TBT- A Lasting Legacy – Frank Tanana – Detroit Tigers

Former Tigers Pitcher Frank Tanana

Last Thursday, I shared the story of Gary Gaetti, who was a member of the 1987 World Series Champion Minnesota Twins. Who did the Twins beat to go the the World Series? The Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1 which was impressive since the Tigers had taken 8 of the 12 games from the Twins in the regular season. The Tigers had been in an epic battle with the Toronto Blue Jays that came down to a head-to-head 3 game series in Detroit on the final weekend of the season. The Jays were up by one game entering the series and had just swept the Tigers in Toronto the week before. The Tigers won the first two which meant the title came down to the last game.  If Toronto won, they would force a playoff. If Detroit won, they took the crown. Enter Frank Tanana. Now Tanana had been around for a few years at this point. 1987 was his 16th year in the Majors. He was a 3 time All-Star and 3 times finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting but he was 10 years removed from those days.  At this point of his career, he used an array of breaking balls and change-ups to keep batters off-balance.

Tanana is congratulated by Lou Whittaker after pitching a title-clenching 1-0 gem against the Blue Jays in 1987

He used that repertoire to scatter 6 hits and 3 walks in a complete game 1-0 shutout of the Jays, striking out 9 along the way. In Warren Wilbert’s book “Baseball’s Iconic 1-0 games“, chapter 2 is devoted to Tanana’s masterpiece – a pitching duel between Tanana and the Jays’ Jimmy Key. Key pitched a 3 hitter, but one of those hits was a Larry Herndon home run in the second inning. And while the Tigers would ultimately fall short of a World Series title, that Tanana game lives on as a great game at a key moment.  Wilbert says it this way. “Almost lost in the midst of a championship on the line in the season’s last game is the 1-0 gem Tanana threw. This one brought with it a championship…”

Early in his Career, Tanana and Nolan Ryan were the dominant 1-2 punch in the Angel’s rotation

So, what makes a legacy.  Sometimes it is a moment when you rise above the circumstance and achieve something amazing. I remember hearing the story of Canadian hockey hero Paul Henderson. I wrote a post about him a couple years back and despite scoring the most iconic goal in Canadian hockey history, he says that the best day of his life was not that day, but rather the day he became a Christian.  Tanana’s story is similar.  Despite this amazing game, and his stellar career of more than 2 decades, Tanana’s faith in God is where his legacy lies.

This article from mlive.com says as much.  It talks about this memorable game in `87 as the career defining moment for Tanana, yet it goes on to share how a night in November 4 years earlier is what defines his life.  Tanana says “Being a Major League Baseball player, that was my security. It was my significance. It was who I was as a man. But then I hurt my arm and came to realize that this career could be over. Then who are you? I was nobody. That wasn’t right. A man shouldn’t be defined by the work that he does.” The article goes on to say that on Nov. 6, 1983. Tanana was sitting around an Arizona hotel room when his life changed forever. He continues “I understood that I was dead in my sins. I realized I had no chance of having a relationship with my Holy God. But His son, Jesus, had lived a perfect life and paid a penalty for my sin. If I trusted my life in Him and asked Him for forgiveness and asked Him to come into my life, that I would be a brand new preacher, I would b e a brand new person. My sins would all be forgiven. On November 6, 1983, I made that commitment of trusting in Jesus. I have walked with him ever since. For nearly 33 years, God has been my rock on which I’ve built my life … I have a great marriage and a wonderful family because of Christ. I give Him all the praise and glory. That was my moment of my conversion, my moment of trusting Christ. I have been with Him ever since.”

Tanana speaking at Tiger’s faith night. He has been a regular part of these nights for 3 decades in Detroit.

After his baseball career ended, Tanana became a regular speaker at Tigers faith nights, (By my count he has been a speaker at 31 of the 36 Faith nights the Tigers have held since 1987). He and his wife are also on the Board of Pro Athletes Outreach – and organization that seeks to share God’s love with professional athletes. You can check out his story in his words in this article from TheGoal.com.

Here are my takeaways from Tanana’s story

1- Not Defined by what you do – Tanana shared that baseball was his significance and apart from it, he felt empty. He said “A man shouldn’t be defined by the work that he does”.  One of my favorite stories in the Bible has to do with that.  It can be found in Genesis 32.22-32.  We read about Jacob at the end of a stressful day, wrestling with “a Man” in his tent.  There is no clear cut winner and Jacob asks for a blessing from his opponent. I’d heard this story many times before but when I was in my 20’s I heard it from the Amplified Version of the Bible and it took on new life.  Check out what it says.

27[The Man] asked him, What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]! 28 And He said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob [supplanter], but Israel [contender with God];

Do you see it?  Jacob realized who he was from his life of deceit and trickery – it is what his name means. But God changed his name and his legacy.  He offers the same to us.  Because all of us, on our own, have similar legacies – selfish, prideful, rebellious people who take advantage of others whenever possible to suit our own purposes. But when we realize our sinfulness and reach rock bottom, He offers to not leave us there, but to change us and our story. He offers us a happy ending.

Tanana pitched for his home town Tigers for 8 seasons.

2- Share your story – God has given Tanana a platform to share his story and Tanana has accepted.  He shares yearly at the Faith Nights that the Tigers organize and in his spare time, he reaches out to others in the Baseball world with his story and the hope that knowing Christ brings. What is your story? What is your platform? Will you take up the challenge to boldly share the difference God has made in your life? He will help you and use you to bring others to Himself. What a privilege it is to be a part of this amazing plan.

NHL Playoffs – Final Four – Chris Neil – Ottawa Senators and Chris Wagner – Anaheim Ducks

We have reached the semi finals in the NHL playoffs and it has been a very entertaining playoff thus far.  In the past I have written posts about players on the Penguins (Matt Cullen) and Nashville Predators (Mike Fisher), and so I thought it would be good to share some stories from the other 2 teams too.

First to the Ottawa Senators and their rugged winger Chris Neil.

Chris Neil greets former teammate Mike Fisher at a game in Ottawa.  Are the Preds and Sens going to meet in the Cup Finals this year?

His story is an amazing one in that he was a sixth round draft pick in the 1998 draft (#161 overall). He has played all 15 seasons in his career with the Senators. This year, he played his 1,000th NHL game.  His best season in was 2005-2006 when he scored 16 goals and added 17 assists (both career highs).  It was also one of his 4 seasons with more than 200 penalty minutes.  The latter is what Neil is most known for.  With over 2,500 career penalty minutes, his tough play is his calling card.  As you can read in this article from the Ottawa Sun, even though Neil is known for his tough physical play and his willingness to fight the opponent’s toughest competitor, he is also a loving family man, a prankster and a devout Christian who was a roommate with Mike Fisher while Fisher was in Ottawa.

He says “I was always part of Vacation Bible School as a kid … My mom had a very strong faith. We’d go to church. Sometimes she couldn’t go because she had to take the other kids to hockey and I’d ride my bike to church. It gave me something to believe in and something to look forward to every Sunday — to worship God.

Neil is known as a tough competitor, but he has a great heart giving back to his community.

Neil and his wife Caitlin met at church.  They have been married since 2006 and have 3 kids.  They have become very active in the community, as an advocate for “Roger’s House” a pediatric care center named after former Senator’s coach Roger Neilsen.  Neil is 37 and played in only 2 playoff games thus far, but he has been a key part of the Senators for 16 years and is no doubt excited to be a part of this team on a deep run towards the Stanley Cup. Will they get their chance? We will find out this week.

And in Anaheim, we meet winger Chris Wagner.

Wagner celebrates a goal against the Flyers. He has played parts of 3 seasons with the Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks have their own Chris that was drafted late.  Chris Wagner was drafted by the Ducks in the fifth round of the 2010 entry draft. He played 2 seasons of college hockey with Colgate and 2 years of play with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL before getting a couple tastes of NHL action. He would play 20 games over a season and a half with the Ducks. However, at one point during the 2015-2016 season, the Ducks were forced to put Wagner on waivers to send him down and that allowed other teams to be able to claim him. And he was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche.

He played with Colorado for 26 games scoring 4 goals for them. But he was again placed on waivers and reclaimed by the Ducks. He played 6 more games for them, netting 2 assissts.  He played 43 games with the Ducks this year, scoring 6 goals. He has played in every Ducks game this playoffs, scoring 2 goals. On the FCA Hockey Page, Wagner shares a favorite verse – one he learned as a child at AWANA, and the importance he sees in it.  He says “John 3:16, This verse is so important to me because it sums up the keys to Christianity and is the easiest to explain to a non-believer. I remember being taught this verse my first day at AWANA and after memorizing it, I have never forgot it.”

Wagner scored in a game 5 loss. The Ducks are down 3-2 in the series.

My Takeaway

1- Faith Like a Child – Both Chris Neil and Chris Walker talk about being involved in their church at a young age.  Through programs like Vacation Bible School and AWANA help kids know the truth about who God is the depth of his love, forgiveness and grace.  I’ve had the pleasure of working in children’s ministry for many years. I love working with kids and challenging them to seek God for themselves. When a youth chooses to really put learning about God a priority and make him the most important part of their life, the things they learn will not leave them. Do you have opportunities to pour into the lives of youth? How can God use you to share his love with the younger generation and help equip them to depend on Him for the rest of their lives?


Throwback Thursday: The Change-up – Gary Gaetti – Minnesota Twins

Former Twins 3B Gary Gaetti

A couple of years back, I wrote about the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series.  They were in the World Series again, playing against the Kansas City Royals who were the champs in 1985. The Infamous `86 Mets  were known for their off-field antics as much as they were for their on-field success.  The remarkable thing about the Mets was that many of them would later become Christians share stories of how following God has changed their lives. Check out my post about them here.

The next summer would bring a World Series title to the Minnesota Twins. And a similar story to those of the `86 Mets became a compelling story in the Twin Cities – the story of Gary Gaetti.

Gaetti was drafted by the Cardinals and the White Sox before the Twins drafted him in 1979 and signed him a few days later. He played his way through the minors for the next 3 seasons.  He was called up late in 1981 playing in 9 games and hitting a home run in his first major league at bat. He took over as the starter the next season and would remain a fixture with the Twins for the rest of the decade. He would play in 2 All-Star games, win 4 Gold Glove awards and of course the World Series title in 1987. He even became the first player in MLB history to homer in his first 2 playoff at bats.

Celebration time `1987. Gaetti is on the left in mid-air with Jeff Reardon (41) Tim Laudner (15) and Al Newman (26). Twins are the Champs

The season after winning it all, All-Star third baseman Gary Gaetti went down with a knee injury. During his rehabilitation, he did some deep soul searching.   In this article from the Post Bulletin, Gaetti turned away from his partying lifestyle. He says “`It wasn’t a gradual thing at all, and it wasn’t something I really planned,” Gaetti said of his whirlwind born-again Christian experience.`It all happened in the span of two weeks, maybe three weeks tops, from the time I hurt my knee to the time I came back to the lineup.” Torn cartilage in his left knee forced Gaetti onto the disabled list for the first time in his pro career on Aug. 21, 1988.`The knee injury had a lot to do with it, because it gave me some time to think about my life, evaluate what it’s all about. It was a combination of a lot of personal things, really, that led me to pick up the Bible and start reading.”When Gaetti returned to Tom Kelly’s lineup on Sept. 7, following arthroscopic surgery, the startling transformation was already complete. Gaetti entered the Twins clubhouse with a Bible in hand, and promptly vowed an end to all of the vices which over the years had become trademarks of his swashbuckling personality. No more post-game beers with Rex (Hrbek). No more celebratory shots of Royal Crown brand whiskey after home wins. No more smoking cigarettes; he was up to a pack a day. No more chewing tobacco. No more foul language. `Rat’ was dead. Just like that.”

Gate watches a home run clear the fence. He would finish his career with 360 home runs.

This brought some discord to the Twins.  As you can read in this article from the Chicago Tribune.  The article says “Some teammates said his lifestyle change off the field hurt his play. “In Minnesota, (Christianity) was kind of looked down upon,” said Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Greg Gagne, who played next to Gaetti on the Twins’ infield. “For Gary, it was a difficult situation. He ran at night, partied, did whatever he wanted to do, and then when he came to Christ, he had to answer to a different person. He had to answer to God. That caused some problems in Minnesota.”

He had been part of the party scene on the Twins, and now, he was showing “Jesus is Lord” written on his batting glove for All Star game introductions (see the 2:20 mark of this video).

Gaetti would leave the Twins after the 1990 season for The Angels.  He would bounce around for another decade, playing with 5 different teams before retiring in 2000.  These days, he is a manager for the Sugar Land Skeeters. As you can read in this article from 2004 from NewsOK.com,  Gaetti still maintains a strong faith in God but his approach in sharing his faith has changed a little.  The article says “…These days, Gaetti is sort of that way with his religion: close enough and yet far enough away. He remains deeply religious but also seems to have a newfound respect for other peoples’ beliefs. “I’ve changed, but it doesn’t change what I believe about God,” … “Gaetti seems to have a deeper understanding of the bigger picture, a wider appreciation of other peoples’ sensitivities. And that’s mighty important in the not always friendly confines of a baseball clubhouse. “Do people bring their beliefs with them wherever they go? Yeah but does that mean you preach or proselytize everywhere that you go? No. There’s a time for playing baseball, there’s a time for church, there’s a time for Chapel, there’s a time for all those things. But some people are more outspoken than others.”

Gaetti was known for both his power and his defense during his 19 year MLB career,

Here are my takeaways about Gaetti’s story

1- A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5.17 says “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” This is something that we all see when we begin to live for God, but the picture is very clear in Gaetti’s story. Before he went on the disabled list, he was a known partier. When he returned a couple weeks later, he was passing out religious literature and vowing to stop drinking, smoking and swearing. He was experiencing the change that Jesus makes in our lives. Jesus doesn’t require us to stop doing all those things to earn salvation. Our Salvation was secured when He died on the cross. Instead, He invites us to know Him and accept His offer to enter our lives and make it the best it can be. He doesn’t leave us where we are.  When we fall in love with Him and make Him the most important part of our life, the result will be a change in our behaviors, not because He requires them, but because our love for Him compels us to change the way we live.  The old life, its empty joys and motivations are dead and the new life of loving God and living in the purpose that He has made for us takes over.  What an amazing thing this transformation is!

These days, Gaetti is the manager for the Sugar Land Skeeters. He remains open about his strong faith in God.

2- Appreciating other People’s Sensitivities – The more recent articles talk about Gaetti and the change in his delivery of the Gospel message.  At first, he was very outspoken about his newfound faith and he began to rub people wrong with his changed attitudes.  And while the change was good and necessary for him, it alienated others to the point where they felt they had lost their friend.  So where do we draw that line? What does that look like?  God changes our hearts completely and resets our priorities and so there will be a noticeable difference to those around us who are not following God because we are no longer on the same journey as them. And it is important that we acknowledge God and the work He is doing in our lives. Yet we can’t force others to make a decision to follow God and can’t change their lives on our own. We can simply love them and share our story. We can pray for them and ask God to show us how to love them best? We don’t want to hide our faith from others, but we don’t want to alienate them either.  This is why prayer needs to be an important part of our daily life. We need to be constantly asking God to help us represent Him well and love others as He does. This will allow them to meet Him and allow Him to work on their heart.

Modern Monday – Heart of a Champion – David Ross – Chicago Cubs

Former Cubs catcher and 2 time World Series Champ David Ross

Are you ready for some baseball?  Ok, so I’m a little late for opening day but I am here now and ready to take on my 2017 baseball series on Living Up to My Name.  I really enjoyed last football season when I did half of the NFL with current players and half with historical players, so I am going to bring those flavors to the baseball season this time around.  I will write posts about former MLB players associated with teams in the American League, and I will feature current players from National League teams.  So welcome to the 2017 baseball season, enjoy the coming months with stories about Christian baseball players and the way God is at work in their lives and circumstances.

And the beauty of making my own blog rules is that I can tiptoe across the lines as I see fit.  And that is what I will do with the first post. I am going to start with the Champs, but David Ross is no longer a member of the Chicago Cubs.  He has retired from baseball and as such is technically not a current player BUT, he has been a member of a World Championship Chicago Cubs team (2016) (and also won with my favorite team, the Red Sox in 2013) And so, I will let myself start this season with his story.

He is a likable guy with a greying beard and a kind persona.  He became known affectionately as “grandpa” to the young Cubs roster, and as you can see in this video, he was not simply a roster-filler, but played a role in their winning the title, hitting this home run in game 7.

Ross was drafted out of high school in the 19th round of the 1995 draft but opted to go to college at Auburn.  He was drafted again in the 7th round of the 1998 draft and would go on to play for 15 years with 7 different teams.

David Ross and his dancing partner are moving on the finals on Dancing with the Stars

And what a way to end a career, hitting a World Series home run, winning the World Series in Chicago for the first time in over a century. And tonight, he made it to the finals on Dancing with the Stars.  There is a lot of fun in those experiences, and that must have been refreshing after going through a harrowing birth of their third child, Harper.  Check out the story in this video from City First Church (it starts at the 22:30 mark)

The Ross Family, David and Hyla, and their 3 kids. Harper is front and center.

Harper was born 2 months early – David was on the road with the team- wife had some bleeding and checked herself in to the hospital.  Bed rest was ordered. Ross played that night and then he was given a leave from the team. His teammate and friend Jon Lester ordered a private jet for him to join his wife.  The baby was found to be in partial abruption, and an emergency c-section was ordered.  Baby Harper was born, weighing 3 pounds.

Ross is then asked what this experience did that do to your faith.  Ross said this experience reminded him that “we are not in control – God is in control. As good as things appear to be, they can be taken away”.  He goes on to add “I’m not perfect, I’ve got a bad mouth – my kids remind me to watch my language.” He strives to be a good example to his kids and to others that he may meet. He says he is constantly checking himself asking “What kind of example am I leading. What kind of light am I shining – I don’t ever want to dim God’s light – I try to let him shine through me as much as possible… We are not going to be perfect. we are all going to make mistakes. But keep striving to be the best – that comes with God’s help in our journey.”

Ross, the vocal leader for the Cubs, gets a hero’s sendoff after game seven last hard.

Here are my takeaways from Ross’ story.

1- Don’t Dim God’s Light – We are not able to hinder God from his work because he is not dependent on us, but as Ross said, we can block his light from shining in our lives.  When we are focussed on ourselves, His light doesn’t shine through us very strongly.  Isaiah 42.8 tells us that God will not share his glory with others, it is for Him alone. So how do we keep the lens polished so that his light shines through us strongly.  That comes from asking for His help and surrendering our selfishness to Him and for His purposes.

2- How do you Lead – I remember when I first started working in youth ministry, I loved coming up with crazy (hopefully fun) activities that may challenge comfort zones and “coolness” factors.  But when I prepared these lessons and activities, there was one guideline that I held to strongly.  I would not ask the students in my youth group to do anything that I was not willing to do myself. If they called me on it, I would model the desired behavior. In the video, Ross talks about leadership.  He said “Leaders don’t try to lead, they lead by example”. That is an important lesson in work places where you may be a leader. Value your staff and take every opportunity to guide them and model your expectations. It is also a great reminder in life for us  to lead like Jesus who was the ultimate example of servant leadership. He will help us love others and show them the difference He can make in their lives.

So as David Ross adjusts to life after baseball, and the rest of us cheer him on on Dancing with the Stars, remember the challenges that he shared in this video, and allow Christ to show us the truth about who we are and remind is that our bad choices do not necessarily doom us.  Surrendering to Jesus is the one way to allow His light to shine through you wherever you may go.

March Madness Finale – A Tar Heel and a Zag.

Well, my bracket wound up more busted than a boxer’s nose again this year. I guess it’s the price I pay for not following NCAA basketball closely enough and using a quarter to help me decide which teams I should pick.  But I’m a big enough sports fan that I can always find a reason to watch a sporting event and with this blog inviting me to dig into the stories beyond the field (or in this case the court), it is easy to find points of interest to allow myself to be drawn in.  So hopefully you enjoyed all the madness.  Here are a couple of stories that I want to share with you from the teams in the championship game.

First, Gonzaga Bulldogs – a fitting story to kick off Autism Awareness Month

Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few (center) and Director of Basketball Operations John Jakus (right)

Tonight, as I was checking out facebook, this article from CRU.org came across my feed.  It is the story of  director of basketball operations John Jakus.  He and his wife answered a call to start a basketball ministry in Macedonia.  There they would use basketball to share the message of Christ with the people of Macedonia. They sold their home, packed their things and moved across the world to see this dream of theirs come to be.

And then came the news that their son had Autism.

They decided that it was best for them to return to the U.S.A. and seek help for him. The help he needed was more than they first expected. But have you ever noticed that even when things don’t seem to be going the way we want them to, God has a way of putting pieces that fit together. From the article “The last event John coordinated in Macedonia was an international basketball tournament. Athletes in Action sent an American team coached by Tim Maloney, the Director of Basketball Operations at Baylor University. Baylor is home to a prominent autism resource center. Upon learning of John’s situation, Tim told him, “If you ever need anything, you just let me know.”

The Jakus family – read their amazing journey from missionary in Macedonia to coaching staff at NCAA championship game

Well that “anything” that Jakus needed was an introduction to Scott Drew, coach of the Baylor Basketball program.  Jakus would go to work with Drew at Baylor and his son would get the care he needed from the autism resource center. 2 years later, through a recommendation from the Baylor’s basketball program, Jakus was hired to join the Gonzaga staff.  At Gonzaga, he works directly with the players. And while he doesn’t get the opportunity to openly evangelize as he did in Macedonia, he is praying that God will use him to impact the Bulldogs. He says “At first it was an odd thing for me. I felt underused. I talked to [AIA staff member] Mike Sigfrids about this, and he just brought up that Christ came to serve. And that you can make a difference in people’s lives by being a servant.

My takeaway from Jakus’ story:

Keep on Trusting –  How many times do we wonder what on earth God could be up to.  He goes against what we think would be a perfect plan and turns our world upside down. We may feel confused, hurt, even bitter, but in reality, we are simply being invited to keep trusting Him. How has life thrown you a curve that pulled you from what seemed to make sense? Keep you eyes on Him and see where He leads you. I promise you that He has a plan for you and for the circumstance you are going through. It takes effort to keep on trusting. It means continually giving up control and believing that He has got it all figured out. I see this in Jakus’ story, and I see in it my story. Look at your story too. See those times when confusion was great and things seemed to be spinning out of control? Look again and see God at the center of it all, putting pieces in place to amaze you and accomplish incredible things through you and your story. Take notice, praise Him for it and share with those around you.

And to the Champs – University of North Carolina TarHeels.

Justin Jackson was a key part of the Tar Heels championship season.

Justin Jackson was named this year’s ACC player of the year. The 6’8″ Junior averaged over 18 points per game this year leading the TarHeels in scoring. He has another year of eligibility left and at this point is undecided about returning to North Carolina or entering the NBA. But as you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, the decision that he makes will come after a lot of prayer and attention to God’s leading.

Prior to the championship game, he said “My faith is the biggest thing for me. Basketball will fail you. Everything else in life in my opinion will fail you. I say a prayer before every game and it’s always God’s will. That’s why I wrote it on my shoes to remind me.

He is very outspoken about his faith in God. Check out his article from the Player’s Tribune for more.

Jackson, the champ. Giving credit and praise to God along the way

My Takeaway from Jackson’s story

We Need Him more than He Needs us. – This seems silly to have written down, but it just jumped out at me.  Jackson shares this episode in his freshman year when Coach Williams got after Jackson and another couple players about their work. He wanted them to work harder and if they were not going to, he was going to be done with them. And that is when he says he realized “I needed UNC way more than UNC needed me“.  I’ve been in this place before.  Not on the court at a top basketball practice being chastised by a college icon – I’ve never been there!! But I’ve been in the place where I feel like I’ve earned my spot, that I can rest on my achievements and I can coast. And while God is never going to kick me off his team, I need to be reminded that I needed Him to save me from my sins. He doesn’t need me to do anything for Him. He chooses to accomplish things through me, and asks for me to surrender to Him. But I need Him way more than He needs me.  I pray that I always remember this and show my gratitude and joy at being on the team. May I be ready to be coached and follow His playbook.