We welcome guest blogger Mike Hayes, a campus minister and spiritual director at St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo, New York.
“Click-clack, click-clack, click-click-click. Click-clack, click-clack, click-click-click.”
I looked up when I heard the sound and there he was, Yankeee first baseman Don Mattingly, taking two steps in his cleats and then skidding his spikes on the floor to create sparks.
“Cool, huh?” he said to me, a cub reporter in my first game covering the New York Yankees for WFAN radio.
I was immediately transported back to being a 15-year-old and trying to ask a girl out for the first time. That went badly. She laughed at me and then told all her friends. I thank God Facebook didn’t exist in 1985. It was bad enough with just a small group knowing, nevermind the whole school.
Mattingly, however, was approachable, and I had the media credential to break the ice. He grabbed my press badge and said, “Mike Hayes, WFAN Radio. Oh yeah, I’ve heard the name. Where’s Suzyn tonight?”
Suzyn Waldman was a legend. She was the official Yankee beat reporter and a pioneer for women in sports reporting. She was one of the first to gain access to the locker room, defying the odds that teams would let her and that machismo players would want to talk to her. That first day for her was even worse.
Jorge Bell, then on the Blue Jays, had a great game. The media gathered at his locker, Suzyn included, and he screamed, “I’m not answering one freakin’ question until SHE leaves.”
Suzyn didn’t budge.
Eyes rolled amongst the male reporters. You could read it in their eyes: “This WOMAN is making it hard for us to do our jobs.” And that’s the edited version of their dark thoughts.
You could cut the silence with a knife. Suzyn thought she would cry she later told me.
Jesse Barfield, the Jays rightfielder, saw what was going on and said, “Excuse me, Miss, what’s your name?”
“Suzyn, Suzyn Waldman.”
“Well, Suzyn, Suzyn Waldman, don’t you want to talk to me? I went 3 for 4 today!”
And there it was: acceptance. Suzyn would go on to become one of my many mentors in radio. We shared a love of dogs (she lived with a German Shepherd that she named Fenway, after the Red Sox stadium in Boston where she fell in love with baseball). She was called to be who she is and nothing was getting in her way.
Suzyn was responsible for my presence at the Yanks game that night. She needed a night off after a West Coast trip and she allowed me to fill in for her. Great experience and a lot of trust. “Eh, she’s got the night off,” I said. Mattingly: “OK…you know it’s not that we’re dissatisfied with YOU! I’m just wondering where Suzyn is!”
We both laughed. I asked a few questions about the game and it was over. As I turned to leave I said the usual, “Thanks, Donnie.” After all, these guys don’t have to talk to us.
“No problem,” he bellowed back.
Looking back on the experience, it was rather forgettable. Most people would say that this is a cool story, but hindsight is 20-20. Nearly 20 years later, I realize that I wasn’t called to be Suzyn, I was called to be Mike. Suzyn knew. She didn’t push me that hard and I didn’t want her job bad enough. Some cool moments existed. Interviews with Reggie Jackson, Michael Jordan, a World Series, a Stanley Cup. Sports was becoming a job and not a pastime.
And it made me feel queasy.
Now I’m a fan again and a spiritual director for young people who struggle to find where God is calling them. I often bring them back to these moments where I was doing the cool work, albeit work that I was not ultimately called to make my mark in.
One of my former students couldn’t believe that I left sports radio to go work at Busted Halo.
“Mike’s crazy! He left radio for some website.”
Then he read Busted Halo and said, “Of course Mike left radio for Busted Halo. What a cool new venture.”
Then he realized I left Busted Halo to come and hang out as a Campus Minister in Buffalo with the likes of him.
“Mike’s crazy! He left Busted Halo for HERE? To hang out with US? In BUFFALO?”
He’s one of my favorite spiritual directees, and we work daily on the work of discernment, finding where God is leading him. It’s work that I did, some 20 years ago myself. But then it’s also work that we all do daily, weekly, yearly, looking for where God calls us and to whom God calls us.
And it’s important, because there is where we find God lurking persistently even when we fight against that call kicking and screaming
, as my friend and recently ordained priest Father Tom Gibbons would say.
We all need to pay attention to that call. To wonder about the queasiness in the locker room and the elation of a trip to a city where we never expected to live.
Because God is in it all. Calling us to become the best versions of ourselves. And making us into exactly what he created us to be.
Mike Hayes is the blogger at Googlinggod.com and a campus minister and spiritual director at St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo, New York. His new book, Loving Work, will be out in November with Orbis Books.
Top photo: Kosoff/photoxpress.com