Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Single Holidays

I've been trying really hard to remember the true meaning of Christmas this Holiday season.
I promised myself I wouldn't get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays in newspaper-land. Nor would I overwhelm myself with Christmas shopping, an abundance of gifts or stresses that don't relate to the birth of our Saviour.
To start, I've been listening to a lot of Christmas music. That's one of the things I love about this time of year: the tunes. It's not just the hymn-based ballads proclaim the birth of Kings and proclamations of angels, either. I love everything that reminds me of the holidays, whether it be through red men in suits, shiny-nosed reindeer, frosted snowmen, Grandma's house in the woods or anything of the like.
But most importantly, I love being able to think of Christ the whole time.
On the Sunday before Christmas, my Singles Ward had every LDS ward's annual Christmas Sacrament Program. The spirit was immense, and the choral performances were modest, yet well-intentioned. I've complained in the past about my ward choir being a bit too ambitious in song selection, and throwing off the rhythm and spirit of the occasion. But yesterday their choices were spot on, and I found shivers running down my spine on multiple occasions.
The stake also offered a Youth Christmas Fireside that night. Normally, I avoid full stake activities, since I belong to a family stake, and attending activities with families makes me feel inadequate and overly cognizant of my 'single' status. It's not that I don't appreciate the church's role and influence on the family; it's merely that I don't like being perpetually reminded — even when unintentional — that I am an outsider in most Mormon halls. After all, I'm closer to 30 than 20, and I haven't come close to finding an eternal companion.
But last night was different.
The music was phenomenal. Certainly, some of the performers were traditional youth musicians — those who sing or play an instrument only because their parents force it on them. But there were equally as many — perhaps more — who had true talent, and some who I can see using their talents in brilliant ways throughout their lives.
I was reminded at every turn of the Babe Born in a Manger, of whom this holiday season pertains. I was also reminded that He was more than a child; he was our Saviour, our Redeemer and the literal Son of God — born of the Father in Heaven and an earthly mother, the only one capable of laying down his life and taking it up again so that we all might do the same someday.
As our hearts and minds turn to Him as this week progresses, and as the stresses and tremors of the season begin to weigh us down, I pray that we not only remember that blessed day more than two millenia ago when he was born — but also the even more blessed day when he was reborn, freed from the Garden Tomb that held his corporeal form for three days.
Christ Lives; I know he does. And because of him, we will all live again.

Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Merry Mormon Christmas

The mic went out today while the Elders blessed the sacrament.
It didn't matter. 
The solemn quiet and reverent echo of the Priesthood holders' words were enough to focus my mind on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No crying children. No texting youth. No impatient YSA slithering his head atop his shoulders in cosmic Mormon mating ritual. The chapel felt like it was me, alone, with only my thoughts of Christ to accompany me.

Yet another reason why I'm reluctant to leave the singles' ward.

Speaking of Christ ...
The Christmas season is upon us. What better time to refocus our thoughts and efforts on the Savior? I love the gift-giving, the holiday ham and the constant aroma of pine trees to the utmost extreme. But I also love the opportunity to remember the birth of Him who was foreordained — from the foundation of the world — to save us from our sins. 
Because of the babe born in a lowly manger two thousand and ten years ago, we can repent and draw ourselves to God. 

He lives. He is the Light of the World. May we all come closer to Him to whom this holiday belongs.

Merry Christmas

To get you into the true spirit of the holiday season, a spirit unencumbered with credit card balances and discount shopping, here's a message from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, our thoughts turn to that sacred occasion when He was born "The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). He promised: "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). Truly, Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer who was "wounded for our transgressions … and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
Our prayer this Christmas season is that the light and testimony of the Savior's divine mission will come into our hearts and be reflected in our lives and in our homes.
May each of us be blessed, not only at this Christmas season, but also throughout the coming year. May our faith in Jesus Christ increase as we follow His example in all we do and say.
--Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Preach My Gospel for More than Missionary Work

It's been a while since I last posted. OK; it's been a long while.

But today proved to be a good time for a post, with another Young Adult Fireside by the Church Education System. The Nov. 7 address was from Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles and head of the church's missionary department. Naturally, I assumed he would talk about sharing the Gospel. But his remarks took a slightly different turn (don't worry; there were still plenty of missionary themes).

Elder Ballard quoted many sections of the church's missionary guide "Preach My Gospel," but also applied them to life outside of missionary work, such as helping YSA's endure to the end (a difficult concept, as most of us are stuck in a family-oriented church with little hope of ever starting our own). But as we apply the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel (namely faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism and the sacrament, and using the gift of the Holy Ghost), the Lord will help us endure and resolve our daily challenges.

Maintaining faith in Christ can help us steer clear of Satan's grasp. "Unlike the fisherman that catches and releases, Satan will not let go of those in his grasp. His goal is to make us as miserable as him," Elder Ballard said.

Daily repentance turns our mind to God. It's a part of our baptismal covenant, which we are reminded every Sunday includes a promise to always remember the Savior. One of the greatest lessons learned by one of Elder Ballard's missionaries in Canada was the lesson to constantly think of the Savior, even as much as everything else in the world captures our thoughts. "I have learned to give the Lord equal time," the missionary said, reminding us to do the same thing with our daily routines. Daily prayer and scripture study also help us maintain focus on Christ.

It's also important for the YSA crowd to study the doctrines of the Gospel, because we will be the ones tasked with leading the church during a period of unprecedented growth. Even as the church has grown an enormous amount over the past 50 years, the new wards, stakes, districts and branches will need leadership as they continue to progress in the Gospel. "You are they; I'm speaking to them right now. You have to be ready," Elder Ballard told the crowd.

Feeling the Spirit, as I did strongly during the final hymn sung by the Logan Institute YSA Choir's stirring rendition of "Our Savior's Love," will also provide us with a taste of God's greatest gift — even the gift of eternal life. I want to be able to enjoy that gift. And to do so, I have to consistently apply the basic principles of the Gospel: faith; repentance; remembering my baptismal covenants weekly through the sacrament; and learning to recognize and heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

As we do these things, we are sure to find joy in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

In honor of the Nov. 7 CES Fireside (viewable here), I'll post the YouTube video of Elder Scott's fireside a month ago, which you might remember left a stirring impression on my single-stricken soul. Come, listen to a Prophet's voice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clinging to the Iron Rod

As I've mentioned infrequently on this blog, I grew up in Utah.

In Utah, unlike much of the rest of the world, high school students attend "release time seminary," where they are "released" from campus during one class period each day to attend the seminary building (usually located in an adjoining building to the campus). Seminary offers Latter-day Saint youth a chance to step back from the hustle-and-bustle cares of worldly study and focus on spiritual concepts such as scripture study, doctrinal discussions and missionary preparation.

Like I said, it's a unique system to Utah (and I believe parts of Arizona and Idaho ... correct me if I'm wrong, somebody). In most stakes, seminary is taught early in the morning, usually around 6 a.m. by ward or stake members who gather a stake-full of youth in a nearby chapel.

I finally had the chance to enjoy one of these early-morning seminary classes. My young single adult ward was assigned a week to provide "security" for the chapel while the teacher delivered his class to these high schoolers, so I went to the chapel at 5:30 a.m. merely to keep an eye on the doors and make sure the building remained secure (as well as provide help in case of an emergency to the classroom instructor).

I was struck by the diligence of these students. I expected a half dozen youth, falling asleep at their table, while some brother or sister droned on about the priesthood, the Restoration, or the Word of Wisdom. Instead, as I occasionally passed to listen to the instructor's lesson, I heard a small gaggle of attentive youths (there were around 20-30 in the room) actively engaged in a lesson outlining church and priesthood organization.The only lackadaisical routine of the early hour came during the opening hymn, when few in the small group expressed vocal intent (although, that may have been for the better, as some of the voices would have been quite underdeveloped).

Daily scripture study is important. Whether it's with a group of other students early in the morning, or personal reading of a few verses late at night, daily "feasting upon the words of Christ" is one thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from the rest of the world. Doing so helps us to "treasure up in [our] minds continually the words of life."

When asked what the main difference is between the LDS church and other Christian denominations, Joseph Smith reportedly said, "we believe and follow the Bible." Such a bold statement stems from our unwavering desire to continually study the scriptures and learn the Savior's doctrine and about His plan of happiness.

I'll admit: my own scripture study has been waning lately. But what a blessing it is to be reminded of my imperfections, so that I can strive to be better.

Even if I am reminded by a couple of sleepy-eyed 14- and 15-year-old youths in Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice

It's the first weekend of October, and that only means one thing for Mormons around the world: General Conference weekend.

The chance to listen to living Prophets, Seers and Revelators for 2-3 sessions per day, two days this week, is a unique opportunity afforded to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like the Prophets of the Old and Testaments, as well as those in our additional testament The Book of Mormon, today's Prophets speak with God, so that they can let us know His will on Earth and in His kingdom. It's also a chance for us to associate with other members of the faith, whether it be in person, on satellite television or on social networking sites such as Twitter, where #ldsconf was the No. 3 hashtag during a busy Saturday morning that included college football and Ryder Cup golf.

One thing church leaders did Saturday was announce five new temples. Temples are sacred buildings, more than simple meetinghouses; they are places where faithful members of the church go to perform sacred ordinances for themselves as well as on behalf of their deceased ancestors. The new temples announced will be built in Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Tijuana, Mexico; Lisbon, Portugal; and Urdaneta, Phillipines.

General Conference also generally carries a few themes, or particular items of faith or doctrine given in talks by various church leaders that members should apply in life. Through Saturday's three sessions, there was a strong theme of obedience and following the Prophet. It's a basic doctrine, one discussed by church members from age 8 to 88, but it's also one of the most complex. LDS church members aren't taught to be mindless robots. On the contrary, we are taught to question and seek answers to life's great questions, including those regarding doctrines we may desire to understand further. Constant study of the scriptures is encouraged, and continually focusing on the Lord's Plan of Salvation is recommended.

Following the Prophet has also been under much debate recently, with certain statements by the First Presidency of the church being dubbed "difficult" and "hard" for many members of the church. But it is something that the Lord would always have us do. President Wilford Woodruff once said, "The Lord would not let me nor any other Prophet lead the church astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me from my place. And so He will any other man who attempts to lead astray from the oracles of God, or from their duty." Later in the same discourse, though, President Woodruff added that if the Prophet ever did begin to lead the church astray, we would be blessed by following his counsel, assumingly while the Lord "removed him."

This post is a short one, merely attempting to explain a bit about General Conference and why it is so important to members of the church. It's a pleasure to listen to the Prophets and Apostles, from anywhere in the world, every six months, and learn of God's plan for each of us.

And if you desire to learn more, click here. Or watch Sunday's conference sessions here.

Here's a taste of one of the talks delivered during one of Saturday's sessions. The man is Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, a member of the church's Quorum of the Seventy, who was called as a witness of Jesus Christ to all the world. Watch it. Learn from it. Ponder it. Otherwise, General Conference is just another October weekend.

For an archive of each General Conference talk, see here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming Around to Marriage and Courtship

Photo by K. Crookston, BYU Photo
If you haven't been able to tell by now (and the title of this blog), I'm a Mormon. But there have been a few common beliefs among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with which I struggle. Marriage is one of them.

It's not that I'm "anti-" marriage; it's just that I've been discouraged at my chances of finding a suitable soulmate after a quarter century of searching. If you know many Mormons, you would know that (usually) by the time they are my age, it's common to be married with at least two kids, a minivan, an oversized mortgage and too many student loans.
I don't have any of those: the wife, the kids, the mortgage or the loan payments. That can be good, and bad. With regards to the marriage part, it makes me fairly normal for my ward (congregation) of Young Single Adults in the Las Vegas valley.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, a church Apostle, a Prophet of God, started to nudge me away from that.
Elder Richard G. Scott, who was ordained an Apostle in 1988, spoke at a Church Educational System fireside broadcast to millions of young adults, both single and married, around the world. His address began to center on marriage and the family, which he called "vital pillars of in God's plan of happiness." Normally, this is where I tune out. This time, however, I didn't.
Elder Scott's wife died in 1995, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of a man called to help lead a church that places significant emphasis on the family. I can barely imagine the pain he's borne through the past 15 years — well, maybe a little now, as he shared some of the experiences with us. The Spirit was so strong, that even a Single Mormon in Las Vegas could feel its shockwaves more than 400 miles away.

Elder Scott also provided plenty of LOL moments, such as when he referred to going to the movies on a date as "stupid." "If you're a young man, and trying to get to know a young woman, don't take her to the movies."

Of course, he gave wise counsel to married couples, such as "Happiness in marriage comes when both spouses are equal partners" and "Always respect her feelings" when dealing with extremely emotional situations.
But he wasn't afraid to address the crowd of singles boldly. He told us that we should be constantly striving and preparing for marriage, even admonishing the men to, first and foremost, serve an honorable full-time mission, and then dedicate yourself to finding an eternal companion. I must admit that — while I did complete the first requirement admirably, even serving in two separate missions — I have been less-than-diligent in striving toward the second task.
"Marriage enables you to find out who you really are," Elder Scott pointed out. How much of myself do I not know, because I haven't had the opportunity to grow while being connected to another living being? How much is my eternal progression stunted because I can't get over the hurdle of constant dating and courtship? How much more could I learn about myself through continuously striving to find a suitable partner?
However, while marriage and family are vital pillars in life, the lack of them shouldn't define us. Despite the current status of our Facebook page, we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and he wants us to be happy. And true happiness comes from keeping the His commandments.

"Whether you are single or married, the best way to live life is to seek to know the will of the Lord," Elder Scott said. As we strive to keep his commandments, study the scriptures and cultivate a relationship with God, He helps us overcome our weaknesses and trials, whether they be in marriage, dating, educational outlook, employment concerns or any of the other thousands of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual pressures that might afflict our souls.
Our job is the easy one. 
"All things are possible to the Lord, and He keeps the promises He inspires His prophets to declare. .... With certainty, you will receive every promised blessing for which you are worthy."

Prophets and Apostles live today. They speak, we listen, and by following their counsel, we are blessed. No matter how many times I disagree with conventionally Mormon thought, I can't deny those basic tenants. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Three quick thoughts on AFA 35, BYU 14

Assoc. Press file photo

Recently, a Florida pastor was in hot water for considering a plan to Burn the Qu'ran on 9/11. I won't get into the dastardly thought of this sophomoric middle-ager, but I will present a better idea:

Burn your BYU diplomas on 9/11. 

I'll admit it: I was ashamed at the way the Cougars played on Sept. 11 against the Air Force Academy. I know it's nice to show some respect on Patriot Day, but the way the Falcons ran the ball and scored at will in a 35-14 home win was too easy.

Lest we forget, this is the same AFA squad that currently ranks third in the nation in rushing. And with ground powers Georgia Tech and Army struggling a bit, the Falcons could have the most potent triple-option offense in the NCAA.

Still, that's no excuse. BYU was outprepared, outmanaged and outplayed in its final trip to Colorado Springs, Colo. before making the run for Division I football independence next year. If they play more games like this, ESPN will yank its exclusive contract with the Cougars faster than the NCAA vacates John Calipari's Final Four appearances.

Here are three quick thoughts on the game, if you can call it that:

1. HOPEFULLY THIS DISPELS THE "TWO-HEADED QUARTERBACK" MYTH. A few fans and media have spoken out against it, but there was too much support for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's plan to rotate quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps all season. After the Cougars' narrow home win over Washington, many fans started to think that "maybe this can work."

News flash: it can't. Two starting quarterbacks = no starting quarterbacks. And with the BYU offense unable to find a suitable rhythm, fans can expect more of this week's box score. The Cougars managed two touchdowns on the ground, even looking fairly comfortable on the opening drive, but when the leading receiver only has 37 yards on three receptions — while playing from behind for more than 50 percent of the game — you've got to find a true signal caller.

2. JAKE HEAPS NEEDS TO HUMBLE HIMSELF WITH A BACK-UP YEAR. I know many fans are going to blame this loss on Nelson, especially since the junior option-like quarterback took over in the second half as the BYU defense gave up. Still, the loss shouldn't rest on his shoulders — nor on BYU's running game (although that goal-line fumble by J.J. DiLuigi was dastardly). 

Nelson and DiLuigi accounted for BYU's only offensive punch, with each rushing for a touchdown. Also, duo ran for 95 and 103 yards, respectively; not a bad day's work. And while Nelson was only 8 of 19 for 73 yards in the air, he kept the ball cleanly thrown and away from defenders. Heaps, despite his intentions, seemed lost on the sidelines after his final play — an interception to AFA cornerback Reggie Rembert. He didn't seem to overcome the pick well, which is understandable for it being his first college turnover. But it's those kinds of maturity issues that can be overcome with a solid year of being the No. 2 guy.

Besides, plenty of great BYU quarterbacks have spent a year on the scout team, including Cougar/San Francisco 49ers legend Steve Young, and BYU career wins leader/Arizona Cardinals backup Max Hall. 

3. ROBERT ANAE SHOULD BE FIRED. I failed to mention it last week, because I didn't want to spoil a BYU win over yet-another-Pac-What school, but the Cougars' offensive coordinator appears to be in over his head. He fails to respond to defensive pressure, and appears so intent on running his offense and his schemes that I wonder if he even sees what's going on from his press box vantage point. It seemed like most of Nelson's "what now?" moments came because the offense had no idea what they were supposed to do, which assignments to pick up, and how to maneuver around Air Force's defensive system. 

Please, Bronco, do the right thing; let Anae go so that we can get a true play caller. Loyalty aside, it's about time. He's had a mediocre run, so why are we embarrassing him any further?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Three quick thoughts on BYU 23, Washington 17

via the SL Trib

It didn't go how I thought it would, but the season-opening win over Washington on Sept. 4 should be enjoyed by BYU and its fans for a while. Although the schedule gets far from light from here (including road games at Air Force and Florida State in back-to-back weeks), the Cougars solved a few enigmas of the post-Max Hall/Harvey Unga era —and on the day Hall was bumped to Backup No. 1 in Arizona.

The game was far from conclusive as to how BYU's season will turn out; after all, they were slight favorites in the books before kickoff. And the best quarterback on the field was probably UW's Jake Locker, even though his only stat that mattered was the 0-for-3 he put up in the Huskies' potential late game-winners.

Here are three quick thoughts on Saturday's performance:

In the battle of "St. Jake vs. Elder Nelson," bout 1 should go to the junior quarterback from Logan, Utah. While Heaps had magnificent arm strength, with more zip on the ball than I've seen out of a freshman quarterback from BYU, he had numerous gaffes that shouldn't be overlooked when Bronco and Co. review the tape tonight.

Both quarterbacks passed for 131 yards, with Heaps completing 13 of 23 passes to Nelson's 11 of 17 (which could also mean that Nelson knows when to keep the ball in his pocket after effectively reading a defense). But the similarities seem to stop there.

Nelson threw both BYU touchdowns, the first to freshman Josh Quezada for his first — and only — reception of his career, and the second to J.J. DiLuigi, who did a fabulous impersonation of Andrew George's prance into the end zone in last year's epic overtime win against Utah. Nelson was also the team's second-leading rusher, running downfield eight times for 45 yards and setting up both of his TD passes.

Last year's backup to Hall also seemed to have better chemistry with his teammates, especially No. 1 wide receiver McKay Jacobsen. The wideouts didn't seem to trust Heaps as much as they did Nelson, with many of his passes sailing high, low or out of reach of his receivers. It's as if the Skyline High wonderboy from Sammamish, Wash., expected everyone to work their way into his passes; not becoming of a team's No. 1 signal caller.

Okay, so maybe Harvey Unga's abrupt dismissal from the school on Honor Code violations and subsequent selection by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Supplemental Draft will impact BYU's ground game a little bit this year, but junior J.J. DiLuigi seems like he can handle stepping into the Cougars' main role.

Last year's sparingly used backup from Canyon Country, Calif., had 69 yards on 13 carries in the first week, and also found himself on the receiving end of Nelson's scamper-pass to win the game. He may not be as tough as the school's all-time leading rusher, but DiLuigi should be an apt replacement, especially when he can count on Brian Kariya and Nelson to shovel a few of the carries, as well.

I bring this up here, only because BYU, Utah and TCU all put up very strong performances in CAH-LEDGE's opening week. Utah edged Pitt in overtime Thursday night, despite Kyle Whittingham's epic fail at double-icing the kicker on the game-tying PAT. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton proved he could use his legs as well as his arm, overcoming two interceptions against Oregon State in Dallas by rushing for two touchdowns to lead the Horned Frogs past the Beavers.

Overall, the MWC picked up six wins this week — with Air Force, Wyoming and San Diego State also earning wins (though, admittedly, not against top-notch competition like the Big East or Pac-10).

The conference still appears destined to crumble next year — despite Boise State's best efforts — with flight of Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU to irrelevancy (errr, independence). But for one more weekend, and hopefully one more year, the MWC should be attracting the country's attention and causing every member of the BCS Selection Committee to chew through his fingernails.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Go West, Young Man, Go West

It's official. It finally happened.

BYU has entered the realm of the Football Bowl Subdivision independents, joining Notre Dame, Army and Navy as the only independents in major college football in the country. With it, the Cougars have been guaranteed an eight-year deal with ESPN for broadcasting, and a six-game series with the Fightin' Irish that will commence sometime after 2012.

The Cougars also placed their other sports under the umbrella of the West Coast Conference, a collection of faith-based (namely Catholic) institutions that reside entirely in California, Oregon and Washington (or, as BYU basketball coach Dave Rose might refer to the expanse of Pacific coast towns "recruiting country"). BYU will begin play in the 2011-12 academic year, and will play all of its sports in the WCC, save the aforementioned football; swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics and softball — for which the WCC has no programs; and men's soccer, where the Cougars field a mildly competitive Premier Development League semiprofessional franchise.

Scheduling should be less of an issue than many independents, especially with Notre Dame apparently lending its full support to BYU. Remember, the Cougars don't have to fill out a schedule entirely comprised of Top 25 teams — 3-5 each year should suffice, even. So BYU will play four WAC teams, a token Pac-10 school, whichever MWC teams decide to invite them to a home-and-home (Boise State is certainly a possibility), and then could fill out a schedule with fellow indies Army and Navy, as well as Big East schools that are always clamoring for extra games due to their smaller round-robin schedule. More importantly, BYU will no longer operate under the Mtn. television network, and the chance to appear on ESPN should entice more than a few Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools to try their hand against the Cougars each year.

Access to the BCS would be tricky, as BYU is likely guaranteed nothing more than an Army-Navy treatment by Bill Hancock and Co.: a guaranteed spot only by finishing in the Top 2 of the BCS poll each year. Still, if BYU goes undefeated, it will be hard to leave them out of the bowl system entirely, which is similar access they currently experience in the Mountain West Conference. It's a lateral move, but does not damage the Cougars' standing, which is positive.

More importantly, what does this do to BYU's other sports? That's the main purpose of this blog post, as most of the other details have been reported and worked out. But there are a few tidbits regarding the WCC and BYU's "left out sports" that may be of interest to the handful of readers who check this blog.

BYU will no longer play teams like UNLV, San Diego State or New Mexico, but they can swap them out with current contenders Gonzaga and St. Mary's, as well as rising program Portland.

Historically, the WCC has also been home to some of the country's toughest programs. Steve Nash led Santa Clara to one of the great "one shining moments" in NCAA tournament history, and the conference has also produced hall of famers Bill Russell, John Stockton and others.

Here, BYU swaps out a mid-major on the rise with another mid-major on the rise. Both conferences also play their conference tournaments in Las Vegas, but the WCC doesn't pretend to play "neutral site games" on the home court of a conference opponent (UNLV). And the WCC has already set to work to re-schedule the end-of-season tourney so as to accomodate BYU's no-Sunday-play policy (the previous tourney's semifinals were played Sunday).

With the concessions the West Coast Conference is willing to make, there seems little difference in exchanging UNLV for Gonzaga and New Mexico for St. Mary's. Plus, BYU will continue to play big-money games against in-state rivals Utah and Utah State, so ticket sales in "glorified high school gyms" like those at San Diego and San Francisco should have little affect on the Cougars' overall athletic revenue.

Tourney bids should also be a wash, as we saw this year that Gonzaga was still able to get into the field despite losing in the WCC tourney final to St. Mary's. The NCAA has been increasingly aware of the small conference, and has given it proper respect over the past decade.

As a soccer fan, I naturally drifted to the ways this move affects the BYU women's soccer team. And after countless minutes of research, namely looking at the most recent NSCAA poll, I find that the WCC is a much better conference than the MWC.

League schools have won nine national championships through the years, or roughly the same number of years the MWC has been in existence. Currently, the WCC also has three ranked teams (No. 4 Portland, No. 8 Santa Clara and No. 14 San Diego); the MWC, on the other hand, has one — No. 13 BYU. Jen Rockwood must be smiling at this new level of competition her Cougars will face every year.

BYU was recently on the women's professional league map with Katie Larkin performing well with the Los Angeles Sol and Atlanta Beat of the WPS. Similarly, WCC schools have produced some of the USWNT's finest stars , including Brandi Chastain (Santa Clara), Tiffeny Millbrett (Portland) and Aly Wagner (Portland).

Although BYU men's soccer team plays in the semiprofessional Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid, the Cougars would be hard-pressed to find a better collegiate environment should they return to the ranks of the NCAA than the WCC. West Coast Conference schools have produced soccer talent such as Connor Casey (Colorado Rapids via Portland), Steve Cherundolo (USMNT via Portland), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo via Gonzaga) and world renowned goalkeeper Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders et al. via Portland). San Francisco was also a soccer powerhouse during the 60's and 70's, and has been thought to make a resurgence in recent years.

BYU's baseball team has rarely driven the bus for the school, but the WCC also offers a unique blend of college-driven teams as well as future MLB talent. San Diego, Portland and Santa Clara have consistently represented themselves well at this level of play, and Vance Law's crew should be fine in making the adjustment.

Conference affiliation matters little to cross country teams, and BYU's race back into the national spotlight will depend more on garnering athletes who can spruce up their times at regional qualifying meets than against whom the race on a given Saturday.

The tennis teams should be greatly upgraded, now playing against programs that have produced five individual national champions and regularly compete at the highest level of the NCAA.

I bring this up only because it is AN issue, but not a major issue in BYU's move to the West Coast. This move was based primarily on the Cougars' independence in football, and establishing a good home in men's basketball; I've shown that those moves were solid. But since the WCC has no league setup for track and field, swimming and diving, and softball, a solution must be found.

Track and field, as well as swimming and diving, are judged primarily off of "qualifying marks" for postseason participation. Thus, rather than compete in head-to-head duals for ultimate supremacy, track athletes and swimmers more often attend large meets in which they test themselves to post the fastest time, longest throw or highest jump to garner future postseason success. BYU may still do that, and WCC programs like Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine regularly field quality athletes who compete in the NCAA in this way. In fact, the schools in the WCC that fund men's track and field teams are the Zags, the Lions, the Waves, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara; almost the entire conference. So BYU would not be alone if they went this route.

Fewer schools field a full women's softball team, however. But with BYU's recent success, such as entrance to its first NCAA Super Regional in 2009-10, Gordon Eakin's club has been receiving notice from high-profile conferences. While Paige Affleck isn't quite Arizona's Kenzie Fowler or Washington's Danielle Lawrie, the Cougars have done enough to merit consideration as a Pac-10 affiliate. And athletic director Tom Holmoe told reporters at Tuesday's announcement that BYU has received offers from "multiple conferences" to house its softball program.

If that doesn't pan out, however, BYU can find solace in the unofficial home of the West Coast Conference softball teams: the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, which includes fellow members Loyola Marymount, San Diego, St. Mary's and Santa Clara. The Cougars also regularly play other teams in the conference, mostly for geographic purposes and regional rivalries; Utah Valley, Weber State and Idaho State also belong to the PCSC.

BYU has plenty of options in choosing this new opportunity to establish its network, BYUtv, as a viable sports broadcaster and claim its own footing as a football independent. But the other possibilities available through the West Coast Conference and its partner institutions should not be trivialized. In some ways, the WCC is a lateral move to the MWC. In others, however, it represents new possibilities and new growth in fields BYU fans haven't yet pondered. Far from being "Plan B," the WCC-plan should prove to be a much better alternative than BYU's original WAC-focus.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mormon Bishop Gunned Down in California

Associated Press/via Deseret News
Before I start, let me admit my biases. I served part of my full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in California. Although I never entered the Fresno area (I was called to serve in the San Fernando Mission for eight months), this next story still hit home because of my connection to that beloved state.

Clay Sannar, bishop of the Visalia 2nd Ward in Visalia, Calif., was shot by an unknown gunmen while he was attending to administrative duties following services in his ward, or congregation. According to witnesses, the gunman entered the building asking to speak with "the president or bishop," and Sannar stepped out of his office to talk with the man, who brazenly pulled out a gun and shot the 40 year old who held the calling for less than a year.

Sannar leaves behind a wife and six children, the youngest of which was less than six months old and had been blessed in the church's sacrament meeting the week before. Police haven't released the shooter's name (although it has been confirmed that it is not Zane Thomas, as early reports speculated), but did confirm the death of a gunman less than a mile from the building who allegedly confessed to the killing shortly after the slaying.

The community was stunned, and word quickly traveled through the church via new media and social networking sites. As friends and relatives heard the news, I noticed an overwhelming outpouring of support for the family, and a fundraiser has even been started in the young widow Sannar's name. (Click the link to make a donation that will be paid entirely to the family).

Funeral arrangements haven't been announced, but the shock of the crime is still sinking in. How could a man assault someone else on the holiest day of worship in all Christianity, in his home church? This story reeks of religious intolerance. Even moreso, Sannar appears to be an active conservative, having donated $1,500 to support Proposition 8 last year after the church's announcement in support of the California constitutional amendment regarding gay marriage.

It's unknown if the motive behind the slaying was politically oriented. But for the sake of the gunman, let's hope it wasn't. The last thing this story needs is a senseless accusation at the Anti-Prop. 8/Gay Rights activists. If this gunman was a Prop. 8 denouncer trying to "get back" at one of many churches that supported the law, it will only enable more hatred, more violence, and more bickering on both sides of the debate. That's not healthy for anyone, and the results should lead to Mormons and non-Mormons alike hoping that this tragic event can be put behind us, rather than raise further political issues.

Whatever the reason for this senseless act of violence, I hope we can all rally around this young widow and her congregation as they try to pick up the pieces following this reaction. My heart goes out to them, and I truly hope they can find the courage and strength to not just rebuild, but forgive. Actions like these are unacceptable, whether motivated by politics, religion, or merely happenstance. To Sister Sannar, I think I speak for many LDS church members around the world when I say: we support you. And the death of this good man will be felt by thousands, maybe even millions, around the world.

UPDATE 8/30/2010: I normally don't update past posts, but this one has very critical information.
Police released the name of the shooting suspect at 8 a.m. The shooter is alleged to be Kenneth Ward of Modesto, Calif. No motive has been determined, but a man claiming to be Ward's brother said his sibling had a history of mental illness and believed the LDS church was "out to get him."

Ward's brother also told the Visalia newspaper that Ward was a member of the church, but allegedly attending in the 1980s. He felt wronged by "a bishop," but not Bishop Sannar, on whom he took out his anger.

In light of the new evidence, I rescind my potential theory regarding Prop. 8. I'm truly glad that this shooting was not politically motivated, as it would have created a divide between Mormons and non-Mormons in California that may have become unsurmountable. As a former missionary in that great state, the damages would have directly impacted me and my relationship with numerous Californians. I am truly sorry for this loss, and my love goes out to all those directly touched by this tragedy.


In regards to this breaking news, I think it's best that we revisit a video from the church's Mormon Messages YouTube channel a number of weeks ago. It's the heart-wrenching story of a Utah man who lost his wife and children to a drunk driver some months ago, and his inspiring story of forgiveness and love.

May we all remember the loved ones who have fallen, that we might not make the same mistakes of the past.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Independence Day

The sky is falling.

If you haven't heard by now, my alma mater, Brigham Young University is on the verge of forsaking its brain-child, the Mountain West Conference and striking out as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent school, joining Notre Dame, Army and Navy in a conference-less quest for a national championship.

The news was broken late Tuesday night by's Andy Katz, and continued with regular updates from the Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets, spanning all the way into my local Las Vegas Review-Journal. According to the reports, BYU would be completely independent of any football conference, while playing its other sports in the Western Athletic Conference, or the conference it abandoned to form the MWC more than a decade ago.

The only problem? Commissioner Craig Thompson seems to want to force BYU's hand, and has effectively relegated the WAC to FCS status with an invitation for Nevada and Fresno State to join Boise State in a new intermountain-west home. Both schools quickly responded that they would accept the invitation, and (assuming BYU brings the rumors to fruition), the MWC would be at a ten-team league, with Fresno, San Diego State, UNLV, Nevada, Boise, Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico and TCU. Further, Katz also reported Houston and UTEP have received invitations to join the new-look conference in the Rockies.

So what does this do for BYU? It gives them the opportunity to create its own 12-team football schedule, with a caveat that they would play 4-6 WAC schools every year (which, if they were to use one of those games for Hawaii, would give them a 13th game as mandated by the NCAA). The rest? That would be entirely up to BYU. It's assumed that they could very easily schedule Army and Navy, and Boise State has constantly requested meaningful schools to fill out its schedule, so that should happen. And of course, the annual Holy War against Utah (which will be a Pac-12 school beginning next year) should be an easy fit. That's at least eight games on the schedule, with BYU still contracted to play teams such as Texas and Florida State in upcoming seasons.

The move would also give BYU control over its broadcasting, either with a private company with ESPN or some other major broadcaster, or on its own network, BYUtv. This is where sides tend to disagree with BYU's effectiveness as an independent. Proponents believe this is a no-brainer, with BYUtv already operating and available to first-tier DirecTV subscribers. However, that subscription also delivers BYUtv as a non-profit, public information channel, similar to the PBS model of broadcasting available nation-wide. It's unclear how adding BYU sports, such as football and basketball, along with the added revenue in additional advertising and contracts, would change the network's business model.

Also, BYUtv operates as a bare-budget enterprise, with many of the network's jobs in reporting, producing and other personnel going to broadcast journalism and media arts students at the Provo campus. An upgrade in programming, such as BYU's future bout with Texas or a possible matchup against Notre Dame, would require a significant upgrade in on-air and behind-the-scenes talent, all of which would require a significant increase in funding. And while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, would have no problem financing such a network, it's unclear if church leaders would be willing to back such an overhaul.

BYU's other sports, including its successful men's basketball program, would play a typical WAC schedule, although with only six current WAC members, they would need to add multiple schools to replenish the MWC's recent acquisition. It's also assumed that these sports would operate under the WAC's current tv contract with ESPN — a decent proposition, and one that leaves open some broadcasts on BYUtv, as well.

But as far as competition goes, there's not a whole lot of reason for BYU to assume any NCAA Tournament pick aside from its win in the WAC tourney. Aside from in-state rival Utah State, the Cougars would compete against such "powerhouses" as San Jose State, Idaho and New Mexico State for in-conference games. 

Here, however, there is another option. The commissioner of the West Coast Conference has openly invited BYU to join its non-football geographic make-up. The conference includes growing basketball powers such as Gonzaga, St. Mary's and Loyola Marymount. Further, BYU fans have often complained about the Cougars' no-Sunday-play policy, which severely restricts them in conference alignment; the Pac-10, for example, regularly hosts games and activities on the LDS sabbath. 

In the WCC, as every school has a religious affiliation (Catholic, Jesuit and Church of Christ), there would be no Sunday-play restrictions for BYU. Culturally, they'd be a good fit. And with no football in the conference, the Cougars could do whatever they wish with their football team — play in the WAC, accept a future invitation to the Big 12, or even play as an independent. Plus, the WCC is currently in a  contract with ESPN that includes the feature of the weekly "Big Monday" matchup, so the Cougars wouldn't be wanting for lack of national exposure.

Still, BYU's best option is to remain in the MWC. With the addition of Nevada and Fresno State, and a possible addition of Houston or UTEP, paired with the "BCS points" of BYU, TCU, Boise State, the conference would make a very serious case for automatic-qualifier status in the BCS when the currently cycle ends in two years. If that happens, BYU would be in the same position as Utah in the Pac-10, only without having to deal with USC, Stanford, Oregon, et al every year.

TCU coach Gary Patterson also added a few words of caution, hinting at bigger things to come for BYU:
"If you're BYU, you better be careful what you wish for," Patterson said. "It's not my job to worry about what Utah does, what BYU does, but I can tell you this: If you think being an independent is an easier way to get to a national championship, you're kidding yourself."

One thing remains certain, though: the wild summer of college football realignment hasn't died down yet. And this time, instead of waiting to be acted on by Texas and its Cohorts, BYU is making its own waves.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Progress or Perish

Ever since they told me to stay on in my "internship" (which is feeling like a real job, only I don't get paid as much), I've felt this ever-increasing sense of stagnation in my life. That is, I don't feel like I'm progressing.

It may have something to do with my current lack of a calling. It may be that I'm simply not challenged at work; although I doubt that, as my current assignment seems to be pulling me in so many different directions, that I long for the simple days of "go to a game, report the score, let the stories come to you" of sports writing.

I'm reminded of the spawning period of the salmon. Forced to leave its home for the pool of its birth, the salmon swims upstream for miles, simply to quickly deposit a few eggs, and make the return journey home.  It may seem like a simple journey, and one that could be avoided entirely by laying the eggs in easier, nearby waters. But millions of salmon do it every year, and without this time-honored practice, the world's fish population would drop dramatically.

So it is for us, at times. We work towards a purpose, only to find that said purpose seems irrelevant or small when compared to the greater sphere. Perhaps it is saving money for retirement only to realize our boredom once we've taken our sixth cruise, or served our fourth mission. Maybe it's working diligently to cover your entire home teaching route, only to have to do it again two days after the final visit. Or maybe it's devoting your time, energy and love to a certain member of the opposite sex, only to find that love goes unrequited, unwarranted and therefore, undeserved. 

But the beauty of life isn't in the destination; it's all about the journey. Indeed, life was never meant to be a single location, but a pathway on which we all find ourselves, struggling and striving to find our way home. 

And as we struggle, we find ourselves like the salmon: if we fail to move further, we find ourselves moving backward, even at a much faster rate than when we started swimming. 

There is no stagnation; only progress. Progress or Perish: if you aren't moving forward, you're falling behind.


Most of you might remember my earlier post on President Uchtdorf's YSA Fireside. (And if you don't, Google "Uchtdorf YSA Fireside;" it's the first link). Well, as it turns out, that was the basis of this week's Mormon Messages video. So here it is, linked again on the pages of this blog.

Remember who you are; the Ugly Duckling always grows into a Swan.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Football. Futbol. Soccer. The Beautiful Game.

david-villa.jpgThis will be my first official World Cup blog post, but if you've been following my Twitter feed (or "tweed," I guess), you'll notice that I've been thoroughly obsessed with the Greatest Sporting Event on the Planet.

A lot of my American friends ask me, "why do you like soccer so much?" First, it's football. But I'll ignore that for now. I'm a fan of the Beautiful Game because of its ability to unite races, nations and peoples. I'm amazed by the stories of football on Robben Island in South Africa, where the first constitution was written during the apartheid era. Or the end of a civil war by a football star. Or the ability of Jews and Palestinians to put down their weapons of war for a street match in Gaza Strip.

Football truly does unite the world, like no other sport can. Don't get me wrong; I love American football, and March Madness is my favorite time of year (minus the quadrennial World Cup). But the only thing truly comparable to the Beautiful Game is the Olympic spirit: sports that transcend a game.

Now that we're down to the Knockout Stages, here are my predictions for the Final 16, all the way through to the semifinals. Leave a comment if you agree or disgree, and enjoy.

Quadrant 1: Uruguay-South Korea, USA-Ghana.

Analysis: it's sad to the see the never-say-die American side put up against the last remaining home continent player, but don't discount what the Africans have done for the World Cup so far. South Africa has been a fabulous host, and while Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire didn't live up to unreasonable expectations, they provided somem great moments. Plus, one of the biggest breakout stars of the tournament was Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama; I hope the Premiership picks him up, because I would love to continue watching him play club football.
The Asian federation has surprised many with its aggressive, speedy play, but not as much as CONMEBOL; all five South American teams are in the second round, a feat never achieved.
The USA is the highest-ranked team in this quadrant (No. 16), but they won't look the favorites on Saturday, when all of Africa unites behind Ghana. That should give the Black Stars a little something extra. Still, as long as Tim Howard and Jay DeMerit continue to dominate the defensive third, it'd be hard not to pick the Stars and Stripes.
ROUND 2: Uruguay 1, South Korea 0; USA 2, Ghana 1.

Quadrant 2: The Netherlands-Slovakia; Brazil-Chile

ANALYSIS: The Dutch have taken the status as possible World Cup dark horse, and risen to potential second-tier favorite behind Brazil, and (lowered expectations) Spain.
I don't see Les Oranje having much trouble with the Slovaks, a team that is playing in its first World Cup ever -- a feat that sounds impressive, until you remember they were Czechoslovakia until, what, three weeks ago?
Chile has been the class of the tournament, blitzing past Honduras and Switzerland, and putting a potential-deciding goal up against Spain with only 10 men in the group stage final. If they were facing anyone else, I'd call them Quarterfinal Darkhorses.
ROUND 2: NED 2, Slovakia 0; Brazil 3, Chile 0

Quadrant 3: Argentina-Mexico; Germany-England

ANALYSIS: As a friend of mine recently Facebook'd, The 2010 World Cup is looking more like World War II, with USA and England playing nice, France's offensive efforts looking futile, Italy's demotion from power to pest, and the Germans duking it out with the British.
England didn't think it would find itself doing anything but winning its EASY group, but here it is, with an offensive snafu and a goalkeeping slip-up costing it the top spot and guaranteeing it a second-round match with perennial European power Germany. Up to this point, it seems like it would be no contest. But the English are finally finding their form (although the chokeship of Wayne Rooney continues), and Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger appearing to be out for the weekend's match. That's a crucial blow for the Panzer Division.
Mexico finally gets its chance to exact revenge on the Argentina side that eliminated it from the World Cup in 2006, a feat not lost on Rafael Marquez, who scored El Tri's first goal of the tournament. But when you have a team where Inter star Diego Milito is coming off the bench, and a side that breezed through qualification despite not receiving a goal from FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Los Albicelestes seem to have destiny on their side.
ROUND 2: Germany 2, England 1; Argentina 3, Mexico 1
QUARTERFINAL: Argentina 2, Germany 1

Quadrant 4: Paraguay-Japan, Spain-Portugal

ANALYSIS: Another South American surprise comes up against the stalwart Blue Samurai that have produced yet another tournament star, Japanese and CSKA Moscow striker Keisuke Honda. Both sides should be happy to have made it this far, but one of them has to go through, and don't expect the offensive fireworks to end yet. This should be full of plenty of action in each team's attacking third; How much of that action will find the back of the net remains to be seen, though.
The entire Iberian Peninsula should be shut down for three hours while Spain and Portugal meet, in a match that was threatened after La Furia Roja's shocking loss to Switzerland. Still, Spain recovered, and the Portuguese, despite two thoroughly uneventful games with Cote d'Ivoire and Brazil, have survived to see another day. One thing is certain here: expect at least 14 "play-ons" for Cristiano Ronaldo, despite his best efforts.
I love Ronaldo. But seriously? Who would I pick?
ROUND 2: Japan 2, Paraguay 0; Spain 4, Portugal 1
QUARTERFINAL: Spain 2, Japan 0

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Seeing RED

I've been hit with World Cup fever, so you'll have to excuse my inconsistent posts as of late.

But big news broke in the other football — American football, that is — that I can't ignore. It was something that  made me sick. As in, literally made my stomach feel queasy.

The Pac 10 invited Utah to abandon the Mountain West Conference for a lucrative payday and the abandoning of its principles.

Never mind that BYU (my alma mater) would've been a better fit. Never mind that BYU would've brought more fans, more television sets, and more national viewers than the Utes. Never mind that, despite Utah's most recent successes, the Utes have still yet to match BYU's national title or Heisman Trophy winner. Never mind even that the Cougars have twice as many men's basketball national championships as the Utes — and that one in Utah only came in a year when they failed to qualify for the NIT.

This move reeks of religious intolerance. Sources close to the Pac 10 have admitted that the invitation extended to Utah was influenced by BYU's ties to the LDS church, a church whose members pumped a few million dollars into such conservative grassroots movements as California's Proposition 8. And while USC may be the athletic epicenter of that conference, it is the minds in Berkeley and Palo Alto — two of the most liberal institutions in the NCAA — that really pull the strings of that conference.
It's not just the Mormons, either. Earlier reports had the Pac 10 set to invite six members from the Big 12, essentially dissolving the conference after historical power Nebraska had already bolted to the Big Ten. But the deal that would've brought Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado was dissolved at the last second when the Big 12 offered Texas a greater share of its conference television breakup, as well as the Longhorns own television network. 
So Colorado jumped ship. And the Pac 10 needed a 12th member. The candidates seemed to be Utah, BYU and TCU. But with such a plethora of liberal institutions, why would you invite the Mormons' flagship institution or a Christian university that draws much of the same market (Dallas/Fort Worth) you were expecting from UT and the gang, while both teams have demonstrated more across the board of athletics than the Utes. 
So that's why we see the Pacific 10 conference expanding to the Rocky Mountains. It has little to do with BCS bowls and academic excellence, and as much (if not more) to do with religious snobbery.
"It's religious prejudice masquerading as academic snobbery," one source has told the Deseret News. "They're trying to find an excuse to avoid the real issue, that they don't want a school that is tied to the LDS Church." 

Fortunately, with the inclusion of Boise State in the MWC, the extended proceedings have been a wash. BYU's conference is still on track to receive an automatic qualifying bid to the BCS. TCU and Boise State are still the class of the non-automatic qualifiers, and BYU still draws one of the most extensive national fan bases outside of Notre Dame.
Remember that a conference jump doesn't always signal good things, even in the Pac 10. In 1978, the "Pac 8" invited Arizona and Arizona State, two schools that have a total of three Rose Bowl appearances and have spent as much time as conference bottom-feeders as contenders (unless you count College World Series appearances). And with no prestigious athletic programs outside of the occasional football appearance and a powerful women's gymnastics program, the Utes are on track to be put into the same position.
So enjoy your $9 million soul-sale, Utah. Enjoy your "prestigious" conference affiliation. Enjoy the extra money, which you say will help fund academic research, but that will only come as the 1,000th item on a list of athletic renovations (most of which are probably very much needed, such as an expanded football stadium, a real basketball court, a decent — as opposed to downright putrid — soccer field, and others). 
Meanwhile, BYU, Boise State, TCU and the rest of the MWC (not to mention Houston and Conference-USA) will continue the fight against a corrupt college football cartel, steadying the fight in a battle that may take years, but will be worth it in the long run.

BYU didn't need Utah to obliterate one Bowl Alliance. And they don't need the Utes to do it again.

(Don't?) Let the door hit you on the way out. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

When Perfection Doesn't Matter

Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce
I haven't posted a full sports blog in a little, so I figured now was as good a time as any.

Only this isn't all about sports.

Athletics can make us see the world through a narrow frame. The world — as it often isn't —can be easily divided into Team A and Team B, Winner and Loser, Good Guys and Bad Guys. It's an oversimplification that players — and more often fans — take to an extreme level sometimes.

One magical night in Detroit, two men of different generations and professions helped the sports world realized there is more to athletic achievement than winning championships and amassing accolades. I'm speaking, of course, of Armando Galarraga's almost-perfect game.

Galarraga was about to join an exclusive club, the 21st pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw a perfect game. It also would've been the third perfect game of the 2010 season, joining Oakland's Dallas Braden and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay. And after 8 1/3 innings, all he needed were two more outs.

Fate had her own way of making history, though. Sure, History was made that night, but it didn't involve perfection, and it probably won't be enshrined in Cooperstown. Because history was made when first-base umpire Jim Joyce, aware of the moment that was on the line, called a baserunner safe when a nation of instant-replay experts and technical baseball rules professors knew that clearly wasn't the case.

In an instant, the whole world seemed to stop. The Tigers' bench stood in shock and awe. Internet chat rooms, message boards and Twitter feeds cried out against Joyce's call: how could this happen? What was he seeing? Did that umpire realize what he did to this poor kid?

It turns out, he did.

Joyce would later plead guilty to his offense. After viewing the replay of the call, he refused to hide behind the cover of anonymity normally offered to officials from media organizations. He fessed up:  "I just cost that kid a perfect game." The entire baseball community came out against an umpire who had officiated in countless games, playoff series and even World Series in nearly 30 years wearing blue. Rumors swirled about calls and taunts made not only to Joyce, but to his wife and children. Everyone seemed to hate the previously perfectly respected ump.

Except for Galarraga.

In a quiet act of defiance to the world around him, Detroit's ace from Venezuela smiled. One baserunner; what's the big deal, right? He knew he had gotten the out; he knew he had pitched a perfect game; he knew his name should be enshrined in the hearts of baseball fans everywhere.

But he didn't seem to care.

Galarraga just shook off the blown call, trotted back to the mound, and proceeded to end the game — a scoreless one-hitter and, most importantly, a complete-game win in the record books — with another marvelous display of pitching. And when all the hype, all the chatter, and all the media outrage was directed at his attitude toward Joyce, he did the most historic thing of all.

He forgave that man who cost him a place in history. 

Galarraga forgave the man who took away a perfect game. He didn't even argue when baseball's highest source, commissioner Bud Selig, refused to reverse the call and award a posthumous perfect game. And in doing so, he taught us all a valuable lesson, one that doesn't involve a bat and a ball, a basketball hoop, or a football field.

He taught us how to forgive. He taught us that, when forces beyond our control throw us a curveball, the only thing we can do is swing for the fences.

Jim Joyce's miscall at first base may have cost Armando Galarraga a place in Major League Baseball history. But on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, by a member of the once-hated Detroit Tigers, history was made.

And this time, the call wasn't blown.