Play Ball Jerry Narron!

This is the 14th entry in my Blog series about Christians in Professional Baseball.  So far, the focus has been on players, minor and major league, but this time around, as we look at the Milwaukee Brewers, I am going to talk about their bench coach, Jerry Narron.

Now why would I discuss a bench coach?  Well, the cool thing about how God works is that He puts us into places where we can be used to impact the lives of those we are brought into contact with.  That is the job description for a coach or manager in general, to motivate, push, challenge, and teach the players on their team to make them the best that they can be.  It is very rare that a mistake will cost someone their job in the majors.  An error in a key spot, or an 0-4 day happens for a player, and the manager puts him back in the line up the next day to give him another chance to prove themselves.

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Jerry Narron

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Jerry Narron has coached or managed at the big league level almost constantly since 1992, As a manager, he has not had great success, managing a .500 record once and dipping below that each other year.  But he did make a choice that has impacted the sport for the past few years – and hopefully for many more. You see, he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds when they agreed to give the a young man another chance to play pro ball, when the odds and his past were stacked against him.  That man is reigning A.L. MVP Josh Hamilton.
If you are not familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton, you can read a great this article from Sports Illustrated.  The short version is that he was a monster talent for most of his life.  Through injuries and circumstances, (and a whole bunch of bad choices) Hamilton squandered his chance and found himself at the rockiest of bottoms.  His grandmother took him in and with a lot of determination, a great support network in his family, and a new found relationship with Jesus Christ, he caught some attention and was given a new chance to not only survive life as a recovering addict, but a chance to pursue the lifelong of being a major league baseball player.

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Hamilton & Johnny Narron

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Jerry Narron knew Hamilton.  Jerry’s brother Johnny was Hamilton’s coach when Josh was in his teens.  As soon as Jerry Narron heard that Josh Hamilton was coming to the Reds, he knew that there would be work to do to keep Hamilton on track. Jerry would be there to help Josh out as much as he could – even being willing to read/study the Bible with Hamilton, when the cravings and temptations came knocking.  Jerry also decide to  hire his brother Johnny to be a Reds coach, whose main responsibility was to take care of Hamilton, (handling his money, having bible study, working as an accountability partner).  In fact, when Josh Hamilton was traded to Texas, Johnny Narron became the Rangers assistant hitting coach!  He does fulfill that role, and  also is there to help Hamilton out off the field. 

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One of the things that Hamilton says he has enjoyed about working with the Narrons was the deep faith that they all share.  When Hamilton re-entered the baseball world, the reminders of the poor choices that he made were everywhere.  They took the form of doubters, critics, cravings, a damaged marriage, suspicious family and friends, and the ever-present urine collecting drug tester.  Some of these reminders remain to this day.  He has handled it all with wonderful grace, even through a well publicized relapse. A key in all of this is Hamilton’s faith in God and leaning on the strength it provides.  But having a manager and coach around that can help keep you accountable, focused and on track is helpful.  And if Jerry and Johnny Narron never achieve “success” on the field in the form of wins and titles, the faith they have in God and the help and encouragement they have offered one of the games true superstars has granted them success in a far more important avenue – helping to give voice to what God can do to a life that is lived for Him. 
There are a lot of lessons that we can learn from the Josh Hamilton story.  Read this article about Josh Hamilton. to see him discuss his relationship with God. I hope that lots of coaches like Jerry Narron continue to impact the lives of those around them in ways that point others to Jesus.
P.S.  ?If you are really interested in the whole story, I would recommend reading it for yourself.  I really enjoyed it (mostly because of the happy way it ended – with things back on track and the pieces in place so that a baseball fan like me gets to see this great player play the game hard and very well, and use the platform of baseball to share what God has done and is doing in his life.   I know that I am hoping there is a lot more to write about Josh Hamilton and his successes in baseball.  That way many more people can hear about God’s work in his life.

Play Ball Don Kelly!

This is part 13 in my blog series on Christian Baseball players.  Today’s man of faith is Detroit Tigers Utility Man Don Kelly.

What is a Utility Man?  A utility man is an important player on any team.  It is someone that can play a variety of roles and play them well enough to help the team.  They can fill in almost anywhere in a pinch and are ready at a moments notice to pinch hit, or replace someone in the field.  They are also able to move around and play a number of positions to give the team some added flexibility with substitutions.  
Two of my favorite players, when I was growing up, were utility men.   Bip Roberts of San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds fame and Jose Oquendo of St Louis Cardinals fame. 
These guys played amazing roles, and were truly willing to do whatever was needed to help the team succeed.  For example, in 1988, Jose Oquendo became one of a small handful of players who played all 9 positions in the same year.  Utility men are remarkable team players.  The last 2 entries in this series have been utility men (Brent Lillibridge and Chris Heisey)

And the trend continues with Don Kelly, a utility man with the Detroit Tigers.  So far this year, he has played 6 different positions (including DH).  In his career, he has played every position except pitcher an catcher.  You can find an interview with him from WTLW TV in Ohio here. (There will be a different story playing when you go to the link, you will have to scroll down the list to find him – the interview is from last July).
career stats

In this interview, Kelly talks about some of the tough things that professional athletes have to deal with, like separation from family and the ups and downs of sporting life, and he also talks about what being a utility player is like.  This is what caught my attention.  Like he says, he needs to be ready when he gets the call play.  It may be different each day as he moves around from position to position, or waits for a chance to pinch hit, so he needs to be ready for whatever situation he will face.  This made me think of a 2 bible passages. 

Paul challenges Timothy “always be ready in season and out”  (2 Timothy 4.2)- don’t be caught off guard.  Come prepared to get in the game.

And Peter instructs us in 1 Peter 3.15 to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

Utility men are ready at all times to step in and help the team – to do their part and do what is asked of them.  Don Kelly spoke of being prepared to do this in baseball, but he also speaks of spending time studying the bible and being prepared for whatever life brings his way. 

I see the role of the utility man as one who is ready to do whatever is needed to help the team be successful.  It may mean pinch hitting, pinch running, starting games at many different positions, even moving around to a few different positions in the same game.  It means being willing to do what it takes to help the team. 

This also brings to mind 1 Corinthians 9.22b where Paul writes about being all things to all people so that “by all possible means I might save some”.  As Christians, we are to show the Love of God to others and, like Jesus who went to great lengths to show his love for humanity, we are to truly be willing to do whatever it takes to give others an opportunity to encounter the living God.  It is an important role for the Christ-follower,

When I was growing up, my favorite players were utility men – it is my hope that like them, in my Christian Life, I can be whatever Christ wants me to be, to show Him to others.

As an aside, I want to draw attention to one more thing.  Kelly mentioned in the interview a “home plate event”.  That is referring to an organization in Detroit that hosts Christian faith outreach events. They are similar to Third Coast Sports, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts.  But Home Plate Detroit is an organization that has been putting these events on since 1987 in the Detroit area.  Click the link to see their website.  This has been a fruitful ministry.  (click on their “past history” tab for a list of events, speakers and attendees). Lets pray that they can keep up the great work of reaching out to the city of Detroit and surrounding  areas.

Stanley Cup Finals Time! Tim Thomas and Dan Hamhuis!

It i time for a little Friendly Family Feud!

OK, brace yourself for a little in-fighting in the Page clan.  You see, being from Canada, we take our hockey seriously, and as the Stanley Cup finals start up, it is time for me to go toe-to-toe with my oldest brother Steven.  He is a fan of the Vancouver Canucks (which I can accept as he and his wife, Julie, lived in VanTown for several years). And I am a life-long Boston Bruins fan.

Why? you ask! Well, here is the sob-story for poor little brother, Chris.  You see, as the youngest of 3 boys, I was always the recipient of hand-me-downs from my older brothers.  My jeans had patched knees, my sports shirts were all supporting their favorite teams, and my ability to exaggerate the “facts” of my youth has grown over the years,I know that I had lots of new clothes purchased for me,  but I’m looking for some sympathy here  – woe is me in my worn out clothes. 
Then, magically and amazingly, at the age of about 3 or 4, on a crisp, cool, November afternoon, my mother, brought home a BRAND NEW winter coat and it was for me! (OK, I actually don’t know the exact day, let alone the weather on the day – give me a little creative license OK!) and guess what was on the coat!  You got it, a small Boston Bruins emblem in the upper front left.  Well I loved that coat because it was ALL MINE, and as a result, now 30something years later, I still pledge a strong hockey allegiance to the Bruins.  I don’t think I could name any of the players when I first received that coat, but it started an appreciation that grew and grew into a full-fledged, permanent citizenship in Bruins Nation.

And now these 2 teams face off against each other, and my brother and I do, too.  Canucks are favored, so we will see how it all works out.  But I am excited to have my favorite team playing for a chance at the upset and hopefully raising of the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years. (Vancouver has not one at all in their 40 year history) so a drought will soon end. 

And in the spirit of this blog about Christian Athletes, let me share a couple of articles that I have found:

First, with my beloved Bruins and their Goaltender Tim Thomas.  His is not the typical star story.  He played through minor leagues in North America and spent some time in Europe, too.  He did not become a regular player until the age of 31, when most careers are starting to wind down.  Now he is 4 wins away from the grandest of hockey prizes.  So I was glad to read this blog from Christian Chronicle which talks about him and his love for the Lord.   His is a story of persistence.  The best way I know to work through hardship, and challenges is to lean on the strength of the Lord.  According to the pastor of the church he attends, that relationship with God is there to draw on, and hopefully (for all of us Bruins fans) that perseverance will pay off in the ultimate hockey prize – the Stanley Cup, but at the end of the day, the real “Ultimate Prize” is to have a relationship with God.
And on the other side of the finals, we have a guy that is going to be hard to cheer against.  His name is Dan Hamhuis.  Read his story in his own words in this article from Sharing the Victory magazine. His story resonates with me.  I work in children’s ministry and my heart longs to reach out to kids who are like Hamhuis.  (and like me).  Kids who grow up in church, and don’t mind it, but don’t have a relationship of their own with Jesus.  Without a foundation of Christ to build on, trials and temptations that come along can easily ensnare us.  It is refreshing to read this story from Hamhuis (even if it is a few years old) and to read the important role Jesus plays in his life.   While I want the Bruins to win the cup, it will not be sad to see him reach this pinnacle, either. 
Hamhuis has also contributed to “The Hockey Players New Testament”, a devotional Bible that is put out by Hockey Ministry InternationalClick here to see  him in an  advertisement for this Bible. 
 Hockey Ministries International is an organization that does a lot of different things to make Christ known in the hockey world.  They have camps for young players, that feature Christian players and coaches, they have a chaplain ministry to NHL teams and more.  Check them out!
So enjoy the Stanley Cup Finals, and may the best team win, and may Steve and I enjoy our friendly rivalry over the next couple of weeks.
(you can meet my brother Steve and his wife Julie, and read about all that they have going on at their blog “Plaid Eggnog“).

Play Ball Chris Heisey!

This is part 12 in my blog series about Christian Baseball Players who are living out their faith in the public eye and unashamedly declaring their faith and love for Christ in hopes that others may be drawn to Him or encouraged in their relationship with Him.

It is easy to see professional athletes only for the value of the entertainment that they offer.  Once they cross the lines into the field of play, they have our attention and our allegiance, but we seldom give much thought to their lives off the field.  If we do hear about them off the field, often it is to report an indiscretion or scandal that they are involved with.

We don’t often think about their life being hard.  Most of us have had big league dreams, just like each major league player has.  I know that I, for one, don’t often think about the hard things that put those dreams in doubt, or the heartbreak that failure, or in some cases success, brings.  The latter is at the heart of the story I share today.

Today, we are off to Cincinnati to visit with Reds outfielder Chris Heisey.  By his own admission, in high school, he was not good enough at baseball to be considered for a Division 1 NCAA scholarship.  So he opted to stay close to home and attend Messiah College,  a Christian liberal arts school.  Click here to read about Heisey on their web-site. (scroll to the bottom of the page)

He excelled at Messiah, and caught the attention of the Reds’ scouts, and the Reds drafted him in the 17th round of the 2006 draft.  They offered him a contract and his journey to the majors began.

Messiah College was close to his home, so his mom and dad could come and watch him play.  Then when he began pro ball, he was in constant contact with his dad, Craig, who was his proudest supporter.

But in October 2007, Craig Heisey lost his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Hear him talk about his dad on this Sports Spectrum podcast. (his part in the podcast is from 35:22-41:28).  You can also read about his story in this article from MLB.com.

The journey to the majors was not yet complete, but the rest of the way would have to take place without the contact with his father.  Heisey found this to be a difficult thing to deal with, (as we all would). But knowing that his father had a genuine relationship with God and modeled what a healthy Christian faith looks like, he was comforted and at peace even with the loss of his dad.  The saddest part would be in April of 2010, when he was called up to the majors for the first time and he was unable to share the achievement with his dad.
He was called up to replace an injured player, and has not been back to the minors since.  He was successful in his role of pinch hitter last year, tying for the most pinch hit home runs (4) with Matt Stairs (who, as an aside is from my birthplace – New Brunswick, Canada).  This year, he has again made the team out of training camp and has been pinch hitting again, and also starting some games.

Heisey is still living the dream that he has (and many of us have) had since childhood.  While he didn’t get a chance to share the dream with his father, he did learn about being a good Christian role model, and father.  Along the way, he has learned to lean of God for support when hard things come along, and he has also learned the important lessons of humility and hard work.  It has helped him keep a perspective of all that he has been entrusted with, and how to use his place and his story to tell others about God and to bring hope in the face of hardship. Great lessons for us all.

Play Ball! Brent Lillibridge

This is the 11th installment in my series on Christian Baseball players.  This time, our journey takes us to the south side of Chicago and White Sox Utility Player Brent Lillibridge. 
Now, I have mentioned a couple of times that I am a Red Sox fan, and that means that anyone that plays a big role in the Yankees losing, I become a fan of theirs very quickly.  Well, let’s travel back in time to April 26.  The White Sox are playing against the Yankees in New York.  It is the bottom of the 9th inning.  3-2 White Sox.  Yankees are have runners on, trying to complete a come back.  First up is Alex Rodriguez, and then Robinson Cano.  Both of these guys have the ability to sway the outcome of the game with a single swing of the bat.  This time though, they become the final 2 outs of the game both on great plays by Lillibridge. 
Check out the story about the game from the MLB.com web site.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkSMNNnSMgg]

And so as I was looking for a story to share from the White Sox, I thought it would be great to share a little about Brent Lillibridge (and post the video of him beating the Yanks, too).  I came across this story of a trip that he and his wife Stephanie took to South Africa.  Check out the Chicago Sun-Times article here. He said that the trip gave him some great perspective on the luxuries that living in USA can afford compared to the rest of the world. 
Lillibridge  at this point, is not a regular starter but rather a role player- a fill in for an injured player, a pinch runner brought in when more speed is needed on the base paths, or a pinch hitter who will to try and make something happen.  He knows (as you can read in the Sun Times article) that the fame and success that baseball brings can be fleeting – very brief and very easily forgotten.
He shares some of what he learned on his trip to South Africa, a trip where he had an opportunity to serve others and offer something that is not fleeting – a relationship with Jesus.
It is important for all of us to gain perspective.  It invites us to think beyond ourselves, to see others around us and the needs that they have, and see how we can meet those needs.   The things that we tend to worry about and strive for are so fleeting and quickly forgotten –  so temporary.  We can be challenged to set our hearts and minds on things that will make a difference forever,  like living our life to honor God and draw others to Him. 
Brent Lillibridge knows that baseball will come to an end at some point.  He sees the time that he has to live in the spotlight as time to make a difference, to impact the lives of others, in nearby communities and around the world. 
My wife and I served as missionaries for the first 4 years of our married life.  We worked with a lot of church groups in many different settings.   We learned a lot about ourselves, and the blessings that we do have here.  We also witnessed, and experienced for ourselves, the joy and the closeness to God that comes from serving others.  It is a great way to tap into the very heart of God.  He goes to such great lengths to show His love and draw others to Him.  And what a privilege it is to be a vessel, used by the Master, to accomplish His purposes.  I encourage one and all to participate in a mission trip of some sort.  Go, step out of your comfort zone and let God use you to meet the needs of others (physical, emotional or spiritual) or if you don’t see that as possible at this season in your life, then senders are always needed.  Ones who will invest in others who are able to go.  This is an important part of any mission team, too.  Support –  prayerful, and financial, will give you an investment in the ministry that occurs, and when you hear feedback and see the fruit of what has gone on, it will draw you closer in your relationship with God, too.  Give yourself opportunity to gain perspective and see the world beyond what is immediately around you. 
Here is an example.  There are many great organizations that are doing incredible things all around the world.  I will draw your attention in this post to Unlimited Potential Inc.  This is the organization that Lillibridge and his wife went to South Africa with. Their mission is to use the sport of baseball as a means to draw people in, and then take that opportunity to tell others about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for their sin.  Check out their website and pray for them as they go into the world to share God’s love.