Last Sunday was Mother’s day and I realized again what an amazing woman my kids get to call mom. My wife Stephanie is a wonderful example of a life lived on purpose, with purpose for Christ. He has led us on some amazing adventures thus far, and partnering in parenting is definitely one of the greatest adventures that we get to live out together. As I look back, I see the way God brought us together and has used her to help me learn more about him. She demonstrates many of his characteristics for me (his patience with me, his unending love, his ability to forgive) and she models these things for our girls, too.
When I look at the story of Wil Nieves and his wife Yormarie, I am reminded of our story. We didn’t meet on a blind date like they did, but we did get married pretty quickly after we met. We went from first date to wedding date in just 15 months. Like Nieves, who has carved his career as a journeyman, we have moved around a lot too. We currently live at our 10th address as husband and wife – and we just celebrated 10 years of marriage a few months ago. We have lived in 5 different cities in 3 different countries. Nieves has just joined his 8th major league team. He has also played for 15 minor league teams in North America plus he has also spent time in a couple different winter leagues. That is a lot of moving around! And the final thing I will mention that we have in common is that, as you can read in this story from 2010 (when he played for the Washington Nationals), his wife is his #1 fan. She thinks he is the best that has ever played the game. I cannot put in words how amazing it is to have a wife that believes in me, encourages me, and cheers me on as I proceed through whatever door God has opened for us. Nieves says “God made this girl for me; she is my other half,”. The article continues to talk about how their faith in God is a key to their relationship and that they were (in 2010) expecting their first child.
Nieves was drafted by the Padres in the 47th round of the 1995 draft. That makes him a long shot to survive long in baseball, but survive he has! He made his big league debut it 2002 with the Padres, catching pitcher Jake Peavy (whom I blogged about a couple years back). He moved on to the Yankees organization, but didn’t return to the pros until 2005. He would go on to 5 more stops never playing in more than 72 games anywhere. This past off-season, Nieves returned to San Diego. Interestingly enough, his only home run so far this season was a grand slam, hit off former teammate and current San Francisco Giant Jake Peavy. Since beginning this article, I have learned that he became a free agent and has signed with the Atlanta Braves. Here are my takeaways from Nieves’ story.
1- Amazing Wife, Amazing Life – The articles show Nieves to be very loving and grateful for his wife. This resonates with me because I am so grateful for the love of my life – Stephanie. I love her so much and I love doing life with her. I won’t say she completes me – only God can do that – but I know that I understand more about God and his love, compassion and forgiveness that he offers me because of her. She is someone who helps me be the best me I can be and my love for her grows bigger and stronger every day. She is proud of who I am and what I do and that helps motivate me to continue to grow into who God has made me to be. I adore you Steph! Happy Belated Mother’s Day!
2- The fight never ends – As you can read in this article Nieves career has been filled with constantly battling for his place in the majors. Every year Nieves has battled to keep his job. Even this year, the team that signed him has released him and he has signed on with another team. There is no easy road. Someone wise once said “the only way to coast is downhill“, meaning that if you stop working and allow yourself to coast, there is no more significant progress. The only way to keep growing and moving forward is to keep working and battling. This seems to be true in baseball as there is always someone else looking to take your place. The same is true in the work place. If you coast, progress is impaired. The same can be said for marriage and also our Christian walk. If we stop working at growing in our relationship with our spouse or with God, it will be easier to fail and fall short of God’s best plan for us. Let’s keep our eyes on Him and let’s keep working at building our relationship with the God who created us and everything around us. Do not coast!
Tonight is the biggest night in many years for the sport of boxing. In today’s sports tapestry that is so strongly focused on health and safety, concussions and injury, boxing is kind of caught in the middle. But tonight, the sporting world is focused on the boxing ring again, with a battle between Floyd Mayweather, a perfect 47-0 in his career and Manny Pacquiao who has been a title holder at 8 different weights. And while the boxers have both known great success in the ring, their public personas are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Mayweather has a history of run-ins with the law over domestic abuse and battery. Pacquiao, on the other hand, is beloved by his native Philippines. He has been voted into public office as a congressman and serves as a reservist in the Filipino Military.
But Pacquiao’s clean public image has not always been his lot. As you can read in this article from The Guardian, Pacquiao was a partier. He was “determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty.” But a few years ago things changed. Despite being raised Catholic – the predominant religion of the Philippines, when his fame and success lifted him from the grips of poverty, it also blurred the lines between godly and being worldly. But a few years ago, Pacquiao dedicated his life to Jesus and decided to use his platform to share about Christ’s love with others. He says ”
Here are my takeaways from Pacquiao’s story.
1- Go into the World – The great commission given by Jesus to his followers was to go into all the world and make disciples of all people (Matthew 28.16-20). In Acts 1.8, Jesus sends his disciples to be his witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Now Samaria was the place of where the “enemy” lived. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. They had a strong dislike for each other, but still Jesus was sending his followers to share His love with their enemies, because He created them and loves them, too. Boxing is the most mano a mano sport that exists. It is a battle and it’s goal is to hurt your opponent more than they hurt you. But Pacquiao sees his mission and understands it. This following interview talks about how after the fight, he hopes for a chance to talk to Mayweather and “share his faith with him.” Even when talking about his enemy, he sees his mission to share God’s love with his opponent. Check it out.
2- Only God Satisfies- What I heard in the above interview is Manny Pacquiao’s story has some similarities to what Paul wrote in Philippians 4.12. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Pair that thought together with Paul’s words from a chapter earlier (Phil 3. 7-.8) Paul writes “ But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ“.
Manny has known poverty that I will likely never know, and he has also known riches that I will likely never know. But he talks about the emptiness that he felt in his life. That is something that we all know if we have lived life without Christ. He is all that satisfies. He is our purpose and our passion. He has given us the task of sharing His love with the world. He has given us our story and our platform to share Him with others. It is our choice to obey or not. Pacquiao has chosen to share his faith in God every chance he gets. I pray for courage and boldness to do the same.
I have a sports jersey ministry. My wife would tell you that I have way more than I need – and she would be correct. Since starting this blog, my jersey collection has changed significantly. I used to search for cheap jerseys at thrift stores and paid little attention to who was represented by the number and/or name on the back. But after digging into the stories of the athletes that I have blogged about (and some that I haven’t written about yet) I have been more cautious with who I am willing to represent. My jerseys are of players past and present whose stories I have connected with and who I feel good about representing in the world around me. And do you know what frequently happens? I will be wearing a jersey and somewhere in my day, a stranger will make a comment about it. That comment will often lead to a conversation where I am able to share why I like the player I am representing. It all boils down to their outspoken faith in God. God opens doors for me to talk about the work He has been doing in the faith stories of professional athletes who are living lives in service to Him. It is neat that the platform that these athletes have to share God’s work in their lives also gives me a platform to share God’s work in their lives and my own life, too.
And the truth is that God can use many ways to open doors for all of us to tell others how important He is in our lives. For Colorado Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes (currently playing for their AAA affiliate in Albuquerque), it is the ink on his body that opens doors for him to talk about his faith in God. As you can read in this article from mlb.com, , many of the over 25 tattoos that Barnes has, point to his faith in God and the role God plays in his life.
He says “The main thing is my religion and being able to share the faith by people coming up to me and asking me ‘What does that mean on your arm and what’s that a picture of?(…)It’s an opening for me to share my faith.”
Barnes was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 6th round of the 2005 draft. He spent 7 seasons in the minors, working his way through the system until he was called up to make his major league debut in 2012. During that 7 season stint in the minors, Barnes came close to giving up on his Big League dreams. As you can read in this article from the Houston Chronicle, he came close to calling it quits, but God had a plan and Barnes leaned on his faith on the days he wanted to give up. Check out this article from mlb.com for more of his story.
And in the majors, he has had some memorable moments, here are a couple of my favorites.
And even though Brandon Barnes is starting this season in the minor leagues again, I know that wherever he plays, he knows that God has him there for a purpose that is higher than playing the game of baseball. “I have an opportunity to share my testimony and share His word. That’s what’s most important. If I’m doing what I can to glorify Him, He’ll take care of my baseball career.”
Here are my takeaways from Barnes story:
1- God equips us - Brandon Barnes likes tattoos and God allows him to use them to share his faith in God. I like jerseys and God grants opportunities to me to tell others about Him through wearing these jerseys. What are you interested in or good at? How can God use you and those interests to spread the Good News about who He is? In fact, it just dawned on me that as a fan and blogger, when I find a story about someone’s faith in God and share it on my site, it just continues to be part of their platform. And God has given me this platform to tell others about how AWESOME He is. God has given each of us a platform, a voice to tell his story and share his wonders with others. He is creative with how He carries out his mission through us. It can be with something simple like a tattoo or a jersey. Can God use these and other things to change lives? Absolutely! Let’s give Him free reign to work in and through us.
2- Our lives, our story – Barnes dreamed of being a big league ball player. It took him a long road through the minors before that dream was realized. Even now, after a couple of seasons in the Majors, Barnes has been caught in the numbers game and sent to start the season in Albuquerque. But still in the minors, articles like this one from ABQjournal, that talk about his tattoos and how they connect with his Christian beliefs. He continues to be outspoken about his faith in God.
I think it is amazing how God can take something like a tattoo, or the shirt we are wearing and use it to open a door for us to tell others about Him. How is God opening doors for you to share Him with others? What is your platform? Ask that He would show you the opportunities that He brings your way and watch Him work!
There is a common saying among coaches and leaders. You have probably heard it, maybe even uttered the words yourself a time or two. The saying is “There is no “I” in “team”. The meaning, of course, is that if you are part of a team, the last thing you should focus on is yourself, your own personal stats or headlines. You are to be part of a team, doing whatever it takes for the team as a whole to succeed. It is a true saying and an important concept to a successful team.
I came across a this video from Baseball Genesis, giving an example of what this team-first mentality might look like – and the player discussed in the video is Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Check out this video:
I think this is great. Goldschmidt shared that if he is in a slump, the way he chooses to act to get out of his slump is to celebrate his teammates successes. As the video suggests, when we are down we can tend to focus on our issues and problems and that can in turn bring down other people around us. I know that when I am around someone who is in a bad mood, it can derail good feelings that I have been having. I also know that when I am in a bad mood, it has potential to affect people around me too.
Now Goldschmidt does not seem to slump often. Drafted in the 9th round of the 2009 draft, he turned out to be a steal for the D-Backs. He spent just 3 seasons in the minors, and skipped AAA. In his minor league career, he hit 85 home runs in just over 300 games. He continues to hit at a torrid pace with Arizona. In his fourth full season in the Majors, he has already been an all-star 2 times, a silver slugger, a golden glove, a runner-up MVP and a league leader in home runs, RBI, and even intentional walks.
Grand Canyon University had an event called “Tales from the Dugout” Goldschmidt was one of those asked to share part of his story. Goldschmidt’s life has not been as flawless as his baseball game. He talks about making mistakes on a daily, hourly, minute-ly basis. He talks about how his faith in God was not a priority during his time in the minors, but after reluctantly accepting an invitation to a Bible study, he has developed a hunger for the bible and the guidance it gives for how to live life. He goes on to say that he is growing in his faith and has begun to understand everybody sins and is in need of a Savior.
Here are my takeaways from Goldschmidt’s story.
1- True J.O.Y. – Another popular saying, this one often heard at Sunday School, is that true joy comes from listing your priorities as follows: Jesus, Others, Yourself. Loving God and keeping Him as the most important part of your life is the cornerstone of a joy-filled life. Then put other’s needs ahead of your own. Now don’t hear this wrong. Living a joy-filled life does NOT mean that life will always be happy and problem free. Quite to the contrary actually. Following God will mean hard things, troubles and sadness, but with God guiding our life through the Holy Spirit, will produce joy as one of the fruit of the spirit. Goldschmidt’s attitude when he is struggling, putting the focus on his teammates and cheering them on despite his struggles is a great lesson to not focus on ourselves.
2- The power of God’s Word- God speaks through his Bible. Hebrews 4.12 talks about how the word of God is sharp enough to cut to the very soul. Goldschmidt was reluctant to go to a Bible study when invited by a teammate, but it was “not what he expected”. Since then, he has seen his faith grow by spending time reading the Bible and allowing it to guide his life. I know that I am always amazed, as I read a story that I have read and even studied many times before, that there is something new and timely in what I read. I have been attending Bible Study Fellowship for a couple years now. BSF has a few studies that they cycle through. I think there are about 8 maybe. And yet, some of the people there have been coming for 20 years or longer. That means that the have done all the studies, many of them a couple times and yet they are still learning from God’s word. It really is alive and active, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and teaching how to live. (2 Timothy 3.16). I pray that you will continue to learn from God’s word as you seek guidance from it.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day. April 15th is the day of the year when baseball teams pay tribute to the first African American player to break into the ranks of Major League Baseball. Players wear jerseys with Robinson’s #42 on it and there are special events at every ball park in the majors. And what a mark and legacy he left on baseball along with Branch Rickey. You can read my movie review of 42 here.
And so I thought it would be fitting to write a blog post today about a man of faith who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the franchise with whom Robinson broke the color barrier (although they were in Brooklyn at the time). I’ve written about other people on the current Dodgers 40-man roster before – feel free to check out my posts on Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Van Slyke, Chris Heisey and A.J. Ellis by clicking on their names But today, the focus will be on veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins who is in his first season with the Dodgers after coming over from the Phillies.
Drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Phillies, he worked his way through the minors reaching AAA by the age of 20 and making his pro debut in 2000. In his 15 seasons with the Phillies, he was a 3 time All-Star, 4 time Gold Glove winner, and won the National League MVP in 2007. He was on 2 World Series bound teams winning it all with the Phillies in 2008. He stole 30 plus bases in 10 of those seasons, including a league leading 46 in 2001 – his rookie season. And not an all-speed and no power player, he had 4 seasons of 20 or more home runs. In fact, he became the 10th player in Major League history with 200+ home runs and 400+ stolen bases.
But at the core of Jimmy Rollins is his relationship with God. As you can read (if you scroll down far enough) on the Baseball Chapel website, Rollins says “Baseball is important to me, but my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life because it’s eternal.”
He also talks about feeling frustrated at a bad call or something that doesn’t go right, but he remembers that there are people watching him and that as a Christian, he needs to be careful at how he reacts so that God’s light continues to shine through him. I hope and pray that as he begins this new chapter in Los Angeles, that God’s light will shine brightly through Him and will make a difference in the lives that Rollins will encounter.
Here are my takeaways from Rollins story:
1- Let your Light Shine before Men so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. – Often, when I think about the passage in Matthew 5 about hiding a light under a bushel, I think of being embarrassed to talk about God. I’ll admit that sometime I hesitate to talk about God. I don’t like to be mocked or thought less of. This is one thing God is working on in me – I know that He needs to be the most important part of my life and that means not caring what others may think and truly putting Him first in all I say and do. But I am also a competitive guy and am quick to feel anger or frustration at a bad call or a failure. Rollins words remind me that God’s light shining through me can be affected by more than just perceived embarrassment. Anger, frustration, cursing at others, lashing out – these are things that can dim the light shining through us, too. These can be the bushel that goes over our lamp. The bible is full of people who fail and are mistreated and yet, as God works through them, the grace and obedience they show is a good lesson for us to follow to. Others are watching us. Can they see His light shining through or are our attitudes and actions playing the role of a bushel?
2- Temporary vs. Eternal - A couple weeks ago, I was looking through a collection of old baseball cards. I used to be an avid card collector, but it had been years since I had thumbed through these baseball cards from the late 80′s. What surprised me was how many of the players I had forgotten about. They had been heroes of mine at one point, but as the game moved on without them, they left my mind, replaced by the next generation of players. Sports moves on as players come and go. The mark that they leave on the game tends to be very temporary. Rollins said that baseball was important only a relationship with God is eternal. The things that we spend our times thinking about and focusing on during our life are temporary and will largely be forgotten as time moves on, Let’s keep our relationship with God as the most important part of our life because it is eternal.
Well it is early spring and opening day to the baseball season was a week ago. And it is my goal again to share a faith story for a player on each of the 30 major league baseball players (although I reserve the right to pick some minor league players along the way).
And where better to start than with the defending champs. Last fall gave us a great World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. And while Vogelsong struggled last season to an 8-13 record, the Giants qualified for the post season and eventually won it all giving Vogelsong his second World Series ring (previous coming in 2012). This is a result that looked improbable for Vogelsong just 4 years earlier after he was released from the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system.
In his career, Vogelsong has known setbacks and trials during his indirect route to the Majors. Drafted by the Giants in the 5th round of the 1998 draft. He made his Major League debut in 2000, and in 2001, after a rough start, and some more time in the minors, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After only 2 games with the Pirates, he underwent Tommy John surgery which kept him out of the pros until 2003. Unimpressive stats with the Pirates over a couple of seasons led to a stint in Japan for 3 seasons. He returned to North America with the Phillies for the 2010 season, but was released in mid-July. It is at this point that Vogelsong – at age 33 – questioned whether his baseball dream was over or not. But just after his 33rd birthday, after being unemployed for almost 2 weeks, Vogelsong signed with the L.A. Angels. Check out this video from Giants faith day last season to hear him talk about this point in his career.
After the season, the Angels released him. The Giants signed him to a minor league deal, but before the season was a month old, they recalled him to replaced injured Barry Zito (who I blogged about 2 years ago). He would excel with the Giants, putting up a solid first half which saw named to the All-Star game. He had a great 2011 and 2012. Injuries hindered his 2013 and last season, he struggled a little, but after resetting his focus on God and in his own words, surrendering control to Him, he has been okay with wherever God has led him.
Here are my takeaways from Ryan’s story:
1- The Best Self-Help book – Vogelsong talks about how the Bible has helped him in his life and in his career He speaks specifically about these verses:
Isaiah 41.10 – do not fear, I am with you, do not be dismayed, I am your God.
Isaiah 41.13- I will help you.
Phil 4.13 – I can do anything with Christ who gives me strength,
Luke 1:37 – Nothing is impossible with God.
He talks about how we use phone apps and different resources to find help, but that the Bible has been doing that very thing for a long time. I know that even though I have grown up in a church environment where I grew up learning many Bible stories, that I still learn something from the Bible stories each time I read them. Even the ones that were regularly covered by curriculum and story books. We will never get to the place where we know everything about God and how He works in us through His word. Keep reading His word – it will never grow tired or boring. Help yourself by reading it and asking Him to help you learn from it!
2- A pitcher with No Control – An important part of being a pitcher is control. A pitcher who struggles with his control won’t have a very long career in baseball. Control is the ability to put a pitch exactly where a pitcher wants and will give him the greatest potential at creating an out by the batter. Yet Vogelsong shares that while he was unemployed for those 2 weeks in 2010 – and he thought his Big League dreams may be over – that surrendering control of his life, his career, his familiy – everything, was what he struggled with the most. I think this is something that we can all relate to. I know I can. It is really easy to want to be in control, to think that I have my fate in my own hands and control things to some extent. What I have been learning lately is that when I fight so hard to keep control myself, I hit barrier after barrier and the struggles overwhelm me. But when I surrender control to God and leave things in His hands (where they are anyway) then He accomplishes what He wants and that is always the best option.
March Madness is narrowing down the field and cranking up the excitement. By the end of the weekend, the elite 8 will be reduced to the final four. I did not do a bracket this year – I’m not a huge basketball fan. But in my many years as a casual fan of NCAA basketball, I’ve learned one thing. The chances that Duke will be playing in the final 4 or at least the sweet 16 is almost a given. The key to their success can be attributed to the amazing job done by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
In his 35 years as head coach of the Blue Devils here is his resume
4 National Championships
4 National Runners-up
11 final four appearances including a string of 5 in a row and 7 in 9 years).
29 NCAA tournament births in the past 30 years including a current string of 20 consecutive)
Career coaching record (at time of this post) 1015-310
Add to that college resume his success in international competition (defending 2 time Gold Medal champ – 2 more Olympic Gold medals as an assistant coach. And it is obvious that Krzyzewski is a great basketball mind.
But as you can read in this article from americancatholic.org, he credits his upbringing, his parents and his time in catholic schools for giving him a strong foundation of faith and belief in God that helps guide his coaching and his life. His role as a leader has an impact on how he lives his life – striving to be a nice guy, humble, empathetic and ethically moral Check out this video from faithandleadership.com
My main takeaway from Coach K’s story:
Be a good guy – Seems simple and basic, but sports is a competitive world, and when competition and seeking to be the tops often some things that can be compromised are nice guy-ness and good sportsmanship, I know that when I played church league softball in high school and university, I had a terrible attitude when it came to failing and losing. If I got out, or if we were losing, I was not a nice guy, I was a poor sport, I would throw stuff, slam my glove, yell at myself and spiral worse downward. It was not a good reflection of who I wanted to be and it was not a good reflection of who God calls us to be. Being competitive in itself is not a bad thing, but we still need to reflect Christ in our words and actions. Setting meanness and anger aside and choosing kindness, empathy and morality is a Christ-like way to carry ourselves and in our desire to reflect Him in all we do, it is how we should choose to live.
Last night, Malcolm Subban made his NHL regular season debut. Even though I have never played organized hockey at any level (other than floor hockey at my church), I did grow up in Canada and had the dream of what it would be like to play in the NHL, so I’m sure that Subban has long imagined what it would be like to suit up and play at the highest level of professional hockey in a meaningful game. And while the game didn’t go quite like I’m sure it did in those dreams - he surrendered 3 quick second period goals and was pulled from the game for a stretch before returning in the third period – the fact that he made it is an accomplishment, and the challenges he faced will motivate him I’m sure to keep working hard to be even more successful in future outings.
I am a lifelong bruins fan and since starting this blog, I have had the joy of sharing the faith stories of a couple of key players on my favorite team. Tim Thomas was a focus during the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship season, and Jarome Iginla was featured here last year. I love to share the faith stories of any player I read about, but it carries an extra joy when it is a member of a team I already cheer for.
So to that end, I welcome Malcolm Subban to the NHL with my beloved Bruins. Malcolm was a first round draft pick in 2012 and played his junior hockey with the Belleville Bulls. It was during his time with the Bulls that Subban came to realize the importance of faith in God. As you can read in this interview with hockey journal, chapel is an important time for Subban. When asked what the best advice he ever received was, Subban said “Know(ing) that He (God)is always there and there for you to talk to. Always have faith in God and keep your faith strong.”
My takeaways from Subban’s story:
1- Meet them where they are at – I want to thank and acknowledge all the chaplains at all levels of sport. What an important and fantastic work God is doing through you. The sporting world is busy especially at the pro levels with travel, public appearances, practice, games and media. Even is high school, college and in Subban’s case, Major Junior hockey, these chaplains bring God into the business and offer athletes, coaches and referees a chance to connect with the Creator of the Universe. I pray for reminders to take God to the world around me so that they can encounter Him and see Him transform their life.
2- God is with us and his enemy is after us - Subban’s masks show the angel of death, or grim reaper. Also included on the mask are bible references or verses that talk about God being with us in the midst of harship, challenges and attacks. It is good to remember that the devil is on the prowl, “looking for souls devour” but also that God is with us and He will bring us strength and comfort.