Author Archives: bleblancbu

A journey of faith

Mike Zimmerman was not your average college student in a sense that most college students enjoy a restful night’s sleep in the comfort of a bed.  In his senior year two years ago at Boston University, Zimmerman spent most of it sleeping on the floor.  He did so living alongside nine other Catholic men in two suites that combined to make up what the guys liked to call the “Man Cave.”  One afternoon, a few of his roommates thought it would be funny to move the bed from his single into the common room.

Now, one should know that Zimmerman is 6’7 and built to run D-1 track at BU; so playing any kind of prank on him may not have been deemed wise.  That being said, he didn’t get angry or even appear a little bit frustrated at his friends.  Instead, he merely laughed it off and did the opposite of what most might have expected him to do.  Zimmerman left the bed in the common room, made the best of his situation and slept on the floor for the remainder of his senior year.  Most importantly, he took it as an opportunity to grow in his Catholic faith and closer to God.

“A large part of it was a certain kind of asceticism,” said Zimmerman.  “It would make me much more alert in the morning, just getting up and going.  So there was a spiritual element to it, and practically, it seemed to work out.”

Though some may wonder why Zimmerman would put himself through a year of school with out a bed, the reasoning becomes clear in his faith journey and his call to the Catholic priesthood.

*****

Zimmerman, now 24, didn’t always feel called to be a priest.  His journey began while he attended Xaverian Brothers, a private, Catholic, all-boys high school.  His first conversion moment came on a conference he went on called Steubenville East.  The Catholic college, Franciscan University, ran the event and around 4,000 high school students attended.  One evening, Zimmerman and the group spent time praying charismatically in Eucharistic Adoration (a Catholic practice in which Jesus Christ is believed to be truly present in a consecrated host).  He sat back and watched as kids laughed, cried and prayed.

“I just remember being like totally weirded out,” said Zimmerman. “I’m like, these people are crazy.  I was even actually kind of annoyed because I felt like these people were faking this response to God, that they were just kind of making it up.  I was being really judgmental of them.”

What happened next brought Zimmerman to behave in similar ways to the others he had judged.  He began to truly pray.

“As soon as I stopped judging everyone else and started focusing on God, I started breaking down, I just cried,” said Zimmerman.  “It wasn’t like anything was sad in my life or at that moment. But suddenly everything in my life I had done that was wrong or that people had done to me that had wounded me in someway just came up and out of my eyes.”

He cried for half an hour in a time of prayer, but then he began to feel something else entirely.

“Then I started to laugh and not because anything was funny,” said Zimmerman.  “All that was left was a sense of joy, a sense of happiness.”

After that, he felt differently about his Catholic faith as he had truly opened up to God for one of the first times in his life. Perhaps it was the beginning to his journey to seminary.

“Okay there’s definitely something here, something legit,” said Zimmerman.

*****

Zimmerman continued to grow in his faith in high school by going on more retreats, becoming active in his youth group and even attending World Youth Day 2005 in Germany.  He graduated Xaverian Brothers and chose to attend Boston University, not far from his home in Needham, MA.  At BU, he received his Masters in chemistry, studied teaching as well, worked for the Community Service Center, led Bible studies, attended an Inter Varsity faith group, was President of the Catholic Center on campus, and went to BU hockey games with his Dad on the weekends. Oh and he was also a Division I track athlete on top of it all.

Despite not sleeping in a bed his senior year of college, Zimmerman would need to get going in the morning, as most Division I athletes do on a regular basis. He began running track in high school and ran all four years while at BU. He was named one of the team captains his senior year. He worked closely with his coach, Gabe Sanders, who believes Mike was a great athlete but an even better man to coach.

“He was someone that people were just really drawn to, warm, welcoming, and hardworking consistently,” said Sanders. “He would ask you how you were doing, and he really meant it. He would always ask questions about your personal life, and he would always share parts of himself with you. The bottom line is he cared about other people.”

Zimmerman emerged as a leader in the BU community. He led through his words and by his example. He was also a great athlete to his coaches and teammates, but sometimes they would wonder if there was more to Zimmerman than a guy competing and working hard in practice.

“While I don’t remember him overtly making shows of faith on the track, I’m sure it was there on the inside,” said Joe Pike, a teammate two years ahead of Mike.  “Many athletes seek inspiration and drive from a number of different sources, and that must have been one of them.  Many of the principles guiding a life of faith and focus translate directly to qualities helpful to being a successful athlete.”

Though maybe not completely visible to his teammates, they could see something in Zimmerman that helped mold him into the athlete and person he was. Faith had become everything to him, even on the track.

“When it comes down to the sprints, when it comes down to that decision when you just go, that’s 100 percent of yourself,” said Zimmerman.  “You have nothing else, and there’s nothing else left of you.  It’ a complete gift of self, and that’s what faith is as well.  It’s something that involves your entire self, engages yourself completely and calls you on to give yourself completely.”

*****

Though now in his senior year of college, it was actually four years previous when Zimmerman began thinking about his call to the Catholic priesthood.

On a retreat in his senior year of high school, God began asking him to think about his future and the girl he had been dating for two years. While in is his freshmen year at BU, he went on a spring break trip with the Brotherhood of Hope called Boston Urban Challenge. Along with other BU students, Zimmerman was in charge of leading youth retreats in South Boston. Through the trip and living with the religious brothers, his calling to the priesthood began to take shape. As he continued to discern, he started to realize where God was calling him. He and his girlfriend mutually broke up after four and a half years of dating.

“Even though I knew it was over, it was still the hardest decision I had made in my life,” said Zimmerman. “But after we mutually broke up, I received a lot of consolation from God, like that was the right think to do.”

Zimmerman began to share his thoughts with God and focused on developing a relationship with Him. What’s unique about Mike is that he actually began feeling a call to a life of celibacy, that is, abstaining from any sexual relations.

“That’s kind of backwards. Most people feel that they’re called to the priesthood and then having to deal with this celibacy thing,” said Zimmerman.  “I was the other way. I think I’m called to celibacy, but now what?”

Zimmerman continued his discernment and began to hear his call to the priesthood more clearly. In his senior year at BU, he applied to seminary. After interviewing with the four Chairs and the Rector at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA; he was invited to become a seminarian and begin his studies in the next fall semester. He accepted their decision right then and there, and like any normal college student, posted it on Facebook the next day.

*****

Today, Zimmerman is living at St. John’s Seminary and continues to listen to God’s call. On a normal day he wakes up at 6:00 AM, chants morning prayer at 7:00 AM, goes to daily Mass, and eats breakfast all before his day really begins. The rest of the day is filled with class, studying, prayer, and reflection. His curfew is 11:00 PM.

In his free time, Zimmerman likes to stay active and even goes to boxing training several times a week with fellow seminarians. Sinisa Ubiparipovic, a fourth year seminarian, is one of them.

“Mike is an intimidating athlete,” said Sinisa.  “He’s tall and well built and has an advantage in almost every sport. Sometimes it’s not even fair that God made him so tall.  But what makes him a great athlete is his sense of keeping calm when everyone else is anxious. He keeps a composure of peace and intensity in an extraordinarily balanced manner.”

Despite feeling somewhat intimidated by Zimmerman, Sinisa hopped into the ring with him one evening and sparred for two rounds. Sinisa was more experienced, but Mike was taller and stronger. The two did some damage to one another. Sinisa couldn’t remember his last name and bled from his lip, while Zimmerman says he couldn’t close his mouth completely for a few days. It may not have been Tyson and Holyfield going at it, but the bout may have meant something more than just a friendly match between the two seminarians.

“Preaching the Gospel is no easy task in these days,” said Sinisa.  “Priests do not receive immediate respect but have to earn it through hard work and love.  Boxing teaches you to keep going even after you’ve been hit and directly builds your virtue of perseverance and courage.”

*****

Although he’s just about through one and a half years at St. John’s, Zimmerman still has a ways to go. His journey will take perseverance and courage as he will be taking his studies to Rome next fall where he will finish the remaining four years of his seminarian studies. After four years, he will be ordained a priest. While in Rome, he will be living at the Pontifical North American College that is located on a hill overlooking St. Peters Basilica. He is required to stay on the European continent and will be unable to return to the United States for his first two years of study.

“Mike is going to be a great priest one day,” said Sinisa.  “People will be intrigued at his devout prayer life, his intelligence, and the ability to relate with them on a more basic level like sports.  God has given him many gifts and graces that will help him one day to bring many souls to God.”

Zimmerman knows he has a lot to look forward to, but he also realizes there are challenges ahead. Some may wonder why he made the decision to enter the seminary considering all of his gifts and talents. It’s not a choice that he made over night, and it’s not a decision that he made on his own. He’s come to know through his unique life experiences and most importantly his dedication to God through prayer. Zimmerman trusts in Him wherever He may be leading him.

“I think it’s essential to the priesthood to not be afraid and know that God has a specific plan for us,” said Zimmerman.  “We have to learn to say yes to Him with our whole selves.”

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Sox sign Napoli and Victorino

The Red Sox were active in this baseball’s winter meetings this year, signing Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Each signed for $39 million over three years. The moves might be a sign that Cherington was being truthful when he said Boston would have one of the highest payrolls in baseball when the offseason is all said and done. But is this the right move? The answer has to be yes.

The Sox should be competing each and every year with the payroll they can command. New York never stops spending, and neither should Boston. The AL East is too good for the Sox not to be competitive this offseason. That being said, they need to make the right moves, and they’ve already done so with Napoli and Victorino.

Napoli brings power and run production to the lineup and a good presence in the clubhouse. Yes, he had a down year last year, but he’s played well historically at Fenway Park, hitting .306 with seven home runs over the course of 19 games. Napoli can thrive at the plate with the Monster in left field and will add depth to the lineup.

Victorino adds a different dimension to the Red Sox. He brings with him three gold gloves to the outfield and the threat of speed to the top of the lineup. He too had a down year last year as well but still stole a career high 39 bases. He’s proven he can perform well in a high-pressure baseball city before.

Even with the moves this offseason thus far, the Red Sox still have committed less than $100 million in player salaries next season. Their biggest concern now should be to bolster the pitching staff, and they’ve begun to do so with the signing of Koji Uehara, a right-handed reliever from the Rangers.

Rajon Rondo Poll, Vote!

In case you missed what occurred in last night’s Nets @ Celtics game, check it out. Rajon Rondo was ejected along with Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace.  Thoughts?

Julian Edelman, the most versatile player in the NFL

Julian Edelman (Courtesy of Beth_Hart on Flickr)

Is there anything this man can’t do on the football field? Julian Edelman is the ultimate football player. He does everything Belichick asks of him, and he does it all well. Just look at his last two games.

Let’s begin with the game against the Colts in which the Patriots won 59-24. His first score of the game came on a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. He would later catch a touchdown pass from Tom Brady before finishing the game with five receptions for 58 yards. Oh and by the way, he had one rush for 47 yards on top of it. The man does it all, but he wasn’t done yet.

Edelman’s performance on Thanksgiving against the Jets was just as impressive. He recovered a fumble on a kickoff and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Just under six minutes later, he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brady to make the score 35-0 at the time. He would finish two catches for 64 yards.

How many NFL players can say they’ve caught a pass for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown and returned a fumble for a touchdown? It’s unlikely that anyone in the NFL today has ever done it, let alone accomplish it over the course of two games. Edelman’s versatility is invaluable to the Patriots, so they better hope his concussion doesn’t sideline him for long.

Manti Te’o tribute video

Manti Te’o is one of the most inspirational athletes I have watched play. Here’s an awesome tribute video I found on YouTube:

Top Ten things Boston sports fans should be thankful for

Despite the state of the Red Sox and no Bruins hockey to look forward to, Boston fans still have much to be thankful for. So in the spirit of the holiday season and in no particular order, here are the top ten things to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy!

1. A Patriots run game – With Gronk likely out the rest of the regular season, the Pats will have to rely more on their 5th ranked rushing attack headed by Stevan Ridley.

2. John Farrell – The absolute correct choice to be the new manager of the Red Sox.

3.Rajon Rondo’s passing ability – He leads the league with 12.3 assists per game and currently has a 33-game streak of double-digit assists.

4. Tom Brady – No explanation needed.

5. Patriots @ Jets – It’s always better when your team plays on Thanksgiving day.

6. Big Papi’s two-year deal – The face of the franchise will be back in Boston for two more seasons. No matter what people say, he is and will continue to be a much-needed leader in the clubhouse.

7. Jared Sullinger – He turned in the best two games of his rookie season against Toronto and Detroit and put up his first double-double. What better a situation for the young rookie to be in, learning from Kevin Garnett, one of the best power forwards ever.

8. The Boston Bruins – They will play at some point in time, and the core of the Cup-winning team will still be in place when they do.

9. A first place Pats team – As ugly as some of their wins have been this season, the Pats still sit comfortably atop the AFC East.

10. The last decade – If you don’t know what I’m talking about or need to think about it, and you consider yourself a Boston sports fan, you probably aren’t one.

Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey, the rightful MVP winners

Miguel Cabrera (Courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr)

The Baseball Writers of America caste a decisive vote for the 2012 MVPs, and they nailed it. Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey were  hands down the best players in their respective leagues. Whether you agree with it or not, sometimes it does matter whether the candidate’s team made it  to the playoffs or not. It didn’t matter this year. Cabrera and Posey were just that far above the rest, not only statistically speaking, but what they meant for their teams as well.

Let’s start with Mr. Triple Crown in the American League. Some say that Cabrera winning the first Triple Crown since 1967 shouldn’t factor into the MVP vote. That notion is preposterous. The fact that Cabrera was good enough to lead the league in home runs, RBIs and batting average is simply astounding. Oh and by the way, he also led the league in slugging, OPS, and total bases. What more do you want from the guy? He’s been the most consistent hitter in baseball the past eight seasons, and this year he was simply the best. He not only has earned this MVP award, but he deserves it. Sorry to the Mike Trout lovers out there, but the vote wasn’t even close. Cabrera received 22 first places votes compared to Trout’s six. Not only did Cabrera play in 161 games for the Tigers, but he was their best hitter when they needed him most. He batted .420 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Trout on the other hand hit .286 in the same situation, which is respectable but not close to Cabrera. The case for the 2012 AL MVP is closed, and the rightful winner has been chosen.

The voting for the NL MVP was even more decisive, with Posey beating out Ryan Braun in a landslide. Posey’s performance this season, coming back from a broken leg, is not just good news for the Giants but good for baseball as well. He is one of the great young talents in the game today and is well-deserving of his MVP award. Posey led all of baseball with a .336 batting average, an incredible feat for a catcher as he is the first in 70 years to do it. He also led the NL in OPS+. Yes his 24 home runs and 103 RBIs contributed to the Giants’ success this season, but what makes him so valuable are the intangibles. His ability to call a game and be the leader in the clubhouse are qualities invaluable in a player, especially for a catcher. Of course the Giants have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, but not enough can be said of Posey being that staple out there every night behind the plate. He earned every single one his 27 first place MVP votes.

Thank you, Baseball Writers of America, for getting it right this season.

How the Blue Jays monster deal affects the AL East

Bautista and Encarnacion (Courtesy of Keith Allison on flickr)

So much has already been written about the Blue Jays and Marlins megadeal, but what exactly does this mean for the AL East? The answer is simple. The deal makes one of the tougher divisions in baseball that much more difficult to play in. With the Orioles shocking the baseball world last year, this trade makes every team in the AL East a possible playoff contender.

The move sends Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins to the Jays. Miami receives Yunel Escoba, Jeff Mathis and a few prospects in return. The trade destroys the Marlins but gives hope to a team dying for its chance to be a contender in the AL East.

The days of the Yankees and Red Sox ruling over the division are done, at least for the time being. Now every team is a threat thanks to Miami owner Jeff Loria. Maybe John Farrell all of a sudden wishes he was back in Toronto, as the Blue Jays are arguably a bigger threat than the Sox. Here’s why.

Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson are the keys to this deal. Adding them to a rotation that already has Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow immediately makes this team a contender next year. Buehrle has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball during his career with a .575 winning percentage. Johnson, when healthy, can be as dominant as any starting pitcher in the game. For a team that once lacked pitching, it now has a core four guys to count on to anchor the rotation next season.

Jose Reyes adds a new dynamic to a lineup that already has two of the games best power hitters in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Reyes, a four-time all star, will have his first opportunity to prove his capabilities in the American League. His speed at the top of the lineup will force opposing pitchers to pitch to him with the hope that he’s not on base when facing Toronto’s lethal three-four hitters.

Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck only add depth to the Blue Jays’ already potent lineup. Buck had his best major league season in Toronto in 2010 when he hit .281 with 20 home runs.

The megadeal comes as a shock to most of baseball and brings an excitement to the AL East that makes the rest of the division nervous. With the Yankees getting older as each day passes and the Red Sox in a rebuilding process, the division is now wide open. Perhaps this is the year where the Blue Jays win their first division title since 1993. And perhaps this is the year where both the Red Sox and the Yankees both fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

2013 MLB top five remaining free agents

Courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLB free agency is underway with a couple big names already re-signed in David Ortiz to the Red Sox and Jake Peavy to the White Sox. The free agent class is thin this year, but there still remains some names worth mentioning. Here are the top five remaining free agents in baseball:

1. Josh Hamilton – There’s no denying that Hamilton is above and beyond the top free agent this offseason. The 2010 MVP is coming off one of the best years of his career in which he hit 43 home runs and 128 RBI’s. However, Hamilton does come with an injury concern, along with the fact that he struggled down the stretch as the Rangers collapsed.

2. Zack Greinke – Greinke is the best free agent starting pitcher available. After being traded from the Brewers to the Angels before the trade deadline, he finished off a strong season going 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA. Greinke, only 28, won the Cy Young in 2009 and is still capable of being a top pitcher in any team’s rotation.

3. Kyle Lohse – Coming off the best season in his career with a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA, Lohse is the second best starting pitcher available this offseason. He only seems to be getting better with age, and he could dramatically improve a pitching staff.

4. Michael Bourn – This is where the 2013 free agent class drops off significantly, but Bourn can still be a key piece for many teams in need of a speedy center fielder. Though his numbers declined last year, Bourn is still only 29 years old and can be a threat at the top of any lineup.

5. Hiroki Kuroda – With the lack of depth in the free agent pool this year, number five has to be a pitcher. Kuroda is a strong veteran who pitched extremely well in New York last season, compiling a 16-11 record and a 3.32 ERA. He throws strikes, only walking 2.1 batters per nine innings in his career. Kuroda will be a great addition for whoever decides to snag him.

Midseason NFL contenders/pretenders

The NFL has reached the halfway point through the season. Clear contenders in the Bears, Falcons and Texans have emerged, but many teams still remain question marks. Here are three pretenders and three contenders midway through the year.

Pretenders

1. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – Ray Lewis is not expected to return anytime soon to a defense already struggling. The Ravens are a team built on defense, however, they currently are ranked 24th in total yards allowed this season. With the Steelers right on their heels, it will be up to Joe Flacco and the offense to pick up the slack of the defense. Can Flacco carry his team with an aging defense? Look for the Ravens to struggle the rest of the way.

2. Indianapolis Colts (5-3) – As good of a story as Andrew Luck and the Colts are, they should be considered a pretender. Luck is a young quarterback and will have his share of growing pains the rest of the way. Four of the Colts five wins have come against the Browns, Titans, Dolphins, and Vikings. With two games left against the Texans, it will be difficult for the less-experienced Colts to compete for the division.

3. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) – The Vikings were once a promising 5-2 team, but their last two games are proof that they are pretenders. The Vikes were blown out at home against the Buccaneers 36-17 and failed to rebound, losing in Seattle. Their remaining schedule may be the most difficult in the NFL: two against the Bears, two against the Packers, and one against the Texans. The Vikings will not finish this season above .500.

Contenders

1. New England Patriots (5-3) – The Patriots still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They sit in first place in perhaps the weakest division in the NFL and play five of their remaining eight games in Foxboro. New England’s offense ranks first in the league in total points scored and total yards. Look for the Patriots to finish the season as a strong contender in the AFC.

2. Seattle Seahawks (5-4) – The Seahawks have proven themselves to be a true contender this year in their wins against the Patriots, Packers, and Vikings. They are currently in a wild card spot and play extremely well at home. With a strong defense and a favorable schedule the rest of the way, look for the Seahawks to be in the thick of the playoff race.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) – Although the Steelers got off to a slow start, they have won four of their last five games and have looked strong on defense. In those four wins they allowed 14, 17, 12 and 20 points. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows how to win football games, plain and simple. With the loss of Ray Lewis, the Ravens will falter, leaving room for the Steelers to make their move.