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

Wanting to Win – Kyle Gibson – Minnesota Twins

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Twins RHP Kyle Gibson

This will be my second installment in the 2016 Baseball Season series and in honor of my hometown Minnesota Twins playing their home opener at Target Field this afternoon, I thought I would share the story of their expected starter today, Kyle Gibson. 

Gibson was a first round draft pick in the 2009 and is now in his 4th season in the majors. He has improved each season so far, and the fanbase here is hoping that he will be a reliable starter for the Twins for years to come. So far in his career, Gibson is 26-28 (including his loss earlier this year). And while we all tend to look at wins and losses as a measure of success, it is not always a telling statistic. A pitcher could be way above average, but if his team is not scoring many runs, he could pitch great and still lose the game.  In 2010, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award as the leagues best pitcher despite being tied for 18th in the league in wins.

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Gibson (with catcher Kurt Suzuki) is in his 4th season with the Twins

Like all of us, Gibson wants to win every time he takes the mound. He shares in this article from Hamiltonstrategies.com that faith in God does not make him less competitive. He says “Having faith in Christ doesn’t change my competitiveness. It doesn’t change how much I want to win or my preparation for every start. Instead, I feel like it allows me to do what God has put me here to do—to love others with His love and play baseball as passionately as possible.  Before I take the field, I pray that people see God through me. I want God’s light to shine through my actions, how I respect my teammates, and how I treat the media and everyone in the stadium. I want my legacy to be more about Christ and His love and sacrifice that saved me, not anything I have ever done or achieved on the baseball field.”

Now life of a Major League baseball player is lived under the microscope of public awareness and fan/media scrutiny. Last December, I began working at a new job. I have worked in the field for 7 years now, but there are some expectations and responsibilities that I have not had before. So there has been a learning curve and many teachable moments where I either didn’t get something done, did it in an incorrectly or inefficiently. But it was not a huge deal. I could be trained to fix it and do better next time. It was always a quick and quiet correction. Pro sports and celebrity are different. This article from myfaithradio.com talks about how Gibson deals with the public and media scrutiny he faces as a professional athlete. 

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Gibson shares with an FCA group that he has brought to a Twins Game

…you have to realize that all the criticism in the world only changes how people look at you from a baseball standpoint. I think it’s easy to get caught up in letting your career define you and letting your season define how much success you have, but I think the more you’re able to stay grounded in Christ and look to Christ for approval basically – and resting in His love – then I think you can take your mind off of simple failures here and there.

Gibson takes opportunities to challenge others to find their identity in Christ. As you can read in this article from FCA, Gibson once pitched an idea to Minnesota FCA director Glenn Martin. “He would host an FCA group at Target Field and provide each person a ticket, a behind-the-scenes tour, including an on-field visit during batting practice, and an inspirational message from him.” He wants to share with others like others shared with him in his faith journey.

Here are my takeaways from Gibson’s story

Gibson’s competitive nature strives to win each game but he plays for the purpose of letting others know about Jesus.

1- Want to Win– Gibson talks about his competitiveness and his desire to win whenever he plays. For him, faith in Christ helps him carry out his purpose. I think it is fair to say that we all want to win when we are in any competition. I know that I sure do. It doesn’t matter if I am playing checkers against a 1st grader, my natural instinct is to go for the win. Professional Athletes are trained to do whatever it takes to win a game. There are countless examples of athletes who play hurt or sick or play above and beyond expectation in the search for success.  This year, I am in a Bible Study that is focussed on the book of Revelation. We have been studying about the great battle between Jesus and the devil and how it will all go down at the end. And, **Spoiler Alert** Jesus wins. And his victory is shared with all who follow Him. So, in the battle for your life, are you willing to do “whatever it takes to win?” Because what it takes is choosing to invite Jesus to be Lord of your life. To make him the most important part of every part of your life and to “Seek first the Kingdom of God”. (Matthew 6.33) Unlike sports where the outcome of the game is uncertain until the end of the game, the outcome of Jesus defeating Satan and establishing his never-ending kingdom is certain. And a place on the winning team is waiting for you if you choose to follow God.

2- Giving Back –  Kyle Gibson has sought to bring FCA groups to the ball park and invest in the members there with his story and his challenge to put God first. Where has god placed you? How can you give back from what He has given you. Maybe you became a Christian at a young age because of amazing Sunday School teachers that you had, could you teach a kids Sunday School class? Maybe it was a youth group where God became real to you, could you be a youth group leader or even a volunteer from time to time for special activities? Maybe God showed you His heart for serving others on a mission trip, is there a missionary, mission group or ministry at your church that you could support prayerfully or financially? God has a great plan to constantly show us more of who He is. Ask Him for opportunities to grow to know Him more and follow wherever he leads. You will not be disappointed!

The Search Begins – Danny Duffy – Kansas City Royals

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Royals pitcher Danny Duffy

Well, Major League Baseball opening day is here. The season opens with a rematch of last Fall’s World Series. It is the start of the race to see who will be crowned champs at the end of the year. And while the Baseball season more than any other pro sport in North America is a marathon not a sprint, meaning that it will last for a long time and if quick adjustments are made then early mistakes can be overcome. And so the grass is set, the lines painted, the infield dirt raked and each team is filled with hope. The search begins for the new champion.

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At age 21, Duffy walked away from baseball to find purpose for his life. He returned a few months later to continue progressing. Now he is a World Champ.

And here at Living Up to My Name, we start our annual journey around the majors with the defending champs and their left handed starting pitcher Danny Duffy. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft, Duffy made his Major League debut in May 2011. It was great for fans of Duffy to see considering that he had walked away from baseball in 2010 at the age of 21. He was a highly regarded prospect that had been invited to the Major League camp for the experience. During that camp though, Duffy told the team that he was going to take a break from baseball. As you can read in this article from MLB.com that Duffy was battling injuries, but that was not the reason for his leave. As you can read in this article from cjonline.com, Duffy used that time away from his game to do some searching. He wanted to figure out a purpose for his life. H would return 3 months later, ready to rejoin the Royals organization. He would stick with baseball, even through Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation, even though more injuries sat him on the bench during the Royals trip to the World Series in 2014. And in 2015, he appeared in 30 games with the Royals and would be part of the playoffs this time, pitching in 3 games in the World Series as the Royals won for the first time in 30 years.

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But more than just a return to baseball. Duffy credits his faith in God as the force that sustains him through his life.

So what did Duffy find on his search for self? He doesn’t talk much about it in the articles that I have read, just hinting at maturity issues but one thing that did come out is that Duffy has grown in his faith in God.  He discusses it in this article from kansascity.com. From the article “Duffy keeps a small notebook and inside he transcribes the passages from the Bible that speak to him. He taped a verse from the Book of Jeremiah and another from the Book of Matthew inside his locker. He studies St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He can recite the message of his favorite passage, from Colossians 3:23, when Paul urges the reader to throw his heart into his work in the name of the Lord.

“I know what I’ve got inside of me,” Duffy said last month, before he went on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. “I’m starting to get more comfortable talking about it. I’m leaning on it heavy right now. I feel I’m really comfortable, just really comfortable. I just want to use the gift that He gave me.”

He reconnected with his religion near the end of last season, when he injured his left shoulder, suffered a stress reaction in his ribcage and spectated for most of October. He says his faith sustains him.”

Check out this video interview of Duffy celebrating the World Series Championship

Here are my takeaways from Duffy’s story
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Duffy the World Champ, celebrating the victory against the Mets last fall.

1- The Search for Self –  Duffy took some time away from baseball to sort out his priorities and figure out his purpose in life. This is not something that is unique to him. We all struggle and battle with the questions of purpose at some point (points) or other. And until we know that God is real and wants us to know Him, we struggle to find meaning and purpose. There are lots of options that we look to – work, family, money, things, fame are some examples. But the joy and satisfaction that those things bring are fleeting. Duffy is back in baseball with a renewed sense of purpose. He shares bible verses, he shows care and concern for others and most importantly, he is learning and growing in his knowledge and faith in God. Those are some great habits to form. I pray that we will all continue to grow in our knowledge and faith in God.

2- Effort in the Learning – The kansascity.com article shares about how Duffy keeps a journal where he writes verses that speak to him. He has bible verses posted in his locker. He is memorizing passages from the Bible too. Learning about anything takes time and effort. How important is it for us to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God? I know that one of the biggest challenges that I have daily is putting in the time and effort to connect with God. But when I take the time and put in the effort to connect with God, the results I see are noticeable. I have more patience, more of a servant heart to other people and more aware of God at work in and all around me. It is when I don’t make the effort that I default to selfishness and impatience. What are we willing to do as Christians to give God the place of importance that He so deeply deserves in our lives.
Happy Baseball season everyone!

Faith at the World Series – Mets Versus Royals

One of the things that I have learned since I started this blog is that CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) does a feature on Christian playing in the World Series and in the Super Bowl.  This years video has just been released, but there is a problem with the “embed” code.  I will continue to look for it, but you can click on this link to check it out until I am able to embed it.

From the Kansas City Royals, they focus on:

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Royals Infielder Ben Zobrist

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Backup Catcher Drew Butera

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Pitcher Luke Hochevar

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Pitcher Ryan Madson

Infielder Ben Zobrist – Zobrist was the focus of my blog post in June 2011.  I am really excited to see him get a chance to win a championship title.  My post was about how he came to faith in God at a young age and sees it as his responsibility to represent Christ in all he does.  He speaks on the video that despite the fame and attention that they get, they are no more important than anyone else and at the end of the day, he is just a husband, a dad and most importantly, a follower of Christ.  He and his wife Julianna are expecting their third child in the next couple of weeks.

Relief Pitcher Ryan Madson – Madson was the focus of a blog post this past July.  It is amazing that Madson finds himself in the World Series right now.  Before this season, Madson last pitched in the majors in 2011.  After suffering through injuries, and finding himself on the verge of retirement, mentoring a high school prospect.  From there came the itch to try a comeback. Kansas City gave him a chance and he responded by having one of his best seasons, setting personal bests with E.RA, and WHIP.  He has been a key member of the Royals fantastic Bull Pen.  What an unlikely story.  World Series title would be great icing to this cake!

Pitcher Luke Hochevar – I have been hearing and reading about Luke Hochevar for a few years now, but I have not yet written about his faith story. Here is a link to a Baptist Press article about him.  He has played an important role in the Royals post-season bullpen.

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Royals GM Dayton Moore

Catcher Drew Butera – Another player that has been on my radar for a couple of years, Butera used to play for my hometown Twins.  He has also spent time with the Dodgers and Angels. He is the son of Sal Butera who played for 5 different teams in the `70s and `80s.  Here is an article from National Catholic Register where Butera discusses his faith in God among other things.  I remember having his dad’s baseball cards in my collection.

General Manager Dayton Moore – He was not featured in the video, but I did blog about him in July 2012, so I thought I would add him to this feature.  He is largely responsible for putting this great team together.

And as the Royals look for their first World Series in 30 years, they are battling the New York Mets who have not won a championship in 29 years.  Let’s take a look at the members of the Mets who are featured in the  CBN video.

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Mets Closer Jeurys Familia

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Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis

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Infielder Daniel Murphy

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Outfielder Curtis Granderson

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Rookie Pitcher Steven Matz

Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Nieuwenhuis was the focus of my blog at the end of September.  He discussed the importance of having others who can help us in our faith walk.

Daniel Murphy – Murphy has been the Mets post season hero this year.  Here is the post that I wrote about him last season after he stirred up the sports talk radio world by choosing to be with his wife at the birth of their first child, skipping the Mets opening day game.  He became a hero of mine then and this post season has been fun to watch as he has lit up opposing pitching (at least until he met up with the Royals stingy staff)

Curtis Granderson – This is the first time that I have come across Granderson’s belief in God as he discusses how everything is from God.

Jeurys Familia – Same thing for Familia.

Steven Matz – Matz has been on my blog radar since last summer.  Here is his twitter account where there are some occasional expressions of faith in God.

This could be the last night of the baseball season.  It has been a good one.  Enjoy the end of the World Series. Once more, here is the Link to the CBN feature