A Timing Thing – Ian Desmond – Texas Rangers

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Rangers OF Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond is one of the last remnants of a by-gone era that was an important part of my sporting world. He is one of few remaining players connected to the Montreal Expos. He was drafted in 2004, and moved with the team to Washington D.C. and worked his way through the system, making his debut in September 2009. He had a great start to his career, with 6 hits and 4 rbi in his first 2 games. He would finish with a .280 average, 4 home runs and 12 rbi in 21 games.

Over the next 6 seasons for the Nationals, Desmond would play in over 130 games each year, three times hitting more than 20 home runs and stealing more than 20 bases. He won 3 Silver Slugger awards as a shortstop and went to an All-Star game. But last off-season, he left Washington and signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers. This year, he again returned the the All-Star game this time as a center fielder.

As you can read in this article from the Nationals website Desmond says his breakout season was due to him choosing to follow God with his life.  He says “I felt like God had more important issues to deal with than my baseball career. [In 2012], I put my faith in him and said, “Hey, get my athletic ability to do whatever you want. Hopefully, I can glorify you.” It has been great. That took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. Going 0-for-4 wasn’t so bad. I realized it was part of the process and this is the way He wanted it to be.”

Texas Rangers' Ian Desmond (20) tosses his bat as he watches hit home run ball in the seventh inning at Globe Life Park on May 15, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers won 7-6. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

Desmond has been a solid 20 hr- 20 sb guy in his MLB career

 

This was a change for Desmond who earlier in his career was all about putting in the work. He didn’t have time for God in his rise to the pros.  You can read about it in this article from Sports Spectrum Desmond said “I filled that void in my heart with baseball and so many other things… On my journey to the major leagues, my Sundays were generally filled with cage work. I had chaplains coming up to my locker asking me if I wanted to attend the chapel, and I always said, ‘No, I don’t have time for that.’ I got my mind set on making it to the major leagues, and when I was at the major league level, I didn’t want to let that dream slip away.” The story continues, highlighting that he began reading his bible and attending chapel services. But an injury threw a wrench in his routine. He thought it important to work on his training and recovery instead of going to chapel. This time, though, he couldn’t go through with it. He says “The chaplain came into my locker, and I said, ‘Tim, I don’t think I can make it today. I have to go get treatment.’ So the chapel started, I went to the training room, and I was overtaken with goose bumps, like, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ I walked back into that chapel room and Tim looked at me, we made eye contact, and that was the moment I knew that God was in control and I didn’t need to get treatment, and He was going to take care of me.

This year, Desmond got to play in the All-Star game. He has joined a Rangers team that is poised to make the playoffs for the second straight season and the 4th time in seven seasons.  I am excited for playoff baseball to get here.

Here are my takeaways from Desmond’s story:

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This season, Desmond played in his first career All-Star game. Looks like he’ll see the post-season, too. He is playing with God as his top priority.

1- No Time for That – Desmond grew up in a Catholic family and knew about God. But when it came to baseball, God went to the back burner. Baseball was most important in Desmond’s life. And when he turned professional, his work on his game and his physical skills became even more consuming – so much so that invitations to chapel services were declined. Eventually, Desmond would chose to follow God and make him the number one priority in his life. What I like about this story is 1- that it is a lot like my story – I grew up attending church but did not really have time on interest in living for Him. But when I came to the decision that I needed to live for Him, He was still there and ready for him. When Desmond decided to put God first and seek Him, God was ready to meet with Ian and help him grow and see God’s goodness.  He offers the same to each of us as well. No matter how often or how strongly we turn away from God and put other things ahead of Him, when we do choose to turn to Him, He is there to meet us and welcome us to Him.

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Desmond is one of a handful of current players connected to the Montreal Expos – My boyhood favorite team.

2- Workout – The Sports Spectrum article also mentions another important lesson. Desmond noted that “spending time on his physical health was vital to recovery, so was the time spent on his spiritual health in prayer and fellowship with his brothers in Christ. Trusting God in the midst of injury is a major step in spiritual maturity.” I once heard a speaker use the analogy that “faith is like a muscle – it only gets strengthened through use. If you don’t use it, it withers away” We are invited to have faith in God. That means trusting Him and His plan even if it goes against our comfort, or our ideas. But God is always faithful and when we exercise trust in Him, our faith will grow and strengthen. Lets put in the work of trusting God and let’s see how He makes all things work out for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.23)

Living Up To Expectations – Kaleb Cowart – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Angels 3B Kaleb Cowart

Expectations can be both positive and negative. For a baseball player, they mean that people see your skill set and because of that, have  a belief that you could be a superstar. What a boost that could be, I mean who doesn’t like it when people go on and on about how talented you are and what level you could achieve. But then the negative comes along when things don’t go smoothly, when bumps in the road derail the forward momentum. Terms like “star-in-the-making” and “can’t-miss” are used to discribe you.

Kaleb Cowart knows about expectations. He was the 2010 National High School Player of the Year. He was a first round draft pick in the the 2010 MLB draft (18th overall). As a first round draft pick, there are expectations of a quick journey through the minor leagues and an above-average-to-star level player that contributes for years to come. So how has Cowart’s journey gone? He has played in 19 games so far this season, and 53 over the past 2 seasons.  He is hitting a little above .200 with a couple home runs and 8 rbi.  He has seen time at first, second and third base.

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Kowart receives the 2010 Gatorade High School Player of the Year award in

For Cowart, he has not lived up to those expectations, but as you can read in this article from desertnews.com, Kaleb did well in the field, but struggled at the plate. The article talks about last season when Cowart had a great season with the Salt Lake City Bees. It was refreshing to see the pieces falling into place after more struggles than expected. Cowart shared that the key to his life and baseball career is his faith in God. He says “I think we’re all here for a reason, And I’ve been blessed to be able to play baseball. If I can bring just one person to Christ, whatever I do will be worth it.

You can also check out this post on the forum freedomcardboard.com where Cowart again talks about his faith and how he became a Christian at age 9.

Aug 18, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels third baseman Kaleb Cowart (41) on deck in the fourth inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Cowart is back up with the Angels right now.  He enjoys sharing his faith with teammates and fans.

And now as September is here and the Los Angeles Angels are looking at prospects to see what the future might hold, Cowart is getting another look. I am hoping that it is a successful final month for him. But more than that, I am excited to see how God will use him and his desire to point others to God.

Here are my takeaways from Cowart’s story:

1- Expectations

I talked about the expectations that exist for top round draft picks in sport. I imagine that with the pressure and the microscope you would be under, it must be challenging to live up to those expectations. And even those of us who are not elite athletes, have expectations placed on us that are harder some days to live up to than others. And so often, when we don’t live up to the expectations placed on us, the criticism is harsh. It is refreshing then to know that even though God’s standards of perfection are real – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He didn’t expect us to be perfect and flawless. He instead made an alternate plan to meet us wherever we are and offer us freedom, love and acceptance.

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Cowart has spent more time than expected in the Minors, but he is trusting God on the journey wherever He may lead.

2- Our Purpose – 

Cowart said in a couple of articles that I read that he knows his purpose is to positively affect the world by living for God and loving others. When asked what advice he would give to his fans, he answered “Keep God first in your life no matter where life takes you.  We spend so much of our life trying to discover what our purpose is. We chase money, fame, status and success. We strive to meet the expectations of others and that can leave us with feelings of emptiness or dissatisfaction. Jesus summarized the purpose for life in Matthew 22. In verses 37-40  when asked what the greatest commandment is, He says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There it is, all the law and the words that the prophets shared to guide people in their lives can be summed up by “Love God and Love others.”  That is our purpose in this life. Let’s live that out today!

The Crucial Crutch – Colby Rasmus – Houston Astros

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Astros OF Colby Rasmus

So many times on this blog, I have written about pro athletes who desire to make a difference in the lives of their teammates, living a Christian example and being open with the importance of their faith. Today, I get to share the story of a guy who was influenced by teammates and his wife to live for Christ. Houston Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus has played on teams where he has talked faith in God with some of the guys I have written posts about. In the video below from MLB.com, he mentions by name Albert Pujols (read my post about him here) and Matt Holliday (read my post about him here) from his days with the Cardinals and R.A. Dickey (I wrote a post and a book review on Dickey) who Rasmus played with in Toronto. Each of these guys as well as unnamed others and Rasmus’ wife helped Colby come to realize that Jesus was missing from him life and that following Him was the best decision that he could make.

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Rasmus has been a great playoff performer and his series winning celebrations have been turned into a bobblehead.

Rasmus was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2005 draft. He made his MLB debut in 2009, making the team out of spring training. After 2 seasons with the Cardinals, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays where he spent 3 full seasons before signing as a free agent with the Astros. He recently passed the 1000 game mark and is a career .243 hitter. He has been pretty successful in the playoffs. He is the first player in Major League Baseball history to have an extra base hit in each of his first 6 postseason games. He is batting .423 in 9 career playoff games.

However, it was some teammates of Rasmus’ that played a role in him coming to faith in God.  In this video prepared for Astros Faith Day, Rasmus shares his spiritual journey – growing up attending church but letting baseball and other things to be more important.

Here are my takeaways from Rasmus’ story:

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Lance Berkman (center) was a teammate of Rasmus’ (left) in St. Louis. Their relationship continues now as Rasmus plays for the Astros

1- Do You Know Christ – This was a question that Lance Berkman asked Rasmus.  They were teammates, co-workers and part of the same team. Berkman cared enough about Rasmus to ask this question and by the example that he was living, earned a place for this question to be heard and processed. We can strive to live our life as Christians the same was – being upfront about our faith in God and the importance that it plays in our lives and being willing to ask deep, tough questions that God could use to change the lives of those around us. You can read this article from The Crossing and read the great challenges it gives us for ways that we can positively impact the people around us so they can encounter the true God that is so important to our lives.

2- The Crucial Crutch –  A relationship with Jesus is often referred to by skeptics as a “crutch”, something that shows our weakness and our neediness.  Check out this video from “Stand To Reason

 

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After resisting the choice to follow Jesus for a while, Rasmus is now “all in” on serving God and living for Him.

I agree with this. A crutch is not a bad thing, especially for the hurting and crippled. In fact, it is needed to get around. It is a life support system. We will all come face to face with the realization that all the things that we do lean on and depend on to help us in life will fail and fall short unless they are God. Only He is faithful and dependable. Other people will fail us, money and possessions will disappear, break, run out, never satisfy. Work and status will not last in this 15-minutes-of-fame world. When we depend on those things, and they let us down, we will fall helplessly down. But God is eternal. His plan is for us to know a full and abundant life here, and an everlasting life with Him after that. Is following Jesus a sign of weakness? Maybe. But as one who is frequently weak and in need of support, that is reassuring, not devastating. Our strength will fail, but we can lean on Him at all times.

3- God is pursuing us – Rasmus’ teammates asked him if he knew Christ. He resisted them at first and tried to live on the fence. He was then traded to a new team. There he met new teammates that were also Christians and they discussed matters of faith with him too. Then his wife became a Christian. And eventually, Colby became a Christian too. It is encouraging to see that God does pursue us. We may turn away from him in one situation but he surfaces again and again to show himself to us and invite us to know Him. Rasmus said in the video that once he chooses to commit to something that he is all in. That is how God is. He is “all in” for each of us. He goes to great lengths so we can see him and when everything else in life lets us down, He is still there loving us and inviting us to the plan he has for us.

 

 

Be Decisive – Tim Bogar – Seattle Mariners

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Mariners Bench Coach – Tim Bogar

I enjoy reading and sharing the stories that you find here at Living Up to My Name. It is great to discover how God is working in the lives of these public figures and connect that to things he is teaching me in my own life. A few times, I have done some “throwback” stories too.  Those are fun for me as they often involve players that I grew up watching and cheering for.  Sometimes, they are doing some really neat things with their lives after sport, and sometimes, their career continues into the coaching realm. That is the case for the subject of today’s post – Tim Bogar who is a bench coach for the Seattle Mariners. He has served as a minor league manager – 3 times winning various league’s Manager of the Year award. He has also served as a base coach, interim Major League Manager and his current role as bench coach as well as several front office positions.  As a player, he appeared on 701 major league games playing all 4 infield positions as well as DH, left field and even 2 appearances as a pitcher.

Bogar played for the New York Mets, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. But it is a line I read in this article from Sharing the Victory Magazine,  that caught my attention for this blog post. It says “A major league third-base coaching box is no place for the indecisive.” It continues “he draws on his faith in Christ and finds the strength to bravely face each day, each game and each play.

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Bogar as a player – 9 seasons 3 teams at 6 different positions.

In the subsequent interview with Bogar, we can read that his time as a utility player helped him greatly as a coach. He says “I was a utility player, so I spent a lot of time filling in where I was needed and doing whatever it took for my teammates to be ready to play. When I transitioned into coaching, that translated into a natural desire for me to see my players succeed and to do whatever I could to make that happen.”  When asked about the stress of his job, he answered “Being the third base coach and in a highly visible position hasn’t been an easy adjustment for me. I study the book of Romans to remind myself that I can’t allow the judgment of others to change the way I make decisions. My faith helps me deal with both the success and failure of those decisions.” 

Here are my takeaways from Bogar’s story:

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Bogar the infielder getting the put out of Cardinals current manager Mike Matheny

1- No Place to Be Indecisive – The article talks about how as a third base coach, there are times when a decision needs to be made and there is no time for indecision. You are either going to hold the runner at third or send him to try and score. The results of that decision can be strongly tied to the success or failure of the team on any given day. As I thought about it, it reminded me of the moment in Joshua where the time had come to make a decision. Joshua lays it all out as they have settled in the promised land. He calls the assembly together and reminds them of all that God had done to lead them to this place – settled in the land promised to Abraham generations earlier. Then in verses 14 and 15, he issues this challenge “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua made his choice. He was going to serve God. This is the most important decision that we will make in this life and it is not a place where we can be wishy-washy. When we come to understand who God is and that he wants us to serve Him above all else, it is time to pick a side. 

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Bogar the 3rd Base Coach congratulates Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a home run.

2- Running through the Stop Sign – And sometimes, we make our decisions and it is ignored by others. I know that I have seen it countless times when the third base coach puts up a stop sign and the runner ignores it and tries to score. Sometimes it works out, but often the runner is thrown out at the plate. As we live our lives for Him, we also serve to point others to him. Some will see what we are doing and will stop, others will pay no attention to us and keep on chugging. Those who don’t heed our warnings often meet with their doom. But we cannot allow the decisions of others to affect what we are called to do. We must continue to guide others to the ultimate goal – meeting the true Christ and choosing to live for Him.

3- Sometimes we are wrong –  Sometimes third base coaches say stop when their player would have had time to score and sometimes the coach says go and the runner gets thrown out. We make mistakes and our mistakes affect others. But God’s forgiveness is unending and so even when we make a wrong decision, His love and grace extend to that place.  God’s grace truly is amazing and it covers a multitude of bad choices and sins that we commit. Let’s learn from our mistakes, and ultimately the best lesson we can learn from any mistake is that God loves us and offers us forgiveness.

Influence People Positively – Mikie Mahtook – Tampa Bay Rays

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Rays OF Mikie Mahtook

Some stories that I share in these blog posts relate very closely to me and part of my story. It is a point of connection that I feel and the lessons that it drives home for me is the meat of what I write about here. But some stories it is hard for me to wrap my head around. Like the story of Mikie Mahtook, outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays drafted him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He made his MLB debut on April 10, 2015 and has played in 170 MLB games at the time of this writing. Mahtook has known some success in baseball – first team All-American at LSU where he was also a member of their College World Series championship team. But for Mahtook, life at LSU was bittersweet. You see LSU is where his father played college football in the early 1980’s. But as you can read in this article from The Alabama Baptist, tragedy struck in 1994 when Mikie’s dad Michael died of Cardiac Arrest at the age of 32. Mikie was 4 years old. The article continues, sharing how this hardship brought the rest of the Mahtook clan to a stronger relationship with Christ. He says “I wouldn’t be the person I am without [Jesus]. I’ve gone through a lot of heartache. If you don’t have [God] to help you out, it makes it that much harder to get through it.

The result has been a close knit family, a growing relationship with Christ and an opportunity to give back. He has started the Mahtook foundation which raises money for and spreads awareness of heart disease. Check out the website here.  He also plays the game of baseball passionately and with a purpose. He says “I think He put me here to influence other people positively by the way I play, by the person I am and the stage I am on.”

Here are my takeaways from Mahtook’s story

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 15: Mike Mahtook of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated by Logan Forsythe #11 after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning during an MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 15, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. All uniformed team members are wearing jersey number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Mahtook has started the Mahtook Foundation to raise money for heart disease which claimed his father when Mikie was 4.

1- A story redeemed free of bitterness. – I really like the story of Ruth in the Bible. It is a great love story that demonstrates the concept of “redeeming” Boaz goes to amazing lengths as the “Kinsman Redeemer” which is one that comes to the aid of a relative in need. He helps Ruth and Naomi who are in need after the deaths of Naomi’s husband and 2 sons leaves her alone and poor. Boaz agrees to marry Ruth and a bi-product of their marriage is their great grandson – King David. It is also an early example of what Christ does for us, coming to our rescue to save us from the trouble sin has brought to our life. But early on in the story, before the happy ending can be imagined, Naomi only sees the negative of her situation. In Ruth 1.20-21, we read “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”  She had allowed her bitterness to take over. This is easy to do. There are lots of things that can make us bitter. From hardships like losing someone to troubles at work to people being mean to us, it can be easy to let bitterness define you like Naomi did. She had lost sight of what God could do.  But God shows up anyway and redeems her story through Boaz and Ruth.  With Mahtook’s story, there is also lots of room for bitterness. But in the articles that I read, there was no sense of that. Instead, there has been a happy ending. He and his family are close to God and to each other. He is not allowing bitterness to define him, but rather sees the opportunities that he has been given to share his story and the importance God has played in his life. Great lesson for all of us to stop and take inventory of God’s work in and around us. There is no room for bitterness when we fill our hearts with gratitude for all God has done.

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Many photos of Mikie Mahtook on line show him with a big smile like this one. He desires to be a positive influence in the lives of those around him by playing hard and carrying a great attitude.

2- Influencing people positively – Mahtook says that he believes God has placed him to “influence other people positively.” As Christians, that is the best that we can hope for. We have so many opportunities to communicate with people that may not share our beliefs. Unfortunately, Christians have a reputation of being negative and looking down on others judgmentally. Don’t mis-read this, we cannot compromise the truth of God’s Word, but we can be cautious in how we present those truths to those who have never encountered our God. We need to remember, like the story of Ruth, that all stories can be redeemed. I like to compare us to a coupon. By ourselves, we are worthless, many coupons say “no cash value” or something like that on them. The only way that they gain value is when they are redeemed. That is our story, too. We are worthless on our own, searching in vain for purpose for our life and coming up empty. We try to fill ourselves up with all kinds of things and none of them, apart from Jesus, give us any satisfaction. But when God shows that He value our life by redeeming it and giving it purpose, we honor Him by sharing the value that He has given us and that he offers to others too. We can be positive influences to those around us when we share the story of our redemption.