Faith in the Game!

If you have read the posts in this blog before then you know that, I was inspired to start sharing the stories of professional athletes that are Christ-followers and are living out their faith for all to see.  I have really enjoyed digging into the stories of these pro athletes and learning lessons from their lives.

If this is something that also interests you, then I want to share a great resource with you.  The web-site is called “Faith in the Game”  You can find them on facebook, too.  Search for them, it will be worth it!

It is a great site, started by former Major League catcher Ben Petrick, and writer/ high school coach Scott Brown.  Just a quick perusal of the site will find articles on players such as MLB’s Albert Pujols, Eric Chavez, Adrian Gonzalez, Clint Hurdle,  NFL’s Colt McCoy, NBA’s Mark Jackson, to name a few.  These are the stories of these men, in their own words.  Be encouraged!

And while you are at Faith in the Game, be encouraged by the story of Ben Petrick, you can also read it from the Portland Tribune story here.  He was a star catcher in the minors whose career was affected and eventually ended by Parkinson’s Disease.

He continues to live his life of faith for all to see, and is impacting lives on the web, and on the field (he is coaching high school baseball).

His is yet another story of God working through people who remain faithfully devoted to Him, even through the hard times of life.

This is a lesson that keeps surfacing in my life.  I come across people who face hard challenges and stay true to their relationship with God.

Today, at my work, I lead the chapel service, and was compelled to talk about the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as they faced Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.  What great men of faith!
We know that God desires us to remain true to him, even in hardships of life, and they are a great example of that.  I have really enjoyed the study of faith that God has lead me on this summer.  It has helped my faith in Him and dependency on Him to grow.  Yet the words of these 3 young Israelite men still challenge me.  Facing a fiery furnace, they believed that God could deliver them, but look at these verses.  “But, even if He doesn’t we will not bow down to your statue.”
That boldness and strength of faith challenges me to live out my faith in the world I live in, and to be BOLD in my stand for Him.

So please, go find this blog, check back often, like them on facebook and pray for the sphere of their influence to grow as these men seek to impact the world for Christ.

Play Ball Trystan Magnuson!

This is the 25th installment in my series on Christian Baseball Players.  As I have been re-reading some of my earlier posts, I realized that I kind of skipped the Oakland A’s.  The focus of my post for the A’s was a guy who now plays for the Yankees.  In an effort to fix that, let’s go back to the Bay area and meet an up-and-coming pitcher – Right handed pitcher Trystan Magnuson.  I gotta bring attention to my fellow Canadians, too!

I have been leading a day camp this week  for 4th-6th graders and our theme verses are Hebrews 12.1-3.  Part of this passage talks about  and running with perseverance the race that is  marked out for us.  I’ve been thinking about the word “persevere” a lot as I’ve been preparing my lessons.  I have seen perseverance demonstrated in many of the stories that I have shared in this series, too.  Trystan Magnuson is yet another example of a young man pressing on when a door seems to be closing, only to see God work it out and give him a chance to live his dream.

Magnuson was cut from his high school baseball team on two occasions before finally sticking around when he decided to be a pitcher.  He then pitched well enough to earn a scholarship to Louisville, but was at the end of the bench on his college team.  He worked hard to improve his pitching, listened to coaches input, and turned himself into a star reliever – with a lot of practice, diligent work and persistence.  He caught enough attention that he was drafted 56th overall in the 2007 draft.  He achieved this success through his willingness to see a need for improvement and then having the desire and the stick-to-it-ive-ness to make the changes effectively.

Yet the rough times were not all finished.  His first pro season, he posted an 0-9 record – a rough start to a career.  He fought through that set back and improved greatly through the rest of his minor league career.

And through it all, he has carried great perspective on what life as a professional baseball player promises – not much as far as longevity goes, and how important it is for him to take every chance to honor God with the time that he does have in the baseball spotlight.

From the Southeast Outlook Online Newspaper article you can read here,
“I’ve been praying recently that I remember why I’m here,” Magnuson said. “Good baseball players come and go. The turnover is incredible. My purpose for baseball is for those times I’m
signing cards for fans and they ask about the verse I write down, what it means to me, what Jesus has done for me. It is for those times I get to serve my teammates. It is for those times I get
to go to speaking engagements and talk to people I’ve never met before. Maybe, just maybe, they might get the briefest glimpse of a heart that in some small way demonstrates the heart of
God, and they will praise Him because there is something different about this guy that can’t be anything other than that.”

Later on in the article, he answers this question.  
Q. What advice would you give a ballplayer who aspires to follow in your footsteps?
A. In the baseball world, it is so important to make adjustments and improve. When you stop improving, that’s when you’re on your way out. You are going to lose, but if you make adjustments to improve, you’re going to win more than you’ll lose.

This is a good lesson for our Christian walk, too.  As we fix our eyes on Christ, and live for Him, he will bring to light some things that may need to change,  so the quality of our relationship with God can improve.  I’ve heard it said that the only way to coast is downhill.  When we stop going all out for Christ, things do indeed start to go downhill.  I know that I can speak from experience that coasting in my relationship with God never goes well.  Plus, as we look at Hebrews 12.3, and think through all He went through for us, we should never consider coasting. 

Hebrews 12 talks about fixing our eyes on Christ.  When we set our purposes to align with the purposes of God for our life, He will give us opportunities to show us more about Him, and also to give others  glimpses into His heart.  Magnuson’s heart is to take this time that he has as a baseball player, brief as it may be, and impact lives for eternity.  

Let us all cast aside whatever hinders us from living our life for God’s purposes, fix our eyes on Him and press on to run the race laid out for us.

Thank you Trystan Magnuson, for your story and for emphasizing what God has been teaching me recently.  God bless you as you move forward, eyes fixed on Christ!

Play Ball Tug Hulett!

This is the 24th and final (?) installment in my series on Christian Baseball Players. And what a journey it has been.  Tonight we finish off with a peek into the Washington Nationals farm team and middle infielder Tug Hulett.

As I was digging into stories from the Washington Nationals, looking for what I was supposed to share here, and a name caught my attention.  The name was Tug Hulett.  His name caught my eye for 2 reasons. First, he goes by the name Tug – pretty unusual – the only other one that I have come across was also a baseball player (Mets/Phillies star pitcher from 1965-1984’s Tug McGraw).

The second reason I paid attention was the last name.  I used to collect baseball cards in my youth, and remembered this card from my collection with Tim Hulett rocking the now throwback White Sox uniform (My favorite of their uniform incarnations in my life time)  I often check ebay, hoping to find this era White Sox jersey at a good price for my jersey collection).

So, with this bit of name recognition and the fact that Tug is now in the Nationals system (they were the only team I had not yet featured in this series), I decided to check out his story.  And again, the story that I read is one of tragedy, pain, faith on and dependency in Christ and opportunity to see this awful tragedy turned into something positive that strengthens Hulett’s faith, and draws others closer to the Great Comforter.  Here is the story as it appears on Tug Hulett’s  Team Jam web site.

Hulett was the oldest of 4 competitive boys.  Their dad played big league baseball.  On the surface it seems like a great life – fame, opportunity.  I know that to grow up around the ball field, getting to hang out with people that others your age idolize – sounds like a great way to grow up.  But a life that seems so wonderful is not without its tragedy.  Tug Hulett watched as his younger brother was struck by a car and killed, and then carried the blame and feelings of responsibility around with him for 2 years.  I can’t imagine any part of that scenario.

What we see in this story is that wealth and fame do not prepare you to deal with life when it gets hard.  Only a strong foundation of support that is based on genuine relationship with Jesus Christ can help meet that need when tragedy strikes.  And that is what we see from this story – a family that turned to God for help when they faced this unimaginable hardship, and rallied around each other to stay strong and grow from this awful experience.   They immediately turned to God for help, peace and comfort.  They knew that God could give them the strength to carry on, and they knew that they could find this peace nowhere else.

And I love the way God works.  Not only does he sustain us through the hard times in life.  He then uses our experiences and what we learn from them so we can, in turn, help others.  We see this in the story of Joseph in Genesis.  He went through incredible difficulties.  And in the end, he is able to take all these bad things, and see how God used them for a great purpose, to save many people, including his very own family.  What the devil intendeds for evil, God used for good.

God is using Tug Hulett and his story to touch lives too.  Here is another account of Hulett’s story, and how he is using it to reach out to others by sharing his story at schools.

 This is what our God can do, and He likes to do it too.  So as we face the hard things that life brings, remember that He is in control, look for Him at work in the midst, and be ready to share how amazing our God is as He gives us opportunities to share with others from our experiences.

Play Ball Brian Roberts!

This is the 23rd installment in my series on Christian Baseball Players.  Today, we check out the story of Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.

Brian Roberts website

I have been a fan of Brian Roberts for several years – even before I knew that we shared faith in God.  And so it was kind of disappointing to hear his name mentioned among the rumored Steroid users in the Mitchell Report.  I thought to myself – how dare he.  By this time, I knew that he was a Christ-follower.  You can read this article from his website that talks about his involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes .  And so I wondered how he could be into the cheating scene.  Several lessons have since surfaced as I considered the story and my reaction to it.

First, I must admit that I had great admiration about how he handled his name’s appearance in the report.  He quickly admitted that he did indeed, on one occasion, use steroids.  You can read his admission here from the Baltimore Sun’s coverage.  You can also read his testimony and how he sees being a role model in this article from Cornerstone Connection Christian Magazine. He says that he did it, and knew right away that it was wrong.  He is humble, genuine and up front with his story – not appearing to hide anything.  He admitted fault, asked for forgiveness and pledged that it would not happen again.

Career stats

Here is my first lesson.  As a Christian, I need to have this same kind of attitude about sin in my life.  To be up front about it, not trying to hide anything (since God knows everything anyway) Like Roberts, we must be humble and ready to admit our wrong doing and pledge that it will not happen again.  That is what repentance means – to turn completely away from.  We must admit our wrong doings to God and also be willing to confess our sins to each other as the bible instructs us to do in James 5.  And the true beauty of all of this is that God forgives us, no matter what we have done, or how many times we have turned away from God to go our own way.  When we confess our sins and repent the Bible tells us that God will forgive us ,

My second lesson – In this blog series, it is important that I admit to myself that I walk a very fine line.  I want to commend these athletes on their stand, even in public, to follow the beliefs of their faith and let their relationship with God guide their choices and actions.  But at the same time, each person that I write about here is human, and like the rest of us, are flawed people – sinners in need of a gracious Savior.  We all have heros, and unfortunately, we can tend to idolize them.  As we take a close look at their lives, we are reminded of their faults and that they are not to be idolized. The only hero that we need, and the only example to follow is that of Christ.

And my third and final lesson that I will share with you this time is this.  As a blogger looking to share what God is doing in and through the lives of these athletes, I must be sure to include the good and the bad that they have gone through.  As we see God at work in the stories of flawed people, ourselves included, we see that God is gracious, forgiving and in control.  He can use the mistakes, bad choices and sin in our life to reach out to others around us as much or more as He can use our successes and victories.

So thank you Brian Roberts for your honesty, and for your willingness to be real even in the public eye.
Thank you for helping me keep perspective on my “heros” and focus my attention on following the one true example that we have – Jesus Christ!

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.