Just Go Play – Nolan Arenado – Colorado Rockies – Modern Monday All Star Focus pt 1

Rockies All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado

The All-Star rosters have been named and barring injury or opting out, those will be the guys we see in the Mid-Summer classic. This year, for the first time in several years, home field advantage in the World Series is not riding on this game. I know that it was not a very popular with fans that the winner of this exhibition game be given the significant advantage for the World Series, but I like that it gave the game some meaning and some reason to keep it competitive. So with that, gone, this year, I will simply be focussing on the All-Stars themselves, especially those whose story I have shared or plan to share on these pages. I will start with the starting third baseman for the National League – Nolan Arenado. He is one of 2 Rockies in the starting lineup, joining Charlie Blackmon (whom I blogged about at All-Star time a few years ago)

Arenado is definitely is a star. Only 26 years old, he has been an All Star twice before, he is on a streak of 4 Gold Gloves (in 4 major league seasons), 2 Silver Sluggers, 2 N.L. Home Run and Rbi crowns. And a couple weeks ago, on Father’s Day, he hit for the cycle, finishing the feat off with dramatic flare by hitting a walk-off home run to win the game.  Check out the video below. That is a pretty solid return for the Rockies second round pick in the 2009 MLB draft.

So Offense? Check.  How about defense.  Got that covered, too. Check out this gem from earlier this week also against the Giants.

Arenado is a 4-time Gold Glove winner

And on July 11, Arenado will play in his 3rd All-Star game.  As you can read in this article from Mile High Sports, Arenado, despite the accolades, is still looking to improve. He says I’m still learning. I’m still learning who I am as a ball player and how I am handling this game. I feel like I’m getting better every day. Hopefully I have a few more years in this league.”  He goes on to share that it is easy to overthink the game of baseball.  He says “I wish when I was younger I would have heard just go play,- Enjoy this and go play.”  Further in the article, we read about a tattoo that Arenado has on his left forearm. It reads “Matthew 19.26”  That verse says “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Why this passage? Arenado explains “When it comes to baseball I start to become a different animal. I start to just focus on the game. But my faith keeps me level headed. It makes me know that I have someone to rely on.

Here are my takeaways from Arenado’s story:

2 time Silver Slugger Arenado will play in his third All Star game on July 11

1- Just Play – Last Sunday, I heard a message at church about Trust. Trusting God when life gets hard, trusting Him at all times.  It is so easy to get distracted, to try and deal with things in our own strength and to allow ourselves to doubt or hesitate when it comes to following God and going where He leads us. Arenado talks about how in earlier in his career, he wished he had been told to “just play”.  I see these as similar things. He implied that the game can get in your head, you can have doubt in your abilities or try to tweak your game and end up overthinking it and making it worse.  I feel like that is how it is with Trusting God. An analogy used in the message on Sunday, and one that I have used myself from time to time in teaching Bible to kids is that of a chair. 99.9 percent of the time, we sit in a chair without giving it a second thought. We don’t inspect the chair, the back, the legs to make sure that it isn’t going to fall apart or cause us to fall, we don’t ask someone else to try it first and make sure it is OK, we don’t ask our friends to think about us and pray for us before we park our butt on the chair, – we just sit and expect that the chair will hold. Why are we so trusting? Because the chair has always held us before. But a chair is an inanimate object, made by imperfect people and we are still so trusting. Why don’t we have this same trust in the God who created the universe and promises to have plans to give us hope and a future? He has also always held us before. He has our best interests in mind and is able to do things that we see as impossible (see point #2). Yet, we don’t blindly trust God’s plan or path for our lives. We hesitate, we seek second opinions, we see what others are doing and try to follow them instead. Arenado wished he heard people telling him not to overthink baseball, and “just play”. We also need to not overthink life and all that could go wrong or distract us.  Just Trust! He is more reliable than a chair, trust Him and put your all into following His plan!

Arenado says his faith in God helps him stay level-headed when the game and life try to throw him off.

2- With God All Things are Possible – So am I saying that following God will eliminate our pain, discomfort and embarrassment? Not even a little. Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble. But He is by our side and He has overcome the world (John 16.33). So even when pain, discomfort, embarrassment and hardship comes our way, keep trusting in Him, Keep going all out for Him. And when the unimaginable heartbreak that life has a way of confronting us with shows up, only complete dependence on Him will carry us through. How can we trust Him when doing so seems to lead to hard things? Well, we can remember that hard things come to everyone – Pain and sorrow are never far away in this life. But again, I am reminded of one of the great promises the Bible tells us. Philippians 4.13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. That phrase “all things” covers more than we think. It means God can lead us to peaks of amazing accomplishments, AND he can lead us out of deep valleys of pain and despair. Let’s remember both sides and that God is there with us through it ALL!! He can help us. He wants to help us. and with Him on our side, all things are possible.

TBT – Homeless not Hopeless – J.R. Richard – Houston Astros

Astros pitcher J.R. Richard.

I was going to label this article “The Best Player You’ve Never Heard of” but changed it to the new title which fit the story more. I do wonder though how many fans remember J.R. Richard. I am a child of the `80s. I was a huge sports fan and an avid card collector. I have 2 older brothers, and they would buy some cards too, but not with my interest or passion. When they grew out of the card collecting phase, I inherited their collections too. Those days introduced me to J.R. Richard of the Houston Astros.  I knew he existed, I had some of his cards, but it was only when I looked into his story recently that I really learned about the incredible journey of highest highs and lowest lows that he experienced..

At 6’8″, Richard was an intimidating presence on the mound. He had large hands as well.

During his career, he was one of the best and it seemed like there was no ceiling to what he could do. From this Bleacher Report article, we read about the senior season he had at Lincoln High School. It reads “As a pitcher, imagine not losing a single high school game for your career, and not giving up a single run in your senior year.” The result of such a stellar year was the #2 draft pick in the 1969 amateur draft. He signed with the Astros and began in their minor league system. His results strong enough that he moved quickly through the minors and was called up to Houston in September 1971 at the age of 21. How did the debut go? He tied a record for most strikeouts in a debut with 15 – and the lineup included future Hall of Famers Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays (who he struck out 3 times) and Willie McCovey. Not a bad way to start a career.  He would struggle with controlling his electric stuff a little and would not make it to the majors to stay until 1975.  Once he did make it though, the numbers don’t lie. 4 straight seasons with at least 18 wins, 2 seasons with more than 300 strikeouts, Cy Young and MVP consideration.  This ESPN article shows his dominance in his short career, putting up the best numbers of any pitcher in Astros history (a history that includes Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan).

In 1980, he made his All-Star debut, being named the starting pitcher for the National League team. Here is that All-Star Game appearance.

He would leave after 2 innings possibly with some back or shoulder pain, I couldn’t find out for sure. He would make another start, but leave the game due to blurriness and “dead” arm. The Astros put him on the Disabled List, some fans thinking he was lazy or unhappy. On July 30, just 3 weeks after his All-Star game appearance, during a light workout, Richard collapsed. He would wind up in the hospital, undergoing surgery that saved his life. Read more about it in this Astrosdaily article. It was later discovered that Richard had suffered a series of strokes. He would not play in another Major League game.

J.R. Richard and teammate Nolan Ryan. They could have been the top 1-2 pitching tandem in history

And this was just the start of the tragic phase of Richard’s life. A couple marriages that ended in divorce and some bad business decisions left Richard broke. He wound up living under an overpass a few miles away from the Astrodome where Richard dominated for half a decade. Astro fans would drive by not realizing that one of the best they’d seen was now homeless.

But homeless does not mean hopeless. As you can read from this CBN article, Richard sees this time as a season when God really helped him see Him more clearly.  He says “I was forgotten. For a while [it hurt], but then you get over it. You’ve got to look at the goodness. It made me look more deeply at myself, to realize it isn’t about your friends, it isn’t about materialistic things in life. It isn’t about the car, the nice house or whatever. It’s about God and God alone!”  He connected with a Houston pastor and was able to get back on his feet. Since then, he has become a minister and written a book about his life. I plan to read the book soon and learn more about this incredible story.

Here are my takeaways from Richard’s story

Richard’s book Still Throwing Heat.

1- It’s Not Always our Doing – I’ve shared stories on this blog where the hard things that life has brought on the subject of the post are largely brought on by their bad choices. It is the stories of hardship and devastation that come from circumstances beyond our control that are the hardest to wrap our minds around.  Now that is not to say that all of the bad things that happened to J.R. Richard were out of nowhere. Like all of us, I’m sure that some of the hardship that found him was logical consequence for decisions he made. That is part of all of our stories. But some of it also were just the circumstances that came his way – the hand he was dealt. Don’t you find it comforting though that God is the dealer who deals us the “hands we are dealt”. He is in control of all, and even in the midst of the worst days, He remains in control.  More than being in control, though, he has a plan to turn our hardship into something good. He has lessons for us in faith, asking us to trust Him in the midst of it all and see Him bring something amazing out of the pain and hardship.

2- Homeless not hopeless – When we reach our lowest points, and we see that God is still in the muck with us, we can feel hope starting to build in us. In this world we will have trouble but He has overcome the world (John 16.33). The Bible also reminds us that we are not “home” in this world, just like Jesus wasn’t home here. (John 17.16) And whatever comes our way, this world is NOT our home, it is NOT what we live for, it is NOT where our hope lies.  Our hope lies in Jesus preparing a place for those who love and follow Him. J.R. Richard found the hope of Christ in homelessness. He is now a minister looking to share that hope with others who don’t yet see it. Let’s remember what Christ has carried us through. Let’s remember that there are lost and hurting all around us and let’s use the life God has given us to draw others to Him. It truly is about God and God alone!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson

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

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

Former Royals 1B/DH Mike Sweeney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeney speaking at his Royals Hall of Fame induction ceremony

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

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

Here are my takeaways from Sweeney’s story:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Pirates Coach Dave Jauss and wife Billie

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

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

Here are the names of those featured in the video:

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

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

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

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

Here are my takeaways from these stories:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Me, with my beautiful wife Stephanie!

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