Play Ball Chris Coghlan!

This is the 16th entry in my series on Christian Baseball players and the different ways they share what God is doing in their lives so others can see/hear and be drawn to the Creator of the Universe!

Last time, we talked about Tampa, this time, we move east across the state, and look at Florida Marlins outfielder, Chris Coghlan.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, the part of Coghlan’s story that caught my attention was the role that his father played in his life.  You see his dad was always willing to practice with Coghlan – be it football or baseball.  He was active in the development of his son.

He even enrolled him in a baseball training academy – a place called The Winning Inning (TWI) – which is a Christ-centered baseball training facility in Clearwater, Florida.  Coghlan spent a lot of time there, honing his skills and continues to spend some time at TWI every year.  He even contacts them for advice when he goes into a batting slump.   But beyond the training they offered, the guys at TWI became very important to Coghlan.  They served as father figures for Coghlan when his father passed away unexpectedly in 2001, helping him with baseball, and also there to talk about life in general.  For the complete story from The Palm Beach Post, click here.

Even with the positive influence of these men, Coghlan still found himself turning to things other than God to fill the pain in his heart.  Hear it in his own words in this video from  I Am Second.  I Am Second is a great website that has videos of people’s story of faith to use for personal inspiration or as a small group, to encourage people who are facing the hard things life can throw at us all.  Check out their website.  


In this video, Coghlan talks about how he was living a selfish life feeling sorry for himself and letting it control him.  That is until he met a teammate who introduced him to Jesus Christ.  Read the story  here as taken from Sports Spectrum Magazine.


The other thing that sticks out from the I Am Second video is that Coghlan still thinks often about his father.  His dad is so important to him that he wants his life to be a source of pride for his dad.  What a tribute to the love he felt from his father!

We should each have the same goal in our life with our Heavenly Father.  God always loves us and wants to equip us to be the best we can be.  Is my life being lived in such a way that my Heavenly Father will say “Well Done”?  That is what I strive for as I attempt, every day, to live up to my name.  


And as a post script,  I am blessed and privileged to be a dad (x2), what an incredible journey fatherhood is.  My girls teach me so much each day.  They are the best proof that I have been on this planet.  
I am also very grateful for my father and the role that he plays in my life.  Even though we are many miles apart, I know that he loves me and is praying for me all the time. And he is always interested in what I am up to (even reading my blog – thanks dad!) I am also grateful for my father-in-law who is also a godly man and has welcomed me into his family, too! These godly fathers are blessings to me and my family.  I thank God for them every day! 


Happy Father’s Day to you both, and to all the other dad’s out there, too.

Play Ball Ben Zobrist!

This is the 15th entry in my series on Christians in Major League Baseball.  Today, we journey down to the Gulf Coast of Florida and meet with Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have written about a few utility men and the role they are playing to help out their team in whatever way they can.  Today, we talk about another in Ben Zobrist.  In 2009, he played 8 different positions.  Last year, he played 6, and so far this year, he has played only 2.  He played well enough that they needed to keep getting him in the lineup, and eventually, he settled into a regular position.
He has become a vital part of the Rays lineup and an easy guy to cheer for.  I watched him play earlier this year in a series here in Minnesota where he owned the Twins to the tune of 8 for 14 in the series with 2 home runs and 13 rbi in 3 games.

But the great thing about Zobrist is his honesty, humility and outspoken faith in God. Here is a recent article about him from Athletes in Action

One thing that I found interesting is that our stories are similar. I’ll share more  on that in a moment.  First, check out his story below as prepared by Idols Aside Ministry, a non-profit organization that uses sports to draw people in, and uses the platform that sports provides, to share God’s love with others.  Click on the link above to see their site and what they do.

http://media.salemwebnetwork.com/godtube/resource/mediaplayer/5.6/player.swf


I mentioned that our stories are similar.  I first came the point of wanting to be sure that I would go to heaven at a young age too.  For me, it was on the day that an assassination attempt was made on then US President Ronald Reagan.  I remember asking my mom if the President was going to die, and if he did, would he be in heaven?  She told me that if he knew Jesus personally he would be, but if he didn’t have that relationship with God, he wouldn’t be in heaven.  That was scary for me. I mean if the President couldn’t get an automatic pass to heaven, how could I be sure?  (I had a lot to learn) Luckily, there is assurance!  God promises this in the Bible.
If we confess with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) 

Zobrist uses his position as a professional athlete and role model to talk about the importance of his relationship with God.  He knows that he has a responsibility to represent Christ in all he does, even to people that he may never meet face to face.

 I really like when he said he needs to take this responsibility seriously. And not just to his teammates and fans, but also taking in helping his family grow in their relationship with God.  And like he uses his talents on the baseball field, he speaks of the importance of his wife and children being able to use their talents to honor him, as well.  And they are doing just that.  Zobrist’s wife Julianna is a Christian singer.  Check out her myspace page here to read more about her, and to hear some samples of her music.

As Christians, Jesus calls us to represent Him with our lives.  We reflect God in more ways and to more people than we can imagine.  Does what we say and do demonstrate what we claim to believe?  Zobrist’s story reminds us to be humble, true to our faith, and ready to help others to know Christ, as we grow in our own faith.

Play Ball Jerry Narron!

This is the 14th entry in my Blog series about Christians in Professional Baseball.  So far, the focus has been on players, minor and major league, but this time around, as we look at the Milwaukee Brewers, I am going to talk about their bench coach, Jerry Narron.

Now why would I discuss a bench coach?  Well, the cool thing about how God works is that He puts us into places where we can be used to impact the lives of those we are brought into contact with.  That is the job description for a coach or manager in general, to motivate, push, challenge, and teach the players on their team to make them the best that they can be.  It is very rare that a mistake will cost someone their job in the majors.  An error in a key spot, or an 0-4 day happens for a player, and the manager puts him back in the line up the next day to give him another chance to prove themselves.

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Jerry Narron

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Jerry Narron has coached or managed at the big league level almost constantly since 1992, As a manager, he has not had great success, managing a .500 record once and dipping below that each other year.  But he did make a choice that has impacted the sport for the past few years – and hopefully for many more. You see, he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds when they agreed to give the a young man another chance to play pro ball, when the odds and his past were stacked against him.  That man is reigning A.L. MVP Josh Hamilton.
If you are not familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton, you can read a great this article from Sports Illustrated.  The short version is that he was a monster talent for most of his life.  Through injuries and circumstances, (and a whole bunch of bad choices) Hamilton squandered his chance and found himself at the rockiest of bottoms.  His grandmother took him in and with a lot of determination, a great support network in his family, and a new found relationship with Jesus Christ, he caught some attention and was given a new chance to not only survive life as a recovering addict, but a chance to pursue the lifelong of being a major league baseball player.

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Hamilton & Johnny Narron

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Jerry Narron knew Hamilton.  Jerry’s brother Johnny was Hamilton’s coach when Josh was in his teens.  As soon as Jerry Narron heard that Josh Hamilton was coming to the Reds, he knew that there would be work to do to keep Hamilton on track. Jerry would be there to help Josh out as much as he could – even being willing to read/study the Bible with Hamilton, when the cravings and temptations came knocking.  Jerry also decide to  hire his brother Johnny to be a Reds coach, whose main responsibility was to take care of Hamilton, (handling his money, having bible study, working as an accountability partner).  In fact, when Josh Hamilton was traded to Texas, Johnny Narron became the Rangers assistant hitting coach!  He does fulfill that role, and  also is there to help Hamilton out off the field. 

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One of the things that Hamilton says he has enjoyed about working with the Narrons was the deep faith that they all share.  When Hamilton re-entered the baseball world, the reminders of the poor choices that he made were everywhere.  They took the form of doubters, critics, cravings, a damaged marriage, suspicious family and friends, and the ever-present urine collecting drug tester.  Some of these reminders remain to this day.  He has handled it all with wonderful grace, even through a well publicized relapse. A key in all of this is Hamilton’s faith in God and leaning on the strength it provides.  But having a manager and coach around that can help keep you accountable, focused and on track is helpful.  And if Jerry and Johnny Narron never achieve “success” on the field in the form of wins and titles, the faith they have in God and the help and encouragement they have offered one of the games true superstars has granted them success in a far more important avenue – helping to give voice to what God can do to a life that is lived for Him. 
There are a lot of lessons that we can learn from the Josh Hamilton story.  Read this article about Josh Hamilton. to see him discuss his relationship with God. I hope that lots of coaches like Jerry Narron continue to impact the lives of those around them in ways that point others to Jesus.
P.S.  ?If you are really interested in the whole story, I would recommend reading it for yourself.  I really enjoyed it (mostly because of the happy way it ended – with things back on track and the pieces in place so that a baseball fan like me gets to see this great player play the game hard and very well, and use the platform of baseball to share what God has done and is doing in his life.   I know that I am hoping there is a lot more to write about Josh Hamilton and his successes in baseball.  That way many more people can hear about God’s work in his life.

Play Ball Don Kelly!

This is part 13 in my blog series on Christian Baseball players.  Today’s man of faith is Detroit Tigers Utility Man Don Kelly.

What is a Utility Man?  A utility man is an important player on any team.  It is someone that can play a variety of roles and play them well enough to help the team.  They can fill in almost anywhere in a pinch and are ready at a moments notice to pinch hit, or replace someone in the field.  They are also able to move around and play a number of positions to give the team some added flexibility with substitutions.  
Two of my favorite players, when I was growing up, were utility men.   Bip Roberts of San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds fame and Jose Oquendo of St Louis Cardinals fame. 
These guys played amazing roles, and were truly willing to do whatever was needed to help the team succeed.  For example, in 1988, Jose Oquendo became one of a small handful of players who played all 9 positions in the same year.  Utility men are remarkable team players.  The last 2 entries in this series have been utility men (Brent Lillibridge and Chris Heisey)

And the trend continues with Don Kelly, a utility man with the Detroit Tigers.  So far this year, he has played 6 different positions (including DH).  In his career, he has played every position except pitcher an catcher.  You can find an interview with him from WTLW TV in Ohio here. (There will be a different story playing when you go to the link, you will have to scroll down the list to find him – the interview is from last July).
career stats

In this interview, Kelly talks about some of the tough things that professional athletes have to deal with, like separation from family and the ups and downs of sporting life, and he also talks about what being a utility player is like.  This is what caught my attention.  Like he says, he needs to be ready when he gets the call play.  It may be different each day as he moves around from position to position, or waits for a chance to pinch hit, so he needs to be ready for whatever situation he will face.  This made me think of a 2 bible passages. 

Paul challenges Timothy “always be ready in season and out”  (2 Timothy 4.2)- don’t be caught off guard.  Come prepared to get in the game.

And Peter instructs us in 1 Peter 3.15 to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

Utility men are ready at all times to step in and help the team – to do their part and do what is asked of them.  Don Kelly spoke of being prepared to do this in baseball, but he also speaks of spending time studying the bible and being prepared for whatever life brings his way. 

I see the role of the utility man as one who is ready to do whatever is needed to help the team be successful.  It may mean pinch hitting, pinch running, starting games at many different positions, even moving around to a few different positions in the same game.  It means being willing to do what it takes to help the team. 

This also brings to mind 1 Corinthians 9.22b where Paul writes about being all things to all people so that “by all possible means I might save some”.  As Christians, we are to show the Love of God to others and, like Jesus who went to great lengths to show his love for humanity, we are to truly be willing to do whatever it takes to give others an opportunity to encounter the living God.  It is an important role for the Christ-follower,

When I was growing up, my favorite players were utility men – it is my hope that like them, in my Christian Life, I can be whatever Christ wants me to be, to show Him to others.

As an aside, I want to draw attention to one more thing.  Kelly mentioned in the interview a “home plate event”.  That is referring to an organization in Detroit that hosts Christian faith outreach events. They are similar to Third Coast Sports, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts.  But Home Plate Detroit is an organization that has been putting these events on since 1987 in the Detroit area.  Click the link to see their website.  This has been a fruitful ministry.  (click on their “past history” tab for a list of events, speakers and attendees). Lets pray that they can keep up the great work of reaching out to the city of Detroit and surrounding  areas.

Play Ball Chris Heisey!

This is part 12 in my blog series about Christian Baseball Players who are living out their faith in the public eye and unashamedly declaring their faith and love for Christ in hopes that others may be drawn to Him or encouraged in their relationship with Him.

It is easy to see professional athletes only for the value of the entertainment that they offer.  Once they cross the lines into the field of play, they have our attention and our allegiance, but we seldom give much thought to their lives off the field.  If we do hear about them off the field, often it is to report an indiscretion or scandal that they are involved with.

We don’t often think about their life being hard.  Most of us have had big league dreams, just like each major league player has.  I know that I, for one, don’t often think about the hard things that put those dreams in doubt, or the heartbreak that failure, or in some cases success, brings.  The latter is at the heart of the story I share today.

Today, we are off to Cincinnati to visit with Reds outfielder Chris Heisey.  By his own admission, in high school, he was not good enough at baseball to be considered for a Division 1 NCAA scholarship.  So he opted to stay close to home and attend Messiah College,  a Christian liberal arts school.  Click here to read about Heisey on their web-site. (scroll to the bottom of the page)

He excelled at Messiah, and caught the attention of the Reds’ scouts, and the Reds drafted him in the 17th round of the 2006 draft.  They offered him a contract and his journey to the majors began.

Messiah College was close to his home, so his mom and dad could come and watch him play.  Then when he began pro ball, he was in constant contact with his dad, Craig, who was his proudest supporter.

But in October 2007, Craig Heisey lost his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Hear him talk about his dad on this Sports Spectrum podcast. (his part in the podcast is from 35:22-41:28).  You can also read about his story in this article from MLB.com.

The journey to the majors was not yet complete, but the rest of the way would have to take place without the contact with his father.  Heisey found this to be a difficult thing to deal with, (as we all would). But knowing that his father had a genuine relationship with God and modeled what a healthy Christian faith looks like, he was comforted and at peace even with the loss of his dad.  The saddest part would be in April of 2010, when he was called up to the majors for the first time and he was unable to share the achievement with his dad.
He was called up to replace an injured player, and has not been back to the minors since.  He was successful in his role of pinch hitter last year, tying for the most pinch hit home runs (4) with Matt Stairs (who, as an aside is from my birthplace – New Brunswick, Canada).  This year, he has again made the team out of training camp and has been pinch hitting again, and also starting some games.

Heisey is still living the dream that he has (and many of us have) had since childhood.  While he didn’t get a chance to share the dream with his father, he did learn about being a good Christian role model, and father.  Along the way, he has learned to lean of God for support when hard things come along, and he has also learned the important lessons of humility and hard work.  It has helped him keep a perspective of all that he has been entrusted with, and how to use his place and his story to tell others about God and to bring hope in the face of hardship. Great lessons for us all.