Don’t Ride the Roller Coaster – Lance McCullers Jr. – Houston Astros

621121

Houston Astros Starting Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.

I like surprises.  Not for myself but for other people.  I don’t ever want to have a surprise party thrown on my behalf, but I do like to be surprised.  As a movie fan, I like it when an expected twist takes the plot in a surprising direction.  As a sports fan, I like it when an underdog overachieves.  I like worst to first stories and I find it easy to get caught up in cheering on the success of the unexpectedly successful.

And so for me, it has been a treat to follow the Houston Astros 2015 season.  This is a team that just 2 short seasons ago lost 111 games.  Last year they finished 5th in their division with a 70-92 record.  This year, they have already beaten last year’s win total – and there is still more than a month left in the season.

imgres

This is the Lance McCullers that I knew – from collecting cards in the 80s.

mlbf_185789683_th_45

McCullers Jr & Sr for Jr’s debut. Both made their big league debut’s at age 21.

One of the surprises for me from the Astros season was hearing that Lance McCullers had been called up to make a start.  I used to collect baseball cards as a young boy and this name was familiar to me.  I thought – Wow!  now that is a comeback. I had cards of McCullers from the late 80’s.  OK, so I didn’t really think it was McCullers Sr making a comeback, but I hadn’t heard that a second generation of Lance McCullers was pushing toward the pros either.  Seeing the name drew my interest and so I looked into this story.

And McCullers isn’t alone as an up and coming star on the Astros.  There is a collection of young players who have played vital roles in turning the Astros fortunes around. The majority of their position players are under 30 and most are in their mid 20’s

mlbf_121415683_th_43

McCullers Jr’s cleats for his debut were unique

Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, McCullers spent less than 3 seasons in the minors.  He was called up from AA on May 14th, making his debut just a few days later, wearing some awesome batman cleats.  He has pitched in 15 games so far, he is 5-4 with an ERA just over 3, while averaging more than 1 strikeout per inning pitched.

As you can see in this video prepared for Astros faith day, McCullers’ faith is very important to him and his mindset for playing baseball.

In the video, he talks about going to a Jesuit high school, where chapel service was like a class that he had to attend.  He also talks about how his faith in God helps him handle anything that life brings his way.

Here are my takeaways from McCullers’ story

mccullers

McCullers has pitched well for the resurgent Astros, looking to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

1- Don’t Ride the Roller Coaster – I’ve never heard it said this way before but I like it.  McCullers talks about how as a baseball player you can’t allow yourself to get to “high” when things are going well or too “low” when you are struggling.  There is an important spiritual lesson in this, too.  God is ultimately in control and the decision to follow Him or not lies with each one of us individually.  But we need to depend on God no matter what, at all times.  When things are going great, we need to depend on Him.  When things are hard, we need to depend on Him.  He is the only constant.  Let’s keep our eyes and our focus on Him.  He loves us.  He values us.

2- What Defines You – McCullers gives a great reminder for us about how much God values us.  We can be hard on ourselves and see our greatest failures – allowing them to eat away at us.  The world tends to place our value on how successful we are in their eyes – by their standards, so if we buy into their value scores, we are always trying to live up and measure up – and that can be exhausting.  But God created us, he loves us enough that He went to great lengths so we could be with Him.  In fact, he values us enough that he sent his only son to face death and separation from God so that we wouldn’t have to.  Because of how He values us, we can be confident in Him and His love that will never run out.

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03:  Lance McCullers #43 of the Houston Astros throws a pitch in the ninth inning during their game against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

McCullers faith in God has been important to him in his budding major league career.

McCullers faith in God has been important to him in his budding major league career.

3- More Than a Class, More Than a Textbook – He talks about how going to church with his girlfriend in high school proved important in his spiritual development more than attending Bible Study as a class did.  The heart is an amazing thing.  When it is open to hearing and learning about God, there is nothing better.  He was studying the same bible in his class at high school – but the motivation there was for a grade.  When his heart connected with God, he sought to attend church to honor and glorify God, not simply for a grade.  I pray that we will all allow God to draw our hearts to Him and that we will seek to honor and glorify God in all that we say and do out of love and not duty.

Life Changes in a Moment – Robinison Chirinos – Texas Rangers

N2D4y.So.58

Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos

I don’t know how many baseball games I’ve watched in my lifetime. I played little league baseball for 6 years and church softball for at least that many more. Add to that, games watched on TV and live. Too many to count!  If you are a baseball fan and have watched lots of games like me, you’ve no doubt seen it happen countless times too – a foul tip miss the catcher’s glove and catch him on the mask.  Equipment has been improving for years and concussion awareness is a touch point for all sports at all levels.  And yet, stories like the one I share today of Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos remind us that things can go from good to bad in a hurry and sometimes, it doesn’t seem to take much.

<> at O.co Coliseum on April 8, 2015 in Oakland, California.

Chirinos return to catcher and baseball in general was in question after a concussion sidelined him for all of 2012

Chirinos was signed out of Venezuela by the Chicago Cubs in 2000.  He put in 11 years in the minors, with only a 20 games at the Major League level – all with Tampa Bay in 2011.  He was hoping to turn that audition into a permanent spot with the Rays in 2012.  But on March 11, 2012 – a spring training game for the Rays against the Pirates, a fastball was foul tipped and hit Chirinos in the mask.  It had happened to him before, but as you can read in this article from The Tampa Tribune, this foul tip was different than any that had come before.  He was dazed, dizzy, he vomited when he reached the club house. He had what the article calls the first headache of his life – and it lasted day and night for 5 days.  He couldn’t stand and close his eyes because he would lose his balance and fall over and it would be a while before he would get more than a couple hours of sleep in a night. Over the next season, he would go through an array of therapy and treatment to try and recover.  This included vision therapy – a process that helps the eyes and the brain work together again.

The therapy was slowly successful.  On August 19th, 2012, Chirinos was cleared to play catch, hit and run.  On November 2, he was removed from the disabled list – a season lost but some perspective gained.

Jun 16, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) points as he circles the bases on his walk-off solo home run in front of Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (23) during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Rangers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Chirinos leaned on his faith in God during his recovery and beyond.

In this article from mlb.com, you can read the role that Chirinos’ faith in God played through this process.   Earlier on the very day of his injury, Chirinos made “a strong and lasting commitment in his relationship with God”  And that commitment to God helped Chirinos and his family through the challenges of the months-long recovery.

So now, 3 years later, how has his career recovered?  Chirinos appeared in 93 games for the Rangers last season, with 28 extra base hits and 40 runs driven in.  He was also among the league leaders in throwing out potential base stealers.  This season, he has played in 70 games 25 extra base hits and 33 driven in.

He has started The Robinson Chirinos Foundation,  helping out both in his native Venezuela and in his current home, Arlington, Texas.  Check out this video of some of the work that he is helping with in the community.

Here are my takeaways from Chirinos’ story

1- Thing change quickly – Chirinos experienced how quickly things can change in our life and how fragile we really are.  The truth is we don’t know what will happen today – it may be the day when something happens that alters our life forever.  It may even be the day when our life here comes to an end.  Are we ready for that?  Reminds me of Larry Norman’s song “Wish We’d All Been Ready” which -tunefully brought attention to Luke 17.34-35 and Matthew 24.40-41.  It talks about how Jesus will return at a time when life will be going on as normal and in an instant, everything will change.  It will at the same moment be the most incredible and most terrifying moment in the lives of those involved.  For those who will be with God, it will be a life beyond our greatest imagination.  For those who are “left” it will be a time of heartache, searching and maybe even despair.  The statement repeated over and over in the song is “I wish we’d all been ready”.  Are you ready?  Do you have assurance that should you die today or should Christ return that you would be with Him?  There is great comfort in knowing that we can have that assurance. Make today the day that you know for sure!

19vQww.So.58

Chirinos has started a foundation to give back to the communities he calls home (Arlington Texas and his native Venezuela)

2- No time to wait –  I also shared that Chirinos has started a charitable foundation to help people in his home country (Venezuela) and his adopted home town (Greater Dallas Area) to give back and help people and the needs that they have.  Chirinos salary is above the average salary in this country, but it pales in comparison to the average for a baseball player.  For example he is making about 2% of teammate Josh Hamilton’s salary this season. But he didn’t wait to sign a big money contract before starting his foundation.  Instead, he felt God lead him to open it and was obedient.  What is God calling you to do? Are you listening and ready to obey?  Or are you giving his excuses why you shouldn’t do it?  Hear God, trust Him and follow.  He can use you to touch lives and make a difference.  He can show his love through you as you meet needs in His name.

The Sacrifice of Others – Scooter Gennett – Milwaukee Brewers

464882808

Brewers 2B Scooter Gennett

When I played baseball as a young boy, my game was build around my quickness.  I was always among the shortest and lightest on my teams so power wasn’t a thing.  I was the speed guy – I could beat out an infield hit (or error as was often the case in the early years) much of the time.  As I grew older, I decided to take advantage of my speed by learning to bunt.  In my best season, I lead my team in bunt singles.  I don’t remember how many, but I was called on to bunt a lot.

I find the bunt single to be an exciting play – one that is not often used in the majors these days.  Most bunts at the Big League level are used as sacrifices.

sam_6237

Gennett is small by MLB standards, but has had a solid career so far.

Now sacrifices are important in baseball.  Giving yourself up so that others are moved forward.  It is a key strategic part of the game and used frequently. And there are different types: Sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, sacrifice your body to make a diving play – sacrifice is part of baseball.

Sacrifice is part of Scooter Gennett’s story, too.  Gennett is a second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers.   As you can read in this article from jsonline, at the age of 10, his father asked him how seriously he wanted to take baseball.  His answer led his family to move from Cincinnati Ohio to Sarasota, Florida so Scooter could play baseball year round.  He put his all into baseball – for love of the game and for desire to not let them down. Drafted in the 16th round in 2009, Gennett debuted at A ball.  He was called up to the majors in 2013 and tore it up for almost 70 games.  He hit .324 with 5 home runs and only 5 errors.  He turned in a solid 2014, as well and despite an injury and a trip to the DL this season, he is still playing reguarly at second for the Brewers. Check out this video from his debut and learn where the nickname “Scooter”comes from.

San+Diego+Padres+v+Milwaukee+Brewers+BRGQANFKooQl

Gennett spends time in his off-season giving baseball lessons to youth.

This article from Athletes in Action tells us that Gennett took baseball seriously after his family moved to Florida.  In fact, he was so serious about baseball that he put his faith in God aside and admittedly made baseball his god.  Realizing this, he decided that he needed to make his faith in God a priority again.  Now, looking back on how he “made it” he says “It all points back to the love of Christ [who has a purpose for my life]”.  The article continues to share Gennett’s desire to continue growing in his relationship with God and sharing about Jesus wherever he goes.  He has also sought places to connect with others, through baseball.  It will be great to see how God uses him in these opportunities.

He gives baseball lessons to players in the Sarasota area.  Check out his website here. And he has partnered with Open Arms home for Children in South Africa, which was started by Brewers broadcaster Davey Nelson.  From the AIA article:

“The charity provides a residential home for orphaned, abandoned or disadvantaged children and a few adults in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. They receive emotional, physical, spiritual and developmental support.

“I hope to go spend some time there, not only to help provide food, toys and clothing, but to share Jesus, too.” (Gennett says)

Here are my takeaways from Gennett’s story

justin-turner-scooter-gennett-mlb-los-angeles-dodgers-milwaukee-brewers-850x560

Gennett knows that God has allowed him to play in the Majors. He wants to help others know Him.

1- The Thin Line – Gennett spoke of playing baseball and missing church often when he was young.  The AIA article says”He had put his faith aside for a time, but realized it needed to take a central place in his life once again.”

When someone shows promise in any endeavor, it can be tempting to make it more important than God. For me, baseball mainly impacted my schedule a couple nights each week.  But eventually I reached the age where there were weekend games and practices.  This caused conflict in my schedule and with my parents as church is what we did as a family on Sunday mornings.   My parents always  emphasized the importance of being in church and how it should take precedence over sports. I resented that when I was a boy but now I am glad they were so insistent on church.  As a dad and a kids ministry guy I see it in a way I didn’t in my youth. As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to succeed with the talents that they have.

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 12: Scooter Gennett #2 of the Milwaukee Brewers lays down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning advancing Khris davis to third base against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park on April 12, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Gennett lays down a sacrifice bunt. Sacrifice has been a part of Gennett’s story.

Let’s give them every opportunity to succeed as followers of God, too.  Does this mean perfect attendance at church is required? Of course not, but it does mean being intentional in guiding our children’s spiritual development.   After all, it is OUR duty.  The local church can be a great resource to assist us in showing how important God should be in their life.  If we are going to let our kids miss church, we need to be even more intentional with helping our kids understand the importance of a relationship with God. We need to equip them because the choice to follow God or not is ultimately theirs.

2- Sacrifice of others – I began this article talking about sacrifice in baseball.  In Gennett’s story, we also see the sacrifice that his parents made to give him the chance to be successful, moving their life from one place to another. It is a remarkable sacrifice that worked out great for Gennett and his family.  In some ways, Jesus did the same thing.  He gave up his home to move to another place. He gave up his life so that others could know a life beyond their wildest dreams.  In baseball, sometimes a player sacrifices and sometimes he is the beneficiary of the sacrifice.  If we have chosen to live for God, we have benefited from His ultimate sacrifice. Let’s be willing to give of ourselves so that others can know Him, too!

With Everything I’ve Got – Ryan Raburn – Cleveland Indians

imgresI have to admit that I don’t know very much about chemistry.  My brothers were very smart in school and both of them took a few “top level” courses in their high school careers.  I only took 2.  One I was asked to discontinue and the other, Chemistry, I finished with the second lowest grade in the class.  My lab partner and good friend Rod was largely responsible for my success (which for me equaled passing) in the class.  He was patient with me, and helpful in answering my questions and explaining the concepts that were so completely foreign to me.

Ryan Raburn Cleveland Indians Photo Day JK2JvN35Ainl

Cleveland Indians IF/OF Ryan Raburn

So I am maybe not one to talk about chemistry when it relates to sports either, but I will try.  I’ve played on some teams and coached some teams that had lousy team chemistry.  And those teams were not very successful.  Bad chemistry can derail a team while good team chemistry can help a team play better together which can translate into more wins for the team.  Enough of those wins, coming at the right time could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
I am a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and loved their run to the Championship in 2004.  Outfielder Johnny Damon talked about the chemistry of that team.  He said “We feel like we can win every game, we feel like we like to have fun, and I think that’s why this team is liked by so many people out there. … You know, the kids watching us out there — we’ve got the long hair, we’ve got the cornrows, we got just guys acting like idiots. And I think the fans out there like it.” 

raburn-grimace-2013-ccjpg-940f7161223e7dc6

Raburn has a reputation as a hard worker who truly enjoys playing the game

Good chemistry is built on players who are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team be successful.  That is how Indians utilityman Ryan Raburn is seen by his teammates.  Michael Brantley said in this article by mlblogs that Raburn is always “running around like a chicken with his head cut off. ”  And while Raburn isn’t sure that chemistry translates into wins, he has really enjoyed his 2+ seasons with the Tribe.  He says ” I think chemistry can make a season a lot more enjoyable. I know from experience, when it’s tough to come to the ballpark and you don’t have that drive to want to play, most of the time you’re not going to succeed. Just to be able to come here, have fun, enjoy playing the game, better things are going to come out.

cubs-indians-baseball

As I should have said above, Indians IF/OF and occasional pitcher Ryan Raburn

Raburn has played every position except catcher and third base in his career.  He has even pitched twice in his career, 1.2 innings and has not allowed an earned run.

So far, Raburn has played in over 60 games, mostly in the outfield or as DH.  He has also played some first base this season.  He is tied for 5th on the team in doubles and 6th in home runs. Raburn’s attributes his attitude and work ethic to his Christian faith.  The son of a pastor, He says “I put my trust in Him, and everything else will just fall into place. It’s tough to keep that straight and narrow line, but we just always remember that He’s there for us whenever we need Him.

Here are my takeaways from Raburn’s story.

051515_cletex_raburn_catch_med_saeaz1es

Raburn tracks down a fly ball in the outfield

1- Attitude is everything – Life is not always full of fun times, as my chemistry class experiences can attest, but with a positive attitude and a desire to follow God, there are positive sides to almost everything. Raburn has caught the attention of his teammates with his give-everything attitude.  We can tend to be very selfish and put our own needs ahead of others.  But if we are willing to serve God first and foremost, and then put our effort and energy into doing our part to help others God can use us to connect others to Him.

2- Get to Work – There is a common motivational saying in the Christian world that we should “pray like it depends on Him and work like it depends on us”.  Christian band Everybody Duck wrote a song called “Some Balance”. The chorus is :

The chorus is :

Oh, we’ve got to draw the line
Between having faith and being blind
Use your mind if you’ve got time, don’t drop the oars
God will save you like He said
But you’ve got to use your head
So when the storm comes pray to God but row for shore.

It is vital to connect with God and follow his plan.  When we try to go along without God we often find ourselves in a bad spot.  It is important to seek God’s council and follow his leading.  But we have to FOLLOW his leading. Out of love and devotion we surrender to God’s will but does our love for God motivate us to action?  We need to be ready to do what God leads us to do. Raburn supports his team by being ready to do whatever it takes to help them win.  That is a great challenge for us as Christians, too.  Let’s be ready to do whatever it takes to follow God and to be His hands and feet.  It is only through Him that anything is done, but let’s be ready to get to work wherever he leads us.

 

Nobody’s Perfect – Jason Motte – Chicago Cubs

Jason+Motte+Rpr5t2B7B5Cm

Cubs Reliever Jason Motte

Earlier this week, Adam Loewen was called up the the Philadelphia Phillies. I blogged about him and his story a few years ago.   When he pitches for the Phillies, it will be his first Major League appearance as a pitcher since 2008.  Over the past seven seasons, he transitioned to a position player, playing a handful of games in the Majors in 2011.  Then, last season, he was signed by the Phillies as a pitcher. It has been a remarkable journey for him and I am excited to see how he does.

Players that have successfully transitioning from pitcher to position player or vice versa are few.  Babe Ruth whose career began as a pitcher is the most successful as he transitioned into one of the most feared hitters in baseball history.  Living in Minnesota, I know of former Twins pitcher Joe Nathan who became a successful closer after being drafted as a shortstop by the Giants.  Here is another name to add to the list.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Jason Motte #30 of the Chicago Cubs pitches during the game against the Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

Motte is in his first season with the Cubs after 6 seasons in St. Louis

Cubs reliever Jason Motte was drafted as a catcher and played for three seasons in the Cardinals Minor League system.  He struggled to hit consistently and in 2006 that if he wanted to continue his baseball career, it would be as a pitcher.  It took some time to accept the change, but he did.  In Rob Rains book Intentional Walk, Motte’s story is shared.   He leaned on his faith during this transition knowing that God was in control.  He says “… all I really had to rely on was faith.  I was single at the time, but I knew I still had someone to talk to, regardless of the situation.  I had Him.  I knew that He was going to get me through this, whether I was pitching or if I was going home, He was going to be there regardless. He has a plan for me...”

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Jason Motte #30 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win the World Series in Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Motte celebrates the final out in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series

As it turns out, that plan included 7 seasons and counting in the majors.  He led the National League in saves in 2012 a year after winning a World Series Ring in one of the most dramatic World Series in history. I have blogged about it on 2 occasions (in posts on David Freese and Albert Pujols) .  In fact, he was on the mound when the clinching out was recorded as you can see in this video clip.

Even in injury, God has been leading Motte to some great things, like starting the Jason Motte Foundation to "Strike Out Cancer:

Even in injury, God has been leading Motte to some great things, like starting the Jason Motte Foundation to “Strike Out Cancer:

Though he has found success as a major league pitcher, there have still been some bumps in the road.  He missed the entire 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery. But even in setbacks, Motte has been trying to lean on God and follow wherever He leads.  Cancer had affected Motte and his family, so Motte and his wife created the Jason Motte Foundation striving to “strike out Cancer“.  In the lost season 0f 2013, he had opportunities to connect with cancer patients, and charities that are working with them.  His wife Caitlin, when asked about the year out of baseball, said “maybe the Tommy John (surgery) happened for a reason and God led us down this path. We were able to get involved in so many charities and do things that I don’t think you can do in a baseball season.”  You can read more about its start in this article from Wheat Ridge Ministries.

Now pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Motte has been busy, appearing in 50 games so far this season.  With the Cubs currently sitting in a wild card spot, maybe another trip to the playoffs is around the corner. No doubt God has more incredible things planned for Motte and his family.

Here are my takeaways from Motte’s story.

1- It’s out of our hands –  In his chapter of Intentional Walk,  Motte shares a great analogy about our control of our own life.  He says “Once I let the ball go, figuratively and literally, it is out of my hands.  I can make a perfect pitch and the hitter smashes it.  Or I can throw it right down the middle on an 0-2 pitch and the guy takes it for strike three“.  This is how life works, too.  We can do everything in our power to ensure our success, and still fall short, and sometimes, we make a mistake that could hurt or destroy us, and it works out.  We don’t have control over what happens in this life.  But we do have control over who we trust to help us.  God will teach us through our failures and set backs and graciously work things out for our good and His glory.

2- Only One is Perfect –  A story is shared in the same chapter where Motte has blown a save one night.  He goes home, and logs in to his Twitter account.  One fan, encouragingly reminds Motte that “no one is perfect”.  Motte replied “One person was and (because) of Him, I have peace” Again, we remember that we fall short of what God requires, but Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and offered that life to pay the price of death that we deserved for our imperfection and sin.  Because of what Christ has done for us, we don’t have to get tormented or destroyed by our failures.  A juggling friend of mine used to start off his routines for kids by asking them to say “Praise God” if he messed up or dropped something while juggling.  His reasoning was that every time we mess up, we can be reminded that Jesus perfect life covers our mess ups.  Motte reminds me that we can have peace even in trials and failure, because this world and the things that happen to us every day is not what we are living for. We live for God’s purposes.

 

Selfish Prayers – Zack Duke – Chicago White Sox

zach-duke-mlb-chicago-white-sox-photo-day

White Sox reliever Zach Duke

Have you ever found yourself in a tough spot, facing a crisis and at the end of your own strength and ability to deal with it on your own strength?  When I find myself in this place, I tend to be more faithful in my prayer life.  I can be a bit of a selfish prayer.  I pray fervently for my own situation and finding a resolution to it, and much less so when it comes to the needs of others.  To me, prayer can seem a little like an ATM.  It is convenient and I’m hoping that it will give me what I need to get by.

imgres

Zach Duke began his career by winning the N.L. Rookie of the Month July 2005

And so in this interview done a few years ago by Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes , Duke’s words connected with me.  When asked how faith and sport coexist in his world, he replies “I used to just pray to win the game and it was always a very selfish prayer that I’d do well. I’ve grown to realize that it’s not the right way to go about things. The deeper I got with my faith, the more I realized that it’s all about what you’re learning through the process and going through the trials and tribulations and the good times. It’s about the lessons you’re learning throughout the journey.

He continues by talking about how his faith helps him connect with others who are battling through life.  When opportunities arise to help others who are having a hard time with something, he says “They’re experiencing the same voids that I used to have in my life. My relationship with God has filled those voids with me. You’re not going to be able to fill those voids with anything else.”

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Duke signed with the White Sox last off-season

Here are my takeaways from Duke’s interview:

1- God is not an ATM.  It is so easy to turn to God in time of Crisis and ask for help to get a quick fix and solution.  Sometimes, graciously, we get a quick answer and continue on our way.  But when the quick, easy solution doesn’t come, we blame God and think that He has forgotten or abandoned us.  I also know that I am very quick to pray about my own personal crises or needs, but forgetful when things are going well, or when it comes to praying for others.  I pray that God would remind me that He wants to connect with me often, not just in my times of struggle, and that He wants me to be mindful of the hard times that others may be going through.

AP699932533095

Duke hopes that what he has learned about God through struggles and hard times will help teammates who are battling through similar hardships.

2-  Jesus taught us how to pray – Matthew 7 has a very familiar passage in it. We call it “The Lord’s Prayer” We have read it many times, I memorized it in Kindergarten, but it was at a Missionary Training Program I attended 12 years ago that we studied in depth this passage and learned what it could mean for us.  We spent a week on the words “Our Father”.  The creator of the Universe and all that is in it presents Himself as a father to us.  As a father, I know the love my children bring and the joy in my heart when I spend time with them.  God’s love is so much deeper than mine could ever be, and his joy so much greater when I choose to follow Him and spend time with Him.  Let’s not lose that understanding of how amazing it is that we get to call God “father” add to that all the other names of God that are to be honored or “hallowed”  God has so many names and attributes given to Him throughout the Bible.  It was important for me to be reminded of all that He has done and is doing on my behalf.  I challenge you to re-read the words of this passage in Matthew 6.9-13.  Ask God to help you understand the words, or see them in a new way.  I am still learning so much about my relationship with God through the words of this prayer.

Peaks and Valleys – Ryan Madson – Kansas City Royals

 

Ryan+Madson+Kansas+City+Royals+Photo+Day+XDhWGKq9Ye5l

Royals reliever Ryan Madson

In 2011, Madson was the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies.  He walked way more than he struck out and saving 32 games including a span of 23 in 25 chances.  He was a workhorse and with an ERA of 2.37 in 62 appearances.  He had a great career with the Phillies even helping them win the 2008 World Series Championship.

Fast forward to this season where Madson as appeared in 44 games thus far, and has compiled a miniscule 1.69 ERA. His walks and hits allowed are the lowest of his career and the Royals are well on their way to a second straight playoff appearance.

9N5Q54221

Madson began his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was part of their 2008 Championship team

Those are the peaks, however, between those peaks, there was a deep valley. The depths of the valley are outlined in this Kansas City Star article.  One that started when a deal with the Phillies fell through.  Then came a new contract for less money in Cincinnati. But He would never pitch in Cincinnati.  He had elbow pain that required Tommy John surgery.  He tried to recover, but there were complications. He spent 1 season rehabbing from his surgery. He signed with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  He pitched exactly 1 inning in the minors for them.   There was pain and swelling.  There were anti-inflammatory pills to make it through bullpen sessions.  Then another year out of baseball.

During this time, Madson settled on the fact that he was likely retired.  In this article from NBCsports, Madson talks about how the possibility of him returning to baseball was really small.  Still, he didn’t ever file the retirement papers.  He knew there was a 1-2% chance he could return.  He said “ There was always a small buzz that I could come back, but I knew it was so far away. So much work had to be done. Even guys that do retire and stay retired, they have that 1 or 2 percent that they want to go back and play, for years. I don’t know how many years that lasts. But I think I was in that category. I thought I was truly done.”

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Away from the Majors for 3 complete seasons. Madson’s has made a successful return, this time in Kansas City.

Instead of playing baseball, he began mentoring a High School pitcher.  Working with this young aspiring pitcher fired Madson up for one more shot at the majors. He said “That really gave me that itch back, when I started working with him. I saw how bad he wanted it.”

He told teams he wanted to make a comeback – and Kansas City gave him the chance. In fact, they called him on the same day that he was baptized.  Madson used his time away from baseball to grow stronger in his faith in God.  And with this new chance, he is flourishing.
Here are my takeaways from Madson’s story –
1 – Longshot or Not, Our Story is Never Over – Madson said that his percent chance of pitching in the majors again was 1-2%. And yet, here he is and he is being effective.  The Bible is full of low percentages.  David versus Goliath, Gideon’s army versus the Midianites, Daniel versus Lions, Jonah versus a large fish, Jesus versus the cross.  But with God in control, He wins every time.  So even when things seemed stacked against us, and we feel like there is not much hope, the hope that we do have is in God and his plan.  If we are following Him, He can work out amazing things in our life.  Madson is back in the majors, but God used his time away to draw him closer to God.  Now that he is back in the majors, I’m sure that Madson will have a place to share how God worked out this amazing part of his story.
ryan-madson-mlb-chicago-white-sox-kansas-city-royals-850x560

The Royals called Madson on the day he was baptized and offered him a contract. Madson’s time away included growing stronger in his faith in God.

2- Psalm 23 – The mention of peaks and valleys makes me think of Psalm 23,  one of the most well known passages of scripture.  Now I have been guilty in my life of being so familiar with a passage from the Bible that I forget to notice the importance of the meaning for me.  Psalm 23 is a beautiful set of promises that God gives us.  He is our shepherd,  he provides for us, he leads us, he protects us, he has our best interests at heart, and even when we are going through the dark valleys of life, He is with us.   I know that I have seen God’s presence with me at the hardest times.  I know that sometimes it is hard to sense God’s presence but He promises to be with us.  The hope that we can take from that promise will help us through any valley.  What valley are you facing?  Trust that God is there with you and let Him lead you!

 

The Joy of Trials – Jeff Bianchi – Boston Red Sox

imgres

Red Sox Utility Indielder Jeff Bianchi

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. You know testing of your faith develops perseverance; perseverance must finish its course so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  There are several challenging verses throughout the Bible and this is one of them.  How can we have joy when we are going through hard things?  What does that look like and what does it mean?  Well, those verses from James are favorites of Boston Red Sox utility infielder Jeff Bianchi.  He has seen God at work through the challenges and hard times both on and off the field.  Let’s take some time to get to know Jeff Bianchi.

Mar 15, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox infielder Jeff Bianchi (16) throws out a base runner  in the second inning  of the spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Bianchi joined the Red Sox last off-season, but has spent most of the season in the minors

Drafted in 2005 in the second round by the Kansas City Royals,  Bianchi started out well.  Despite missing half the season with an injury,He hit over .400 in rookie ball and was named an All-Star. 2006 was almost completely wiped out by injury and 2010 was completely lost.  It would be at the midway point of the 2012 season, 7 years after being drafted, when Bianchi got called up to the Major Leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers.    He played 100 games for the Brewers the next season, and after splitting time between Milwaukee and the minors in 2014, the Brewers released him during the off-season.  He signed on with the Red Sox and has appeared in 3 games with them this season, but has spent much of the season in Pawtucket. But wherever Bianchi finds himself, he is ready to talk about the importance of God in his life.

Despite the bumpy road to the majors and the injuries he has had to work through, the verses in James remind him to take joy in the trials and allow God to bring about perseverance through the hardships.  Check out this video where Bianchi talks about injuries and other trials that life has brought his way and how he has seen God at work in the midst.

Here are my takeaways from Bianchi’s story:

url

Bianchi turns the double play against the Blue Jays during his brief stint with the Red Sox

1- Don’t Miss Jesus – In this article from Athletes in Action, Bianchi shares how he used to think that going to church and being  “good” was all it too to get to heaven.  I was the same way as a teenager.   We miss the connection with the one true God.  We don’t think we really need to connect with God and build relationship with Him. Getting to know God reveals to us that it is our heart and life that he wants, not simply our attendance on Sundays.  The people in the Bible that Jesus seemed to speak the most harshly to were the church.  The Pharisees didn’t want to know that they had been missing the point for generations. The money changers in the temple were looking out for themselves and not the people they were “serving”.  Even the disciples were chastised for turning children away trying to be better than the others.  In fact, Jesus makes it clear that some who identify themselves as active Christians will miss out on meeting Him, and the results will be tragic.  Matthew 7.21-23 says  Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’  Hard words to hear for people who believe they are following God.  

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles

Bianchi admits that he had a time where he kept his faith on the back burner, but now, he is outspoken about his faith in God.

But look at the others that Jesus met – the ones we would call “sinners”.  The Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the crowds of sick and hurting were met with loving compassion beyond what they had experienced before.  Jesus spoke lovingly to them and demonstrated a grace that surpasses all understanding. I don’t want to miss him, especially since the consequences of that are severe.  Let’s stop playing the game and make Him truly Lord of our life.

2- What’s on Your Pedestal – Bianchi spoke about how he had allowed baseball to become a god in his life.  He put it as such an important part of life, that when he had to go without it, due to injuries, it brought him to an understanding that it could all be taken away and that God needed to matter more! I know that in the crush of busy schedules, deadlines and meeting the expectations of others, it is easy to put God on the back burner.  We were created to worship God, but when we are in relationship with Him, and even at times when we are, we allow other things to pass Him on our priority list. But as Bianchi says, quoting Ecclesiastes, apart from God, “everything is meaningless” Let’s keep God in his rightful place – as the most important part of our lives.

3- The Joy of Trials – Bianchi shared the verses in James as one of his favorite passages of scripture.  It is definitely against our nature to be joy-filled in the midst of hard times.  But when we depend of God for everything and truly believe that everything is meaningless without Him, then there is an inexplicable joy that comes from knowing He is with us and that He is at work in the midst of the trials, building perseverance.  So even in the storm of life, know that the God who created the universe and everything in it has a plan to use these trials to show you that when He is most important in our lives, we can persevere through the worst days.