Play Ball Brett Gardner!

This is the 21st installment in my blog series on Christian Baseball Players.  Our trip through all the teams in the major leagues brings us to New York Yankees and outfielder Brett Gardner.

career stats

As a long time Red Sox fan, I have a hard time admitting that I like any of the Yankees, but they do have several players that are easy to cheer for.  Brett Gardner is one of them.

I think the reason that I connect and relate to Gardner is because we are very similar in build and in game (when I played little league that is) – good eye at the plate, intelligence on the base paths, and way more speed than power.

In fact, the only home run of my “career” was a sight to see.  I slapped a hit down the first base line.  I was almost at second when the right fielder picked up the ball and fired it back to the infield,  but to his surprise, his throw hit an overhanging branch from a nearby tree and fell back to the ground 15 feet in front of him.  By the time he gathered the ball again and threw it back into the infield, I was safely home.

Gardner and Alyssa Esposito.
She told him he’d hit a home run that night.

It seems funny then that this story will center around a Brett Gardner home run hit in May 2009.

I came across this Guideposts story that Gardner himself wrote in the fall of 2009 years ago about meeting a young patient at a local hospital that was awaiting a heart transplant.  He was visiting this hospital with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, who shared a story of when her famous grandfather told a sick boy that he would hit a home run for him, and then proceeded to do just that.  Inspired by this story this young heart patient approached Gardner gave him a bracelet and told him he would hit a home run for her that night.

Well Gardner was not even in the starting lineup that night so the chances of hitting a home run lay somewhere between slim and none.  But then a Yankee player got ejected for arguing with an umpire – and Gardner was called into action.  Here is his second at-bat of the night.

This was not how Gardner imagined that it would happen, but what a story it made.  Gardner hoped that his new friend would be right.  He prayed that he would somehow hit a home run for her in the game even though it seemed almost impossible in his mind.  He also prayed that God would provide a heart donor for her.   And the icing on the cake part of the story is that the young girl received her heart transplant the very same day.

Gardner had his prayer answered and in an unexpected way.  Here a few lessons that I take from this story:

First – God cares about the little things.  In the grand scheme things, a fast baseball player and a strange bounce leading to an inside-the-park-home-run don’t seem to matter much.   But our God is a personal God and through this event, lives were touched and awareness of God’s willingness to answer prayer was increased in the lives of a baseball player and his young fan. (as well as countless others like me, who read the story).

Second – God can do things that seem unlikely, and even impossible.  That is His way of growing our faith.  We see something and believe that God will work it out even if we don’t get how, and when He does work it out it makes having faith in Him in the future, easier.

Third – What happens may not look like how we dreamed it would, but it fits perfectly into God’s plans.
Gardner prayed to slug one out of the park but instead he hit an inside the park home run using the skills that God had given him (his speed) to accomplish the task.

God equips us all with gifts, talents and abilities and asks us to use them for his purposes.  When we do amazing things happen!

In Luke 5, Peter and others have been fishing all night.  Jesus comes and tells him to cast out their nets again.  Peter resists (We’ve been fishing all night with no results) but obeys anyway, and they catch a boatload of fish.  Peter says “get away from me, I am a sinful man”  recognizing the power of God in Jesus.
But Jesus has a comforting statement for him. Follow me and I will make you “fishers of men”.  Jesus is telling Peter that he will still be doing what he is already equipped to do, but with a Kingdom purpose.

Brett Gardner still keeps the bracelet that the girl gave him.  He says in his article that it is not just a reminder about the power of prayer, but also about the One who answers the prayers.  God is in control, and His plan is perfect.  We may not see how it will work out, or may think that the task is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19.26)

Play Ball Tim Hudson!

This is the 20th installment in my series featuring Christian Baseball players.  Today, we will take a look at Atlanta Braves starting pitcher – Tim Hudson.

career stats

Yesterday was Tim Hudson’s birthday.  I know this because it is also my birthday.  I thought it would be fitting to share his story and something that we have in common besides our birthday – wives that share our love for God and call to minister to others.

Hudson’s road to the majors was a wild ride.  He was an afterthought to recruiters in high school, deemed to be too small, despite being the best pitcher on his state championship winning team.  He moved on to community college and lead the baseball team there to a state championship.  Finally he was offered a scholarship to play at Auburn.  Success followed him to college too, as he was the 1997 college player of the year.  The Oakland A’s drafted him and in 1999 he made his major league debut.  His persistence and talent overcame the fear that he was undersized.

Over his 12 year major league career, Hudson has put up very respectable statistics, winning 80 more games than he has lost, and only twice has his earned run average been over 4.00.  He has proved that an “undersized” pitcher can do well in the majors.
There have been some struggles. In 2008, he began to feel tightness in the elbow of his throwing arm.  He was losing velocity and was examined by the team doctor.  The prognosis was not encouraging.  He would need ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery.  This injury would cost him more than a year to recover and rehab, and there would be no guarantee that he would be the pitcher that he had been before.

The Hudson Family, Tim, Kim and
their 3 kids

But the right-hander’s come back was quite successful – Hudson was the 2010 comeback player of the year in the National League.  Guideposts Magazine ran an article that he wrote himself about his return to baseball from injury.  I really resonate with the role that his wife played in this process.  She was his encourager, his place to vent,  to share concerns and frustrations, and his cheer leader when he was healing and rehabbing.  She was also there to remind him that in the end, the outcome of the whole injury and rehab is ultimately in God’s hands.

It is so great to see the partnership that happens in a marriage.  The Hudsons are not an exclusive case, I’m sure lots of players in MLB partner with their wives to impact the lives of others. But this story reminds us that God brings people together in a marriage partnership to help each other out in hard times, to rejoice together in successes and above all else, to keep each other looking to God.  God is in control and whatever happens, good or bad, God can use to teach us more about Him, and to further His kingdom.

Even rehabbing from injury.

In 1999, a chance encounter with the Make-a-Wish foundation at a restaurant placed the idea in the minds and hearts of the Hudsons to help families in need. They established a working relationship with the Make-A-Wish foundation.   Still they felt called to do more.  As Hudson was recovering from his injury, he and his wife had enough time to organize and create their own foundation.  You can read the story about the start of their foundation here.  And take a moment to visit the Hudson Family Foundation web site here to learn more.

 I have been blessed in my own life with an amazing, godly wife, who is my partner in ministry. (we served as missionaries for 3 years and now we lead the 5th and 6th grade youth group at our church) She is also my encourager, my ear to vent to, and my cheerleader, and helps us as a family keep our focus on God and our eyes open to see him at work in our lives.  Steph is currently on a mission trip in Jamaica and I am excited to hear about all the great things that He has been doing during their week of ministry there.  Take a moment to check out her blog at  Sharing the Pages of Life.

Tim and Kim Hudson and their family have seen God work in their lives, and work through them to touch the lives of countless others.  I am grateful for their work and for their desire to touch lives for God. And I am grateful for my wife, Steph and look forward to years and years of ministering together and touching lives for God, too.

Happy 36th Birthday Tim Hudson!

Play Ball Adrian Gonzalez

This is a special All-Star edition of my Play Ball series – the 19th entry in my collection of  Christians in professional baseball.  Tonight, I focus on my favorite team – the Boston Red Sox, and their All-Star first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.

There are several Christians in the Midsummer Classic this year including some I have featured in this series (Brian Wilson, Clayton Kershaw, and Heath Bell).  Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes has listed the believers who made the rosters . There are a lot of great stories about God at work in the lives represented by those names.

Our focus for today will, as mentioned, be on Adrian Gonzalez.  Last December, when the Red Sox traded some prospects to the San Diego Padres to acquire Gonzalez,  I was filled with cautious optimism. The Sox had paid a steep price, but all the reports and evidence suggested that having Adrian Gonzalez join the team would be great for Boston.  And now, 3 1/2 months into the season, and after watching his runner-up display in the Home Run Derby last night, I think it was a good trade to make.

Bringing Gonzalez in looks  even better when you get to meet the man inside the #28 jersey.  He is a star player who, like so many that I have written about in this series, know that baseball is a means to a greater end.  The ultimate goal he has for his life is to be a way for others to encounter Christ.  He says that success and failure is not determined by the box score of a game, but rather by the attitude he has and his relationship with Jesus.

It was fun to watch Gonzalez pounding the ball in the All-Star Home Run Derby last night.  Though he didn’t win it all, he did great.  God has granted him a certain measure of success on the baseball field and Adrian is proving faithful by using that success to share his belief in God.

God is changing lives through Gonzalez, too.  Check out this great story from  Idols Aside Ministries about Gonzalez sharing his faith with a young fan and his mom.  The video is about 12 minutes long, and also includes Gonzalez’ own story of faith.

As they say in the video, “this is what it is all about” – Not home runs, batting average, flawless infield or anything like that, but rather being available to be used by God, and seeing His Kingdom grow.  God chooses to use us to draw others to Him, and what an exciting thing it is to be a part of someone coming to make this decision.

Athletes in Action also featured Gonzalez in an article last fall.  In this article, we read about the importance he places on being a representative of God, not just to fans, but also to teammates.  This provides accountability, encouragement, bible study opportunities and strengthening of faith.

Adrien Gonzalez is an outspoken man of God.  I hope and pray that he will have ample opportunity to share God’s love with others whether on a field with 30,000 people watching, or one-on-one with a fan or teammate.  Here are some other opportunities he is using to help others with baseball and with knowing Christ.

Gonzalez Sports Academy is a conditioning, training and skill center for athletes in many sports located in Chula Vista, CA.  It was started up and is operated by Gonzalez’ brothers  David and Edgar along with his parents.  They have clinics, and camps as well as a top notch training facility.  Adrian and his brothers teach kids baseball fundamentals and also about God’s love.

Unlimited Potential Inc.  is an organization that uses baseball as a platform to tell others about God around the world.  Gonzalez, and many other players have taken part in these missions trips over the years.

Baseball Chapel is an organization that organizes chapel services for teams, umpires, players wives and even ball park staff.

Selfishly, I am glad that Adrian Gonzalez plays for my favorite baseball team.  But above that, I am excited that he and I are on the same team in the game that really matters.  We both believe in the God that created everything and that desires a personal relationship with each one of us.

Play Ball R.A. Dickey

This is the 18th installment in my blog series on Christian Baseball Players.  Today, we head to the Big Apple to learn more about a key member of the New York Mets starting rotation – R. A. Dickey.

career stats

His story, like most, has known its share of  hardships.  Dickey was born without an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm.  As you can read in this article, that is a very significant problem – the UCL is important in many regular daily activities (like turning a doorknob).  So the promise of his career (he was drafted 18th overall) was reduced to an expectation that baseball would not be part of his life.  He tried to continue pitching conventionally, as he had for his career up to this point, and although he made it to the majors, he had some struggles.  An injury took away much of the velocity he was used to.  He had to vastly change his game in order to have a shot at a prolonged big league career.
In 2005, Dickey met up with Orel Hershiser – who was a successful pitcher in his career and was at that time working as a pitching coach in the Texas Rangers organization.  Hershiser suggested that Dickey try and develop a knuckleball, a pitch that wouldn’t stress the arm very much.


He worked on a knuckleball and it didn’t go very well at first.  He made it to the big leagues but he was giving up a lot of runs and losing as often as he won. He tied or set some dubious records (Most home runs given up in a first big league start, most wild pitches in an inning)
Dickey was struggling to make it in the majors.   You can see his career stats here.  Only last year – at the age of 35, did he have a “break out” year.  He was the most reliable starter on the Mets team and earned a new contract that will pay him fairly well over the next couple of years.

But Dickey knows that it isn’t about the money.  Back when he and his family were working through the minor league life he along with friend and fellow baseball player Jonathan Johnson started an organization that has as a mission to share baseball, medicine and Jesus Christ with Latin America.  The organization is called Honoring the Father Ministries (HTF).  HTF organizes baseball tournaments, clinics and camps all around Latin America. This includes permission to travel and organize events in Cuba, a country that is generally closed to Americans, not to mention evangelical missionaries.  Dickey regularly goes on  these trips. What an image to picture: a major league baseball player sleeping on a dirt floor.

This baseball player knows that God has put him where he is for a purpose.  A verse that he uses to guide his life is Jeremiah 9.23-24. This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord

By Dickey’s own admission, the very fact that he is in the able to pitch at a big league level is a miracle. God has allowed Dickey’s story to be known so that Dickey can declare the miracle that his career has been.  Now that he has achieved a measure of success and a contract that reflects it, he is using those riches to boast about the Lord and the opportunity to know Him.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

And his desire to impact others continues.  This coming off season, he and 3 others that he knows through baseball are planning an excursion.  The goal?  To climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa.  Dickey, Kevin Slowey (Minnesota Twins), Dave Racaniello (Mets bullpen catcher) and Mets physical therapist John Zajac will set out to trek to the top of the 19,340 ft. mountain in January.  The goal of the climb is to raise money for the human trafficking organization Red Light District Outreach Mumbai.

I think this is an amazing story because it is a miracle that he is able to pitch at all.   God is doing great things through him and I am excited to hear him continue to boast, not in his riches or accomplishments, but in knowing Christ and telling others about Him.

Play Ball Adam Loewen!

This is the 17th post in my “Play Ball” series on Christian Baseball Players. This time around we look a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, currently playing at their top minor league affiliate – the Las Vegas 51s.
career stats

Great things were expected from Adam Loewen. At the time of his draft, he was the highest drafted player ever from my native Canada when the Baltimore Orioles took him 4th overall in 2002. He sped through the minor leagues and made his big league debut in 2006 at the age of 22. He did alright, battling through some adjustments to Major League competition, taking some lumps along the way. The next year, he was showing great improvement only to have his season cut short by a stress fracture in his pitching elbow.

He was back in time to start the 2008 campaign, but so was the elbow pain. He made two more trips to the disabled list and sought more doctors and opinions. By July of 2008, the announcement was made. Adam Loewen would not be able to pitch any more. For more on the story, as it was happening, check out this 2008 article from ESPN.
Now imagine you are 24 years old, and have seen some of your biggest dreams realized.  You’ve been drafted, made your way fairly quickly through the minors and had a brief stint in the majors. You’ve only just begun to see your dreams come true, when your hopes are dealt this blow and you are told you will not be able to do the very thing that you have been training for and working towards for much of your life. What would you do? 
Most would, heartbroken, hang up the cleats and begin life out of baseball. Only a very, VERY few can do what Loewen chose to do – Change focus to the other part of the game – the offense, and work to turn yourself into a major league caliber hitter. He decided to work on his hitting to reinvent himself as a 1B/outfielder.  Only a few others players have been successful as both pitcher and hitter – Rick Ankiel, currently with the Washington Nationals, and Babe Ruth are perhaps the most renowned.
To do this, meant he would not have an off-season.  He would play baseball year round, spring training, minor leagues season, fall instructional league, winter ball, then back to spring training again, and repeat the cycle.  He would put in the work, getting as many chances as he could find to work on his hitting.   I am rooting for him.  I hope to see him in the majors again soon – so he can talk about his story and how God has been working in him through all of this.  He chose to follow Christ at a Christian Baseball camp put on by Unlimited Potential Inc. His faith has helped him keep a good attitude as he has gone through these challenges and hardships.  You can read the story from Baptist Press Sports at this link.
It has been a slow process with a lot to learn and a whole lot of work to do. But he finds himself on the brink of returning to the majors. He is playing for the Blue Jays top minor league team and he is excelling there. (click here for his stats this season) He still strikes out more than most would like, but he is hitting with power, with a high average, and is coming along with his fielding, too.
His story brought to mind a couple thoughts.  First, just like he is working and practicing every day to hone his skills and develop into the best player he can be, we need to be working on and practicing our faith.  The tough thing about seeing your faith in God grow is that it tends to happen in hard times.  Challenges remind us that we are in need of God’s help and we can do nothing on our own strength.  The good thing about faith is that God is always faithful.  He will work things out for a purpose and equip us, even through hard times, to glorify Him and to help others that we meet.  It may not make sense to us.  It may be hard, it may pull us out of where we feel our abilities lie.  It can be uncomfortable and make us question if God really knows what He is doing.  But faith comes from trusting that God is able to deal with the issues we face, and if we are sold out to Him, He will use us and the lessons we learn to draw us closer to Him and to put us in a place where we can serve Him in the lives of others.  
Look at the story of Joseph in Genesis.  Here is a guy, that knew what hard times were.  He was disliked by his brothers to the point that they were ready to kill him.  They opted to sell him as a slave instead.  He sets up in his new country, and although he finds favor with Potiphar, he gets into trouble for something he didn’t do.  He was blameless in what he was accused for, and still he found himself thrown in jail.  Hard things came at him, and largely, they were not his doing.  He had 2 choices on how he could react in these situations.  He could get angry with God and shut down in despair.  Or he could trust that God could use him there, and impact the lives of those around him.  He chose the latter and found favor, earned freedom, planned ahead and saved a nation (as the surrounding area) from a famine, all by his own admission, in God’s strength.  
I don’t know what God has in store for Adam Loewen.  I hope he will get another chance at the big leagues, simply because his story would get some attention and he would have a place to share how important God was in this return to baseball, and in his life as well.  He’s doing well in Las Vegas. 
To him and to each of us that choose to live our lives to honor God –
Keep it up, and keep letting God speak through you to point others to Him.