A Growing Interest

(NOTE:  This post is longer than I usually write, but I thought it important to not cut the story short)

Over the past few years, my interest in baseball has grown.  I was into sports (as a consumer mostly) for a large part of my life, and around the time I got married I stopped following professional sports for the most part.  Sure I’d follow things, and if someone asked I had a favorite team in most sports groupings, but I rarely knew more than a little of what was going on.  Even when I followed it, football was my favorite sport and rarely would choose to watch baseball unless it was the post-season.

When Tim Tebow got picked up by the Denver Broncos, having been an avid Broncos fan, I got drawn back in a little.  I started having conversations with other friends who were much more avid fans of sports and interacting when I’d travel about local sports, particularly SEC Football in frequent trips to Memphis.  And then I started interacting with some friends who had a deep interest in baseball and started to appreciate the nuances of the game.  I started to watch a little more and pick up more of what was going on with pinch hitting, pitcher changes, pitch selection and more.  It became interesting to me, much more mentally engaging when I watched it.

When the movie Moneyball came out I found another intriguing side of baseball I’d missed:  the mechanisms of the front office.  Trading, contracts, drafts and lineups began to have even deeper interest for me.  (I’ve seen Moneyball multiple times and I think I’ll watch it again before the season starts.)

Still I only had a passing interest in the game.  Then Ben Zobrist got traded to the Kansas City Royals in 2015.  I had a friend who was a huge Royals fan and he also happened to be related to the Zobrists (Ben is from central Illinois where I live) and I found myself glued to the TV during the post season watching both the Cubs (I adopted them as my “favorite” team when I moved to Illinois because I love an underdog) and the Royals progress, unsure of who I’d root for in the World Series if both made it.  The Royals won the series and I was now hooked on baseball.

And then Ben, now a free agent, signed with the Cubs.  For the first time in my adult life I was watching regular season baseball and arguing on Twitter about whether they were going to choke or not (they’re the Cubs…they have to right?).  And then they had the dream season, winning 103 games and then the obligatory 11 to walk off the last game of the season as the winner.  The icing on the cake was Zobrist winning the MVP title at the series.

And now I’m a baseball fan.  I’m following the off-season trades and signings for the Cubbies.  I’m familiar with the names of their top prospects and the location of their minor league teams.  I’m hooked.  I can debate the pros and cons of the various players on the “bubble” who may or may not be on the 25 man roster when they open the season on the road against the Cardinals.  And I’m flying out to Phoenix to visit my parents to attend 2 Spring Training games in March.

It was somewhat gradual over the last two years, but now it is my most time consuming hobby.  It engages my brain in ways I want it to with absolutely no reminders of my day job.  It scratches an itch I needed for a leisure activity and I’ve been trying to interest my kids a bit more, and have at least one avid fan in the group.

The level of insanity has gotten this far:  I’m following 2-3 baseball blogs (mostly Cub centered) and I came upon the following post:


Ownership is what makes sports worth arguing over. It makes it worth looking a fool if you ask a dumb question.(There are dumb questions. I’ve asked plenty of them.)

For Draft Prep to work, and for this series to continue, some of you need to make this a worthwhile segment. Al already knows this. I want you (the person reading this) to take a college baseball team.

Source: 2017 MLB Draft Prep And An Assignment – Bleed Cubbie Blue

The author is trying to garner interest in the baseball draft in June and got readers to volunteer to research a team and keep up with that college team during the season.  Being insane, I picked two teams:  the Villanova Wildcats and the Bradley Braves.  Bradley is here in Peoria (and my alma mater) and I usually root for Nova in the NCAA tournament every year (they’re defending the title this March/April).

My first assignment:  coach, opening game, and pre-season all conference notes.  Here it is:

Villanova Wildcats (Big East, college home of Cubbie Matt Szczur)

  • Head Coach: Kevin Mulvey
  • Opening game: February 17 @ Norfolk State
  • Pre-Season All-conference: (Big East): I could not find this year’s pre-season list…last year’s came out on 1/28 so it may be too early.

Bradley Braves (Missouri Valley Conference)

  • * Head coach: Elvis Dominguez
  • Opening game: February 17 @ Texas A&M-Corpus
  • Pre-Season All-conference: (MV) (no returning all-conference from last year, and I could not find a preseason document)

I’ll probably write more about baseball as the season goes on, but for right now, I’m counting down the days until the spring games start.

At Home in the City

My news feed this morning included a link to this blog post:

I got questioned why I’d ever visit a restaurant in Campustown at University and Main. I was informed that’s where people get shot.

I’ve heard that if you drive on Knoxville after dark, you get shots fired at you. I’ve been questioned why I’ve driven my kids down Western Avenue.

On Reddit I’ve seen Peorians warn new residents not to travel south of War Memorial Dr.

via Why So Afraid of Peoria? | The Whiskey City.

I’ve heard people talk like this since I moved to Peoria 16 years ago (this month!).  We spent a few years in Marquette Heights but my family lived on the east bluff (on E. McClure) and then later in University East for 9 years.  We were told by friends that we lived in a dangerous neighborhood and that it wasn’t safe there.

As I’ve mentioned before we looked for a house for three years before moving.  And part of the reason for that is that we had a very narrow area in which we looked…we wanted to be in Peoria proper, south of War Memorial and preferably south of Nebraska Ave.  When we finally found a house and it was far north of War Memorial (almost to Dunlap) it was very hard to decide to take it even though it is a perfect house for our stage of life.

We miss the ‘hood’ though.  I personally miss being in the middle of everything, a 2 minute walk from Main St., less than 15 minutes by foot from all kinds of great places.  Walking distance to the First Friday events on Main St.

Are you one of the people who think the middle of Peoria isn’t safe?  Step out of your comfort zone and join us at First Friday this week!  Things start gearing up at 5:00 and go into the evening.  Stop in at the Studios on Sheridan or the Art Garage.  Get a cup of coffee or a slice of great pizza at Broken Tree Coffee.  There’s live music, craftsman and artists to meet, and food and wares for the shopping.  My whole family will be there, starting with a visit to our favorite Chinese restaurant:  Peking there on Main St.

The city is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people.  Join us to enjoy the creativity and the joy of the city.

Better than I Deserve

Yesterday it snowed here in Peoria. Probably the biggest single day snowfall (I’m sure more attentive weather-followers could correct this) that I can remember since 2006. I remember that snow vividly because Margary was being baptized that weekend and we were throwing a feast, and my sisters and parents flew in for the event.

Because of the weather we missed church. Services all over the area were cancelled and we were snowed in. No way we could even make it up the driveway.

It was beautiful. The view out the window of the fresh snow everywhere covering the trees in the back ravine and the yard. Beautiful white frosty snow everywhere.

This isn’t the house we were looking for. We searched for three years for a house in the city and looked at all kinds of options: old sorority houses, schools, remodeled funeral homes and retail buildings, old houses in various parts of the east and west bluffs. We were looking for something with space and in the city. We never would have looked for this house.  But here we are, still in the city but nestled into the woods.  Close to everything but in our own little world, and with space that the children all love and continue to give thanks for.

I was talking with Theresa yesterday morning and looking out the window marveling at the beauty and enjoying the house. I said “we don’t deserve this house. But then that’s true of all of God’s gifts, isn’t it?”

And that continues to strike me.  I know I deserve nothing but wrath from God.  There’s nothing good in me on my own.  And God treats me so well.  I have so much from His Hand.  On my worst day I’m doing better than I deserve.  My home, my children, my perfect-for-me wife, my vocation:  all gifts from God’s hand that are not something I deserved or earned but that He pours out on me and mine in largesse.  He fills every cup until it overflows with goodness and grace.  This thought itself brings tears of joy to my eyes as I consider the many, many gifts He’s given and will give.

“…He makes me lie down in green pastures.  

He leads me beside still waters.  

He restores my soul…..  

my cup overflows.  

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

House Update

I mentioned late last month that we had found a house.  Things are progressing nicely so far.  We have bank approval.  We have the down payment ready. The slow-moving part is the seller…it’s a Freddie Mac repo and so there are ducks to line up.  We’re told we’ll be able to close by mid-November which is fine since we really can’t move until I’m done with school.  We have a crazy plan (subject to change) to try to move the weekend between school ending and graduation, December 13th.  We have the budget for both mortgages, though, so if we need to push that back we can.

We love the house.  It is not in our target location (Peoria, south of War Memorial drive, preferably south of Nebraska Ave.) but we’ve dealt with that.  We really needed the space.  Other than location, this house had everything on our “wish list”:  over 3000 sq. ft., master bathroom, at least 6 usable bedrooms, mostly hardwood floors, updated kitchen that my wife likes, pantry, enough usable non-bedrooms to have a formal dining room and a music room in addition to a living room, under $175,000.

But it’s in a nice, north Peoria neighborhood, with a walk-out basement overlooking two acres of ravine property.  It’s nice, but not our urban living sweet spot.

Don’t get me wrong, it still has some of what we like about living in the city:  things are close.  We’ll be closer than we are now to a Kroger, a Big Lots (my wife’s favorite), our bank, and my workplace (just a few minutes shorter commute).  We’ll be pretty close to the best Indian restaurant in Peoria (which I’m excited about…I loved the food over there) and there is a lot that we like about what’s out there in north Peoria.  It’ll be further from church, which we’re not excited about, but not so far that it’ll be a burden to get there.

house arial screenshotIt’s got a little work we need to do before moving in, including some new flooring in the master bedroom (carpet + dust mite allergies are a bad mix) and we’ll have to move from an electric dryer to gas, but the house has a beautiful amount of living space and bedroom space while feeling more connected than our current house (4 of the bedrooms are on main floor, including the master, and the stairs to the basement are central making everything feel closer while more than doubling our space).

So needless to say we’re excited.  And here’s a satellite pic of the roof captured via google maps on my phone.  🙂

A House!

Interrupting the India series for an important announcement.

I know last summer we had a contract on this house…and it fell through.  We’ve been looking for a bigger house, on and off, for over two years.  We’ve been feeling more and more cramped in the house we’re in, and we want the older children to have some personal space that they haven’t enjoyed until now, so we were looking for something bigger.

Last Friday I broke away from class during lunch to see a house that had just come on the market.  It was a re-po, and looked from the pictures to be in good shape.  And it was priced over $50,000 below what I thought it could get on the market if it was fixed up just a little.  When Theresa sent me the link on Thursday I told her that there was no way the house lasted on the market at that price until Monday so we’d have to jump on it right away.  So we went at lunch and liked it quite a bit…enough that we made an offer on Saturday.

There were at least five other offers on the house.  We had offered the listing price, and had two contingencies and were told everyone could submit another offer and that the bank would take the highest best offer.  Highest best means that an offer that is higher, but has more risky contingencies may not be selected.

It was Monday.  We were already scheduled to look at another three houses.  So we went and looked at them, and talked over what we knew about the house we’d offered on.  We talked about strategy with our realtor, and thought and talked about it between us while traveling from house to house.

Neither of the first two houses we saw would have worked for us.  When we got to the third house we had decided to drop the home inspection contingency, but only if we could go look at it one more time that evening before dark and do a more thorough walk through (remember the first one was rushed over my lunch break).  The third house was workable, and in the price range we’d like, but we didn’t like it as much as the house we’d already made an offer on.  So we looked at the house one more time, upped our offer, and pulled the home inspection from the offer, and waited.

All the offers had to be in by 3pm on Tuesday.

And we waited.  And I finally got a call from the realtor around 11AM on Wednesday.  If we’re willing to wait until November to close, we have a house.  And since we weren’t going to try to move until after I finish school (but before graduation) that worked just fine with us.


Disrupting the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Part of my biggest concern with how we handle poverty is that I am convinced that most of our current efforts and methodologies actually perpetuate multi-generational poverty rather than providing potential escape from the cycles.  Here’s a look at disruptive innovation applied to poverty cycles:

Disrupting the cycle of entrenched poverty and poor health can tip the world on its axis. And innovation has the ability to drive massive improvements in the health and well-being of children, communities, and countries.Put together, “disruptive innovation,” a term Clayton M. Christensen brought forth in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, is more than a winner-takes-all game where one technology replaces another or where a business that does the job faster and cheaper replaces an existing, lucrative one. To me, it’s about game-changing, curve-bending opportunities to drive impact—not necessarily through technologies like Amazon’s Fire Phone, which is now caught up in this debate, but through vision, adaptation, and a die-hard commitment to collaboration.

via Disruptive Innovation: Where It Matters Most | Stanford Social Innovation Review.

It’s worth a read.  I hope to write more on the economics of poverty later, but for now this article, plus what the Dream Center is doing to break the cycle here in Peoria is all I have time to give you:

Young people are in big need. Growing up, they are surrounded by sin, drug use, and garbage on TV, in movies and on the Internet. Early in life they know much more than any young person should. As a result, we have a broken society, and thousands of broken children living with rage, every sort of perversion, and a devastating loss of hope. We strive to teach our young people to have a vision. Young people are enticed by the glamour and promises of this world. We believe we need to instill in them to be dreamers at a young age, but in a God-given way.

via History Makers | What We Do | Dream Center Peoria.

Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments…this is something I will definitely get back to writing more on when I’m done with school.

Crazy Found a Whole New Gear

There’s a scene in the movie Seabiscuit where the injured jockey Red Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire) tells his substitute jockey, “now show him the stick at the quarter pole, and he’ll give you a whole new gear.” And this last week, crazy in our lives found a whole new gear.

We’re buying a house.

And not just any house. A unique fixer-upper opportunity with a 203k rehab loan. We signed a contract this weekend.

Not the best picture (you can see more here) but one my daughter took so it’s special. We’d seen the house on the realtor sites but hadn’t really perked interest until Seth shared a link to this posting on twitter and Facebook. I was intrigued at that point and sent the link to my wife and we, after some discussion, decided to go look at it. It hit all the items on our wish list but one. It’s close to our current house. It’s big. It has lots of bedrooms. It’s big. It has hardwood floors. It was well under our max price we were willing to pay. But it wasn’t ready to move in to (which was the item on the wish list that was least likely to achieve).

We liked it. Huge, compared to what we have, and the layout was really good for us. Six bedrooms on the second floor meant that we’d have the room assignments we were hoping for, and all of them are as big as our second largest bedroom here. There’s plumbing available on all 3 floors, and the kitchen, which we’ve wanted to upgrade here, needed gutting anyway so we’ll be able to put in the kitchen we want, not get stuck with someone else’s dream kitchen. Oh, and did I mention no carpet?

We got a pretty good deal on the sale price, but there’s a ton of work with this loan before close, and we’re estimating it’ll be at least the price of the house again to fix it up. And we think we’re still getting a pretty good deal.

The house needs a lot of work. Electrical system is in disarray and may need started again. There’s no air conditioning or ductwork so we’ll be putting in zoned heating and air conditioning throughout, replacing the boiler (which is suspect) with forced air heat. The roof needs a little work and the kitchen needs to be gutted and started over. Those are the big rocks, and there’s some plumbing and painting on top of that as well as finishing the third floor into a master suite (there’s already plumbing up there for a master bath…it looks like there was an apartment there).

I won’t know for sure how long the rehab will take for a while. We’re estimating a closing date (have to have a bunch done with estimates before close) in early September. I’d like to think the house could be done by Christmas, or at least ready to move in to but that may be pushing it with the work that needs to be done.

We’re very excited about the increased space. Each of the first two floors has the same square footage as our entire house, so it’s like we’re doubling space plus adding a master suite on top of it plus a drier, bigger basement. There’s no “out building” so we’ll have to store lawn tools in the basement for a while but that’s a small inconvenience at this point.

Do we have time to pack, move, and manage a home rehab? (Thankfully not in that order)

Nope. Not even close. I have four classes left to finish and a comprehensive final exam for my Master’s degree over the next five months. We have nine children and busy lives. But everyone wants more space and I think we’ll be able to pull together and get this done. Stay tuned for more details as we work for a September closing!