Pressure – The Bichette Family – Dante Sr., Dante Jr., and Bo

The Bichettes – Dante Jr, Mariana, Bo and Dante Sr circa 2011. Faith and Baseball are big parts of this family.

I’m a long time baseball fan. Long enough that several of the players that I grew up watching now have kids playing professional baseball. I have blogged about some some multi-generation pro athletes (the Slaters, the Kupps, the Geoffrions, the McCullers, the Tollesons and the Ingrams).  If there is “pressure” to succeed as a professional athlete, I imagine it increases when your last name carries with it a pedigree of a professional athlete like a parent and in some cases a grandparent, too. Today’s story will share the tale of a father and his two sons who have made baseball their vocational pursuit.  Today, Let’s meet the Bichette family.

The Blake Street Bombers Clockwise from bottom, Galarraga, Dante Bichette,  Walker, Castilla.Dante Bichette Sr. was a 17th round draft pick by the (then) California Angels in 1984.  He made his Major League debut with them in 1988, splitting the next 3 seasons between them and their AAA affiliate in Edmonton. A trade sent him to Milwaukee for 2 seasons, and another one brought Dante to Colorado to join the expansion Rockies. And with the Rockies, Bichette flourished. He hit the team’s first home run in regular season history, and in his 7 seasons with the Rockies, he was a massive threat, hitting .316, with over 200 home runs, and more than 100 stolen bases. He went to 4 All-Star games, finished 2nd in 1995 MVP voting, had a 30-30 season and won a Silver Slugger award. After stints with the Reds and Red Sox he retired in 2001. In all, Bichette Sr. played in over 1,700 Big League games.

And Bichette knew pressure. He felt it as a player, he felt it when speaking to the media, he felt it as a Christian, to be a role model for others to look up to, and he felt it as a father. He says “But sometimes, the pressure is overwhelming. That’s when I rely on God. I’ve learned that every time I’m done, when I seem to have no one to turn to, God is always there. I pick up the Bible and find direction and focus, and hope, when I thought there was none, or at least when I had lost sight of it.”

Dante Bichette Jr.

Dante Jr.’s career has not led him to the Majors yet, but it did bring him to the Twin Cities to play for the Saints.

Bichette Jr. was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft by the New York Yankees. He is compared to his father – similar build and similar skills. But Bichette Jr has struggled some in his route to the Majors. After 5 seasons in the Yankees system, he became a free agent in 2017. The Rockies signed him in 2017, but released him at the end of Spring Training.  He spent the 2018 season here in the Twin Cities with the St. Paul Saints where he put up respectable stats. This year, he joins the Washington Nationals and is  playing with their AA afiliate in Harrisburg, PA. At age 26, he is still in pursuit of his Major League dream. He talks about how despite his name, he never felt the pressure to play baseball – but being around it all the time made it a fun part of his life. He even played in the Little League World Series tournament in 2005.

But along the way, he has shared that his relationship with God is an important part of his life and his journey. He says “My relationship with God has become extremely important to me over the past year. I was raised to believe in God, pray every night, try to live like him…etc. But only over this last year have I really taken it upon myself to establish a relationship with him and really dive into his word daily.”

Bo Bichette

Bo has had a record-setting start to his Big League career. He started his career by hitting a double in 9 straight games.

Bo Bichette was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft after a strong High School Career.   Bo flew through the Blue Jays minor league system and made his debut on July 29.  And what a start it was! He began his big league career with an 11 game hitting streak. Bo set new Major League records for quickest-to-reach-10-extra-base-hits, doing so in 9 games and set another MLB record as the only player to ever hit a double in 9 straight games. At this point, in just over 20 games played, Bo is batting .333 with 7 home runs and 2 stolen bases. The Blue Jays seem to like second generation players. Bichette is the third to make his debut for them this year joining Vlad Guererro Jr, and Cavan Biggio. Interesting fact, the Jays also prospect, Griffin Conine, and Kacy Clemens whose dads Jeff and Roger respectively played in the Majors for a number of years.

Bo Bichette also wants people to know that he is a Christian. and while I haven’t found any articles about his faith in particular, his Twitter feed makes frequent reference to bible verses and his faith in God.

My takeaways from the Bichettes.

Pressure – All 3 have known success in baseball at various ages and levels, but they all talk about the importance that God plays in their life. God can handle the pressure no matter how strongly it comes, and with Him at work in our lives, He will help us deal with pressure too. Plus He will remind us of what is important. I think of the story in Luke 10. The disciples have returned from their journeys and have seen many things happen that they are excited about. Jesus reminds them not to get caught up in what they are doing, but instead celebrate that their names are written in Heaven. When we consider all the things that happen in this life, the good and the bad, it is easy to get caught up in that and feel the pressure or revel in the success. But the most important thing is our relationship with God. Putting Him ahead of everything else is always the best choice. Each of the Bichettes share this in one way or other. I am challenged again to do the same.

All-Star Focus – National League Edition – 3 All-Star Rookies

Two weeks ago, the MLB All-Star game was played in Cleveland. I wrote a post on some of the participants for the American League. Now it is the National League’s turn. All three players whose stories I will share were first-time All-Stars and appeared in the game. Let’s meet these stars:

David Dahl – Colorado Rockies OF.

Dahl had a hit and a run scored in his first All-Star game on July 9

I guess this is becoming a tradition for me. At All-Star time, I write a post that includes a Colorado Rockies player. In 2014 it was Charlie Blackmon, in 2017, Nolan Arenado was in the spotlight. Last year, I wrote about Trevor Story.  This year it is David Dahl’s turn.  For Dahl, it has been an arrival that many have anticipated. Dahl was selected by the Rockies 10th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school. He has played very well in this his third season in the majors, and he has avoided the injured list – a place where he has spent lots of time. He has battled a torn hamstring (2012) a lacerated spleen (2013) and a stress fracture in his ribs (2017) that led to back spasms. And last season, he spent 2 months on the shelf with a broken foot. But as you can read in this article from 280living, in the face of adversity, he leans on his faith in God.  He says “I have a tattoo of a Bible verse on my arm, Joshua 1:9, which says ‘Be Strong and Courageous…I’ve learned that if you have a good relationship with Christ, everything falls into place.”  

For many of us, we face the waves of hardships, challenges and annoyances that things aren’t going constantly on an upward trajectory to bigger and better things. These bumps in our roads are great times to remember that God is with us in the hard times, struggles, moments when we feel alone and frustrated. But He guides us to places of celebration and victory in those circumstances. Maybe it isn’t in a place where everyone gets to see it – like an All-Star game, but the hope and victory of knowing God helps us realize that our only choice is to “Be strong and courageous” in Him and trust Him to bring us to His best plan.

Ronald Acuna Jr. – Atlanta Braves OF

Acuna and fellow Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman

The 2018 National League Rookie of the Year was also named to his first All-Star game, earlier this month. He has taken the majors by storm in his season and a half in the bigs. Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he moved very quickly through the minor league system, and was promoted to the Braves in April 2018. He was the youngest major leaguer at the time. He finished hitting just below .300 with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He won the Rookie of the Year and finished 12th in MVP voting. He is building on that great first season with a similar home run total and even more stolen bases. The Venezuelan star has a high ceiling and credits his faith in God as a reason for his success and a help in the hard times.  He says “The most important thing is to never lose your faith. Just because your faith is what helps maintain you, especially during the tough times that happen on the field and off the field. Every time I take the field or even when I wake up, I have a conversation with God…I feel like I always pray to Him and have that relationship and I feel like He listens.”

Acuna’s mention of frequent conversations with God and building a relationship with Him is the key. You can’t get to know someone you don’t talk to or spend time with. The best way to get to know God is to spend time with Him, reading his word, praying and getting to know Him. And He loves to reveal Himself to people. I am challenged by Acuna’s word. With my work, I get to spend a lot of time reading and studying God’s word, but I know that it is more than reading the words, it is asking Him to speak to me and building that relationship with Him that will help most in my job and in my life.

Ketel Marte – Arizona Diamondbacks IF

Marte was named an All-Star starter for the game on July 9

Like Acuna, Ketel Marte was named a starter in the All-Star Game. And like both Acuna and Dahl, Marte is a first-time All-Star who has faced adversity and leans on his faith in God.  Marte was signed as an international free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He made his debut with them in 2015 and played well enough that the Mariners traded their shortstop to make room for Marte. But Marte struggled the next year with injury as well as in his performance.  After 1 season as the Mariners #1 shortstop, Marte was traded to Arizona. He started the season in the minors, but was brought up to play 73 games for them. The next season, he played regularly between 2nd base and shortstop, leading the National League in triples. This year, he was named a starter in the All-Star game and currently leads the National League in hits.

For Marte, the hardest thing that he has had to deal with is the death of his mother who was killed in an accident in July 2017. It was in this grieving process that Marte shared “I’m the type of person who has a lot of belief in God, a lot of faith in God, and that’s helped me through difficult times. My mother always wanted the best from me and for me, … I know she’s gone, and that’s very hard to deal with. But again, I’ve always been one to trust in God, and I know I will be OK.”

I guess the theme of this post is dealing with different adversity. Adversity will have some similarities but will mostly be different for each of us. The hard times, the unexpected bumps can really blindside us, but depending on God, trusting Him to be there to give us strength and help us through the things that we could never take on on our own is the best plan – in fact it is the only plan that works.

All Star Special – A.L. version – Three Fabulous Faith-filled First Timers and a Hometown Hero.

It is All-Star week in the Major League Baseball season, and as I looked over the rosters, I had a hard time picking whose story I should share – so, I decided to share 4 stories that piqued my interest. There are 3 first timers whose stories I’ll share, and a second time All-Star who plays in the city where I currently live.

 

We will start with my current home team.

Jose Berrios – Minnesota Twins – SP.

Minnesota Twins ace Jose Berrios, poses with with his friend, trainer and mentor, Josue Lionel Rivera. He will appear in his second All-Star game. 

 

At age 25, Berrios is the unquestioned ace of the Minnesota Twins rotation.  He is currently in his 4th season with the Twins – and his numbers have improved each season. He made the All-Star roster last season, and pitched a scoreless inning.

This season, he was the opening day starter for the Twins, winning the game and striking out 10. This season, he also embarked on a strikeout challenge  donating $50 per strikeout to help children as they battle cancer in his native Puerto Rico. And as you can read in this article from Pioneer Press, he works out with Josue Rivera, a trainer from Puerto Rico each offseason (at least up until 2016) to help him with the physical and mental sides of the game, as well as spiritual mentorship. The article shares “Conversations between Berrios and Rivera typically range far beyond baseball and conditioning. “Every morning before every training session, he talks to me about real life,” Berrios says. “He says you have to align your spirit and your mind with your God. He created us and you have to give the glory to him and ask, ‘What can I do?’ Then everything will be great.”

Berrios, a father of 3, became a Christian in January 2014.  He will pitch in his second All-Star game on Tuesday Night.

Whit Merrifield – Kansas City Royals – IF/OF.

Whit Merrifield is the two-time defending stolen base champ in the American League. He is a first time All-Star.

Up next, we have an experienced thief. He has led the American League in stolen bases in each of the past 2 seasons posting totals of 34 and 45. He led the American League in hits last season, and is doing so again this season. He even finished 17th in MVP voting last year – yet this year, he is a first time All-Star. It was not a meteoric rise to the majors for Merrifield. You can read in this article he wrote called “paying my dues” that there were some bumps in the road between delivering the walk-off hit to win the 2010 College World Series and finally getting called up to the Royals for real on May 18, 2016. In the midst of the waiting, Merrifield learned some lessons that he shares in the article, and in this interview. Here is some wisdom he shares:

God’s plan didn’t call for me to stay in that moment (winning the CWS) forever. If I was going to get to the big leagues, I needed to be humbled first.”

Advice for young players “So for all of you young players out there struggling to make it, just remember to keep pushing, because you just might like what God has on the other side.”

When asked about his faith, Whit said “I do things to glorify God and I feel like I need to. Just like you try to make your parents proud, I’m trying to make Him proud, and do things the right way.”

And when asked why he draws a “G” in the dirt before each at-bat “It stands for God. I started it in … my junior year of high school. Before that I had some big-time anger issues. It’s a long story, but it comes down to that was when I guess I got saved… I do it, and it reminds me that there are bigger things out there than this at-bat that I’m about to go through.

I particularly resonate with this last one – as a boy, I had plenty of issues with getting really mad when we didn’t win a game or when I would get out. Whatever we are going through seems like the biggest thing in the moment but often, with perspective, we see that it rarely carries the importance we give it in that moment.

Austin Meadows – Tampa Bay Rays – OF

. Despite missing 15 games to injury, Meadows was selected to his first All-Star game.

Another first timer, Austin Meadows was N.L. Rookie of the Month in May 2018 and played well for almost 50 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays last season at the Trade Deadline in a package traded for Rays ace Chris Archer. And while Archer and the Pirates have struggled this season, Meadows has been a gem for the Rays. He has hit .289 with 30 extra base hits. He was named to the All-Star team last week – and with this being his first season of regular playing time, it is his first All-Star game trip as well.  As for his faith, he shares it’s importance in this Blessed to Play podcast episode. He shares about the importance of meeting with and encouraging other believers on the team during the season when being part of a regular church body is challenging. He shares the importance of the team chapel services. He also talks about the responsibility he has as a role model and wants parents to be confident that if they buy a jersey for their child that bears his name and number, that they will be happy with the person he is, not just the stats he puts together.

I’ve been a jersey collector for much of my life. Since starting this blog, I’ve decided that I will also only wear jerseys of players who I can proudly represent based more on their off the field values and beliefs than on their on-field success. So I appreciate what Meadows says about considering these things when he sees a kid wearing his jersey.

Daniel Vogelbach – Seattle Mariners – 1B

In his first full season in the Majors, Daniel Vogelbach has been RAKING! His 20 home runs is tied for 8th in the American League.

Another player that is playing his first full season in the majors, Daniel Vogelbach joins the other first time All-Stars in this post (there are 31 first time All-Stars in this year’s game). Vogelbach is 26 years old. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. He played in their minor league system until a 2016 trade sent him to the Seattle system. He made his debut as a September call-up that season. He played parts of the next 2 seasons with the Mariners but has already appeared in more games in the majors this year than he had in his career up before this season. But I don’t know that anyone expected what Vogelbach has provided this year for Seattle. 20 home runs, and 60 walks (tied for 6th in the majors). According to his Twitter account, “God, family and baseball in that order” are his listed priorities. One of his tweets in particular caught my attention. It serves as a great reminder that we are not in control. He wrote “Faith is not about everything turning out okay, Faith is being okay with how things turn out. Gods plan is greater than ours

Trust in God’s plan instead of desperately holding onto our own plan will make things much more manageable. This is a lesson that I learn and re-learn frequently. I appreciate the concise reminder of this truth in Vogelbach’s tweet.

Enjoy the game everyone – look for the NL version on Tuesday.

 

More than a Moment – Bill Buckner – Boston Red Sox

It is hard to believe, as the Boston Bruins aim for the third Boston team Championship in the past 7 months and 13th in the past 20 years, that there was a time when championship parades were scarce in Beantown. The Celtics once went 22 years without a title. The other teams endured prolonged streaks. The Patriots won their first title in their 42nd season. The Bruins had stretches of 29 years and 39 years between Stanley Cup wins and the Red Sox suffered the longest with a stretch of 86 years between World Series titles.

Buckner singles in game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

The Red Sox not only suffered the longest but also came the closest on several occasions – none more heart-wrenching than the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. The Red Sox were up 3 games to 2 in game six. The game went into extra innings. In the 10th, the Red Sox scored twice to take a 5-3 lead.  The first 2 betters for the Mets got out. They were down to their final strike at least 2 times. But a couple of hits, a wild pitch and an infamous error allowed the Mets to pull out an improbable win to force game 7, which they would win 8-5.

The error of course was committed by first baseman Bill Buckner. He was hobbled by injury at the time and when the slow roller came his way, he missed it and it rolled through his legs, into the outfield allowing the game-winning run to score from second.

Mookie Wilson – who hit the slow grounder towards first and Buckner were often together to speak about their faith in God and about the 1986 World Series

Unfortunately, that moment became the most remembered and replayed play of that World Series and possibly all World Series history.  Buckner returned to the Red Sox the next season but was released in July. He would play for three more seasons, finishing his career back with the Red Sox in 1990.

All told, Buckner had a very impressive career. He played over 2,500 games over 22 years, finishing with over 2,700 hits.  He won a batting title in 1980 with the Cubs. He stole 183 bases in his career despite playing more than half his career on a surgically repaired ankle. Any player dreaming of a solid major league career would be ecstatic with those numbers, but sadly, the legacy of his career is that misplayed grounder. A moment like that can be hard to overcome but for Buckner, his faith in God helped give him perspective. He says “I’m a person of faith, so there’s a lot there. I’ve had a lot of people call me and thank me for giving them directions to make it through — and that’s a good thing.”

Last week, when Buckner sadly passed away, his family sharedBill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Here are my takeaways from Buckner’s story.

Buckner was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day of 2008 – after the Red Sox won their 2nd World Series in 3 years. He received a standing ovation. 

1- Perspective – Buckner made an error in a World Series game. It was game 6. There were also hits given up, a wild pitch that led to this loss and a whole game 7 in which the Red Sox were allowed to win and still claim the Championship. The result for him? Media ridicule, fan vitriol, death threats?  That is where we choose to show our passion? That is where we allow ourselves to get excited or angered? Now, I am a huge sports fan and this is a good reminder that life doesn’t begin and end with what my favorite teams do on their playing field. Just imagine, fellow Christians, if we were as passionate about our faith in God as we are about being faithful fans to our favorite team.  Feel challenged? Me too!

2- Nowhere to Hide – I’ve been asked on a few occasions what my most embarrassing moment is. I have some stories that were mortifying at the time but now they are fun memories. But other moments in my life that I am not proud of, if I am able to hide them, you bet I do. Imagine that us, at our worst moment, had our shortcomings and failures broadcast for all to see. How horrific would that be? Well, guess what. Our worst moments and biggest failures are known. Our deepest, darkest sinful behavior and thoughts are known by the God who created us. But the beauty is that even though He knows all of those things about us. He still loves us enough that He sent Jesus to make a way to deal with those things and for us to be restored to Him. Now I am not saying to revel in your mistakes, far from it. But when we realize the depth of our sinfulness and how far short from perfection we fall, we see how amazing our God is. He is able and willing to forgive all that we have done and see us as His perfect, cherished creation. Now that is a victory worth celebrating.

Grabbing our Attention – David Bote – 3B – Chicago Cubs

Cubs Rookie infielder David Bote

I would consider myself to be a big baseball fan. Maybe not a die-hard, but pretty close – especially in a season like this where my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, are winning games at an historic pace. But outside of following Red Sox games, the other highlights each night are easily dismissed unless there is something that happens so rarely that it has people talking about it for a few days. Such an even happened last Sunday, when Cubs rookie third baseman David Bote, seeing big league action largely due to an injury to All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant, did this.

According to the Kansas City Star, it is only the 3rd time in the last 30 years where a player hit a walk-off grand slam while down to his last strike. It is the stuff kids dream about in their most dramatic dreams. For Bote, recalled and sent down a handful of times already this year, it was his third major league home run. He had been playing well at AAA and doubled in his first at bat in May, at Coors Field in Denver – a short drive from where he grew up, in front of many family and friends.

Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, 2 out, down by 3, 2 strikes on the batter. rookie pinch hitter, Grand Slam! I’ve dreamed about a moment like Bote lived last Sunday.

For Bote,(pronounced Bo-tee), a dream sequence like that lived out in real life really grabbed the attention of the baseball world. And it gave a chance for his story to be shared. He was drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 baseball draft (554th overall). He learned this news while on a mission trip in Kenya.  – a story that had him considering leaving baseball dreams behind when his progress through the minors was slowed. He asked his wife if she thought he should give it up. Bote recalls “she said ‘We didn’t stay in ‘A’ ball for five years to give up now,’ ’’ Bote continues “We had a 3-month-old at the time. She was like, ‘Don’t do it because of me. If you want to give it up, do it, but not because of me.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not ready to give it up.’ Knowing she was 100 percent supportive made it that much easier.”

This moment, and the many other rookie season highlights that Bote has lived this year are amazing, and as fans, we are grateful that he didn’t quit baseball when the grind was discouraging him.

They stuck with it and now, all of baseball knows his name and his power to straight away center field.  As you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, Bote’s faith in God is deeply rooted. It says “Living by the verse Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” — Bob Bote (David’s dad) told Sports Spectrum that faith was always an important element in how he raised his children.“After games and other life situations, we would discuss how God was involved, what He might be trying to teach us, and how to glorify Him by our resulting actions,” Bob said. He began to provide spiritual encouragement to David as he began to watch his son’s baseball progression. “Be an encourager,” Bob told Sports Spectrum. “Treat others the way you want to be treated. Give praise to Jesus in all situations and results and be humble.”

Here are my takeaways from Bote’s story

A mob of happy teammates awaited Bote at home plate as he brought in the unlikely game winning run.

1- Encourage and be humble – David’s dad shared his advice to his son – Be an encourager, treat others well, praise God always and be humble” What a great checklist to live by. And there is more.  Being aware of God’s presence in all situations, looking to learn lessons from what we go through and how we can glorify Him by our response to what life brings our way – these are all great practices that we can develop by keeping God as the center of our attention. I find these thoughts a challenging reminder to take the focus off the hardships and instead focus on God. He invites us to trust Him instead of worrying (Matt 6.25-34) and depend on Him to provide for all we need (Philippians 4.19).

2- Support System – Bote considered giving up baseball because he felt like things were not progressing. He discussed it with his wife, who was living his baseball dreams with him. She continued to support him, and whatever the decision was. I really connect with this part of the story. My wife is easily my biggest cheerleader. She is so supportive of me, encourages me and shows by her words and her actions that she believes in me often more deeply than I believe in myself. To have that strength of support and depth of love and partnership really does empower me to move into challenges with confidence because I know that she is with me in the thick of it. And I get to do the same for her. She is an amazing woman who is doing some great things. It is my joy to support her in what she does being for her what she is for me.