All Star Week Pt 2- Blake Treinen – Oakland A’s RP


A’s All-Star Reliever Blake Treinen

Part of the joy of writing this blog is hearing the unlikely stories and the amazing journeys that many players have followed. So many names that have become major league players, even All-stars – came close to giving up, quitting or being forced out by injury or circumstance. But they push through, and their story becomes as interesting as their success.  Blake Treinen is one of those stories. The 30-year old Oakland A’s closer will appear in his first career All-Star game tonight, the result of a first half where in 40 appearances he has already set career highs in wins and saves, while posting a minuscule 0.94 era and holding opponents to a .174 batting average. And while the A’s have some significant hurdles to cross to make the playoffs, they have been turning heads with their better-than-expected season and their solid bullpen.

Treinen’s sinker has helped him puzzle the batter’s he has faced – they are hitting well below ,200 against him this year.

Treinen’s story is one of perseverance through challenges. Here is a summary.  He played High school baseball as a freshman but quit in his Sophomore season after developing diabetes.  He came back to baseball, but was not recruited to play college ball. He attended Baker University, but baseball options there were limited so he transferred to Arkansas, hoping to win a job as a walk-on. He didn’t. Home for Christmas, Treinen attended a one-day pitching clinic put on by a local minor league baseball player Don Czyz. Czyz saw potential. He contacted a former college teammate who was head coach at South Dakota State. Treinen transferred there after finding out they had just started offering the career program he was interested in. He sat out a year due to his time at Arkansas and then starting pitching for the Jackrabbits. Now he was getting noticed. He was drafted by the Marlins in the 23rd round. But a failed physical sent him home without a contract. He was crushed by this. He called his parents, his coach and the SDSU team chaplain. The chaplain assured him with Proverbs 3.4-5. Treinen kind of blew it off, not feeling comforted. His parents picked him up at the airport and were driving through the early morning hours towards home. That is when, according to this CJonline article, Blake said “There’s literally no one out there at 2 in the morning. This red Cavalier drives by and I’m telling my parents at the time that my team chaplain had given me this verse, Proverbs 3:5-6. The car drives by as I’m saying it and their license plate was custom. It read, Prov356. I’m like, ’OK, if you all don’t believe in signs that there’s a God … I’ve had too many things happen in my life that have pointed in that direction more than the idea that there’s not.”  He goes on to say “My biggest crutch throughout everything has been Jesus. Baseball is part of my testimony to my faith. All I’ve ever known is baseball and God has been with me every step. Every trial has been through baseball in some form, and he’s always seen me through.”

Here is a compilation of how effective Treinen has been this season.

And this year, a new height has been reached. Treinen had known some success with the Nationals as a closer, but he is shattering his personal bests this year and his out-pitch – a sinker that averages in the high 90s has troubled opposing hitters all year. I’m excited to see him play tonight, and to share his story of faith and determination.

Here are my takeaways from Treinen’s story.

1- What’s Your story – I’ve said many times on these virtual pages that our story is such a key part of our life. Our lives and experiences are meant for us to know that God is real and active in our lives, but also for others to see God at work through our circumstances and be drawn to Him. Treinen talks in the articles that I linked to above about having some doors slammed shut and others open up. I’m glad to share Blake Treinen’s story. Because we can see similar things occurring in our own stories.  I challenge you all to reflect on your own story and see how God has been faithful and drawing you in to trust Him in all circumstances.

Treinen is congratulated on a save for the A’s – something that has happened 24 times already this season.

2- You Never Know –  Part of what makes this story so intriguing is the “coincidences” throughout. The most jarring is the personalized license plate bearing Proverbs 3.56 just hours after Blake was offered those same 2 verses as a comfort for this challenge he was facing. Consider all the pieces of the story. He happened to be sharing that part of his story and the verses that were shared with him with his parents as the car drove by. It makes you wonder about the driver of the red Cavalier. What happened in his/her life that led them to get that particular verse printed on their license plate. Do they know the impact that it had on this passenger in the car they passed? A man who now finds himself in the baseball All-Star game. Kinda makes you think about all the different ways that you are able to share your faith with others. Maybe it will be in a deep conversation about theology and doctrine, maybe it will be in reflection of a movie that you watch with some friends that brings up topics of faith, sin, grace and forgiveness, maybe it will be a Christian themed t-shirt you are wearing or a tattoo with a bible verse or crying with a friend that has just had their world turned upside down by tragedy. There are may ways that God uses to reach into the lives of others around us. Sometimes He even uses your license plate!

 

All-Star Week 2018 – Trevor Story – Colorado Rockies


Rockies SS and first time All-Star Trevor Story

I used to dream about being a baseball player. Did I ever really have a chance to make it? I would fall under the “longest of long shots”. But if I were to have made it, I dreamed of what it would be like. I dreamed about getting hits, stealing bases, making defensive plays. I dreamed about my debut and what I could accomplish in it. But in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have dreamed about the reality that Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies lived. Story, who is a first time All-Star this year, may go on to accomplish lots of incredible things in his pro baseball career, but I believe part of Story’s story in baseball will always his first week in the Majors.

Trevor Story on-deck on Opening Day 2016. His 2 home runs on opening day world introduce Trevor Story to the baseball world. His 5 more home runs over the course of the week would put him in the record book.

It had taken some time to get there. Story had been drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. He worked his way through the minors, and with the help of a great host family, he learned about living life as a pro baseball player and as an adult.  In 2016, Trevor Story made the Rockies roster out of Spring Training. He got the opening day start against Zach Greinke, who was runner up for the National League Cy Young award the year before. That is a tough taskfor a major league debut. He grounded out to short in his first at bat. In his second, he hit a 3 run home-run. In his third at bat, He took Greinke deep again, this time for a solo shot. Story would go on to set a record by hitting 7 home runs in his first 6 games. Here are the highlights from his first week.

He would go on to hit 20 more home runs in his rookie season, finishing 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, despite playing less than 100 games, missing the final 2 months of the season with a thumb injury. Last season, he struggled at the plate, hitting .239 and leading the National League in strikeouts, although he did still connect for 24 home runs. This year, he has raised his batting average to .289. and 18 home runs. He also already has a career high in stolen bases and triples. He was named to his first All-Star team this year.

The Trevor Story home run trot has been seen 69 times so far in his career. Check out this story about his mom and his journey to the majors.

But for Story, whether he is on a record setting home run pace, or dealing with injuries and struggles in the game, he is constantly leaning on his faith in God to guide him. He says “Through the highs and lows, there’s always one thing constant, That’s my relationship with God. Its certainly not perfect but that’s the thing I fall back on and it’s the most important thing to me”. He also goes on to share the help and encouragement he takes from his teammates who attend baseball chapel with him. He says, “it’s a special brotherhood and we’re trying to keep it growing. Darren Holmes (Rockies bullpen coach) and Steve Foster (Rockies pitching coach) push me almost everyday to grow spiritually. Ian Desmond has been one of those guys for me too. It’s a special thing to have a brother like that that’s with you everyday and a guy you can lean on.” (I blogged about Desmond a couple years ago).

Here are my takeaways from Story’s story.

1- Beyond our Wildest Dreams –  I imagine that even in his most positive and hopeful dreams, even Story would admit that he didn’t dream about the start that his career had. At least one home run in each of his four Major League games. 7 through 6 games. He certainly caught the attention of the baseball world in a huge way. I have never played professional baseball. I have never hit a ball over the home run fence at any level of baseball or softball. But I have dreamed about it. I have also dreamed about many things in life – things that could happen, things that I would like to happen, and there have been countless times when the dreams I had were far exceeded by the reality that I lived because God had bigger things in mind. Do I believe that God will always give us things that will make us rich or famous, but I do believe that living for Him is the best option that we have and following Him will exceed all our expectations.

Story’s faith in God is important to him in his baseball career and in his life.

2- Constant – And even when things are not working out perfect for our fame and success, He continues to guide us and lead us if we allow him to. We can depend on Him. When we are unable to navigate the difficult times in life on our own, He is eager to help. When we are hurting, or forgotten, He comforts us and reminds us of His promises. When we forget about Him, rebel against Him or try to go through life alone, He is always there, waiting for us to call out to him again. I picture the book of Judges. I used to teach lessons to kids from Judges called the A,B,C,D,E,Fs. The way it worked for Israel in the time of the Judges was they would Abandon God, Bad things happen, they Call out to God, a Deliverer is sent, and Everything is good again, For a while, until the cycle starts again. We live life in a similar cycle. But God is constantly there, constantly working and dependable. Trevor Story talks about this constancy that he has experienced with God even though his part in the faith relationship is not perfect. There is a good lesson in that. We are imperfect in our part of the faith relationship, but God is perfect, he is faithful and he is always there.

Around the World Cup – Round of 8 –


We are down to the round of 8 at the World Cup. This event has really reminded me how much fun elite soccer is to watch. I have really enjoyed the tournament and look forward to the remaining games. It has been very fun to see the Russian team exceed expectations in front of their hometown fans. And if you missed it, check out this post I wrote about Alexandr Samedov, a Christian on the Russian National team.  Today, I present a collection of players who play today in Russia, one from each team. I hope you enjoy their stories and the action as it resumes again in the quarterfinals.

Uruguay

Edinson Cavani – Striker

Cavani scores his second goal of the game against Portugal, sending Uruguay to their game against France in the Quarterfinals.

Cavani is playing in his 3rd World Cup and 7th international tournament for Uruguay. He has played over 100 games for Uruguay’s national team and has scored more than 40 goals. He has had a great tournament so far, netting 3 goals in his team’s 4 games. When not plying his trade for his homeland, he plays professionally with Paris St-Germaine where he has scored 116 times in 165 games over 5 seasons. Altogether as a pro, he has scored 323 goals in 530 games over 13 seasons. He is definitely one that defenders will need to keep tabs on during today’s game. But for Cavani, he plays for a reason greater than his own acclaim. According to this article from Sports Spectrum, Cavani plays to honor Christ. He says “That’s why I play for Him, to give Him glory, to thank Him for giving me the ability to play football … for giving me that divine gift that I am trying to manage more and more. We belong to the Evangelical church…I read the Bible every day, study it, and share with my wife the blessings of faith.”  And with the success comes temptations of fame and fortune. According to the Guardian, Cavani says that faith is important in helping him battle these temptations. He says “Football puts everything at your fingertips… Faith really helped me realise that the temptations that you have on hand will give you joy, enjoyment, whatever, but only for a short while. And after that it is all gloom.” Will Cavani and La Celeste continue to march toward the final? To do so, they will have to defeat…

France

France’s Giroud’s tattoo of the 23rd Psalm in Latin. The devout Catholic says faith is important to him.

Olivier Giroud

Just 5 1/2 months older than Cavani is Olivier Giroud, striker for France. Giroud has played over 75 matches for France, scoring 38 goals. As a pro, he plays for Chelsea, after playing for a number of years with Arsenal. Overall, he has scored 201 goals in 482 games. Giroud is a devout Catholic who wears his faith on his sleeve in the form of a tattoo of the 23rd Psalm written in Latin. When asked about it, Giroud saysI grew up with Christian values and I have always felt security conforming to them. These serious words on my arm to reassure me, I know that if I need something, help, I can pray. I have prayed in the middle of a match. Sometimes, when things aren’t going as well as you would like, you ask the help of Jesus. That helps me concentrate again. To focus on what is important. Speaking to him allows me to clear my head. It only lasts a few seconds but it enables me to get rid of my frustration.” The winner of this game will move on to play against the winner of today’s second game between

Brazil

Alisson Becker – GK

Alisson Becker, GK for Brazil has 3 clean sheets in 4 games this World Cup. Will he help Brazil secure another World Cup title?

Brazil is not known for their goalkeepers. Their history lies mostly in their long list of scorers. Names like Pele, Ronaldo, Kaka and Neymar are known and feared by many throughout the history of the game. But Alisson Becker is making a name for himself with his play in the Italian League with Roma. At the World Cup, he has played all 4 games, allowing only 1 goal along the way to 3 clean sheets. The 25 year-old keeper, when he learned about his spot on the National Team, took to social media with the exciting news. He wrote “Very happy to receive the opportunity to defend my country in a world cup! Realization of a dream!!!! Now it is go in search of hexa !!!!! Glory to God!! AB1 God in control worldcup2018″. And in a Q&A session with fans, the Roma goalkeeper shared his thoughts about God’s place in his career. He says “I think faith is important too. If you believe in God, you know you have to do your best on the pitch and put love into everything you do in life.”  And if you really want to see how likable a guy Alisson is, check out this article he wrote for the Player’s Tribune about his brother. Very cool!

Will the Brazilian firepower, and Alisson’s skills in goal be enough to stop the potent offense from…

Belgium

Christian Banteke – striker

Belgian striker Christian Banteke celebrates goals by pointing to heaven in tribute to God. Will he be pointing heavenward as Belgium takes on Brazil?

27 year old Nigerian-born Belgian striker Christian Banteke is no stranger to scoring goals. He has bulged the twine 126 times in his 347 career professional games. And in international play, he has another 12 goals in 32 games. And when he does score, he celebrates with by pointing to the sky. As you can read in this article from Aston Vila FC, his point is a tribute to God and his faith. He says  “I do the celebration because I believe in God. So when I score the first thing I have to do is say thank-you to him. He has given me the power to score. I am a very religious person. I pray before the game and I pray after the game too…Before each match I pray to him to … look after everyone. Before we are footballers, we are men, we are people together.” This time around, he will be praying for his Belgian teammates and for his Brazilian opponents. I appreciate his sportsmanship, the other team is not the enemy, they are simply people like him, playing for the same goal.

Who will survive to play in the semi-finals? Enjoy the games everyone!

Hometown Tournament – 2018 World Cup – Alexandr Samedov – MF


The 2018 World Cup in Russia is half over. 32 teams has been reduced to 16 and it has been a very exciting process to reach this point. Of course my native Canada is not involved. This is not a huge surprise – they have only appeared in the World Cup one time in the 21 tournaments – 1986 in Mexico where in 3 games, they were outscored 5-0. A little more surprising this time around is that USA, my country-in-law, is also not present at the tournament, failing to qualify for the first time in the past 8 World Cups. So that, of course has left me looking for who to cheer on. The games have been quite entertaining to watch, but I haven’t landed on a team that I really am pulling for. So instead, I will simply share some stories over the next few days of players in the tournament that are outspoken about their faith in Jesus. I will start with this great story from the host nation and their 33 year old midfielder Alexandr Samedov.

Alexandr Samedov goes for a ball in the tournament opener against Saudi Arabia.

What makes his story really stand out to me, and I will dig into it in a little bit, is the fact that Russia has strong guidelines limiting evangelism in general, and at these games in specific. But the Russian church has found a way to use this tournament to share God’s love with others. As you can read in this Christianity Today article, many churches are hosting viewing parties, inviting the public to come in and watch the game in their church buildings. According to the article, the guidelines say “There won’t be scores of Christians flying in to partner in proselytization efforts, either. For several years, the government, with its ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, has shut down foreign missions groups, stopped issuing visas for missions workers, and threatened to deport visitors who violate the restrictions.” And so while the population is not able to share their faith with others outside of the registered church buildings, one of the Russian players is sharing his journey of faith with American magazines. Meet Alexandr Samedov.

Samedov’s story of faith is featured in a recent Sports Spectrum magazine

Growing up in Moscow, the son of an Azerbaijani Muslim father and a Russian Orthodox mother, Samedov didn’t really connect with either faith. He says “My father always told me that I was a Muslim. My mom didn’t agree with that.  I didn’t really go in either direction. I lived my life in my own way.” However, when life brought hard things and challenges to him, Samedov didn’t have a natural place to turn. He says “I had already reached the age to be thinking about those things. And then I met my current wife, Yulia. She was a believer; she went to church. Seeing my problems, she simply said to me, ‘Sasha, such and such…’ I came to church once, twice, and I understood.  My life began to change.

Up to that point, Samedov’s life was focused on soccer. He was not interested in academics or reading in general. But one of the ways that his life began to change was his interest in reading. In this Sports Spectrum article, He says “‘I didn’t read much at all. I hardly had any free time. Because I went to a sports school, it didn’t really work out for me to combine academics and sports. I paid more attention to sports, and reading wasn’t the most important thing for me.’ But reading the Bible has been different…“I don’t look at reading the Bible like reading other books, because the Bible is something spiritual; it’s about faith,” he says. “The Bible teaches us. It provides direction for our lives.”

Here are my takeaways from Samedov’s story

Samedov, at 33, is likely playing in his last World Cup, and is excited to have it in his native country.

1- Unashamed – I admit that I don’t know Russia’s laws about evangelism and proselytizing, but I do know, based on the article I read about the World Cup, that there are strict limits to what is permitted. Yet, Samedov shared his story openly with Sports Spectrum Magazine. He has seen a great life change since he chose a life of faith in Christ, and is interested in sharing these life changes with others. I am challenged by this. Most of my life has been lived in Canada and the USA where despite the changing culture, it is still relatively safe to share your faith story with others regardless of the setting. Sure there are some places where it is more frowned upon than others, but the risk of arrest or more serious consequence is pretty small. However, if this should change, or regardless of our circumstance, am I ready to share the importance Jesus plays in my life with others around me? Am I ready to follow 1 Peter 3.15 “Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope” We do have this hope to share – let’s not hold back.

2- He is the Solution – We are problem solvers by nature. We don’t like to rely on others or admit that we need help. However, the reality of our existence is that we ARE in great need and cannot solve this problem on our own. Samedov ran into some troubles in his life that led him on a search for answers. His future wife brought him to church where, when giving Jesus a chance, he found many of the answers he was searching for. And it changed his life. The fact that this happens is the reason for the hope that we were talking about above. Other people around us are looking for answers and we have the resource to the answers they are looking for living in us. Let’s be bold and helpful, sharing our stories and helping others meet the one that can really answer their questions, meet their needs and change their life.

Conference Finals Throwback pt 4 – Tyler Wong – Vegas Golden Knights


Vegas Golden Knights forward Tyler Wong played in their first ever preseason game and scored their first ever franchise goal.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. How on earth can I write a throwback post about a player on a team that has existed for less than 1 year.  It is a valid question, and there are no little tricks that I could use, like talking about a player who played for a team that used to be in Las Vegas, like I could have done with Winnipeg. (Unless I wanted to dig into the minor leagues and the Las Vegas Thunder). Maybe that could have worked, but I chose a different route. In some ways, this throwback article goes back the farthest of any of these posts – all the way back to the franchise’s first ever goal – in its first preseason game – a goal scored by undrafted 22-year old rookie Tyler Wong. Maybe you remember the name and the game. Vegas beat the Vancouver Canucks 9-4, and Wong scored three of those goals.  In case you missed it, here is Vegas Golden Knights first ever hat-trick.

Wong played the majority of the 2018-19 season with the Chicago Wolves.

Wong didn’t make the NHL team despite this great first game. He split his season between the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL, scoring a combined 4 goals and 9 points in 60 games. But as you can read in this article from thesinbin.com, Wong grew up in a Christian home, but when he left home to play Major Junior Hockey, he struggled to stay devoted to God. The article says “During this time in his life, he felt it difficult to pursue his faith on his own without any other open believers on the team. Noting it was a tough year where he made some mistakes, Wong fell away from his upbringing that season. But come next season, he was determined to mature a bit, and set back on the path he knew he wanted to be on”. He connected with the team chaplain for the Calgary Flames and Stampeders, Jack Knight, who also worked in the same role for several area junior teams.  “Meeting a couple of times a month over coffee in Lethbridge, Wong’s time with Knight was a turning point in his life where he truly committed himself to God. He credits Knight as being the biggest influence in his hockey career.”

Wong was captain of the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey League. He helped grow a chapel group there and vows to do the same anywhere his career takes him.

Knight and Wong built a regular chapel service for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Wong saw the number of attendees grow. He plans to continue to build chapel services in wherever his career takes him. He says “It was awesome to see that grow, and to know that (whether) I’m here or wherever, I’ll be able to have that impact to making (chapel) more prominent, where guys aren’t forced to go, but also for guys who are interested they’re able to just go and have no fear of other guys looking down on them,

Wong also wants to extend his influence beyond his teammates. He is very active on Twitter, often sharing a Bible verse or ministry focus in his tweets.  He says “To think hockey is your life, to think hockey is everything, and be able to keep that perspective that we’re blessed to be where we are, we’re blessed to have the abilities, the opportunities to have gotten to where we are today and to just be here right now is an amazing blessing given to us by God. So I think that it’s important for me to be able to use my social media for more than watching funny videos, so I think it’s a good platform for me to use.

Here are my takeaways from Wong’s story:

1- Leaving a Legacy – Last time out, I wrote about Ryan Walter and all the people that he has influenced in his career and in life after hockey. And he came to faith in God due to the influence of teammate Jean Provnovost, who in turn came to faith from the influence of teammate Ed Kea. Wong knew that it was important that he make his faith in God a priority and from that place, grew a chapel group with his Junior team. Wong talked about how he knows that wherever he goes, he wants to help chapel groups and Bible studies grow. This makes me do a quick inventory for myself. What are some ways that I can create opportunities for people around me (neighbors, co-workers, family and friends) to encounter the God who created them, loves them and offers to save them from the penalty that their sins have earned them. It is amazing to think that God could use me to influence many, MANY lives for God’s kingdom. I’m in!

Wong was awarded WHL Humanitarian of the Year 2 years in a row in recognition of his service in the community.

2- Reaching your Community –  Tyler Wong won the  Western Hockey League Humanitarian of the Year award 2 years in a row. I watched a tribute video that Lethbridge Hurricanes put together for Wong, at the end of his career with them. Among the highlights and pictures of Wong we see him and his teammates participating in many community events. There were food drives, hospital visits, and other events that connected with the fans in the area. This continues my first takeaway as well. Our influence can extend beyond the people we are directly in contact with in our daily lives. We can always be on the lookout for ways to serve others. Maybe it is volunteering at a food shelf, or cleaning up, or visiting shut-ins in hospitals or nursing homes.  There are prison outreaches, and loads of volunteer opportunities. The challenge that I take away from this is to be aware and on the lookout for opportunities to serve other people, formally or informally, and then take action. God calls us to follow the example of servitude that Jesus modeled for us. Will you join me?