All- Star Special Part 1 – My Main Focus – Jackie Bradley Jr. – Boston Red Sox

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Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr

Mlb-asg-2016.svg Yesterday, the rosters for the The Major League All-Star game that will be played next Tuesday night in San Diego, California were announced. Over the next week, I am going to share the stories of some of this year’s All-Stars and the role faith plays in their lives.

We will start with Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He was drafted by the Sox at the end of the first round in the 2011 draft. He made his debut with the team on Opening Day in 2013 against the Yankees and would spend time bouncing between the majors and minors. He would spend most of 2014 with the Big League and started 2015 too, before a demotion sent him back to the minors again. This year, he turned the heads of the baseball world with a 29 game hitting streak. He has already set career bests this season in most offensive categories.

Before each AB, Bradley pays tribute to a dear friend and to his grandmother

And on Tuesday night, before he steps into the batter’s box for the first time in his All-Star career, Bradley will use his bat to draw 2 “m”s in the dirt like he does each time he steps into a batter’s box. As you can read in this story from Iamsecond.com, it is a tribute to 2 people that were very important to him that have passed away.  The perspective that he has gained from these serious life events help him remember that his main focus needs to be on Jesus.  He says “It’s not just about the game. It’s about living what you’re preaching. You’re going to make mistakes, but as long as God is your main focus more often than not you’re going to make the right decision.” In this article from ESPN.com, you can read about his mother’s reaction upon finding out that her son had made the Red Sox and would make his debut on opening day. She was excited to see him achieve this dream, but also knew that it had come as part of a long process. She says “I told them (congregation at church) how the road wasn’t easy, but to have faith in God and apply it to your life, and recognize that it is a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight.” She was talking about Jackie’s Big League promotion, but it is a sentiment that fits all of our lives, too.

My takeaways from Bradley’s story:

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Bradley has been known for his defense, but this season, his bat is catching up

1- Main Focus – Through the somber tragedies that Bradley has known, he shares that he strives to keep Jesus as the main focus. This is a challenge for us to do because there are so many ways that the enemy can distract us from focusing on Jesus. He tries to point out any successes that we may have (like being an All-Star) and uses it to try and have us focus on ourselves and how great we are. And almost simultaneously, he whispers in our other ear about all the terrible things that we have done and how we are not worth anything to anyone. And again, he tries to get us to focus on our situation or circumstance – but in reality the focus is again on ourselves. He can attempt to distract us in a variety of ways. but Hebrews 12 2-3 reminds us to focus on Jesus. It says  “We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Now he holds the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.”  How do we keep Jesus the main focus? By remembering what He has done! He endured our punishment on the cross and suffered through the disgrace so we could avoid it. Our disgrace is covered by His amazing grace. Let THAT be our main focus

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Bradley’s twitter bio is a great motto for us all to have : Forever I Give Him Thanks

2- F.I.G.H.T. – The last line of the Iamsecond article quotes Bradley saying the struggle is only temporary. That struggle is what those verses in Hebrews describe. Our struggle to follow God when all the distractions try to draw us away. But if we chose to surrender our life to God, then we can rest assured that He is victorious and defeats his (and our) enemy once and for all. Then we will be with Him in a world without struggle and that will last for eternity. So for now, there is a struggle, but as mentioned in the above point, our weapon in the struggle is putting God first and focussing on Him.  Bradley’s twitter page bio is an acronym. It reads “F.I.G.H.T. (Forever I Give Him Thanks).  That is keeping the focus on Jesus. That is battling the enemy. The best fight we have against the attacks of Satan is to give thanks to God at all times. Acknowledge Him and the things He is doing in your life! That will keep your focus on Christ.

 

More than We Can Imagine – Roberto Osuna – Toronto Blue Jays

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Blue Jays Closer Roberto Osuna – the first player in the majors born in 1995

I have always been a huge sports fan. My mother tells the story of how early on in my life, even before the age of 10, I could be found in the fellowship time at Brunswick Street Baptist Church talking to men much older than me about whatever was happening in the sporting world at the time. I have always enjoyed talking about sports and sharing my opinions about anything sporty. It is a part of why I started this blog in the first place. These days, my parents share stories of my niece Asta aged almost 6 is a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan. She lives in Toronto and frequently goes to watch her team play. I’ve never talked sports with her, but in an effort to encourage her in her fandom, I write this blog post about a member of her favorite team – Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna. And I post this story about a Toronto Blue Jay on Canada Day – Happy 149th birthday to my home and native land.

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Osuna with a Strikeout during last season’s playoff run. 97 MPH fastball not bad for a 20 year old.

And Osuna is amazing in that at age 21, he has already appeared in over 100 Major League games. This amazing feat is made more amazing because in 2013, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and required Tommy John surgery, which generally requires a year to recover. Read about that injury in this story from sportsnet.ca. Osuna was out of baseball for 14 months, but what a recovery he made! He returned to ball, playing in the rookie leagues and then at A ball. He won a spot on the Blue Jays the following season and would finish 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year vote last season. It has been a wild ride for Osuna who as you can read in this story from CTVnews.ca,  dropped out of school at age 12 to help provide for his family.

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Osuna showing one of several tattoos that demonstrate the importance faith in Jesus plays in his life.

He would work long days in the field with his father – also a professional baseball player in Mexico who played for over 20 years.  In the evenings, they would practice baseball.  As you can read in this article from thestar.com Osuna credits his success on his faith in God.  He says “People look at me weird when I talk about God,” added Osuna, whose arms bear tattoos stating “God believes in me,” and “all I can do in Christ. I don’t think I deserve anything. But I try to do the best I can, get ready each day and be ready inside the stadium and outside too. I know where I came from and I know where I want to go.

Here are my takeaways from Osuna’s story:

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Osuna gives credit for his career to God and the role that faith plays in his life.

1- Long days and great lessons from dad – There is a great lesson in this part of the story. He dropped out of school to help provide for his family. In doing so, he worked long hot days  along side his father, a former professional baseball player himself. When their days in the fields were done, the lessons on baseball began, but the lessons stretched far beyond baseball instruction. There were lessons on responsibility, work ethic, and growing up that contribute to Osuna’s career as well. Thinking about this helps me realize that there are lessons in each step in our journey, each chapter of our story. Some lessons we learn intentionally (like how to throw a baseball) some we learn from example (caring for others, working hard with all our heart). I’ve learned many lessons from my father who was a great example of serving others and finding solutions to problems as they arise. Father’s Day passed not long ago and so I write this as a tribute to my own father. He spent a lot of time teaching me about life and about helping others. Thank you Dad, for the role model that you have been. As a father, I want to pass these lessons along to my girls, too. The time spent between a father and his children goes a long way to help those children discover the important things in life.

2- More than we can imagine – There are parts of Osuna’s story that are not common in many major league stories. He has Never played in AA or AAA ball. He arrived in the majors at age 20. He became the closer at such a young age, all despite going through significant elbow surgery.  But in this article from the Globe and Mail, we also read again the importance that faith in God plays in Osuna’s life.  Lorna Dueck, in her article shares a tweet seen on Osuna’s twitter page, which frequently references his faith in God. And while I couldn’t find the actual tweet written in Spanish, but she translated it.   “When we pray, God hears more than we say, he answers more than we ask, he gives us more than we imagine…” Those words really get me because I have seen it as true in my life. So often, when I ask him for something, His answer is so much more than I ever asked for or imagined.

Friends, the past couple of years for the Page family have been filled with deeper heartache than I have ever known, more hurt and pain than I have ever experienced and a deeper awareness that God has a real enemy that seeks to destroy us. But in the midst of all the challenges and hurts that life has brought, God has shown up in real tangible ways. In every attack, He presents an amazing encouragement. In every hurt, there is joy and comfort beyond belief and for every heartache, there is real joy of knowing He is with me and peace that exceeds my understanding. He has an amazing story for all of us. And in walking out your story, look for Him, He is there in the midst, working things out for the best.

 

The Same, Just Different – Joba Chamberlain – Cleveland Indians

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Indians Relief Pitcher Joba Chamberlain

I have spent some time in these posts talking about tattoos. These have been in reference of some Christian athletes who have used tattoos to display their faith and part of their story. You can read my posts on Brandon Barnes, Michael Lorenzen and Barry Zito by clicking on their names and also check out this post by Jeremy Affeldt on his blog about his first tattoo and the meaning behind it. Now let’s add Cleveland Indians reliever Joba Chamberlain to this list. As you can read in this article from Detroit Free Press, many important and significant moments in Chamberlain’s life are captured permanently in ink on his body. From his smiley-face scar from Tommy John Surgery to ethnic heritage to dates when his father’s medical issues nearly took his father’s life, he has inked these memories on his body to share his story.

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Chamberlain’s many tattoos tell the stories of significant events or parts of his life. Notice the Ichthus and Cross on his left wrist

For Chamberlain, there have been many challenges which required faith to sustain. First, there was Tommy John Surgery. While not the career ender that it used to be, it is still a significant injury and surgery for a pitcher. The injury, surgery and rehabilitation often lead to a loss of velocity for a pitcher. Overcoming it is still a challenge for a pitcher. Chamberlain was 25 at the time and was already in his 4th full season in the Majors.  He had a World Series ring already (2009) But the injury takes a long time to rehab. For Chamberlain, it was 14 months.  But adversity is not a new thing to Joba.  As you can read in this excellent article from Sports Illustrated, Chamberlain’s childhood and youth were not easy. His parents separated when he was 1.  He bounced around different apartments with his mom before his dad became his primary caretaker. But his father had polio as a boy and now gets around on a scooter because his left leg and arm do not work.

Joba and his dad Harlan, with the Yankees, read their amazing story here.

Chamberlain has the verse in Corinthians tattooed on him because as the Detroit Free Press article says “And he is religious — across his left arm, Chamberlain has a large tattoo of God’s hand and a bible verse from Corinthians. “For we walk by faith,” Chamberlain says, “not by sight“.

Here are my takeaways from Chamberlain’s story

1- Playing a Game – Chamberlain has dealt with a lot of hard things in his life. The DFP article says “He said baseball is the easy part of his life. It’s his escape. Just like the fans who sit in the stands”. He goes on to say “I play a game for a living, It’s not that serious.” Great perspective from one who has battled some hard challenges in this life. There are bigger and more important things that baseball or any career. The only thing that matters is knowing God and surrendering to Him.

2- The Same, Just Different – Those four words sum us up as people. We are essentially the same, we want the same sorts of things, we battle the same kinds of things, too. And yet each of us has a different story, marked with significant events that shape us, direct us and stay with us.  I really connected with Chamberlain’s story as I read about the tattoos that he has, and the significance of each one. For many years, I wanted to get a tattoo, but couldn’t really settle on what I wanted to have permanently inked on my skin. I considered a maple leaf (like a good patriotic Canadian), various cartoon characters that I really liked (I’m glad that I didn’t go that route). The best idea that I had was to get a tattoo wedding ring because I knew that my marriage would be permanent. But I didn’t do it right away and then lots of people were doing it and it seemed less exciting. And so I figured I wouldn’t get a tattoo.

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My tattoo is a recognition that God is real and has made some amazing promises to us. He is faithful!

But then a significant life event occurred. Last March, My wife and I lost a baby – born still at 20 weeks. That was an impossibly difficult shock to the system. I had never really had to grieve much before and all of a sudden, I was consumed with my own grief as well as having the heartache of watching my wife and my other children grieve the loss. I was brought back to a post I had written just a month before this happened. It was the story of quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife Jill. They had been through a lot and in an interview, Jill said “It’s not even a ‘Why, God?’ question, it’s a ‘How, God?’ How do we get through this? Little did I know when I wrote that post that those words would come back to comfort me. I would never understand why our baby died, but I firmly held on to the promise of Romans 8.28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom he has called according to his plan.”  I was challenged not to ask “Why God did this happen?” but How will you use this for our good and Your glory? And the good that I have experienced through the pain and grieving is a closeness to God and a sense of His presence in my life beyond what I had noticed before. Is there still sadness? yes, but God is working and has given us this part of our story. How He will use it is up to Him, but I know and trust that He will use this experience for good purposes. So I now have a tattoo on my arm, a painful experience (tattooing) to pay tribute to the pain of loss and a message of hope because there is Hope in Him and His plan. I chose a tragedy mask because it is in the midst of tragedy that we are tempted to call out “Why God?” But with this new perspective that I’ve been given, I understand that I won’t necessarily understand the “Why?” but I know that He has the “how” already figured out.

Attitude and Effort – James McCann – Detroit Tigers

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Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann

I was planning on writing a post about James McCann. But when J.D. Martinez had an All-Star season I chose to write about him instead. However, the story of James McCann is an incredible one that is definitely worth sharing and so now I will take the opportunity to bring it to your attention. McCann was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Tigers out of the University of Arkansas. He made his debut in September of 2014, making 9 appearances. He then blossomed as the Tigers primary catcher a year ago appearing in 114 games and hitting .264 with 7 home runs, including this gem – his first in the Majors which happened to be an inside-the-park homer hit at Target Field against our local team, the Twins.

He has played in 4 games this season but is currently on the disabled list with a sprained ankle. He may return as soon as tomorrow.

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The second and third homer in McCann’s career were both walk-off’s, much like he hit at Arkansas before sharing his story at an FCA event. God has given him a great platform to share his story.

Now the odds of becoming a pro athlete are pretty slim to start with, but McCann’s odds of Major League success were less than most and the challenges began before he was even born. There were complications when McCann’s mom was pregnant with him. Doctors were skeptical that he would survive birth. You can read about it in this article from scout.com. They gave him a 25% chance of surviving without any birth defects or delays.

And now, with baseball as his platform, he has many opportunities to share his story and acknowledge that God is the reason that any of this has come together for him. In fact, as you can read in this article from secrant.com, he understands that without God, he would not be where he is. He says “To God be the glory … First thing, let me tell you, I’m not supposed to be here tonight. The odds were against me ever making it here, much less hitting a walk-off home run. My parents weren’t supposed to have me.

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McCann spent last season as the TIgers primary catcher.

Now he shares his story and the message of what God has been teaching him. In this article from CampbellsvilleTigers.com, you can read McCann’s message about “protecting, understanding and reproducing“. He shares how God has been protecting him since day one. He also talks about how he “began to understand and feel God’s love, and know that there was nothing he could do here on earth to deserve His Grace; rather it was Christ’s sacrifice that already paid his debts.” And he shares about his desire to “live his life to honor and glorify God in all that he does.  Reproducing God’s love, mercy and grace is his mission on Earth.”

Here are my takeaways from McCann’s story:

1- We Shouldn’t Be Here – McCann has a harrowing story of being born from a complication-laden pregnancy. He shares that it is a miracle that he is even alive, let alone able to play and succeed as a major leaguer. In some ways, this is a story that we can relate to as Christians. None of us should be where we are. It is only by the miracle of God’s grace that we can have our sins forgive and our death penalty pardoned. When we begin to realize how Holy God is and how unworthy we are, we find ourselves “undone” like Isaiah did in Isaiah chapter 6 verse 5. We deserve death but Jesus offers us life instead. It is a gift. And like Isaiah, when we see how God welcomes us despite our sinfulness, we respond by our willingness to serve Him wherever He leads us (verse 8). McCann answers this call and shares his story wherever he can because he is aware of the gift that his life is. Christ has offered us the gift of life, too. What will you do with it? How will you use your life  to honor Him and point others to Him?

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McCann knows that the only reason that he is even alive is because of God’s protection and plan.

2- Protect, Understand, Reproduce – These were the key points of McCann’s message to those in attendance at the FCA event with the Razorbacks baseball team. And they connect with me too. God shows himself to us and pursues us relentlessly going to great lengths offering to protect us from the destruction that His enemy wants for us. He even went to the cross to die in our place so we would not have to be separated from Him. When we begin to understand this, we have a choice to make – Ignore God or accept him. If we choose to ignore him, he continues to pursue us. He will show himself in the midst of the challenges and consequences that our sin brings our way. If we choose to accept him, then he calls us to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” And in case you think “I’m not a pastor, I can’t lead others to know God” I heard a pastor point out once that “Shepherds don’t make sheep, sheep make sheep”. It is not the pastor’s job to tell everyone in our world about God, it is our job. We are to share what He has done for us with others around us. And He will use us to reproduce new believers with their own stories that He wants to use to tell even more people about His perfect love and the plan He has for them. I pray that we will see how He protects us, understand our need for Him, and reproduce more people of faith in our lives.

No Place for Kids – Adam LaRoche – Chicago White Sox (retired)

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Adam Laroche played 12 years in the majors with 6 teams

In mid-March, as baseball’s spring training was well underway, The Chicago White Sox and first baseman Adam LaRoche were in the spotlight. The reason for the attention was that LaRoche retired from baseball. As you can read in this article from USAtoday LaRoche retired from the White Sox after he was told that the team no longer wanted his 14 year old son, Drake, to be in the clubhouse all the time. LaRoche walked away from the team and his $13 million salary. There has been a lot said on both sides of the argument. LaRoche has been called father of the year and he has been told that he is being selfish.

But regarless of public opinion, LaRoche is satisfied with his decision and has peace about walking away from baseball. Check out this video from Good Morning America about LaRoche’s decision.

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Drake and Adam LaRoche – son and father and best friends

It has been a polarizing story – and if I am pressed for an opinion on the story. I have to side with LaRoche for the decision that he made. In the end, he chose family over work. And to me, that doesn’t ever seem like a bad choice to make. Some have suggested that no workplace would allow for an employees son to be with him at all times, but for many years, LaRoche’s did just that. So when those circumstances changed, LaRoche chose family first. I applaud that. Where I work, my children are not able to come to work with me. If it were possible, I would welcome them to come too.

Chicago White Sox's Adam LaRoche follows through on a solo home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

LaRoche decided to walk away from millions of dollars to spend time with his family

LaRoche is quick to tell that the most important part of his life is his faith in God. He says “As a believer, it (sharing our faith) is and should be the most important thing in our lives, so to be able to get up briefly and share that is an honor.” This is another way that it makes sense for LaRoche to spend lots of time with his son – to model faith in God and to own up to his humanity and need for God as a Savior.

One of the arguments against Drake LaRoche being with the team all the time is that a baseball clubhouse is “no place for a kid”. But there were some interesting things that came to the surface with this argument. In this article by qpolitical.com,  LaRoche talks about this very thing. He says “The way I see it, he’s going to be around that (inappropriate behavior) regardless, unless you homeschool and raise them in a bubble. I can’t think of a better place for him to be when he gets a taste of that than with me.”

I agree with argument. I have 3 children and I know that when life brings something up that is inappropriate for them, or hard to grasp, when they face the meanness and rudeness of this life, I hope I can be there with them to help them process and understand how to react.

Here is the same interviewer a few weeks ago, just after the announcement.

Here, he says “the guys in the locker room have to change their behavior when there are kids around”, as if it is a bad thing to be held accountable for your words and actions.

Here are my takeaways from LaRoche’s story:

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LaRoche says it was an easy decision to walk away from baseball – not as important as family.

It’s Never Enough – When asked about giving up his salary of $13 million, he said “Who doesn’t need $13 million dollars?” But he goes on to say that one thing he has learned is that no matter how much money you have, it is never enough. John 4.13-14 says “Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again.14 But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life.” Only He can satisfy our needs. Everything we chase after in this world will leave us wanting more. 

Family First – The most influential people in a child’s life should be mom and dad. Family needs to be more important to us than everything else except knowing God.  Proverbs 22.6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”  There are lots of lessons that I want to teach my children.  They can learn from my experiences and be better equipped for whatever life throws at them. They can learn from my victories as well as my mistakes. LaRoche calls his son his best friend. He says his son “gets to learn from me, in my screw ups and my good decisions” Oh that we could all spend so much time pouring into the lives of our children.

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LaRoche and Brewers pitcher Blaine Boyer recently went undercover with Exodus Road, rescuing young girls from brothels.

No Place for Kids – The baseball clubhouse is seen as “no place for kids” and yet LaRoche was working to change that. This story, however talks about another experience LaRoche had last year, travelling with current Brewers pitcher Blaine Boyer (who I blogged about last season) to Southeast Asia and working undercover with Exodus Road rescuing victims of Sex Trafficking. He talks about how as a father he couldn’t imagine his 12 year old daughter being forced to live like the girls he helped rescued. And yet Sex Trafficking is such a huge industry. That is truly “no place for kids” or anyone else for that matter. And this is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart as well. My wife Steph is the executive director of a non-profit organization that is going to open up a coffee shop where proceeds will go to support organizations that are active in battling against human trafficking. We are just ending a fund-raising campaign, raising money for a food truck that will be used to spread awareness of the issue of modern day slavery and begin sharing about Stories Cafe. Check out the website for more information and if you feel called to help out in any way, we would gladly welcome your partnership in this vision that God has put in our hearts. There are a lot of people, many of whom are children that are living lives that are no place for kids. Be a part of changing some stories