Modern Monday – Fathers and Sons – Chase Anderson – Milwaukee Brewers

My father’s Day breakfast, glasses and “best dad” trophy prepared by my oldest three (with help from their mom) I am blessed by my girls.

Father’s Day was just over a week ago. I have 4 amazing daughters and every day, there is a little “pinch-me-i’m-dreaming feeling when I wake up, or when I come home from work and they greet me  with hugs, love and smiles. I love being a dad. Maybe it is because I had a father who was present in my life.  He encouraged me in school, sports and life. He taught me a lot about God, problem solving and seeing others around me. I am grateful for the dad I have and hope to give much of what he gave me to my daughters.

One of my favorite lessons to teach kids is helping them understand the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6. Because the prayer starts with “Our Father…”, I like to start by asking the kids what kinds of things their dad’s do. What is a dad’s role.  The answers that come are great – protector, provider, teacher, caregiver, loving, discipliner, just to name a few. Now some kids I work with don’t have great examples of a dad, and that is OK for my lesson because God is the perfect father so all the things that our earthly fathers may fall short in, He offers.

Today’s featured player is Chase Anderson of the Milwaukee Brewers. He brought the above to mind as I looked into his story and the relationship he had with his late father and that he shares with his newborn son.

Chase Anderson – pitcher Milwaukee Brewers wearing his father’s clothes – =

More on that later. First, a little background on Anderson.  He was drafted 3 times, in round 42 of the 2006 draft and round 40 of the 2007 draft.  he didn’t sign either time, and in 2009 he was drafted again, this time in the 9th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He signed with them and began his career shortly after. He made his debut with Arizona in 2014. He won his first 5 Major League starts, tying an MLB record.  He was traded to the Brewers before the 2016 season.  He is off to a great start this season, sitting with a 6-2 record and a sub 3 ERA in 15 starts.

Anderson is a new father as well.  Robert Hunter Anderson was born last November to Chase and his wife Anna.  As you can read in this story from mlb.com, The name given to their son carries lots of significance. Robert is Chase’s first name (he goes by his middle name) It was also Chase’s dad’s name  and his grandfather’s name.  Hunter was Anna’s maiden name (I find it fun that a “Hunter” married a man named “Chase” – seems they were meant to be together).  The article also shares that Chase had a great relationship with is father, also named Robert before his passed away in 2012 of a heart attack.

Chase, Anna and Robert Anderson – now in his 3rd season in the majors

The article continues, sharing how Chase honors his father before each game he pitches. From wearing his father’s clothes to each home game to scrawling his initials in the dirt on the mound for each start, Chase honors his father and the important role he played in Chase’s life. He says “I’ve seen a lot of his characteristics come out in me, … I hope I can be half the dad my dad was to me, and raise this little man up to be a good person and a God-fearing man, and live a good life. That’s all that matters.”

Anderson mentions being a God-fearing man. As you can read in this article from whatchristianswanttoknow.com, his dad’s death had him leaning hard on his faith.  He says “I recommitted my life to Christ. My grandmother left me a Bible which I read before each start different verses that help me understand how I am to live on a daily basis as a Christian.  The Lord does not care about our works and our efforts to ‘earn’ our salvation. It is all about Him giving His Son, Jesus, to pay for all the sins we committed in the past, present, and in the future. It is all about Grace which is freely given.”
Here are my takeaways from Anderson’s story

Anderson is showered with Gatorade after a great outing where he flirted with a no-hitter.

1- The Role of a Dad –  As I mentioned at the start, I like to look at what dad’s do when I teach a lesson on the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer. A dad plays an important role in the growth and maturing of his children. Anderson was influenced enough that he wanted to honor the memory of his dad. I can’t imagine losing my father. But I do appreciate Anderson’s perspective.  He says “I’d lost my earthly father and without him and his faith in me I wouldn’t be in the major leagues. But God is my true father and he’s with me every day.” The reality is that as a dad, I know that I will fail in many ways. But the one thing that I hope they will take from having me as a father is that they have a perfect heavenly father who loves them perfectly and has an amazing adventure in this life for each of them and a place in Paradise that awaits them. That is my most important role as a father – to point my children to their heavenly father.

Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson

2- Just like Dad –  Chase Anderson wears the same outfit to the stadium for each home start. It is an outfit made up primarily of his dad’s clothes. He also etches his dad’s initials in the dirt before the game. Father’s often dream that their children will follow in their footsteps. And while I didn’t go into civil engineering like my dad, I did choose to make following God a priority. Anderson said that he wants to raise a God-fearing son. I want my kids to follow in my footsteps not by the job they choose to do, but the way they follow God. The only way to do this is to point them to Jesus as the example they should strive for. He talked during his time on earth very lovingly about God the Father and that love is available to all. I hope that my kids grow up to love God and follow Jesus’ example.

Saturday Special – Riding in Tandem – Mike Sweeney – Kansas City Royals

Former Royals 1B/DH Mike Sweeney

Some technical difficulties caused me to miss posting earlier this week, and so with a sneaky rename and the fact that its my blog so I can change my own rules, I give you a new post about a guy who has been on my radar for a number of years.  Former Kansas City Royals slugger Mike Sweeney.

Good thing I wasn’t banking on a career as a sports photographer.! Here is my photo of Sweeney’s Home Run. See the ball streak in the blue circle?

Here is a random fact for you:  I once took a photograph of a Mike Sweeney home run in August 2000. I was traveling through the area and decided that I had heard great things about beautiful Kauffman stadium and I wanted to take in a game. They were playing against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a fun moment. I put my point and click camera to my eye, waited for the Steve Trachsel pitch, pressed the button and heard the crack of the bat and the cheers.  I lowered the camera and watched the ball sail over the left field fence for a three run home run.  It would turn out to be a key play that day for the Royals that day as they won the game 5-3. This was before the days of cell phone cameras, even before digital cameras and so I wondered what I caught in the picture. I had to wait until I finished the film, and then find a place to get it developed. Here is the photo I took.  It is blurry, but if you scan the infield dirt, you will see the white streak of the ball on its way out of the yard.

Sweeney, a 5 time All-Star finished his career with over 900 rbi.

For Sweeney, it was one of 29 homers that year (tied for career high) and 3 of his remarkable 144 rbi that season – finishing 2nd in the league 1 behind the Mariners Edgar Martinez. He would finish his career with 6 20+ home run seasons, and over 900 career rbi.  He was a 5 time All-Star and in 2015 was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame.  He finished his career in second place all time in batting average and home runs (behind George Brett in both cases). That is a pretty impressive run for a 10th round draft pick. The Royals drafted Sweeney as a catcher with the 262nd overall pick in the 1991 draft. He made his debut as a catcher in 1995. In 1999 he made the move to first base and remained there (or DH) for the rest of his career.

Now Sweeney was outspoken about his faith in God.  You can hear him share his faith and the role that it played in his career in this video from Fields and Faith

Sweeney speaking at his Royals Hall of Fame induction ceremony

In this article from catholic.org, you can read about how Sweeney’s faith was strengthened by lessons he learned from adversity. He was a fledgling baseball player who had just been informed by one of the team coaches that he had “zero percent chance” of making the team.  Sweeney took the news hard. The article reads “While attending Mass on Ash Wednesday shortly after receiving this bitter news, Mike glanced at a sticker of a tandem bicycle that had been placed on his Bible a few years before at a Confirmation retreat. The person on the front seat of a tandem bicycle steers the vehicle; the person in the back simply pedals and trusts the one in front to steer. Fully embracing the meaning of this symbol for the first time, Mike´s life was changed forever. He said “I realized that Jesus was calling me to a place of submission where I had never been before. His whisper to my soul challenged me to get off the front seat of the bike where I had been in so many areas of my life and assume the seat on the back of the bicycle while pedaling my heart out and trusting my savior with the rest.”

Nowadays, Sweeney works as a special assistant to baseball operations.  In the video, he shares that his role is to work “as the Holy Spirit leads” pouring love and encouragement out to the players in the Royals system and to be a resource for Spiritual guidance. He also is continuing to offer his Catholic Baseball camps (they have happened in Kansas City, Chicago and San Diego in the past).

Here are my takeaways from Sweeney’s story:

An image of a tandem bicycle reminded Sweeney that God is the one that is in control

1- Riding in Tandem – What a great picture Sweeney shared to demonstrate what our relationship with Jesus should look like. He is on the front of the bike and we are on the back. He is steering, directing where we go and we are trusting Him to do so. He is the one that is in control of our destination and our route to get there. We are not in control and like Sweeney, when we learn this, it reminds us to trust God. But more than that, it can also remind us that He is with us and it is in His strength that is accomplished. We think we are in control, but we are not. And the struggle to control can be exhausting. But when we surrender control and allow Him to lead, He refreshes us, He leads us on the right path and He is with us no matter what the trail of life brings. Have you surrendered control to Him? Are you ready to? It is something that I need to ask God daily – that He would be in control and I would follow Him wherever He leads me.

Sweeney shares about baseball and faith in God at his annual baseball camps

2- Christ first –  At His camps and in his role as a consultant, Sweeney looks for opportunities to show Christ’s love to others.  He has valuable information as a professional baseball player that he is willing to share with the campers, but the most important information he offer is about God’s love and how his faith in Jesus has guided him in his career and in his life.  We are called to lots of different vocations and experiences in this life, keeping Christ first will allow all of those places, work and relationships to be our mission field where we can be used by Him to draw others to Him.

 

 

 

Modern Monday – Life Support – Pittsburgh Pirates Player Wives and Girlfriends

I’ll admit that like so many young boys in North America, I grew up with dreams of playing professional baseball as a career.  I remember in the last 1980s, Sports Illustrated ran an issue that laid out the salaries of every player on Major League rosters. I was a little leaguer at the time and in my own mind, was one of the better players on my little league house team in Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada.  Now Fredericton is not a hot bed of major league baseball talent, despite what Matt Stairs career numbers may suggest. And the truth is that I was playing for house league teams, not traveling, so I was not about to be discovered as a hidden talent at any stage of the process. But I had dreams and in my mind, I was on my way to the pros and there was no stopping me now!

Pirates Coach Dave Jauss and wife Billie

However, of course, those dreams fell short of the mark – a truth that I am not alone in at all.  So many with dreams and even legitimate shots of making it to the pros don’t see those dreams realized, so when someone DOES make it to the pros, it is really important that they have a strong support network to support their life as a professional baseball player.  Now that support comes in many forms: nutritionists, personal trainers, financial advisors, marketing directors, and agents to name a few. But as in any walk of life, the strongest member of the professional athlete support network is the significant other.  So a couple of years ago, for a Pittsburgh Pirates faith night, a video was created featuring the wives of a number of players and coaches. For those represented in the video, the support of their wife/girlfriend paired with their strong faith in God are vital parts of their success.  check out the video below.

Pirates Catcher Chris Stewart, with wife Lindsay and their 2 children

Here are the names of those featured in the video:

  • Billie Jauss whose husband Dave is a member of the Pirates Coaching staff
  • Lindsay Stewart whose husband Chris is a catcher for the Pirates
  • Mary Catherine Melancon whose husband Mark is a pitcher now with the San Francisco Giants. I blogged about him a couple years ago. Check out that post here.
  • Keli Alvarez, whose husband Pedro is an Designated Hitter, now playing for the Baltimore Orioles
  • Maria McCutchen whose husband, Andrew is an outfielder for the Pirates.  I blogged about him in my first year with this blog.  Check out that post here.

The entire video is worth watching.  Hearing these amazing women talk about life off the field, from moving from town to town, and not always being in control of when those moves happen (demotion or promotion around minor leagues, trades) and trying to raise a family in the midst of that chaos.  That is a hard thing to imagine – and it is not just the kids that need to build new relationships. The wife also will have a new group of players wives that she will have to get to know as well.

Outfielder Pedro Alvarez, with wife Keli – now plays for the Orioles

I also appreciate the layers of conversation about the important place faith in God plays in their lives. With so much upheaval and uncertainty, it is important to have something strong and stable on which to lean.  That, for these women, is their faith in God and the shared faith that they have with their husbands.

Here are my takeaways from these stories:

1 – God never leaves us, even if we leave Him – Billie Jauss shares about how her marriage with he husband Dave was in trouble.  They had grown apart, they had even separated.  In a session with a councilor, she was asked when she felt the most at peace in her life.  She said it was when she was heavily involved with her church. She was advised to get back into church and in doing so, she returned to her faith in God. Dave noticed a difference and wanted to know more about her faith and about God. I love that even when life comes and we get distracted from following God, He is always near. This is true for all of us. We turn away from Him, we pursue our own plans and desires. But when things go different than we planned. or when we realize that we can’t do this on our own, He is there to welcome us back to Him.

Mark Melancon with wife Mary Catherine, now plays for the San Francisco Giants

2- Cord of 3 strands – Ecclesiastes 4 has a verse that is often used in wedding ceremonies. It says “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Keli Alvarez spoke of how she and Pedro are strong in their own faiths, but also support each other and try to be strong and overt in their demonstrations of faith when hard times come along.  This is how it is supposed to work.  We work together, depending on God’s strength to help us and pointing constantly to Him as our provider and our strength.

 

Former MVP and Roberto Clemente award winner Andrew McCutchen with wife Maria

3- Making the effort – There are some pieces in place for the baseball players and their wives to be intentional in growing in faith as well as supporting each other. Baseball Chapel is an organization that puts on chapel services for major league teams – home and away and even umpires – on Sundays at the ball fields. And these women talked about the wives bible study where they pour into each others lives, support each other and learn from God’s word together. In what ways are you connecting with God and his people to gain strength and support to strengthen your faith as you navigate through this life.  Let’s be intentional to work on our faith.  Like a muscle, it grows when we exercise it.

 

Me, with my beautiful wife Stephanie!

And I want to say also how glad I am to have an amazing wife that is the strongest part of my support network. I am honored to be doing life with her. When life has brought hard things, her focus on God and consistency of faith has been amazing to see. We have definitely leaned on that third cord many times and He shows Himself to be worthy of our trust and faith.

 

 

TBT – Forgetfulness – Carlos Baerga – Cleveland Indians

Memory is a funny thing.  I tend to have a good memory about things that are not very significant. I spent a couple of years traveling around the USA as a workshop instructor. There were 3 of us traveling around together and I had a pretty good ability to remember details about places where we had been – layouts of the churches that would host our workshops, where we ate when we were in a given city, what we watched on TV 2 Friday Nights earlier.  These are the trivial little things that for some reason, my mind grabs hold of.  I would amaze my traveling cohorts with these details from weeks, even months earlier in our journey, but… I would always struggle to remember the room number of the hotel we were staying in that night. I would always have to ask, or follow them to the room because that detail, of more immediate importance, was lost on me.  Even now, I have strong memories of some moments/events from years ago, but will forget one of the 3 things that I was sent to the store to pick up for the family.

Former Cleveland Indians infielder Carlos Baerga

As I read the story of Carlos Baerga, several thoughts and lessons on memory came to mind.  I will get into them soon, but incase y0u don’t know about Baerga, here are his career highlights.

Carlos was signed by the San Diego Padres at the age of 16 in 1985. Before getting a chance to play for the Padres, he was traded to the Indians in a package for Joe Carter. He made his debut in 1990, at the age of 21. He played  regularly at second, third and shortstop during his first 2 years with Cleveland. But it was in his third year with the Tribe that he really started turning some heads. He settled in as the regular second baseman for the Indians and was named to his first All Star game.  He also finished 11th in the MVP voting.  The next season would be his best in the majors as he set what would become career highs in average, home runs, triples, rbi and stolen bases. He would again play in the All-Star game, finish 10th in MVP voting and won his first of back-to-back Silver Slugger awards. He would play in the majors for a total of 14 seasons with 6 different teams.

Baerga (2nd from left, back row) and his Cleveland teammates who played in the 1995 All Star game. 

But as you can read in this story from Gospel Light Society when Baerga arrived in the majors, the trappings of fame and fortune distracted him from following the God he had grown up knowing.  He says “My career was going way up, and that was the moment that I really forgot about God — the God who gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues. I used to be a super star. Everything was so good for me that I wanted to keep living that life.”   The article continues, sharing the things Baerga was turning to instead of God. He says “I almost lost my family. I didn’t know the damage I was doing to myself. When you walk without God, you can be hurt at anytime.”

In 1996, Baerga was traded to the New York Mets. Before he left though, a teammate wanted to talk things over with him. Read about it in this article from CBN. It says “Before he left for New York, Carlos had a long heart-to-heart talk with long time friend Julio Franco. “I know that God put Julio there for me,” he says. “I know it because Julio was talking to me, ‘Carlos, why are you doing this? You’re born in church; you know the words of God; you know what can happen to you.’ I wasn’t listening to him.

Baerga won 2 Silver Slugger awards

Baerga didn’t hear him the first time, but Franco kept talking to him and eventually, Baerga realized how far he had strayed from following God and rededicated his life to Christ.  And now, in retirement, Baerga seeks to help others live for Christ, too.

Here are my takeaways from Baerga’s story

1- Forgetting God – It is a story that we have heard, and in some ways experienced. When things are going well and life is all working out like it should, we can tend to think it is because of what we are doing.  We can lose sight of God and forget the commitment that we have made to following Him. It is Baerga’s story. it is my story. It is  a common story to so many. It is only when the consequences of our rebellion and bad choices start to catch up with us that we remember all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf and that this life is not really about us at all, or if it is, then our priorities need some realigning.

2- Forgetful God – Check out this song by Christian Band “The Waiting” . It talks about how amazing God is but the lyric that really catches my attention and that fits with the theme of this blog post so well is from the second verse. They sing “And I’ve known your forgiveness for each and all of my days
But the way you’ve forgotten leaves me truly amazed.

This thought is taken from Isaiah 43.25 which says “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”  That is the amazing thing about God. Even when we turn away from Him and act on our own selfish desires, He continues to offer us forgiveness and show us love,  grace and mercy.

3 – Forget the Past – And when we see the way we have selfishly forgotten God over and over again, we can feel guilt and shame. Not only does God forget our sins, but he invites us to do the same.  Paul writes in Philippians 3.13-14 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” We can forget all that is in the past. All our bad choices, stumbles and rebellion and we can focus on Jesus who will help us in the strains that lie ahead. 

God has offered us this precious gift of love, forgiveness and a clean slate. Let us not forget Him and all He has done for us, lets focus on Him and strain forward. And let’s be willing to love others enough to point them to Jesus like Baerga’s teammate did. Who is God calling you to speak out to?

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

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Asher Wojciechowski.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my takeaways from Wojciechowski’s story:

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

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

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

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