Peaks and Valleys – Ryan Madson – Kansas City Royals

 

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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.

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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.”

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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.
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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

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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.

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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:

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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.  

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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.

Unashamed – Michael Lorenzen – Cincinnati Reds

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Reds Pitcher Michael Lorenzen

Welcome to my 300th post at Living Up to My Name.  Over the past 4 years, I have been blessed to learn and share the stories of hundreds of Christian Athletes and the stories of how God has been at work in their lives.  I look forward to continuing to share these stories as God uses them to teach me more about Him.

That being said, I’ve been struggling to write a post about a Cincinnati Reds player for the past season and an half.  I didn’t write about any Reds player last season, and I didn’t know who to write about this year until last night.  A twitter friend of mine told me that during last night’s Reds-Cubs there was talk about Michael Lorenzen‘s  new tattoo which featured two number ones and the word “six”.  Viewers learned that it was in reference to Romans 1.16, which says “I’m not ashamed of the Good News. It is God’s power to save everyone who believes, Jews first and Greeks as well.”  Intrigued, I looked into the story, and learned a lot about the 23 year old rookie and his story.  I also learned of a song and a blog devoted to the 116 movement.

Here is the video from last night’s game talking about the tattoo.

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Lorenzen (right) sporting his new tattoo 1.1.Six inspired by Romans 1.16 and the 11Six Clique “Man Up”Anthem

First Michael Lorenzen, the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft.  He had been picked a couple years earlier by Tampa Bay but opted for college instead.  When he joined the Reds organization, he was an outfielder.  And as you can read in this interview with Redsminorleague.com, he resisted the change from outfielder to pitcher at first, but after talking it over, he was ready to try.  He said “All right God, if this is what You want me to do, I’m gonna do this.  I’m gonna commit to it.”  And ever since then it’s taken off.”

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Lorenzen is in his 3rd season of pro ball and made his Major League debut in April

Has it ever! He flew through their system, working his way from Rookie league to AA ball in his first season as a pro.  He spent last year in AA again, and started this season in AAA, but appeared in only 3 games there before being promoted to Cincinnati.  He has appeared in 14 games this season, starting 12.  His dependence on God and his desire to follow Him began in his troubled High School days.  He was living as an entitled student athlete.  He says “I felt like I deserved stuff because I was good at baseball.” Then, one night, everything changed.  He shares in this story with Fox SportsWhen I was 17, I was high on marijuana on a pier in Huntington Beach and some guy came up and started sharing about the Lord.  It was so convicting for me. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m high right now — this guy, this stranger, is talking to me about the Lord. Crazy. It changed my life. To this day I don’t know the guy.” With his brother Matt, who had recently become a Christian helping him, Michael accepted Christ as his Savior. He had found purpose and meaning for his life. and everything changed.  Now, with baseball as his platform, he knows he is not playing for himself anymore, but rather to honor God and share Him with others.

In this video, we see how he sees  baseball and his relationship with God as connected and important.

 

Here are my takeaways from Lorenzo’s story.

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Lorenzen’s web-site is there to encourage us to read the Bible and apply it to life.

1- Living it Out – Lorenzen has started a web-site called “Infected Athletes” He says “The message behind it is just we’ve all been infected by sin and the cure is Christ and so, yeah, it’s just whatever I’m reading, whatever I’m studying at the time, I just kind of post what I learn and how we can apply it.  The challenge is to apply it.  Yeah, we can all read, we can all acknowledge a God, but the challenge, like I said, is applying the Word and living it out.”  Lorenzen has gone to great lengths to connect with people to encourage them with God’s Word and how to apply it to life.  I agree that study is great, but application of what you are studying/learning is the challenge for us to take up. The world has been infected by sin, but Jesus made a way for the sin to be dealt with. It is a great picture of God’s love.  The story of redemption is shown in the logo.  Read the meaning behind it here.  Sin entered the world via a tree, and sin was dealt with by Jesus hanging on a tree. Cool!

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For Lorenzen, Living for God and helping others do the same is the purpose for his life.

2-  1-1-Six –  I get to share Bible stories in many settings – VBS, the after school program I direct, my own kids, and other places in the community.  But when it comes to situations outside of those comfort zones, it is tempting to stay quiet.  Romans 1.16 is a great verse.  God changed Saul’s heart turning him from arresting and imprisoning Christians to encouraging Christians and being imprisoned himself for his faith.   He was bold and outspoken, sharing his faith wherever he went.  That is the challenge for us.  Remember who God is. Nothing is impossible for Him.  There is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. If you are excited about what God has done for you and the grace you have received from Him.  Share it wherever you go.  He is worth it.  He offers us a cure for our sin disease.  Will you stay infected, or will you live life cured, carrying the antidote for sin to the world around you.

This is My Mission Field – Blaine Boyer – Minnesota Twins

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Twins reliever Blaine Boyer

When we think about being a missionary, we tend, incorrectly, to think of people who move to a distant land and make their life’s purpose to let others know about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice that gives meaning to life.  I say this is incorrect, not that those people are not missionaries, but rather anyone who considers Jesus their Lord and Savior is called to let others know about God’s work in our lives.  We are all missionaries, placed in our exact location by God who wants to use us to connect with others who do not know Him.  And so I found it refreshing in this interview that Minnesota Twins pitcher Blaine Boyer did a couple years back when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  He talks about how baseball is his mission field and that the time he gets to spend building relationships with others is what he lives for.

It is always fun to write about a member of the Twins – the hometown team. He has been a solid reliever for the Twins this year.  He leads the American League in appearances with 42 to this point.

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Boyer has been solid for the Twins (his 8th Major League team)

Drafted in 2000 by the Atlanta Braves in the 3rd round, Boyer has seen much of the country and the world as he worked his way to his spot in the Twins bull pen this season.  He made his debut in 2005 with the Braves and pitched in 43 games for them that season.  He is now with his 8th Major League franchise, and he also spent a season in Japan.  He was signed to a minor league contract with the Twins, and earned a spot with the Major League team during spring training.

When asked in the interview if the moving around has been hard, he says that he has had a great chance to meet lots of people.  And as he builds those relationships everywhere he goes, he finds opportunities to share what God has done in his life since accepting Him as Savior as a sophomore in High School.  You can read more about Boyer’s story and how God helped him deal with his parent’s divorce as well as battles with drugs and alcohol in this article from Baptist Press.  And Boyer takes his role of being a missionary on the baseball field seriously.  You can read in this article from Athletes in Action about Boyer playing a role in helping Adam Wainwright discover life with God.  Wainwright says “In 2002, my good friend, Blaine Boyer, and my agent, Steve Hammond, encouraged me to go to Pro Athletes Outreach meetings and to get some questions answered,” It was during this search for answers that Wainwright accepted Christ as Savior.

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Boyer is in his 16th season as a pro baseball player. He sees baseball as his mission field

Here are my takeaways from Boyer’s story –

1- Be Where you are At – Boyer knows that baseball is his mission field.  God has led him there, and given him quite an adventure during his career, taking him to many places and giving him chances to build relationships in all those places.  The truth is that as Boyer mentioned, being a Christian in baseball puts you in the minority.  It does in our lives too.  We may surround ourselves with other believers – which plays an important role with accountability and encouragement, but we are called to be salt and light in the world around us, too sharing God’s love with people who don’t know Him.  Where is God using you to show His love to those who don’t know Him.  Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and be the minority so that others can see the light that you are shining and praise your father in heaven (Matthew 5.16)

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Boyer leads the A.L. in appearances this season. He enjoys every day and strives to not take anything for granted

2- Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you – 1 Peter 3.15 reminds us to be ready to share our story – to answer others questions and to constantly point to Him.  God has given us our story, our path, even the hard things that we go through.  With God, we have hope, even in our hardest challenges and our darkest days.  We know that He is with us, and that He will mold us through all of life’s experiences if we will allow Him to.  Boyer says “When you are put to the fire, what’s left over is who you really are”.  How is God refining you?  What impurities is He working out of you?  Does your hope in Him remain unwavering, even in the hardest times?  He is real. He is our Hope and He can use us and our stories to show His love to the hurting, broken people around us who are without Hope because they are without Him.  You are in the mission field.  Shine Bright!

All-Star Week Special – Hope Amidst Failure – Mark Melancon – Pittsburgh Pirates

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Pirates Closer and All-Star Mark Melancon

The All-Star game in just a couple of days away.  Let’s take a look at the faith story of another of the participants in Tuesday’s game- Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Mark Melancon.   Originally drafted in the 30th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, Melancon opted to play college ball.  He played for the University of Arizona and after a solid career in college he was drafted again in 2006, this time in the 9th round by the New York Yankees.  He started out in A ball.  He sat out 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery.  When he returned to baseball in 2008, he pitched very well in the Yankees system, working his way all the way up to AAA.  He would spend most of 2009 in the minors, but did make his major league debut, and even though he was not on the Yankees post-season roster, he was given a World Series Ring when they won the championship.  But in 2010, it became a time of transitions for Melancon.

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Melancon is on a great streak, having not allowed a run since May 11 – a stretch of 27 appearances.

The Yankees sent him to the Astros in the Lance Berkman trade. The Astros moved him to the Red Sox.  The Red Sox traded him to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan (and fellow 2015 all-star Brock Holt).  In Pittsburgh, Melancon finally has found a home.  In his 2+ seasons in Pittsburgh, he has an ERA of 1.61 and 78 saves, including a major league record 29 by the All-Star Break (and counting) and a team record 27 in a row.  He has not allowed an earned run since May 11 – a stretch of 27 appearances.

Check out this video from Pirates Faith Night where Melancon discusses facing adversity (starting at the 4:22 mark).  Also on the video is Jay Bell (former Pirate player/current coach) sharing about what his faith means to him.

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Melancon pitching in a game has led to many celebrations for the Pirates this season.

Melancon talks about facing adversity.  There is failure all around the game of baseball.  He says ” if you don’t have Jesus Christ in your life, I don’t know how you do it.”  The Pirates Chaplin also talks about Baseball Chapel, the organization that provides chapel services for all the Major League teams and umpires – home or away – and all the minor league affiliates, too.  I’ve written about them before, but will gladly mention them again, because they play such an important role in the lives of the baseball players who desire to grow in their relationship with God.

Here are my takeaways from

1- Set up to Fail – baseball’s season is a long season.  along the way, there will be stretches when things go your way and stretches when things do not.  Failure is a strange thing.  We strive to be successful and have an idea of what success is.  When we fall short of our target of success, we can rack our brain trying to figure out how to fix it.  Life is full of failures, too.  In fact Romans 3.23 tells us that we have all failed.  “Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  We have all made bad choices and gone against the perfect standard that God requires.  That means that we are doomed.  What an awful, hopeless thought.  Gladly, God doesn’t forget us in that place.  He loved us so much that he sent his son, Jesus, so that anyone who would believe in Him would not know true death (being separated from God) would be offered life instead. Romans 6.23 says “The reward for sin is death, but the gift that God freely gives is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord“.  How exciting to have hope in the midst of our failing and shortcoming.  We don’t have to be doomed to death.  We can instead know true life.  How can we know this.  Romans 10.9 says “If you declare that Jesus is Lord and you believe that God brought Him back from the dead, you will be saved.”  This is our hope.  This is what we can know for sure.  God made a way for us to know true life by living for Him and following His path for our life.

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After playing for 4 teams in 4 years, Melancon is thriving in Pittsburgh. Through injury and transition, his hope is in God and the plan He has for Melancon’s life.

2- Compassion for the Hopeless –   Christian Musician Steve Taylor in talking about one of his songs  – Jim Morrison’s Grave – he talks about Kurt Cobain, lead singer of rock band Nirvana who sadly took his own life on April 5, 1994.  Taylor says “when anyone takes an unblinking look into the well, if they don’t find living water, they’ll find nothing but a black hole… Some wonder what causes so many people to commit suicide. I wonder what causes so many people not to. Everyday I’m convinced afresh that apart from God, nothing makes sense.”  Melancon expressed similar thoughts.  he talked about not knowing how people survive without Jesus.  The truth is that as Christians, we know a lot of pain, hurt and failure.  But our hope is in Jesus’ promise of a life without pain and sorrow with Him in Heaven.  With that in mind, let’s be aware of those around us who do not know Jesus.  Let’s love them like He would, and let’s be His presence in their lives and circumstances.  Because without Him, this world is lost.  But with Him, there is a hope that surpasses all of the hard things life brings.

All-Star Week Special – Willing to Change – J.D. Martinez – Detroit Tigers

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Tigers All-Star outfielder J.D. Martinez

As we continue to draw closer to the All-Star game in Cincinnati, we continue our focus on players in the game who have a strong faith in God.  Today, we check in with J.D. Martinez who was released by the Houston Astros – the worst team in baseball in 2013 with a 51-111 record.  He was 25, had a career batting average of.251 and 24 career home runs in 252 career games.  All told, not terrible numbers for his age, but injuries and inconsistency over that time led the Astros to cut him loose at Spring Training in March of 2014.

But Martinez was motivated to change.  He spent his time on the disabled list studying great hitters and trying to change his swing.  He was unemployed for 2 whole days.  The Tigers signed him and last year, he had a breakout season.  His average climbed to .315 and he practically doubled his home run total from his entire career during the 2014 season.  The Tigers made the playoffs and despite being swept, Martinez hit .250 with 2 home runs in 3 games.

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Martinez’s newly reworked swing has seen him hit almost 50 home runs in the past season and a half.

The Tigers signed Martinez to a one year deal for this season, and he has already surpassed his home run total from last season, including a 3 home-run game on Father’s Day.  He was also named to his first All-Star game.  Not bad for a 20th round draft pick out of Nova Southeastern University in Florida (he was the first NSU alumni to play in the Majors).

So how did he go from released from a 111 loss team to an All-Star game in 16 months?  As you can read in this article from MLB.com while on the disabled list with the Astros, Martinez began to notice and study the swings of some great hitters in the game.  He worked on his swing, changing it to more closely resemble what he had seen.  He went to Venezuela to play winter ball and try it out in game situations. He came to Spring Training ready to try out his new swing in the Majors.  That is when the Astros cut him.

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Martinez has been trusting in God’s bigger plan.

But Martinez took it in stride.  He said “We only see the small picture of life. God has such a bigger vision. Sometimes we may question Him, but He has a plan.

That plan for Martinez now includes and All-Star game appearance.  He says “I always believed that I could do it and it’s always been a dream of mine.  For it to finally happen, it’s awesome.”

Here are my takeaways from Martinez’s story.

1- Willing to Change – It is really dangerous to be good at something.  It is easy to think that if you have a talent, that you can rest on that.  To be drafted as a baseball player means that you are better at the game than 99.9% of the population.  But in an effort to be at your best, there is always room for improvement. Martinez noticed that with his swing.  I notice it in my life, too.  I think I am a good guy, doing a good job at serving God and helping others.  And then God will bring to my attention that I am still messing up, that I am still putting myself ahead of others and even ahead of God.  And then I have a choice.  I can choose to ignore my sin and hurtful behaviors or I can ask for help to make changes and correct it.  I have been saved from my sins and they no longer separate me from God, but I am still far from perfect and have lots of things in my life that God is changing to draw me closer to Him.  How about you?  What is God bringing to your attention? Are you willing to make the change?

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Martinez went from being cut by a 111 loss team to an All-Star in 16 months.

2- God’s Big Plan – I imagine that it would be hard to hear the words “You are not in our plans!” That is what Martinez heard from the Astros as they were releasing him at Spring Training of 2014.  I also know that those are not words that God will ever say to us.  He has a plan for everyone of us.  Jeremiah 29.14 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“.  The incredible thing about this passage is that it was given to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah while they were living in exile, removed from their home and living in some form of oppression in a foreign land.  God’s plan for us doesn’t mean that we will not face hard times or pain and disappointment.  But it does mean that as we keep trusting Him, it will work out in an amazing way for us.  Not that we will be rich or get a chance to see vengeance unleashed on those who have hurt us, but rather that we have hope in Him and a future that will be unending.  We are always in His plans!

All-Star Week – If life Were Easy… – Matt Holliday – St. Louis Cardinals

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Cardinals OF Matt Holliday

It is less than a week to the All- Star game and I have fallen a little off my pace for posting articles about baseball players.  In an effort to get caught up, I hope to feature a couple players from each of the All-Star rosters in the days leading up to the Midsummer classic.  To get the ball rolling, I will aim the spotlight on Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Holliday is in his twelfth major league season.  He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 7th round of the 1998 MLB draft.  He opted to sign with them and steadily played his way through the minors.  He made his debut for the Rockies in 2004 and became a fixture for them for 5 seasons.  He signed in Oakland as a free agent before the 2009 season, and was traded to the Cardinals just before the trade deadline. He has been with the redbirds ever since.  Holliday is a seven time all star, 4 time Silver Slugger, and made 6 trips to the playoffs, including 3 to the World Series – winning a ring with the Cardinals in 2011.

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Holliday (and his family) will appear in his 7th All Star game.

He has made baseball look pretty easy for more than a decade, but he will be the first to tell you that it is not easy.  As you can read in this article from CBN, earlier in his career, Holliday would have “those nights when you lay in bed and you look up at the ceiling wondering what this life is all about“. In the search for meaning, Holliday began attending team chapel services. And after considering all that he was hearing, he decided that living for God was what he wanted his life to be about.  When asked about the difference it made, he says “Being a Christian, I think I started considering other peoples feelings more than I had in the past. I think I just learned that God has a plan for all of us…

Holliday has also taken his place as a leader on the team.  I love this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where we see Holliday take on a role of mentor to some of the young prospects (at the time).  He brought them to town, showed them around, worked out with them and treated them to an experience that left them astounded.  He has also been actively supporting several charities in the St. Louis area.  When asked about his philanthropy, he answered “It’s very clear in the Bible, from those to whom much is given, much is required,”

Here is Holliday talking about his faith and it’s role in his life and career.

And so as we kick off All-Star week, I for one hope that Holliday gets a chance to spend some time in the spotlight, so he can direct that spotlight on God who has worked in and through Holliday.  Holliday is one of the featured players in the book Intentional Walk by Rob Rains.  In talking about signing a contract he says “There were high expectations from a lot of people, including myself, mostly because of the money part of it.  But I learned during that period that if everything was easy you wouldn’t rely on the Lord. You wouldn’t grow and you would count on yourself. A lot of life is trials and how you deal with them, and relying on Him to make you a path. You want to always be running toward God and not running away from Him.”

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Holliday has emerged as a leader in the Cardinals clubhouse.

Here are my takeaways from Holliday’s story.

1- Not Easy – As mentioned, Holliday’s stats suggest that baseball comes easy to him, but life is more than baseball, and “if it were easy, you wouldn’t rely on the Lord”.  That is such a true statement.  We all have hard things that happen to us and we all go through seasons where every day seems to be a grind.  Where trouble comes the strongest is when we are depending on ourselves to take care of things.  I know that I learn a lot more from the struggles in life than I do from the easy victories.  I think when things are hard, we pay more attention to how they eventually work out.  And we notice that it all fits perfectly into God’s plan.  He invites us to trust Him at all times.  That in itself is not easy, but in the end, it is ALWAYS the best plan.

St. Louis Cardinals Matt Holliday makes a sliding catch on a ball off the bat of Cincinnati Reds Brandon Phillips in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 9, 2013.    UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Holliday strives to play his best for God. He is learning to trust in Him, and not try to do things on his own

2- Mentor and Be Mentored –  I remember a pastor friend of mine challenging me to always have a mentor and always be a mentor.  We never get to the place where we have it all figured out, but God takes us on his path for a purpose.  Our story is our story so that others in similar spots can see how God worked in our situation.  Holliday talks about attending chapel services with other believers and how that changed his life.  He has also taken on the role of mentoring the younger players on the team.  He comes alongside them and helps them learn the ins and outs of professional baseball.  He talks about how God changed him by making him more aware of the people around him and the needs that they have.  Who has God put in your life to mentor you and help you on the path He has designed for you?  Who has He brought into your life to share your story with?  Both are important relationships to have as we strive to live our lives with purpose for Him.

Father’s Day Special – Following his Father’s Footsteps – Steve Tolleson -Toronto Blue Jays

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I have this card in my collection. Wayne Tolleson played for 10 seasons from 1981 to 1990.

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Blue Jays utility player and third generation baseball player Steve Tolleson

If it didn’t make my title too long, I would have added “and Wayne Tolleson New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox” as this is as much as story of Steve Tolleson‘s father Wayne, who played for 10 seasons in the majors.  In fact, Wayne’s father Jim played in the minor leagues for 7 seasons, too.  And so on this Father’s Day weekend, it seems appropriate to talk about this father-son baseball duo and the role that their faith in God plays in their life.

Wayne Tolleson was drafted twice into the Majors.  He didn’t sign the first time, and was drafted again the next year (1978) by the Texas Rangers. He made his debut in 1981 and would play over 800 games as an infielder for the 3 teams mentioned above.  His debut was made against the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that now employs his son, Steve.

Steve was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2005 and played in the minors with until he was picked up on waivers by the Oakland A’s in 2010.  He too would make his debut against the Toronto Blue Jays and collect his first major league hit against them a couple days later.  He bounced around some more (San Diego, White Sox and Baltimore) before the Blue Jays signed him in 2013 and invited him to Spring Training.

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Steve Tolleson has played many positions as a pro. He even took a turn on the mound

Both Tollesons have seen action at many positions in their career.  They have both spent time at second, third, shortstop, designated hitter and in the outfield.  Steve has also appeared as a pitcher .

As you can see, the similarities between their careers is quite something.

Both father and son have built their careers around being able to play many positions and step into to lots of different situations.  Baseball is a game and so it sounds like a career in baseball would be a lot of fun, but working through the minors and playing at the top level can be a grind as well.  As you can read in this post on John Clayton’s Blog  Wayne helps prepare and encourage Steve in this process by reminding him to keep God as the top priority.  Steve says

Dad has always stressed putting God first. God never puts something in front of us or puts in a position that we can handle. . . . Through all the ups and downs with different organizations, I can honestly say that I know now that God put me there for a reason.”

And as you can read in this article from The Citizen Times Wayne is just fine with the career that he had.  “God richly blessed my career in terms of longevity, and getting a chance to play every day as a New York Yankee was a highlight of my career

These days Wayne is a consultant for a great organization “Upward Sports” whose purpose is to introduce youth to Jesus through the medium of sport.  They currently offer sports clinics in 6 different sports.

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My brothers on the outsides my dad and I in the middle. I am very grateful for my family!

Here are my takeaways from the Tolleson’s story:

1- Being a Son –   My father has been a great influence on me.  He has modeled a Godly life and while I didn’t follow in his footsteps professionally, I do strive to be a Godly example for my own kids.  I also want to live a life that makes my dad proud of me. I know that I have not been a perfect son.  I can no doubt claim my share of his gray hairs.  But I also have great memories of many wonderful times spent together and life lessons learned with his guidance.  Life has put many miles between us, but I don’t feel far away from him.  I have been loved and cared for by my earthly father and his support and love is proof that God is alive and working in and through him.  Happy Father’s day Dad!

2- Being a Father –  I strive to be an example of a Godly life lived with the purpose of following God.  I hope to instill in my children the notion that living for God is the most important thing they can do in their life. and wherever it leads them, if they are following God then I am 100% behind whatever they are doing. Fatherhood is an adventure and to see the little pieces of me that make up my children is fun although at times hard.  In the good, I see that God is working through me to show His love to my children.  And in their imperfection, I am reminded that I am still a work in progress.  But in every part of being a dad, I understand more about God’s love for his children.  I pray that my life can point them to His perfect love.