Tim Hartzell – Personal Column

A Grateful Little Leaguer Remembers

I have a little trophy in my attic. It’s in a box labeled “Tim’s Mementos”. The plate on the trophy’s base reads, “Seasonal Champs, Fullerton Little League, Grasshopper Division, 1972”.

I was eight years old when that trophy was given to me. I have only a few fading memories of my first year of Little League, but I clearly remember bursting with pride when that gleaming silver trophy with the white marble base was placed in my hands. It was awesome. I need to dig that trophy out of the attic.

I have very fond memories of the local fields where I played. I also remember a patient umpire who took the time to explain to me that you must hold onto your bat after you swing. I sure hope his shinbone healed after that encounter.

My first uniform, like most Little Leaguers, was a t-shirt and hat that were both way too big. I think our team colors were green and yellow. I remember that the toughest pitcher I faced was a kid from the neighborhood named Barry Bachman. He had quite an arm for an eight-year-old. Barry and I pitched against each other often during my Little League career. Standing at the plate, I was always intimidated by his wild fastball.

I enjoyed some success in Little League. I have trophies for three of the four years that I played. In 1976, I was even chosen to pitch for our league All-Star game. I wish I could tell you that I had a great outing and led my team to the World Series in Williamsport, but I didn’t. Nerves got the best of me and I just couldn’t find the strike zone. When I was taken out of the game in the second inning, I had no idea it would be the last time I would pitch in an organized baseball game. There were leagues for boys that were over 12 years old, but a sudden change in schools took my life in a different direction. That All-Star game was my last opportunity to take the field as a Little Leaguer.

I can hardly believe that 39 years have passed since I threw my last Little League pitch. I often return to the Allentown area to visit my parents and every now and then I will take a jog through the old neighborhood and visit the baseball fields where I played – the Wood Street field behind the American Legion, the St. Elizabeth field down by the Lehigh River, the Naracot Field on Fifth Street and the fields at the Fullerton playground. Those places don’t mean anything to you, but to me, they represent a sacred part of my childhood and the full extent of my short-lived baseball career.

I think the magic of Little League is that it takes place during those idyllic years when you are free of life’s many responsibilities and are just forming your first real memories. They also happen to be the innocent and carefree years that precede the craziness of being a teenager. It’s a time in life when you believe you can do and be anything – they truly are the wonder years.

It was in Little League that I first learned the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork. It was on a Little League field that I began to learn about leadership and how important it is to watch your coach for signs and to respect those in authority. I also learned about developing a good work ethic and practicing with diligence. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Little League was teaching me far more than baseball; it was teaching me about life.

Prior to writing this article, I logged on to the Little League website and read their historical chronology and their mission statement. I guess reading about it triggered my nostalgic journey. As a grateful alumnus of the Little League program, I’d like to share one part of the mission statement with you:

“Through proper guidance and exemplary leadership, the Little League program assists children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.”

With a mission like that, it’s no wonder that Little League has grown from its humble beginnings in Williamsport to become the worldwide and world-class organization that it is.

Today, I am honored to live and work in the hometown of Little League Baseball. My wife and I are die-hard fans (Heather played softball when she was growing up in Jersey Shore) and we will watch as many games as possible during the series. Since I have the privilege of writing for Webb Weekly, I will take this opportunity to offer my sincere gratitude to Little League Baseball and all of the amazing volunteers that make it happen. You made a difference in this little leaguer’s life – and you continue to make our world a better place. Play ball!

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Christmas Ornaments

My wife and I are basically empty nesters. We have one son living in China and another that is attending college in New York. The holidays seem a bit hollow without our boys.

After Thanksgiving, Heather was preparing to decorate the Christmas tree, but it was obvious her heart was not in it. She was homesick for her boys and for the fun they would have decorating the tree together. For about a week, the tree sat in the living room with no ornaments. It was a sad sight.

Tree decorating at the Hartzell home always took place at the same time as deer season. For that reason, I was never involved in the decorating process. My job was to make sure the tree was retrieved from the attic or the field, but Heather and the boys did the decorating while I was hanging out in another tree—waiting for a deer.

This year, Heather debated whether or not she would even bother with it. She couldn’t see the point in hanging the ornaments if no one would be there to share in the experience. I offered to help. I’m so glad I did.

She handed me a box and I pulled out the first ornament. I asked her where it came from and she told me it was an ornament from her grandmother’s tree. The next ornament was from a dear friend of ours who had Down syndrome and passed away several years ago. I had forgotten about the ornament. Seeing it brought back wonderful memories of a very special friend. For the next hour, that process was repeated again and again. Heather had a connection with every ornament and her stories awakened many sleepy memories.

There were handmade ornaments from two of my dear aunts who are in heaven now. There were several from life-long friends we had grown to love in our first church. Some were from the many children Heather has taught over the years. Others were purchased while we were on vacation. A few were school-made crafts given to us by our little boys. My wife amazed me. She knew every ornament. Each of them contained a story about someone we love or an experience we cherished. I couldn’t believe her ability to recall such a treasure trove of memories. The reason she didn’t want to decorate the tree alone was because no one would be there to hear and share the stories.

Later that evening, I sat in the dark and admired our beautiful tree. I thought about my wonderful wife and the important memories she has carefully preserved, year after year, one ornament at a time. That sparkling Christmas tree tells the story of our lives. I don’t believe I fully understood the power of an ornament until that night.

As we decorated, Heather joked that the priceless ornaments on our tree are pretty much worthless to anyone else. Were they to be boxed and sold, the whole kit and caboodle might be worth $20. The fact is, except for the ones that will be passed on to our boys, the rest will likely be thrown away or sold for pennies at a yard sale. The value of each ornament is found only in the memory it awakens.

Memories tend to drift into sleep. If they sleep too long, they are lost.

Jesus served the Last Supper to His disciples for that very reason. He knew they would forget the cross and His passion. He knew we would forget. So He gave us an ornament to awaken our sleepy memories.

To people who don’t know Jesus, the ornament seems nearly worthless, just a little piece of bread and a taste of wine. Not much value at all. But to those who have been redeemed from sin and death, that simple ornament awakens powerful memories of God’s passion to forgive and to love. I Corinthians 1:8 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

For over 2,000 years, the beautiful and profoundly simple ornament of the Lord’s Supper has been passed from generation to generation. It has accomplished exactly what Jesus intended. And today, we still remember. Do you remember?

Thank you, Jesus, for loving and forgiving us, for redeeming us and for giving us a purpose and a hope. We remember, and we are thankful.

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Clarity – A Transparent Life

We are continuing a conversation on core values. Core values are the underlying principles that guide an organization and help it reach its goals. All organizations have core values, though they often remain unidentified. Individuals are also guided by core values. Identifying those core values and understanding how they affect daily decision-making can be very beneficial. Since I lead a local church, I will continue to write about our core values and I trust it will encourage you to identify and strengthen your core values.

Clarity is our second core value. Last week I wrote about clarity in the message. This week we will look at the value of clarity in the messenger. This is important, because in Christianity, you are the messenger and the message – the Word become flesh – a living, breathing representation of God’s amazing grace.  

I’m not much into jewelry. My wedding band is the only piece I own. When my wife shows me a pair of earrings she likes, I will often joke that by adding a couple of treble hooks and swivels we could turn them into a nifty set of trout lures. Regardless, because I am a loving husband, I sometimes find myself at a local jewelry store, acting like I know something about precious stones. The jeweler usually picks up on my ruse when I ask, “So how much does that really little one cost?” I’m always surprised by the answer and immediately compare it to the new deer rifle that same money could buy.

On occasion, a jeweler will place the little stone under a microscope so that I can fully appreciate its clarity and its impressive price. Yes sir! That makes all the difference. Where do I sign for the loan?  

Now let me ask you, when was the last time you admired someone’s diamond and then pulled out your microscope to examine its clarity? Exactly. I haven’t either. Yet every jeweler will tell you that clarity is vital when determining the value of a diamond. The same is true when determining the value of a Christian in the mission of God. Let me explain:

Clarity is transparency. It is the ability to see through an object – to see its flaws and imperfections. And yes, every diamond has flaws and imperfections. The reason we know a diamond has flaws is because of its clarity. Isn’t that ironic? Transparency is what reveals flaws and yet transparency is most highly valued.

For many Christians, transparency seems counterintuitive. Why would we want people to see our failures and flaws? It seems natural, even appropriate, to hide these imperfections. In the gem world, it is known as being opaque (no light is transmitted through the stone.) Opaque Christians polish the outside and even cut facets in an effort to be as attractive as possible without transparency. Cutting and polishing may make an opaque stone more attractive, but every gemologist will tell you that transparency carries the highest value – even though that transparency reveals flaws. And get this: in some gemstones, flaws can actually increase the value. That deer rifle is looking better all the time!

The point is this: when light is able to pass through a gemstone, it carries higher value. My friends, the same is true for us Christians. Our highest value in the mission of God is not attained when we demonstrate how amazing we are, rather, our missional value increases as our imperfect lives demonstrate how amazing God’s grace is.

The world doesn’t want to see perfect Christians; it hungers to see genuine Christians – people who daily experience failure and forgiveness and make no effort to hide the process. That’s real. That’s transformational. That’s clarity.

With that understanding, James 5:16 makes a lot of sense, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Confession is clarity – it is allowing God’s holy light to shine through us, revealing all of our flaws and imperfections and demonstrating His amazing grace. That, my friends, is clarity – a transparent life.

There’s more to be said, but I’m out of room. We’ll continue the conversation next week!