Play Ball Carlos Ruiz!

This is the 22nd installment in my series on Christian baseball players.  This time, we head to Philadelphia and look into the story of their star catcher – Carlos Ruiz.

It has been a lot of fun, in this series, to dig into the lives of these men; to read their stories and to remind myself that these guys are not simply characters in a drama – unflappable, without a care in the world, there purely for our entertainment.  No, these men, like everyone else in the world, have a story.

career stats

And Carlos Ruiz, like the others I’ve touched on in this series, has an amazing story. You can read about his life and the challenges he faces, in this article from Sports Illustrated. Here are some highlights from Ruiz’ life.   His story had it’s tone set in tragedy when, as a young boy in his native Panama, he dealt with the unexpected death of his father.  As the oldest son, he took on the responsibility of being man of the house, and provider, working hard laborious jobs from the age of 10 to help his family.  He also made a promise that he would make it as a big league baseball player.

At the age of 19, he went to the Phillies’  baseball academy in Dominican Republic.  It was a hard, competitive experience – one that would lead Ruiz to try a new position – catcher –  as he was deemed too slow to play his chosen position -Second Base.

He stuck with it and worked his way through the Phillies farm system  for the next 8 years.   He finally got his chance when the Phillies called him up in May, 2006.  He played 27 games for them that year, and has played in over 100 games for them every year since.

How has Ruiz turned himself into what ESPN writer Jayson Stark called “the most underrated catcher in baseball”?  He gets on base – a lot. and more than that, he knows how to handle a pitching staff.  It is more than giving a target and catching a pitch.  He has become someone who can motivate, challenge, and guide his staff to success.  He claims some responsibility when things don’t work out (He takes each game, at bat, and hit personally)

Last year, he even received a few votes in the NL MVP voting, finishing tied for 15th.  Ruiz has walked a long, challenging path to the majors.  Part of what has helped him keep focus and perspective is his relationship with Christ.  He became a Christ follower 4 years ago, and on a team with lots of Christian players, He is learning to share his faith with others, and use his fame to tell others about what God has done in his life.  You can read a story of the first time Carlos Ruiz shared his testimony, speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in this article.

perfect game

Ruiz has become one of the top catchers in all of baseball. It  is his understanding of the game, the batters that his pitcher will face, and the situations and nuances of baseball that has made him so good.  This knowledge and the way he works with his pitchers has lead to them being able to trust him completely with the game that he calls.

For example, last year, Roy Halliday –  one of the best pitchers in baseball threw 2 no-hitters in the same year. Ruiz not only caught both games, but over the course of the 219 pitches that he called in the two games combined, Halliday shook off exactly 1 Ruiz suggestion for a pitch.  The other 218 times, what Ruiz called, Ruiz got.  This is a tribute both to the trust Halliday has in his catcher, and the ability Ruiz has to call the right pitch in the right place at the right time.

Earlier in this series, I wrote about lessons the catcher can teach us about our spiritual life.  There are some more lessons that come to mind as I looked at the story of Carlos Ruiz.  He is known for the way that he handles the pitching staff.  He is the main catcher, which means that he catches games that all of them throw.  He must know each pitcher completely – how they pitch, their rhythm, the signs of when they are starting to lose focus, or starting to tire, and how they react to adversity.  He then must use what he knows to help each pitcher work the most effectively.  He may be able to yell at some and get in their face to challenge them, while others, he needs to pat on the back and be more gentle with.  This is an important part of the catcher/pitcher relationship.  And it is a great skill to have to live in community and work toward a common goal, too.  As believers, we have a role to play – we are all part of the body of Christ.  The role of some will be encouragers/motivators.  Sometimes, this will be done directly – a calling to attention things that can change to help someone else be the best that they can.

Ruiz is adept at working with the pitchers, supporting them and bringing out the best in them.  Oh that we could all do that in the task of sharing God’s love to the world around us!  Support each other, encourage one another, and if needed, call each other out in a way that will lead to refocusing on God’s plan and carrying it out at all costs.

Play Ball Brett Gardner!

This is the 21st installment in my blog series on Christian Baseball Players.  Our trip through all the teams in the major leagues brings us to New York Yankees and outfielder Brett Gardner.

career stats

As a long time Red Sox fan, I have a hard time admitting that I like any of the Yankees, but they do have several players that are easy to cheer for.  Brett Gardner is one of them.

I think the reason that I connect and relate to Gardner is because we are very similar in build and in game (when I played little league that is) – good eye at the plate, intelligence on the base paths, and way more speed than power.

In fact, the only home run of my “career” was a sight to see.  I slapped a hit down the first base line.  I was almost at second when the right fielder picked up the ball and fired it back to the infield,  but to his surprise, his throw hit an overhanging branch from a nearby tree and fell back to the ground 15 feet in front of him.  By the time he gathered the ball again and threw it back into the infield, I was safely home.

Gardner and Alyssa Esposito.
She told him he’d hit a home run that night.

It seems funny then that this story will center around a Brett Gardner home run hit in May 2009.

I came across this Guideposts story that Gardner himself wrote in the fall of 2009 years ago about meeting a young patient at a local hospital that was awaiting a heart transplant.  He was visiting this hospital with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, who shared a story of when her famous grandfather told a sick boy that he would hit a home run for him, and then proceeded to do just that.  Inspired by this story this young heart patient approached Gardner gave him a bracelet and told him he would hit a home run for her that night.

Well Gardner was not even in the starting lineup that night so the chances of hitting a home run lay somewhere between slim and none.  But then a Yankee player got ejected for arguing with an umpire – and Gardner was called into action.  Here is his second at-bat of the night.

This was not how Gardner imagined that it would happen, but what a story it made.  Gardner hoped that his new friend would be right.  He prayed that he would somehow hit a home run for her in the game even though it seemed almost impossible in his mind.  He also prayed that God would provide a heart donor for her.   And the icing on the cake part of the story is that the young girl received her heart transplant the very same day.

Gardner had his prayer answered and in an unexpected way.  Here a few lessons that I take from this story:

First – God cares about the little things.  In the grand scheme things, a fast baseball player and a strange bounce leading to an inside-the-park-home-run don’t seem to matter much.   But our God is a personal God and through this event, lives were touched and awareness of God’s willingness to answer prayer was increased in the lives of a baseball player and his young fan. (as well as countless others like me, who read the story).

Second – God can do things that seem unlikely, and even impossible.  That is His way of growing our faith.  We see something and believe that God will work it out even if we don’t get how, and when He does work it out it makes having faith in Him in the future, easier.

Third – What happens may not look like how we dreamed it would, but it fits perfectly into God’s plans.
Gardner prayed to slug one out of the park but instead he hit an inside the park home run using the skills that God had given him (his speed) to accomplish the task.

God equips us all with gifts, talents and abilities and asks us to use them for his purposes.  When we do amazing things happen!

In Luke 5, Peter and others have been fishing all night.  Jesus comes and tells him to cast out their nets again.  Peter resists (We’ve been fishing all night with no results) but obeys anyway, and they catch a boatload of fish.  Peter says “get away from me, I am a sinful man”  recognizing the power of God in Jesus.
But Jesus has a comforting statement for him. Follow me and I will make you “fishers of men”.  Jesus is telling Peter that he will still be doing what he is already equipped to do, but with a Kingdom purpose.

Brett Gardner still keeps the bracelet that the girl gave him.  He says in his article that it is not just a reminder about the power of prayer, but also about the One who answers the prayers.  God is in control, and His plan is perfect.  We may not see how it will work out, or may think that the task is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19.26)

Play Ball Tim Hudson!

This is the 20th installment in my series featuring Christian Baseball players.  Today, we will take a look at Atlanta Braves starting pitcher – Tim Hudson.

career stats

Yesterday was Tim Hudson’s birthday.  I know this because it is also my birthday.  I thought it would be fitting to share his story and something that we have in common besides our birthday – wives that share our love for God and call to minister to others.

Hudson’s road to the majors was a wild ride.  He was an afterthought to recruiters in high school, deemed to be too small, despite being the best pitcher on his state championship winning team.  He moved on to community college and lead the baseball team there to a state championship.  Finally he was offered a scholarship to play at Auburn.  Success followed him to college too, as he was the 1997 college player of the year.  The Oakland A’s drafted him and in 1999 he made his major league debut.  His persistence and talent overcame the fear that he was undersized.

Over his 12 year major league career, Hudson has put up very respectable statistics, winning 80 more games than he has lost, and only twice has his earned run average been over 4.00.  He has proved that an “undersized” pitcher can do well in the majors.
There have been some struggles. In 2008, he began to feel tightness in the elbow of his throwing arm.  He was losing velocity and was examined by the team doctor.  The prognosis was not encouraging.  He would need ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery.  This injury would cost him more than a year to recover and rehab, and there would be no guarantee that he would be the pitcher that he had been before.

The Hudson Family, Tim, Kim and
their 3 kids

But the right-hander’s come back was quite successful – Hudson was the 2010 comeback player of the year in the National League.  Guideposts Magazine ran an article that he wrote himself about his return to baseball from injury.  I really resonate with the role that his wife played in this process.  She was his encourager, his place to vent,  to share concerns and frustrations, and his cheer leader when he was healing and rehabbing.  She was also there to remind him that in the end, the outcome of the whole injury and rehab is ultimately in God’s hands.

It is so great to see the partnership that happens in a marriage.  The Hudsons are not an exclusive case, I’m sure lots of players in MLB partner with their wives to impact the lives of others. But this story reminds us that God brings people together in a marriage partnership to help each other out in hard times, to rejoice together in successes and above all else, to keep each other looking to God.  God is in control and whatever happens, good or bad, God can use to teach us more about Him, and to further His kingdom.

Even rehabbing from injury.

In 1999, a chance encounter with the Make-a-Wish foundation at a restaurant placed the idea in the minds and hearts of the Hudsons to help families in need. They established a working relationship with the Make-A-Wish foundation.   Still they felt called to do more.  As Hudson was recovering from his injury, he and his wife had enough time to organize and create their own foundation.  You can read the story about the start of their foundation here.  And take a moment to visit the Hudson Family Foundation web site here to learn more.

 I have been blessed in my own life with an amazing, godly wife, who is my partner in ministry. (we served as missionaries for 3 years and now we lead the 5th and 6th grade youth group at our church) She is also my encourager, my ear to vent to, and my cheerleader, and helps us as a family keep our focus on God and our eyes open to see him at work in our lives.  Steph is currently on a mission trip in Jamaica and I am excited to hear about all the great things that He has been doing during their week of ministry there.  Take a moment to check out her blog at  Sharing the Pages of Life.

Tim and Kim Hudson and their family have seen God work in their lives, and work through them to touch the lives of countless others.  I am grateful for their work and for their desire to touch lives for God. And I am grateful for my wife, Steph and look forward to years and years of ministering together and touching lives for God, too.

Happy 36th Birthday Tim Hudson!

Play Ball Adrian Gonzalez

This is a special All-Star edition of my Play Ball series – the 19th entry in my collection of  Christians in professional baseball.  Tonight, I focus on my favorite team – the Boston Red Sox, and their All-Star first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.

There are several Christians in the Midsummer Classic this year including some I have featured in this series (Brian Wilson, Clayton Kershaw, and Heath Bell).  Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes has listed the believers who made the rosters . There are a lot of great stories about God at work in the lives represented by those names.

Our focus for today will, as mentioned, be on Adrian Gonzalez.  Last December, when the Red Sox traded some prospects to the San Diego Padres to acquire Gonzalez,  I was filled with cautious optimism. The Sox had paid a steep price, but all the reports and evidence suggested that having Adrian Gonzalez join the team would be great for Boston.  And now, 3 1/2 months into the season, and after watching his runner-up display in the Home Run Derby last night, I think it was a good trade to make.

Bringing Gonzalez in looks  even better when you get to meet the man inside the #28 jersey.  He is a star player who, like so many that I have written about in this series, know that baseball is a means to a greater end.  The ultimate goal he has for his life is to be a way for others to encounter Christ.  He says that success and failure is not determined by the box score of a game, but rather by the attitude he has and his relationship with Jesus.

It was fun to watch Gonzalez pounding the ball in the All-Star Home Run Derby last night.  Though he didn’t win it all, he did great.  God has granted him a certain measure of success on the baseball field and Adrian is proving faithful by using that success to share his belief in God.

God is changing lives through Gonzalez, too.  Check out this great story from  Idols Aside Ministries about Gonzalez sharing his faith with a young fan and his mom.  The video is about 12 minutes long, and also includes Gonzalez’ own story of faith.

As they say in the video, “this is what it is all about” – Not home runs, batting average, flawless infield or anything like that, but rather being available to be used by God, and seeing His Kingdom grow.  God chooses to use us to draw others to Him, and what an exciting thing it is to be a part of someone coming to make this decision.

Athletes in Action also featured Gonzalez in an article last fall.  In this article, we read about the importance he places on being a representative of God, not just to fans, but also to teammates.  This provides accountability, encouragement, bible study opportunities and strengthening of faith.

Adrien Gonzalez is an outspoken man of God.  I hope and pray that he will have ample opportunity to share God’s love with others whether on a field with 30,000 people watching, or one-on-one with a fan or teammate.  Here are some other opportunities he is using to help others with baseball and with knowing Christ.

Gonzalez Sports Academy is a conditioning, training and skill center for athletes in many sports located in Chula Vista, CA.  It was started up and is operated by Gonzalez’ brothers  David and Edgar along with his parents.  They have clinics, and camps as well as a top notch training facility.  Adrian and his brothers teach kids baseball fundamentals and also about God’s love.

Unlimited Potential Inc.  is an organization that uses baseball as a platform to tell others about God around the world.  Gonzalez, and many other players have taken part in these missions trips over the years.

Baseball Chapel is an organization that organizes chapel services for teams, umpires, players wives and even ball park staff.

Selfishly, I am glad that Adrian Gonzalez plays for my favorite baseball team.  But above that, I am excited that he and I are on the same team in the game that really matters.  We both believe in the God that created everything and that desires a personal relationship with each one of us.

Play Ball R.A. Dickey

This is the 18th installment in my blog series on Christian Baseball Players.  Today, we head to the Big Apple to learn more about a key member of the New York Mets starting rotation – R. A. Dickey.

career stats

His story, like most, has known its share of  hardships.  Dickey was born without an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm.  As you can read in this article, that is a very significant problem – the UCL is important in many regular daily activities (like turning a doorknob).  So the promise of his career (he was drafted 18th overall) was reduced to an expectation that baseball would not be part of his life.  He tried to continue pitching conventionally, as he had for his career up to this point, and although he made it to the majors, he had some struggles.  An injury took away much of the velocity he was used to.  He had to vastly change his game in order to have a shot at a prolonged big league career.
In 2005, Dickey met up with Orel Hershiser – who was a successful pitcher in his career and was at that time working as a pitching coach in the Texas Rangers organization.  Hershiser suggested that Dickey try and develop a knuckleball, a pitch that wouldn’t stress the arm very much.


He worked on a knuckleball and it didn’t go very well at first.  He made it to the big leagues but he was giving up a lot of runs and losing as often as he won. He tied or set some dubious records (Most home runs given up in a first big league start, most wild pitches in an inning)
Dickey was struggling to make it in the majors.   You can see his career stats here.  Only last year – at the age of 35, did he have a “break out” year.  He was the most reliable starter on the Mets team and earned a new contract that will pay him fairly well over the next couple of years.

But Dickey knows that it isn’t about the money.  Back when he and his family were working through the minor league life he along with friend and fellow baseball player Jonathan Johnson started an organization that has as a mission to share baseball, medicine and Jesus Christ with Latin America.  The organization is called Honoring the Father Ministries (HTF).  HTF organizes baseball tournaments, clinics and camps all around Latin America. This includes permission to travel and organize events in Cuba, a country that is generally closed to Americans, not to mention evangelical missionaries.  Dickey regularly goes on  these trips. What an image to picture: a major league baseball player sleeping on a dirt floor.

This baseball player knows that God has put him where he is for a purpose.  A verse that he uses to guide his life is Jeremiah 9.23-24. This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord

By Dickey’s own admission, the very fact that he is in the able to pitch at a big league level is a miracle. God has allowed Dickey’s story to be known so that Dickey can declare the miracle that his career has been.  Now that he has achieved a measure of success and a contract that reflects it, he is using those riches to boast about the Lord and the opportunity to know Him.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

And his desire to impact others continues.  This coming off season, he and 3 others that he knows through baseball are planning an excursion.  The goal?  To climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa.  Dickey, Kevin Slowey (Minnesota Twins), Dave Racaniello (Mets bullpen catcher) and Mets physical therapist John Zajac will set out to trek to the top of the 19,340 ft. mountain in January.  The goal of the climb is to raise money for the human trafficking organization Red Light District Outreach Mumbai.

I think this is an amazing story because it is a miracle that he is able to pitch at all.   God is doing great things through him and I am excited to hear him continue to boast, not in his riches or accomplishments, but in knowing Christ and telling others about Him.