Modern Monday – If God Asks you to Give it up – Asher Wojciechowski – Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Asher Wojciechowski.

Today’s post features a player who would also have made my imaginary All-Name team.  The spotlight shines on Asher Wojciechowski.  Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 2010 draft after shining  for The Citadel where he was named 2010 Southern Conference pitcher of the year, Asher played in the Blue Jays system for 2 years before being traded to the Astros. He made his debut for the Astros in 2015.  He bounced around the waiver wire with stops in Miami and Arizona before signing a minor league deal with the Reds near the end of Spring Training.  They recalled him on May 20 and he has appeared in 3 games for them this year.

Kids at Orphanage in Chastlivtsy Ukraine. As we were there pre-facebook, I stole this photo from a friend – excuse the middle finger salute from 1 of the kids. I wonder how similar this orphanage is to the one the Wojciechowskis ministered at in Romania.

And his story for me, is a little bit personal.  I met Stephanie, the woman who would become my wife, at Missionary Training in 2003.  We were married on New Year’s Eve 2004 and two weeks later, we moved into our first home. A house we were renting that was built behind the house our landlords owned in Uzhgorod Ukraine.  We lived in Ukraine for 13 of the next 16 months, teaching English as a Secondary Language, coaching American Football and hanging out with some kids in a nearby orphanage. It was a life-changing experience that I will look back on fondly for the rest of my life. Today, as I sit down to write this post, I am reminded of the orphanage in Chastlivtsy. We would go there one day a week and hang out with the kids. We may have taught them a little English, or sang some songs with them or maybe tell them a bible story. There was a language barrier that was an obstacle to our communication – we would have to speak through translators, but the excitement that these great kids had when we arrived and the joy they showed in interacting with us are the memories that I carry from those experiences. I also remember their living conditions. Many had had a hard life to that point. I wonder from time to time what they are up to now. I know Steph is facebook friends with some of them.  But the boys that I worked with most frequently, their dirty faces, the smell of old, shabby clothes, I don’t know how life turned out for them. I pray that they are OK.

These memories came flooding back to me as I read this article from americansportsnet about Cincinnati Reds pitcher Asher Wojciechowski. (then with the Houston Astros).

An 11 year old Asher with his Romanian baseball uniform. God is miraculous!

When he was nine years old, his family left their life in the United States to serve as missionaries in Bucharest, Romania. There they spent time ministering in an orphanage. He describes it like this. “The kids were just left (behind); their parents didn’t want them.  It hurt them. Being with them, it helped them, and it helps me, too… I would go there and play with them, because we were all kids,” he said. “I remember how dirty the living conditions were. The lice, the dirty clothes, the dirty toys.”

Before the move to Romania, Asher had taken an interest in baseball, dreaming of playing as a pro.  He took his stuff with him to Eastern Europe, but there was not a lot of baseball being played there. In the article, Asher’s dad, Randy tells it like this in this article from The Houston Chronicle. “That was probably the hardest thing for me, because that was my calling and I felt really bad, I felt bad that we were going to take him to Romania and that he might not ever play baseball again. We didn’t know how long we’d be there; it might have been the rest of our lives, we just didn’t know.”

His mom says that when the talk of moving to Romania and giving up baseball came up, Asher’s response was “Well, Momma, if that’s what God said we need to do, then we need to do it.’”  

Now God has an amazing way of working things out.  Just 2 years later, Asher would play baseball in Romania as part of a newly formed Little League team.  From the Americansportsnet article

“But Randy is convinced that a higher power brought Asher’s favorite game to their new doorstep. `Asher was the best player and the captain. He helped teach the other kids to play. He was willing to give up (baseball) for me and lo and behold, God brought baseball to us.’

Asher remembers the experience like this “It just gave me a different perspective on things, getting to see other cultures and travel in Europe. It made me more open-minded because everyone is different. And it showed me the power of love and the power of Christ.”

The Wojciechowski’s would leave Romania after 3 years and Asher would go on to play college and then pro baseball. Now his Major League career is underway and reminds us that God writes our story and makes it unique for us.

Here are my takeaways from Wojciechowski’s story:

Wojciechowski living his boyhood dream of being a pro baseball player.

1- It’s all for God – I really appreciate Asher’s response to being uprooted and forced to give up baseball. “If that’s what God said we need to do, we need to do it”.  Wisdom from the lips of a nine year-old.  Do we still believe that? Do we trust that God will work it out for His purposes? I know that I struggle with that. It doesn’t make any sense but I battle feelings of entitlement – like God owes me something. He doesn’t.  He offers me something.  He offers me a chance to join Him in what He is doing.  And if I take Him up on the offer, He has an amazing adventure for me. I’m challenged to let that be my answer when I feel God lead me in a direction I wasn’t prepared for. If God says it, let’s do it!

2- God’s plan is unpredictable – Did Asher Wojciechowski have to give up his dream of being a professional baseball player? for a while yes. What does he do now?  Well, he is a Major League Baseball player. How did he arrive there – Well, he put God first, He walked through doors that God opened.  I’m sure that it is not how he dreamed it up. But I’m also sure that it happened exactly as God planned it out. What kind of amazing and creative twists has your story taken? Have you ever stopped to consider how unlikely the circumstances that came together were that led your life on the path it has taken? To me, it is strong proof that God is real – Only God could work all these things out so perfectly.

3 – Memory Banks – Our lives are a set of incredible experiences. Thinking back on our time in Ukraine, it really was an incredible experience. I’m glad God brought our time there back to my mind. I am challenged to remember those kids at the orphanage in my prayers – that God would protect them, draw them to Himself and that even though language was an issue for us at the orphanage, that during the time we spent together, God’s love showed through us to those great kids.

TBT- Quit Trying and Start Trusting – Scott Linebrink – Chicago White Sox

Former White Sox relief pitcher Scott Linebrink

While I am writing about baseball these days on Living Up to My Name, I am also deeply into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NBA finals start tonight too, so that also will peak my interest, although not as much as hockey.  I really enjoy playoff sports and tournaments.  There is a certain thrill that comes with a loss meaning the end of the road for you. This do-or-die aspect to playoff time is enjoyable for casual fans but it also explains the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory that the players themselves experience by playing in the games. With the average length of a pro athlete’s career limited to just a few years, each time a year ends without the championship, it can be very hard to take.

But that very uncertainty of longevity is a part of the fabric of pro sports in general. You fight hard to make it to the pros and there is a long lineup of guys looking to take your place. That do-or-die belief is was occupied Scott Linebrink‘s mind for much of his career. It started in High School when he was cut from his JV team as you can read about here (an article that also talks about previous Living Up blog Subjects Tim Hudson and Nate McLouth). Also, check out this article from The Increase for more of Linebrink’s story.  He says “I felt like every time I went out to the mound, it was do-or-die. I created pressure for myself and felt like I had to live up to this expectation. Each time I had to be a little bit better than the last.”  Linebrink was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the 1997 draft.  He made his debut with the Giants in April 2000, and was traded to the Astros before that season’s trade deadline.  He would go on to appear in over 600 games with six different teams over a 12 year career.

Linebrink’s best seasons came as a member of the San Diego Padres, appearing in over 300 games with them and joining them on 2 playoff runs

In 2003, Linebrink was feeling frustrated by another season of bouncing between the majors and minors. He said “It was right before the 2003 season and I had just gone through a pretty rough year, with injuries and just not performing well. Just prior to Spring Training, I had been working so hard, and I remember coming to the realization that I was tired, just at the end of my rope… It was at that time that God really spoke to me and said, ‘When are you going to quit trying and starttrusting?’ And it was at that point I just gave up and I prayed, ‘God, I don’t know where You’re going to put me this year, I don’t know what plans You have for me, but I know there is a plan and I’m just going to trust that instead of being make-or-break every time I go out there; just trust that You’re going to put me in the right place at the right time, and I’m going to honor You with everything that I do and stop hanging on to my career so tight I think that’s really where my faith became real to me,” he says. “I experienced God for the first time in a real way.”

His career did take an upward turn from that point.  He would spend the next 9 seasons as a reliable reliever, appearing in more than 50 games each season,  here he is sharing his story:

That switch of perspective, to choose trusting over trying took away the do-or-die worries and instead filled Linebrink with confidence that God was in control and by choosing to honor God as his priority, and being okay with wherever God led his career he woulds see that God has a plan better than he could have dreamed up for himself. Now that baseball is over, Linebrink contributes devotionals to The Increase website.

Here are my takeaways from Linebrink’s story

Line brink’s played with 6 different teams during his 12 year career. Since the end of his career, he has written some devotionals

1- Quit Trying and Start Trusting – Linebrink’s story is a perfect reminder that if we try to succeed on our own strength, be it in our work, our family life, or faith walk, we will be frustrated and fail at what we try, or at very least, we will feel stress of trying to live up to expectations that we are unable to meet, like Linebrink felt. But when we trust Him and set our efforts to do it on our own aside, He often has a better plan for us than we can imagine.  Now please hear this correctly, I am not saying that we get to sit back and do nothing and let God work everything out perfectly for us.  We must be diligent in our work, but we need to realize that our work is not to be successful, our work is to surrender to Him and follow where he leads. Like Linebrink says, we also should remember that we will still know failure, we will still find struggles and fall short of surrendering or following God’s plan. But God will not leave us.  Psalm 31 tells invites us to trust. It says

I trust you, O LordI said, “You are my God.”My future is in your hands. Rescue me from my enemies, from those who persecute me.”

Linebrink says that trusting God instead of trying to make it on his own helped save his career.

2- Do-or-Die – We can drive ourselves crazy with worry about accomplishing our life goals and seeing things as do-or-die. There are a couple of reminders in this story that I take. 1- God will not let us down or fail nearly as much as we will. He is perfect and so is his plan. Trust Him and let Him lead. 2- There is one do-or-die.  It is following God and making Him number one in your life. Doing so will lead to a life in His presence starting now, not doing so will lead to death and separation from Him for eternity. We get to make the choice. But it is a d0-or-die decision.

 

Psalm 31.14-15

Modern Monday – What’s My Motivation – Matt Carpenter – St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals IF Matt Carpenter

In 1994,  the Christian band Newsboys recorded a song called “Shine”.  In the first verse of the song, the lyrics say “The truth is in. The proof is when you hear your heart start asking`what’s my motivation'”. Those words came quickly to mind when I started looking in to the story of St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. That qualifies him as a long-shot to make it to the pros. But he did make it to the pros. He made his debut just 2 years after being drafted.  He would play seven games with the Cardinals that year but received a World Series Championship ring as part of the team that beat the Texas Rangers thanks to the heroics of David Freese (whom I blogged about a couple years ago). The next season, he appeared in 114 games, mostly off the bench, playing 5 different positions. He finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.

Carpenter (middle) and his Cardinal All-Star Teammates in 2014

The next season, Carpenter continued to build on his resume, taking over second base for the cardinals, winning a Silver Slugger award and being named an All-Star. He finished 4th in National League MVP voting while leading the league in hits and doubles. He has appeared in 2 more All-Star games since, and has helped his team reach the post season in 4 of the last 5 seasons.  That is a great result for someone who wondered after his final college game, if he had played his last game of baseball ever.  Check out this video from “The Increase” to learn more about Carpenter’s story.

An injury in During his Junior Year at TCU threw a bump in Carpenter’s road to the majors, but brought him back to faith in God.

Carpenter had played baseball for most of his life, and had “always one of the better players on my team”.  He expected college to be a simple stepping stone to professional baseball.  In “Intentional Walk” by Rob Rains, we read about Carpenter, who had grown up in a Christian home and had been baptized at 12, struggled with college life.  He says “I said I was a Christian, but when I went off to college , I kind of became a normal college student and made lots of bad decisions, selfish decisions.”  His Junior year brought a torn ligament that cost him the season and as a result, the chance to be drafted. His coach at TCU offered a choice. Go through the motions of rehab, finish out your career and be done with baseball, or work extra hard at rehabbing the arm and at baseball in general and see what could be out there for you. Carpenter opted for the hard work. He worked to rehab his arm and at the start of his next baseball season, he felt great. But in his words from the video “I was awful”.

Carpenter was distraught.  He shared how he didn’t understand what the problem was. He had reestablished his faith in God, he was reading his bible – why was baseball not working out better? Then came the realization “This isn’t about me.” He played his final season in college with new understanding of what surrendering to God really meant. And he walked off the field after his last game okay with the idea that baseball may be over for him.

Carpenter has played 6 different positions, been a Silver Slugger, an All-Star and an MVP candidate.

But it wasn’t the end for him.  The Cardinals took a chance on him with the late draft pick and he would pay dividends for them. He had realized that he had no control over baseball, and no control over the game of life.  The only thing he could control is where he put his faith.

Also an interesting part of Carpenter’s story is the role that former Major League outfielder Torii Hunter played in his development. Hunter’s sons were playing high school baseball for Carpenter’s dad and so Torii became aware of Matt Carpenter, too. And Hunter invited Matt to come and work out at a top flight facility, paying the expensive costs for Carpenter to participate. You can read about it in this article from mlb.com.

Here are my takeaways from Carpenter’s story:

1- What’s My Motivation – At the start of the post, I referenced the Newsboys song. That question of “What’s my motivation” is an important one to ask. Carpenter talked about how he expected the rest of life to line up and go right when he started following God. And in some ways, it does that, but following God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go as we imagine it should. God isn’t concerned with our success as the world sees it.  He is only concerned with the depth of our trust in Him and will we continue to follow Him when things don’t go as we think they should. We are not promised an easy road or even a measure of worldly success. If that is the motivation that we have for living for Him then we are not truly living for Him, we are still living for ourselves. And while living for Him is the best thing for US, it doesn’t mean that life will go as we want it to. In fact, I would say that living for Him puts us in a place where we are vulnerable to attack because Satan wants to trip us up, knock us down and keep us from moving forward. So what is your motivation for following God. Will you trust Him even when things don’t go well for us? No matter what comes our way, He is the solid rock we can hold onto.

Carpenter (left) with mentor Torii Hunter, who played a role in helping Carpenter develop into a Major League talent.

2- Seeing Potential – Torii Hunter invited Carpenter to come and work out at a top facility. He even paid the way for Carpenter to attend. Why would he do this? Because he saw the potential in Carpenter. This is a small reflection of what God does for us.  He sees potential in us. In fact, He created us with the potential to accomplish amazing things for Him. And like Hunter paid the fee for Carpenter to go to the elite workout facility, Jesus paid the ultimate cost to cover us so that we could reach the potential that He sees in us. Carpenter would have been foolish to say no thanks to the workout opportunity Hunter offered and we are foolish to say no thanks to the offer of eternal life and God’s Spirit coming to live in us. Yet many do.  Let’s take full advantage of the opportunity God offers and invite others to accept his offer too.

 

 

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?