boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.


full weekend...

Today is Monday, so I'm at a coffee shop getting some work done. (I actually am getting work done, despite the fact that I'm taking a blogging break.) And I'm also recovering from a pretty full and emotionally roller-coastery weekend.

It all started before the weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals clinched a spot in the World Series on Thursday in game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Game 7's are always exciting, but this one was a great--better than great--amazing game. It also had what was probably the second best catch ever in playoff baseball (second only to Willie Mays' catch in the World Series) to rob the Cards of a home run. It turned out okay, though, because that set the stage for one of the most unlikely home runs in baseball history, by light-hitting (and seldom-hitting) Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

On Friday I played in a poker tournament sponsored by one of the local sports radio stations. It was free, so I had nothing to lose, but the winner got a trip for two to Las Vegas. Not that it was realistic for me to hope to win. I'm an okay poker player, and I like to play, and since we got cable I watch it on t.v. quite a bit, but I have a lot to learn. Out of about 360 people who showed up, I outlasted about a third of the field. Afterwards, there were mini-tournaments among the people who got knocked out early, and I did quite well there. So I can safely say: among the bottom third of people who show up to a free poker tournament in St. Louis, I'm one of the better players.

I'm interested about what y'all think about gambling. Since I really like to play poker, I'm trying to discern if there is a way to play more competitively, more often, but still responsibly. I think some people take a very black-and-white view of the issue of gambling, but I don't know if that's right. For example, is it wrong for some friends to get together and each put $5 into the pot, play poker for a couple of hours, with the winner taking the pot? If that is wrong, would it also be wrong for some friends to meet at a coffee shop, spend $5 each on coffee, and spend a couple of hours playing Hearts or Scrabble? Now, what if those friends put $20, $50, or $100 into the pot? Is there a point at which it crosses a line? Obviously, if someone is spending their last $20 on poker instead of on groceries or medicine for their kid, that is a problem. Or if someone is withholding their tithe from church because they think they can turn it into big win, I would see that as a problem too. But even though we are called to be good stewards of our money, even most very conservative Christians do not see a problem with spending some money on at least some forms of entertainment. Now if you move up a step, what about entering bigger tournaments, with people that you mostly do not know, for larger stakes of money? What about professional gamblers? Professional gamblers are probably very stereotyped. But at least on the professional poker tours, the ranks are mostly made up of rich people with a skill who are competing against other rich people. That sounds just like any professional sport, which most people don't have a problem with. I also know that not a few professional poker players contribute large percentages of their money to charity, more than is even beneficial for "tax purposes." Then there is the issue of riverboat casinos and tribal casinos, both of which I have a lot more problems with, but both of which have undeniable positive points (not that I mean to insinuate that a few positive points legitimize them morally). Well, before I go any further on this tangent, I want to get back to my weekend recap. But I would be interested in some of your thoughts. You don't have to give a whole dissertation (or sermon, if that is your propensity) on gambling, but you can respond to something I said, or comment on something I didn't bring up, or pose some questions you think need to be considered.

Of course, we had Gracie to take care of all weekend. She is really growing, developing chubbiness on her cheeks and legs, and a little bulge to her belly. The girl can eat! And that's good. One thing that is tough is that she still has her days and nights confused. She sleeps mostly during the day, then at night she is awake much of the time. The problem is she is at the age where she does not like to be awake if she is not held, so she cries. The doctor says it is pretty common for babies to have this day/night mix-up, and it usually switches around 6-8 weeks of age. Gracie is now at just over 5, so we're awaiting the day (or the night, as the case may be).

Saturday brought the Nebraska football game against Texas. I had no expectation that Nebraska would beat Texas, I just hoped they would make a good showing. Even though that's what happened, I'm still horribly disappointed. Nebraska had the game won. They took the lead with a few minutes to go in the game, then the Blackshirts (that's Nebraska's defense) forced Texas to punt. After a couple of running plays, the Huskers faced 3rd down and 7. They called a pass play and made the first down, but a Texas defender making the tackle placed his helmet right on the ball during the hit and forced a fumble, which Texas recovered. Thus, they had over 2 minutes to go just about 25-30 yards to get into field goal range for the win, which they did. Nebraska's Hail Mary attempt(s) then came up short, and the game was over. Very depressing.

I was a little bit soothed later that night when the Cardinals surprisingly won game 1 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. It was another very good game, and it featured a masterful pitching performance by Cards rookie Anthony Reyes, who had been very unsteady all year. Very exciting.

Sunday brought church, followed by nap time. Unfortunately, nap time was interrupted by a rather scary incident. Suzanne was up with the baby, so it was just me and the dogs on the bed. I was awoken because Soda, our border collie, was shaking and jerking in a weird way. I thought she was getting ready to vomit (I know, that's gross, but not uncommon) so I started calling her to jump off the bed and I was going to lead her outside quickly. To my surprise, instead of jumping off the bed, she kind of flopped off. Then, as she started to walk across the dining and living rooms toward Suzanne, she looked kind of like a drunk person. She was tripping and falling all over herself. When she tried to get on her hind legs to jump into Suzanne's lap, she would fall over backwards and kind of flop around like a fish for a couple seconds. It was very weird and scary too. Well, within 5 minutes she was more or less back to normal. I still took her into the animal emergency clinic. They said it didn't sound like a full ceisure, which is what I asked if it was, but it might have been a partial ceisure. They also said that dogs between 2 and 7 years old begin to manifest symptoms of epilepsy if they have it. Well, Soda is about 3 and a half. For now, she is back to her old self, but we're going to have some blood tests done when she goes to the vet for her regular shots in the near future.

Sunday night we went to our friends' regular open house and had a good dinner, with LOTS of brownies for desert, and fun fellowship while we watched the Cardinals game. Unfortunately, the Cards lost game 2 of the World Series, which is now tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven. The big story was the Tigers' pitcher Kenny Rogers. The Fox cameras caught pictures of his pitching hand that had a brown substance on the palm. It looked like pine tar, which is used for batters to grip their bats, but is illegal for pitchers to use. Pitchers cannot apply pine tar, grease, snot, spit, or any other foreign substance to the baseball (nor can they cut it, scuff it, or pick at the stitches) because it makes the ball take unnatural flight paths. By the second inning, Rogers had washed the stuff off his hand, though you could still see a discoloration. After the game, things just became more fishy. His explanations were not consistent when different people asked questions about it. And he said it was dirt, but dirt washes off. Even worse, there are pictures of his hand that have surfaced from the previous two rounds of the playoffs that show the same brown discoloration in the same spot on his palm. (I put a picture below: the left shows his hand during the ALCS; the right shows it last night in the World Series.) There can be no question that Rogers is cheating. He is cheater. As someone knowledgeable about the history of baseball, I am not so naive as to think he is the first or worst offender, even in the World Series. But that does not make it less wrong, especially because he is putting together a historic stretch of pitching scoreless innings in the playoffs--he's up to the third-longest ever. The other strange/disturbing thing was the reaction of Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. He is a master of headgames, and a situation like this is right in his wheelhouse. He should have had the umpires inspect Rogers' hand, who would then have to be thrown out of the game and suspended for the series. But basically, LaRussa did nothing. It's pretty clear why he did nothing. The manager of the Tigers, Jim Leyland, is LaRussa's best friend. It's not uncommon for them to talk daily throughout the season (and, presumably, offseason). From a purely baseball perspective, it's a travesty that LaRussa let his friendship with Leyland get in the way of his responsibility and performance as a manager. From a human perspective, there's no way I would have wanted to be in LaRussa's shoes. Rogers was cheating and Leyland knew it. A manager knows if his pitcher is doctoring baseballs, especially if he's doing it consistently, which Rogers has been. It's got to be disturbing for LaRussa to know that his best friend is cheating him while their career's are at their peak and in the spotlight.

Sunday night I turned in an assignment at 11:37 p.m., a full 23 minutes before it was due. Why the rush? Well, I like to be ahead of the game. As a friend of mine used to say, "If you leave something until the last minute, it only takes a minute to get it done." In principle, I'm opposed to doing work or homework on Sunday. That has not stopped me, however, from consistently doing both work and homework on Sundays. I need to work on aligning my practice with my principles. If only that was my only principle that I don't practice...

cheater's hand


W Sofield said...

A few thoughts on your gambling notes . . .

It sounds like you are trying to justify your actions. That should be a clue. It sounds like the teenager who says, "How far can I go with my girlfriend? Holding hands is ok, what about xyz?" Wrong question, knucklehead. Morality is not about avoiding the list of bad things. Morality is about actively pursuing the Kingdom of God.

You can pay money for the thrill of skydiving, or a great action movie. But when you pay for the thrill of gambling, you might walk away with more money than others who paid the same price. In fact, somebody will do that. That's the point! That is the thrill. Quite different from skydiving or movies (or other forms of entertainment).

Poker without money (just valueless chips) can be fun, but most people rather use money. Why? It is "more interesting." Skydiving is not "more interesting" if you pay more money for it. The entertainment of gambling is because of the love of money, I think.

Well, that is where I would start a conversation, anyway. I must admit, I've never seen much attraction to gambling, myself. That both helps and hurts me as a conversation partner for you on this topic.

nickg said...

Good stuff to consider, Willy. A few things in response.

I cannot deny that there is a part of me that sinfully loves money. And certainly that recognition ought to cause me to consider the motivation behind many of my puruits, because so many things in our culture revolve around money. Although, in a sense, money, or having it, is a way of achieving recognition/respect/glory in the eyes of the world, and that is really closer to what my downfall is. My greatest weakness is desiring glory for myself before God's glory or the good of others.

All that said, I haven't yet played poker for money (at least not since high school) and I don't plan to do so. I enjoy playing poker for the strategy and competition, so play chips are fine. If you're not too familiar with gambling, maybe you're just thinking of 5-card draw poker, which isn't very complicated. But games like Texas hold'em or Omaha have pretty intricate strategies. I like those games because they require skill at math, logic, and psychology to master. In that way, those games are similar to more intricate board games or strategy games.

Looking back at my original post, I see that it might seem like I was looking for a way to justify starting to "play for money". And, maybe in the moment I was. I guess I have the occasional fantasy of becoming the "missionary to the pro poker tour." But that's not really a real hope that I have. It's sort of like the kid who has thoughts of "missionary-dating" the cute girl at the coffee shop. Sure, he can come up with a few lame arguments for it, but really he knows he it wouldn't be a good idea because once he got involved in the dating part, the missionary part would go out the window.

I think at the time I was making my original post, I had a bigger picture idea in mind. But I'm not exactly sure what it was or maybe I just don't know how to express it. As you alluded to Willy, I suppose Matthew 6:33 is the best guide on these kinds of questions.

nickg said...

I should also mention that the Lord gave me a suitable helpmate, who wouldn't let me gamble for real money even if I wanted to.

W Sofield said...

Helpful clarifications, nickg. I'm not familiar with poker, no. But I certainly understand the fun of strategy and competition.

I've recently been thinking, though, about the value of such things. If I compete with someone who is only a competitor to me -- it is easy to be consumed by the competition, by the striving to defeat another. If my opponent is also my friend, things are different. I can be just as competitive and challenging, but it does different things to my emotion and volition.

I think it might be different for direct vs. indirect competition, too. For example, boxing and soccer vs. diving and downhill skiing. There might be a difference between saying, "I must break you" and "Let's both do our best on a level playing field and see who is better."

I think we need a lot more theological work done on the value of sport and game.

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."