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.

TBT- Quit Trying and Start Trusting – Scott Linebrink – Chicago White Sox

Former White Sox relief pitcher Scott Linebrink

While I am writing about baseball these days on Living Up to My Name, I am also deeply into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NBA finals start tonight too, so that also will peak my interest, although not as much as hockey.  I really enjoy playoff sports and tournaments.  There is a certain thrill that comes with a loss meaning the end of the road for you. This do-or-die aspect to playoff time is enjoyable for casual fans but it also explains the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory that the players themselves experience by playing in the games. With the average length of a pro athlete’s career limited to just a few years, each time a year ends without the championship, it can be very hard to take.

But that very uncertainty of longevity is a part of the fabric of pro sports in general. You fight hard to make it to the pros and there is a long lineup of guys looking to take your place. That do-or-die belief is was occupied Scott Linebrink‘s mind for much of his career. It started in High School when he was cut from his JV team as you can read about here (an article that also talks about previous Living Up blog Subjects Tim Hudson and Nate McLouth). Also, check out this article from The Increase for more of Linebrink’s story.  He says “I felt like every time I went out to the mound, it was do-or-die. I created pressure for myself and felt like I had to live up to this expectation. Each time I had to be a little bit better than the last.”  Linebrink was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the 1997 draft.  He made his debut with the Giants in April 2000, and was traded to the Astros before that season’s trade deadline.  He would go on to appear in over 600 games with six different teams over a 12 year career.

Linebrink’s best seasons came as a member of the San Diego Padres, appearing in over 300 games with them and joining them on 2 playoff runs

In 2003, Linebrink was feeling frustrated by another season of bouncing between the majors and minors. He said “It was right before the 2003 season and I had just gone through a pretty rough year, with injuries and just not performing well. Just prior to Spring Training, I had been working so hard, and I remember coming to the realization that I was tired, just at the end of my rope… It was at that time that God really spoke to me and said, ‘When are you going to quit trying and starttrusting?’ And it was at that point I just gave up and I prayed, ‘God, I don’t know where You’re going to put me this year, I don’t know what plans You have for me, but I know there is a plan and I’m just going to trust that instead of being make-or-break every time I go out there; just trust that You’re going to put me in the right place at the right time, and I’m going to honor You with everything that I do and stop hanging on to my career so tight I think that’s really where my faith became real to me,” he says. “I experienced God for the first time in a real way.”

His career did take an upward turn from that point.  He would spend the next 9 seasons as a reliable reliever, appearing in more than 50 games each season,  here he is sharing his story:

That switch of perspective, to choose trusting over trying took away the do-or-die worries and instead filled Linebrink with confidence that God was in control and by choosing to honor God as his priority, and being okay with wherever God led his career he woulds see that God has a plan better than he could have dreamed up for himself. Now that baseball is over, Linebrink contributes devotionals to The Increase website.

Here are my takeaways from Linebrink’s story

Line brink’s played with 6 different teams during his 12 year career. Since the end of his career, he has written some devotionals

1- Quit Trying and Start Trusting – Linebrink’s story is a perfect reminder that if we try to succeed on our own strength, be it in our work, our family life, or faith walk, we will be frustrated and fail at what we try, or at very least, we will feel stress of trying to live up to expectations that we are unable to meet, like Linebrink felt. But when we trust Him and set our efforts to do it on our own aside, He often has a better plan for us than we can imagine.  Now please hear this correctly, I am not saying that we get to sit back and do nothing and let God work everything out perfectly for us.  We must be diligent in our work, but we need to realize that our work is not to be successful, our work is to surrender to Him and follow where he leads. Like Linebrink says, we also should remember that we will still know failure, we will still find struggles and fall short of surrendering or following God’s plan. But God will not leave us.  Psalm 31 tells invites us to trust. It says

I trust you, O LordI said, “You are my God.”My future is in your hands. Rescue me from my enemies, from those who persecute me.”

Linebrink says that trusting God instead of trying to make it on his own helped save his career.

2- Do-or-Die – We can drive ourselves crazy with worry about accomplishing our life goals and seeing things as do-or-die. There are a couple of reminders in this story that I take. 1- God will not let us down or fail nearly as much as we will. He is perfect and so is his plan. Trust Him and let Him lead. 2- There is one do-or-die.  It is following God and making Him number one in your life. Doing so will lead to a life in His presence starting now, not doing so will lead to death and separation from Him for eternity. We get to make the choice. But it is a d0-or-die decision.

 

Psalm 31.14-15

Modern Monday – What’s My Motivation – Matt Carpenter – St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals IF Matt Carpenter

In 1994,  the Christian band Newsboys recorded a song called “Shine”.  In the first verse of the song, the lyrics say “The truth is in. The proof is when you hear your heart start asking`what’s my motivation'”. Those words came quickly to mind when I started looking in to the story of St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. That qualifies him as a long-shot to make it to the pros. But he did make it to the pros. He made his debut just 2 years after being drafted.  He would play seven games with the Cardinals that year but received a World Series Championship ring as part of the team that beat the Texas Rangers thanks to the heroics of David Freese (whom I blogged about a couple years ago). The next season, he appeared in 114 games, mostly off the bench, playing 5 different positions. He finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.

Carpenter (middle) and his Cardinal All-Star Teammates in 2014

The next season, Carpenter continued to build on his resume, taking over second base for the cardinals, winning a Silver Slugger award and being named an All-Star. He finished 4th in National League MVP voting while leading the league in hits and doubles. He has appeared in 2 more All-Star games since, and has helped his team reach the post season in 4 of the last 5 seasons.  That is a great result for someone who wondered after his final college game, if he had played his last game of baseball ever.  Check out this video from “The Increase” to learn more about Carpenter’s story.

An injury in During his Junior Year at TCU threw a bump in Carpenter’s road to the majors, but brought him back to faith in God.

Carpenter had played baseball for most of his life, and had “always one of the better players on my team”.  He expected college to be a simple stepping stone to professional baseball.  In “Intentional Walk” by Rob Rains, we read about Carpenter, who had grown up in a Christian home and had been baptized at 12, struggled with college life.  He says “I said I was a Christian, but when I went off to college , I kind of became a normal college student and made lots of bad decisions, selfish decisions.”  His Junior year brought a torn ligament that cost him the season and as a result, the chance to be drafted. His coach at TCU offered a choice. Go through the motions of rehab, finish out your career and be done with baseball, or work extra hard at rehabbing the arm and at baseball in general and see what could be out there for you. Carpenter opted for the hard work. He worked to rehab his arm and at the start of his next baseball season, he felt great. But in his words from the video “I was awful”.

Carpenter was distraught.  He shared how he didn’t understand what the problem was. He had reestablished his faith in God, he was reading his bible – why was baseball not working out better? Then came the realization “This isn’t about me.” He played his final season in college with new understanding of what surrendering to God really meant. And he walked off the field after his last game okay with the idea that baseball may be over for him.

Carpenter has played 6 different positions, been a Silver Slugger, an All-Star and an MVP candidate.

But it wasn’t the end for him.  The Cardinals took a chance on him with the late draft pick and he would pay dividends for them. He had realized that he had no control over baseball, and no control over the game of life.  The only thing he could control is where he put his faith.

Also an interesting part of Carpenter’s story is the role that former Major League outfielder Torii Hunter played in his development. Hunter’s sons were playing high school baseball for Carpenter’s dad and so Torii became aware of Matt Carpenter, too. And Hunter invited Matt to come and work out at a top flight facility, paying the expensive costs for Carpenter to participate. You can read about it in this article from mlb.com.

Here are my takeaways from Carpenter’s story:

1- What’s My Motivation – At the start of the post, I referenced the Newsboys song. That question of “What’s my motivation” is an important one to ask. Carpenter talked about how he expected the rest of life to line up and go right when he started following God. And in some ways, it does that, but following God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go as we imagine it should. God isn’t concerned with our success as the world sees it.  He is only concerned with the depth of our trust in Him and will we continue to follow Him when things don’t go as we think they should. We are not promised an easy road or even a measure of worldly success. If that is the motivation that we have for living for Him then we are not truly living for Him, we are still living for ourselves. And while living for Him is the best thing for US, it doesn’t mean that life will go as we want it to. In fact, I would say that living for Him puts us in a place where we are vulnerable to attack because Satan wants to trip us up, knock us down and keep us from moving forward. So what is your motivation for following God. Will you trust Him even when things don’t go well for us? No matter what comes our way, He is the solid rock we can hold onto.

Carpenter (left) with mentor Torii Hunter, who played a role in helping Carpenter develop into a Major League talent.

2- Seeing Potential – Torii Hunter invited Carpenter to come and work out at a top facility. He even paid the way for Carpenter to attend. Why would he do this? Because he saw the potential in Carpenter. This is a small reflection of what God does for us.  He sees potential in us. In fact, He created us with the potential to accomplish amazing things for Him. And like Hunter paid the fee for Carpenter to go to the elite workout facility, Jesus paid the ultimate cost to cover us so that we could reach the potential that He sees in us. Carpenter would have been foolish to say no thanks to the workout opportunity Hunter offered and we are foolish to say no thanks to the offer of eternal life and God’s Spirit coming to live in us. Yet many do.  Let’s take full advantage of the opportunity God offers and invite others to accept his offer too.