I am getting to the age where I barely remember high school. I do remember that a few days after I graduated from High School, I went to work for a construction crew that was rebuilding a busy stretch of road in my home town. I spent 12 hour days out in the hot sun either doing manual labor, or controlling traffic with one of those “stop/slow”signs. I would spend some time on the work sight thinking about what the future may hold and getting ready to start my bachelor’s degree in the fall. It was a scary time for me, knowing that the “future” was almost here and soon I would be trying to figure out my career and get “grown-up” life under way.
Two days after his high school graduation, Seattle Mariners designated hitter Corey Hart was drafted in the 10th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Grown up life was here for him. He went to begin his professional career in Ogden, Utah. And maybe he was not completely ready for what he would encounter. He ran in to some off-field troubles that had him on the brink of being out of baseball. Hear him talk about his story in the following video from CBN.
While Hart progressed through the minors, his life was slipping from his control. He was focused on himself. He was using drugs, ruining his reputation, and losing his wife and four children. She was ready to be done with Him.
Then, their oldest daughter, who was attending a private Christian school, asked her dad to help her with a homework question. She asked what a it meant in John 3.30 mean. The verse says “He must increase, but I must decrease” He didn’t know how to answer her. And the verse in question rattled Hart. He began searching for the meaning of that verse. The search awakened a desire to learn more about God and what the Bible had to say.
His life began to change, he worked on his marriage and his family. He had decreased his focus on himself, and increased his focus on God. He asked God to help restore him, his marriage and his family. And God faithfully did just that. He says “I used to be so self-involved. I became a better person once I realized it is not about me. I think I am a better dad, a better husband, and I know I am a better person.”
Here are my takeaways from Hart’s story:
1- Increase vs decrease – We spend so much of our day trying to prove that we are good enough, trying to impress people around us and make a name for ourselves. And this is not only an issue in professional sports. We all battle this everyday. The truth is the more we put on ourselves, the more drained we will feel and yet, we will still feel inadequate and like we are failing. I talked about it a couple posts ago, but it surfaces again, so I guess I am still learning about it. We strive for independence as we get older, but contrarily, God desires for us to be dependent on Him. If we can decrease our self-centered nature, and give up control to Him. If we can decrease and allow His presence in our life to increase, we will see amazing changes happening like Hart did.
2- Learning from our Children – It was Hart’s oldest daughter who asked him about the Bible, and as you can read in this article, she asked if they could go to church. That moment was a catalyst for Hart searching out who God is and eventually giving his life to following God. Jesus talks frequently about the value of children and their faith. Again here we see God using a child to draw an adult to Him. May we never underestimate the value of the children and youth in our lives!
3- From Self-Absorbed to Other focused – Hart was so consumed with being successful as a baseball player, he put those most important to him, his wife and children, on the back burner and was almost a the point of losing them all. After inviting God to help him reset his priorities, the change has been noticed by teammates, too. As you can read in this article from Athletes in Action, Hart has taken some younger players under his wing, helping them with baseball, but also with their growing faith. When we take our eyes off of ourselves, we see that there are people around us that God may be calling us to help. Who could you be a friend/mentor to?
I enjoy writing posts for this blog. I am a sports fan but the teams I consider my favorites are not often the most successful teams in their sports. So writing these posts allows me to find reasons to cheer for teams that may not otherwise be my favorites. But occasionally, I am still conflicted. An example of this was the 2011 World Series, won by the St. Louis Cardinals. I’m a fan of Josh Hamilton (here is my post about him) and I really wanted to see the Rangers win a title. And while I also like and have blogged about Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright, I was still hoping that the Rangers would prevail.
Then, with the Rangers just one strike away from winning it all, Cardinals third baseman at the time, David Freese stepped in to the batter’s box. On this night, he would crush the Rangers dreams not once, but twice.
He hit a two-run triple with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. Then, in the 11th, he hit a walk-off home run. The Cardinals would win game 7 the next night to claim the title and Freese would be the World Series MVP.
For Freese, who was traded last off-season to the L.A. Angels of Anaheim, it must have been a dream scenario. Big hits, helping his hometown team (he grew up in St. Louis) win a World Series at home. But as you can read in the book Intentional Walk, Freese knows that “none of it would have been possible if he had not made a dramatic decision in December 2009 to turn his life over to Christ” . He had been making some bad choices in life and it was taking its toll on him.
Shortly after surrendering his life to God, he met Mike Matheny (who I blogged about earlier this season). Matheny was a Cardinals coach at the time, and Freese knows that it was an important meeting, not just for his career, but for his walk with God. Intentional Walk goes on to say “Freese knows that because of the people God put into his life, his life has changed.”
Baseball is made of plenty of highs and lows, streaks and slumps. With Freese having enjoyed some of the greatest heights that baseball offers, he was asked how hard it was to deal with some of the lows that baseball brings. His answer? “I know that the more you invest in God, the easier the lows become“. Freese goes on to say “If the word humble is not in your dictionary, it is going to find you quick.” Staying humble is the key.
Here are my takeaways from Freese’s story
1- The life of a seed - Jesus tells the story of a sower that spreads seeds. It is a process for a seed to grow into a plant that bears fruit. It requires good soil, sun, water, weeding, and patience. And when this happens, there is fruit that is produced. The same is true about our Christian faith. God brings people into our lives at important times to play important roles. They help us grow, help us identify and rid ourselves of problems, and allow us chances to continue developing. God’s timing and plan is perfect. Freese talks about the importance of meeting Matheny and other Christians just after committing his life to Christ. They helped encourage him in his faith and root him in Christ. (John 15). Who has played important roles in your life? Whose life are you impacting? How can you help them grow in their relationship with God?
2- Is humble in your dictionary – Freese has lived out some of the biggest thrills in baseball. He was the hero. With that came attention, the talk-show circuit, ovations and adulation. But baseball also has ways of bringing you down. There are injuries and slumps that can sneak up on a player at any given time. Freese talks about having lots of opportunities along the way that have taught him humility. Humility comes when we realize that God is the one in control – not us. We like to blame God or fate or other people for our circumstances when they are hard, and take credit ourselves when things are going well. Following God means trusting Him – giving Him the credit for the great things He is doing in your life, and watching Him be faithfully by your side, leading and teaching in the hard things that life brings your way. Humility means remembering to keep yourself out of the picture and let God be in the spotlight.
I appreciate my parents. And now as a father, myself, I appreciate even more the job that they did raising my brothers and I. They modeled a life where God was central and serving others was important. My wife would say the same thing about her parents. She learned a lot about what following God is all about by watching the way her parents lived their lives. I strive to be a good dad and hope that if nothing else, my children will know that God is real and that living for Him is the only way to live. The gift He offers is amazing and unending.
I’ve never met or spoken with Orioles catcher Nick Hundley, but judging by what I read in this article from Campus Crusade, he would agree with my thoughts about parenting. When talking about parenthood, he quotes Proverbs 20.7 - “Blessed are the sons of a man who lives with integrity.” He had grown up in a Christian home and is grateful for the godly example his dad was. He desires to do the same for his children. What does it mean to live with integrity? It means to live what you say – to demonstrate in your actions what you claim to believe. Hundley became a dad a last August when his daughter Allyson was born. Fatherhood has him to an increased dependency on God. He desires to show his kids the example of a Godly father, like he had in his own dad.
But baseball had become Hundley’s main focus. And after a below average year, he was searching for answers. Something needed to change. Former Padres teammate Eric Stults (whom I blogged about last season) says about Hundley “The biggest change I see is he put God back in the forefront of his life.” And with the help of a couple spiritual mentors, he has again learned to depend more and more on God. He says “Christ has infiltrated my life, and I want that to continue on a daily basis, an hourly basis, every minute of the day.” I know that when I became a dad, I realized that if I depend only on myself to raise my children, I (and they) would be in for a lot of trouble.
Here are my takeaways from Hundley’s story.
1- Fatherhood – Proverbs 20.7- What a great verse and what a great challenge. I know that it is easy to give in to the temptation of following the way of the world and trying to do everything in our own strength. But the saying is true – actions speak louder than words. Do my words reflect the importance I claim that God has for me? Does my life show the change that He has made in me? Following God and allowing our actions to reflect our devotion to Him is vital for our own existence. But as this verse reminds us, our children will be blessed if we live our life according to our belief in God. How? They will see a life of faith modeled. They will see and hear us proclaim God’s faithfulness in all times, and they will (hopefully) choose to make Him the most important part of their life.
2- Dependence vs. independence. - I lived at my parents house longer than most people do. It was the cheapest option for me in college. Living at home and working allowed me to get through college without any student loans. And while I was not “on my own” like many of my college friends, I was more or less free to come and go as I pleased. I did spend a couple of years travelling and working. That is what our world and our society tells us to stand on our own – that independence is important. But with God, we are counter-cultural. Instead of striving for independence, God wants us to be very dependent. Dependent on Him for everything. Depending on his plan to lead us where we ought to go. And while independence from our parents is an important step to growing up, complete dependence on God is the only way to survive life and all the struggles it brings.
Today, it’s time for a little bit of my story. I was a huge hockey fan, and dreamed of being a broadcaster on Hockey Night in Canada. I even memorized every NHL player’s jersey number – within a few days of their being traded or recalled from the minors. I had some hockey-fan friends in my homeroom who would try to stump me, but they were not able to do it. I studying Physical Education, thinking I would learn the rules and strategies of as many sports as possible, as well as some basic sport psychology, marketing and business.
Just one problem. I didn’t like public speaking. At all! But that wasn’t a deterrent, it was just an obstacle. An obstacle I would face head on when I took a year away from college to teach and perform Children’s Ministry workshops. The main focus of these workshops was puppetry, which I had been doing at my church for 10 years. I saw it as a great way to take something I was good at – puppetry, and use it to get better at something that scared me – public speaking. Then I would go back and finish learning the sports end of it before heading on to the broadcast school.
But God had different plans. He used my time teaching at the workshops to begin to show me how much I enjoyed children’s ministry. And now, 17 years later, I direct an after school program at my church. God’s plan for me was Children’s ministry. My sports journalism is limited to this blog about Christian athletes. And I love it! And while I would not trade my place for sportscasting, I will admit that I’d love to be the voice associated with a memorable moment is sports history.
Jerry Howarth has been broadcasting Toronto Blue Jays baseball games on the radio full time since 1982. He teamed up with Tom Cheek who had been broadcasting Blue Jay games since they began in 1977. As you can read in this article from the Toronto Sun, Cheek and Howarth, or Tom and Jerry as they would come to be known, had opportunities to call not one but two Blue Jays World Series wins. And for Howarth, despite the longtime success and recognition of being the voice of the Blue Jays, and the World Series rings and renown that have come with it, Howarth shares that baseball is not what his life is all about.
As you can see in this feature from 100 Huntley Street, when it comes to priorities, baseball is not even close to the most important thing.
This article from Town Crier tells the story of Howarth’s decision to live for God. Howarth shares how he had this moment where he felt God telling him “without Me, this is meaningless”. That night he gave his life, his career and his voice to God. He went on to say that he opens each broadcast with a prayer “Lord let me love, praise and serve you this broadcast.”
My takeaways from Howarth’s story
1- Other Directed, not Self Absorbed – This life is not about us. Our role is to serve God with all that we do. Each game, Howarth prays that he would be able to love, praise and serve God through the broadcast. That doesn’t mean covering the Romans Road at some point during the game. It means to do the best you can and to do so as an act of acknowledgement that God is the one responsible for bringing us to where we are. If we are choosing to life our life for Him, then we invite Him to impact all that we do. God can use us in ways we can’t even begin to understand. Our role is to seek His kingdom first and His righteousness. When we pray and ask God to be central to everything in our life, we will begin to see Him and see others. Without this, we tend to focus on ourselves and others (including God) are out of sight, out of mind.
2- Without You this is Meaningless – We can have the best intentions in the world for the things that we do, but if we are not following God, we wind up feeling empty. I am glad that my dream of broadcasting did not come true. Following God’s path has led me to some amazing places, introduced me to some amazing people (my wife is one of them), and brought me to a life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But every day is still a decision to make. Every day, I must again to follow God and go where He leads me. Without following God’s path, without lining up my life with His purpose for me, everything is meaningless. God is the only meaning that any of us need in our life.
Kansas City Royals cathcer Erik Kratz and his wife Sarah were married while Erik was a senior at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Drafted in the 29th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, they knew it would not be an easy journey to the Majors. They discussed it together and decided that they’d give it five years and if Erik didn’t make it to the Majors by then, that would be it. But according to Erik, the 5 years went by very quickly and he had not made it to the Majors yet. As you can hear in the video below after some discussion and prayer, his wife said she wasn’t ready to move on yet. And so they stayed in the baseball life. It would be 2 and a half more years before the call up to the majors would happen. But finally, at the age of 30, Erik got the call to join the Pittsburgh Pirates. And as the video shows us, Kratz is okay with his journey. He uses his story to talk about God’s faithfulness. Here is the video.
And while Kratz has still played at least 35 games in the minors in each season except 2013 where he was injured for part of the year, his attitude remains focused. This article from the National Post says Kratz has a “twofold mission: to play his sport well and help others live better lives” . In the article, he is helping Frank Viola III, the son of a former Cy Young Award winning pitcher, attempt to restart his baseball career after a few years away. He goes on to say “It’s about how can you enrich lives, how can you give them something that will last longer than a standing ovation when you score the winning run. That’s where I think he and I connected. It’s a good relationship.” Here is a similar article about him working with pitcher J.A. Happ.
My takeaways from Kratz’ story
1- God’s plan on His schedule – Kratz had a dream of making it to the Majors. His plan was to give it 5 years and then move on. God changed that plan as Kratz and his wife sought God’s guidance. Proverbs 16.9 tells us that “we make our plans but God orders our steps” The best plan that we can make and the only plan that will work out is to plan to follow God and go where He leads. Kratz uses his story to talk about God’s faithfulness, even through the seasons where he would doubt, he kept trusting God and following him through whatever door He opened. And while it was not on the schedule that Kratz had originally planned – God did lead Kratz to the majors where he is living out his dream, and letting others know that it is only because of God that Kratz is there. In the video, he says he wants to be a beacon of God’s light. He says “God walks beside me every day and I want people to see that”. We tend to try and fit God into our schedule, too. We have our plans and when they don’t seem to be working out as we wanted them to, then we begin to doubt, or we give up. Kratz story challenges me to set my schedule to God’s calendar. And to represent Him along the way. All we have is only because of Him. God walks with us every day too. How can we let that be known to the others around us?
2- Play Well and Help Others – Athletes tend to be self-centered. Actually, we all tend to be self-centered. For pro athletes, they have to spend a lot of time focusing on themselves and their game. They need to hone their skills and be the best that they can be, first to make it to the top level, and then to keep their job once they arrive. It is a struggle to “make it” and then once you reach the top level, there are many more that are looking to take your place. What I found refreshing as I researched Kratz’ story was that there were articles about other players, looking to be the best that they could be, and there was Kratz, helping them out. As mentioned above, Kratz has a two-fold mission – Play well and help others live better lives. It means living life with an awareness of the others around you. We can get so caught up in our own life, our own struggles, that we fail to notice the struggles of others. Let’s keep our eyes open to see the needs around us and strive to help them. In doing so, God can use us to change lives, including our own.
To make it as a Major League Baseball player must bring an immense amount of pressure and stress. To do so as the son of a Major League baseball player would only add to the pressure. Los Angeles Dodgers Outfielder/First baseman Scott Van Slyke’s father Andy had some success in the Big Leagues – 3 All-Star Games, 5 Gold Glove Awards and 2 Silver Slugger Awards, playing in 4 post-seasons, including 1 World Series. It would be a lot to live up to.
Scott, taken by the Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2005 draft, is in his first full season with the Dodgers after splitting time between the Dodgers and their minor league affiliates for the previous 2 seasons. He had always wanted to be a baseball player, But as you can read in this article from the LA Times, Van Slyke was praying for a way out of baseball. He was in a slump, struggling to find success and was ready to move on from baseball. He knew he had to either find a way out of his slump or find a way out of baseball.
It was not the first time that he had felt over-matched in baseball. He talks about his first season in professional baseball. The LA Times article tells us that in high school, he hadn’t seen many pitches above 80 mph. He arrives in the pros and, in his own words, he says ”
“I remember standing at the plate thinking, ‘I have no chance against this guy,’” Van Slyke said. “They were throwing 97, 96, ball going all over the place. I didn’t think I was going to last very long…”
God answered this prayer quickly. A few days later, Van Slyke began a 15 for 21 streak at the plate. He was hitting the ball, driving the ball and finally finding himself able to relax and enjoy the game again. Growing up around the game, with a father who played in the Majors for 13 seasons, baseball is all that Scott Van Slyke wanted to do when he grew up. But the influence into baseball is not the thing Scott is most grateful to his parents for. As you can read in this article from the Alabama Baptist, “They live their life for Christ, and how they help other people is what drove me to the realization that Christ is real”.
And he has taken the faith he has seen in them and made it his own. He says “Faith gets me through the rough times and keeps me levelheaded when I’m doing well”
And both Van Slykes enjoys growing in their faith and helping others learn about God, too. They team up at an FCA baseball camp in Missouri.
Here are my takeaways from Van Slyke’s story:
1- We are not Over-Matched - He talks about having “no chance against this guy”, when facing a 97 mph fastball. It is easy in life to feel intimidated. God has a real enemy that loves to whisper in our ear about how we can’t do this or we can’t do that. His mission is to make us give up, to look for a way out, to quit. In Romans 8, the author asks what can separate us from the Love of God – trouble? suffering? hard times? hunger? nakedness? danger? death? In all these things we are “more than conquerors”. Because no matter what happens – success or failure -”Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”(Rom 8. 37-38)
2- Legacy for my children -I think it is great that Scott Van Slyke credits his faith to how important it was to his parents. I did not choose the same career that my parents did. I don’t know that my kids will choose the same career path that I have chosen. But I do appreciate the role that faith in God plays in my parents’ life. I hope my children see the importance of a life centered on following God in me and that they will come to trust Him – no matter where He leads.
This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose
That is the question that faced outfielder Abraham Almonte, who was picked up by the Padres in a trade with the Mariners at the trade Deadline. As you can read in this article from the News Tribune, he began drinking as a teenager, coping with the death of his father. The drinking problem worsened when an injury took baseball away from him for a while. In the article, he is quoted as saying
“But most of the time after I got drunk, I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that because it wasn’t going to help me in my career. A lot of times I tried to quit, but I never did.”
He was asking himself the question “This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?
He knew he wanted to stop, to change, but when temptation came along again, he would give in. And it was ruining his career and his life. He talks about how he craved alcohol like someone would crave water after a workout.
At one point, Alonte injured his shoulder. The time away from the game led to an increase in his drinking. One night though, he resisted the temptation to drink, and that night, God spoke to him. God began to transform him from this need he felt to drink. Continue to read Almonte’s amazing story and you see the transformation that God has made in his life. He took away the desire to drink and miraculously healed his injured arm. The alcohol abuse had put Almonte’s career in danger. But God was changing him. He had become a new creation. He began a bible study for his minor league teammates.
And while he is excited to play baseball and progress along his career path, his ultimate goal is to glorify God.
He says “No matter where they send me – big leagues, minor leagues, home, wherever they send me – I know I’m going to do whatever God wants me to do. Baseball or no baseball, if I do it to glorify God’s name, I think I’ll be OK.”
When Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler takes the mound, and you have the chance to watch him throw the ball, it doesn’t seem like he is just an ordinary guy. He has a very unusual wind up and delivery.
However, Ziegler himself craves being seen as a regular guy and that just because he is a pro baseball player, he doesn’t want that to set him apart from the rest of humanity. After signing a 2 year contract that would pay him more than 10 million dollars, he is quoted in this USAtoday article saying
“I’m just a normal guy and want them to treat me like that. I don’t want them to think I’m different because I play baseball for a living. I think fans think that when you sign that contract, all your problems are taken care of. I still have problems. They may be slightly different, but I fight the same struggles as other people do.
“I never want to forget where I came from. I’ve been raised a certain way. I believe in a certain way. And I feel very strong about honoring those beliefs and that faith.”
Check out Ziegler’s wind up and delivery.
Ziegler’s route to the pros is not a common one. After 5 years of college and a mathematics degree, MLB came calling. He was drafted in the 20th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, at the age of 24. He developed tendinitis after pitching only 6 innings. The Phillies cut him during the off-season. He went to an independent league and caught the attention of the Oakland A’s who are famous for finding diamonds in the rough. During his minor league career, he changed his delivery to the unique sidearm/submarine one he uses now. He transitioned from starter to reliever and he even unbelievably fractured his skull not once, but twice .
You can read about his journey to the majors in this article by Christian Chronicle. He knows that God has used his path to the majors to teach him lessons and help keep things in perspective. He says “I’ve cheated death in the past with the first skull fracture that I had. “I want to make sure I’m living a life that people around me can be proud of and that hopefully is bringing glory to the Lord and bringing people to follow him.”
He arrived in the majors in May of 2008. And talk about your great starts to a career. Ziegler broke amajor league record that had been in place for 101 years. Most scoreless innings to start a career. Ziegler rang up 39 of them, allowing his first run in his 30th appearance. He has become a top level reliever, in his 3+ seasons in Arizona, he has compiled an 18-3 record with an ERA of 2.33.
My Takeaways from Ziegler
1- Stand out from the crowd – Ziegler’s pitching style sets him apart from other pitchers. It is a unique style, different from what a pitch is supposed to look like. We also are called to stand out, to be set apart from the way the rest of the world is. We do this by living for God, letting Him be the most important part of our life and going with it, even when it leads to unwanted attention or ridicule. Just like Ziegler’s coach changed his delivery for the better and led him to his greatest success, God calls us to be different from the world and also calls us to our greatest success – following God and trusting His plan.
2- We are ordinary guys – Ziegler is a normal guy. He talks in this article about how amazed he is to be a big leaguer. He talks about meeting Johnny Damon, his favorite player to watch as he grew up in Kansas City. He wants fans to know about the struggles that he still faces, even with the fame and wealth that baseball has brought. He is a normal guy like us. And he likes to speak his mind on social issues, too.
The Bible is full of normal people too. Lots of ordinary, flawed people, trying to do the right thing, but prone to doing the wrong thing. We are all imperfect and struggle to follow God effectively. But the beauty is that while Ziegler and you and me are all ordinary people, there is an EXTRAORDINARY God that loves us and desires for us to know Him. Following Him with our lives and serving others in His name will show us over and over again how amazing He is. Let’s love and serve Him with all we’ve got!