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why All the 'Oscar' Fuss?

Why any human being would sit at home on a Sunday night and watch a bunch of zillionaire Hollywood actors and actresses pat themselves and one another on the back is beyond me. But there they were last night, parading before the cameras on 'Oscar' night at the annual Academy Awards.

I mean, I do get it for the actors and actresses themselves, and for their families and friends, of course.

Almost every industry takes time out during the year to recognize and honor those in each profession or business who excelled during the previous year. Dinners are shared, toasts are made, speeches are given, trophies and plaques are handed out.

But while the nation's leading architects, novelists, construction workers, police officers, firefighters, bankers, small business persons, mass transit employees, entrepreneurs, secretaries, priests, and many others receive their honors in near-anonymity surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues their exploits are almost never celebrated in front of a television audience.

Why would any office worker, home maker, student, or businessperson care who took home what trophy for some movie that the vast majority of them have never seen and likely will never see? Why should I care what kind of dress Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep wears as they walk down some red carpet and into a theatre to receive their awards?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lent: Still Time to Re-Dedicate Yourself

You've had two shots at it now. First came your 'New Year Resolution' to quit smoking, begin a diet, start exercising, read more, go back to school, end a damaging relationship, whatever. Then came Ash Wednesday, and with it the beginning of Lent, and yet another chance to give something up, this time sacrificially.

Okay, so maybe you're 2010 batting average is suffering with an '0 for 2' start to the year. Or maybe you wish that you had added some other item to your list of things to give up or begin as that new beginning or that sacrifice. Maybe you never made any resolution or made any Lenten sacrifice to begin with. It's not too late to begin to dedicate yourself, or to re-dedicate yourself.

As for the idea of a resolution, it's still very early in 2010. We just began March this past week. Almost 10 full months remain in the calendar year. There is plenty of time to make the positive changes to your life that you wanted to make, plenty of opportunity to make 2010 a different year than any other.

And as for a Lenten sacrifice, there is still a full month until Easter Sunday. If you 'gave up' something for Lent but then backslid or caved in to whatever the temptation, you can still make a statement that means something.