David Carlson: The power of passion

As is true of many who have been blessed to be teachers, I had one overriding hope for my time with students. I hoped that they would see that teaching was not just my job, but my passion, something I loved.

At some time during a semester, I would pause and comment on the importance of passion in our lives. I’m sure many of my students were surprised when I told them that my goal wasn’t for them to have the same passion for religious studies that I have. My hope was that they would discover their own passion, for we are nourished by what we are passionate about.

I was thinking about passion this past week as I listened to two passionate commentators on TV. Both of them found their passion in sport and now, no longer competing, their passion has transferred to commenting and explaining the finer points of their sports to viewers.

The first person I am referring to is Clark Kellogg, a familiar face to the millions who will be caught up in March Madness the next few weeks. Kellogg had a brilliant college career at Ohio State and then, for a time, in the NBA. Yes, there are many ex-players who have become sports analysts and commentators, but I don’t know anyone who is more passionate about college basketball than Kellogg.

My wife often finds sports commentators to be lazy communicators, throwing together stock phrases and jargon that seem to come out of some preset word silo. Clark Kellogg never does that. Whenever I listen to him, I find myself wishing I had a transcript of his comments. There is nothing predictable, nothing canned. His word choice, his phrasing — well, they remind me of poetry.

The same is true of the other model of passion whom I heard recently. I turned on the World Baseball Classic, and, in less than a minute, I knew I was listening to John Smoltz. It is not Smoltz’s voice that is distinctive — he is no Tim McCarver or Vin Scully — but rather the insights into the game that he shares so generously.

Smoltz is not a poet like Kellogg. Instead, I would compare Smoltz to a world-class surgeon as he or she explains every movement in a complicated operation. But there is nothing stuffy in his commentary, no sense of “I know the sport better than anyone else,” though that might be true.

Smoltz notices the smallest details of a baseball game — where in the strike zone, given the count on a batter, the next pitch will likely be aimed; what the batter is thinking about before the next pitch, or when a runner is likely to try to steal a base. I find his predictions so frequently accurate that I can only laugh.

As is true of Kellogg, Smoltz is in tune with the game within the game. Sure, there are other commentators who understand the subtler aspects of basketball and baseball, but who else shares those insights with such passion, clarity, and creativity?

Kellogg and Smoltz have retired from their sports, but their passion is still there. In fact, I sense that their passion has only grown. And because of that passion, we listeners come to understand and appreciate college basketball and baseball at a deeper level.

But I believe the greater lesson Kellogg and Smoltz offer is a lesson about passion. Find your passion, and you’ll never grow old. You’ll only grow.

David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].