Making It Look Easy – Anthony Rendon – Washington Nationals

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Washington Nationals Infielder Anthony Rendon

As I look for stories to share, I try to find ways to connect their stories with me in some way. Today, as I read this Washington Post article about Washington Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon the similarity brought a smile to my face. But my story is more connected to Sam Palace who helped Rendon buy his first guitar, only to see him playing songs by the end of the week when it had taken Palace 3 years before he could play a song.

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Darren Collins taught me how to juggle – eventually

For me, it was not guitar but juggling.  When I was 21, I traveled around the U.S.A. with 2 other guys putting on children’s ministry workshops.  One of my colleagues was a juggler and so I asked him to teach me.  He started giving me pointers but it took me Eight months before I was finally was able to juggle a little bit (my record when I got home was 35 tosses before dropping).

But more than learning to juggle, I learned to teach juggling.  I worked as a youth pastor intern and started teaching some of the kids in my youth group how to juggle.  One young man I worked with -Eli – went from picking up juggling balls for the first time to tossing under a leg and behind his back in less than half an hour. A few days later when I saw him again, he was doing things that I couldn’t do. I’d like to take the credit for it, but I think his natural ability had more to do with it.

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Rendon won a SIlver Slugger award in 2014

Rendon’s natural ability with a guitar was pretty amazing, and his natural ability at baseball is also evident.  He was the 6th overall pick in the 2011 draft, and made his major league debut less than 2 years later. He has not looked back.  He has won a Silver Slugger Award, led the league in runs and has put up great numbers.  But if Rendon doesn’t seem like a household name, maybe it is because Rendon strives to remain humble.  He says “(My parents are) quiet. They raised me not to be boastful about anything we do. My faith as well — it says don’t boast about anything that’s coming your way. The Lord has given you everything. It’s just being modest, being humble about everything and keeping my head on straight.”

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Rendon has played well at third base and second in his career

In fact, as you can read in this article from mlb.com, Rendon tries to stay away from the spotlight.  He says  “It’s not who I am. It’s not how I was raised. I don’t like seeking all the attention. When you start doing stuff like that, it gets into your head, you are not being yourself. … I just like playing the game. I don’t like all the extra stuff that comes with it.

Here are my takeaways from Rendon’s story:

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Rendon volunteering at a food shelf in DC. He talks often about the importance of humility

1- Make others better – I loved learning to juggle.  But maybe not for the right reasons.  I liked to be able to show off my skills and so it was humbling when someone I would teach to juggle would quickly pass my skill level.  But what I learned from having this happen to me a few times is that there is a certain satisfaction seeing someone identify and grow in a gift that they have been given.  I have never entered a juggling contest and don’t ever expect to do so.  I will never make my living as a juggler so why get upset when I help someone and they turn out to be better than me at it?  It doesn’t.  It is just cool to see there interest grow as they start to figure things out.  I get to teach lessons from the Bible often.  I hope that I can be used to grow other’s interest in God as I teach others about Him and continue to learn about Him myself. In what ways is God using you to bring out His best in the lives of others?

2 – Humility wins the day – Rendon often talks about shying away from the spotlight.  He remembers that all the natural talent that he has received as well as the opportunities to turn these skills into a major league job is all a gift from God.  When we understand that all we have, even life itself is a gift from God it is easier to remain humble.  What has God done for you?  How do the gifts and blessings that God has filled your life with point you toward Him?

 

Keep On Smiling – Johnny Giavotella – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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New Orleans suburb Metairie in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Ten years ago last week, the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina was becoming a reality as the city of New Orleans was flooded in one of  the worst natural disasters that this country has ever seen.  My wife and I spent 2 full summers and part of a third in the city leading short term mission trips to help in the recovery.  As a tribute to that city that won over a part of our hearts and the recovery that continues to happen there still, I focus this blog post on a native son of the New Orleans area and his story of faith that has sustained him to this point in his journey to be a major league baseball player.

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L.A. Angeles of Anaheim 2B Johnny Giavotella

Meet Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim infielder Johnny Giavotella.  Born in the New Orleans suberb of Metairie, Giavotella was about to start his first semester as a college student when Katrina struck.  The University of New Orleans were forced to play their semester at New Mexico State.  Read more about Giavotella’s ordeal in this report from ESPN.  But despite the challenges and bumps in the road, Giavotella kept a great attitude and a strong work ethic.

Also along the way, Giavotella leaned on his faith in God to guide his life and his career in baseball. It is a faith that was instilled in him from his parents, as you can hear in this video interview from Mother’s Day.

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Giavotella has leaned on his faith in God to battle through the challenges that life and career have brought.

In this article from the Examiner, Giovatella discusses how he has seen God at work, even in the challenges that life has brought.  He says “I have peace that God is with me in every situation and using circumstances for my own development and benefit”

Hurricane Katrina was not the last bump that Giovatella would meet en route to the majors.  He spent a season at A, the next season at High A and the following season at AA.  Then came AAA, where Giovatella would spend the better parts of 4 seasons.  He had a couple of chances in Kansas City to stick, but was unsuccessful.  Then came the trade.  The Angels had an opening at second base and when Giavotella was waived by Kansas City, a deal was struck.   This season he has set career highs in practically every category.

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Giavotella has almost always been the smallest player on whatever team he has played on. But he plays bigger than his size.

1- Happy Wherever I am  –  when following God and living life for His purposes, we can find joy where we are.  Giavotella was asked how he “keeps on smiling” when he bounces from minors to majors and back.  His response? Peace that God is with him.  When hard things come our way, how easy is it to remember that God, the Prince of Peace, is with us and will comfort us.  He will not keep us from pain and hard things, but He promises to go through it with us and to work everything out “for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).  There was a kids chorus we used to sing in church.  The words are “With Christ in the vessel we can smile at the storm” It was taken from the story where Jesus speaks to the storm and calms it.  (Mark 4 & Matthew 8) When hard things come, with Christ by our side, we can find joy and peace.  We can smile in the face of adversity because we know that He is bigger than the hard things face.  Keep on smiling!

2- Play bigger than you are – Giavotella has almost always been the smallest player on his team.  Yet he has consistently played bigger than his size and not just in baseball either. In high school, he was the starting middle linebacker.  A teammate talked about Giovatella’s mindset.  He said “I think not as much [that it’s] little-man syndrome,” “More like back against the wall. ‘No one really believes in me. I’ve got to go out and prove myself everywhere I go, and no matter what I do, I’m going to have doubters.” God can give us the ability to play bigger than we are and exceed expectations.  But the other cool thing is that even though we will always have people who doubt us and think less of us, we can take comfort in knowing that we are highly valued by God and He never underestimates our potential.

Don’t Ride the Roller Coaster – Lance McCullers Jr. – Houston Astros

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Houston Astros Starting Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.

I like surprises.  Not for myself but for other people.  I don’t ever want to have a surprise party thrown on my behalf, but I do like to be surprised.  As a movie fan, I like it when an expected twist takes the plot in a surprising direction.  As a sports fan, I like it when an underdog overachieves.  I like worst to first stories and I find it easy to get caught up in cheering on the success of the unexpectedly successful.

And so for me, it has been a treat to follow the Houston Astros 2015 season.  This is a team that just 2 short seasons ago lost 111 games.  Last year they finished 5th in their division with a 70-92 record.  This year, they have already beaten last year’s win total – and there is still more than a month left in the season.

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This is the Lance McCullers that I knew – from collecting cards in the 80s.

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McCullers Jr & Sr for Jr’s debut. Both made their big league debut’s at age 21.

One of the surprises for me from the Astros season was hearing that Lance McCullers had been called up to make a start.  I used to collect baseball cards as a young boy and this name was familiar to me.  I thought – Wow!  now that is a comeback. I had cards of McCullers from the late 80’s.  OK, so I didn’t really think it was McCullers Sr making a comeback, but I hadn’t heard that a second generation of Lance McCullers was pushing toward the pros either.  Seeing the name drew my interest and so I looked into this story.

And McCullers isn’t alone as an up and coming star on the Astros.  There is a collection of young players who have played vital roles in turning the Astros fortunes around. The majority of their position players are under 30 and most are in their mid 20’s

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McCullers Jr’s cleats for his debut were unique

Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, McCullers spent less than 3 seasons in the minors.  He was called up from AA on May 14th, making his debut just a few days later, wearing some awesome batman cleats.  He has pitched in 15 games so far, he is 5-4 with an ERA just over 3, while averaging more than 1 strikeout per inning pitched.

As you can see in this video prepared for Astros faith day, McCullers’ faith is very important to him and his mindset for playing baseball.

In the video, he talks about going to a Jesuit high school, where chapel service was like a class that he had to attend.  He also talks about how his faith in God helps him handle anything that life brings his way.

Here are my takeaways from McCullers’ story

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McCullers has pitched well for the resurgent Astros, looking to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

1- Don’t Ride the Roller Coaster – I’ve never heard it said this way before but I like it.  McCullers talks about how as a baseball player you can’t allow yourself to get to “high” when things are going well or too “low” when you are struggling.  There is an important spiritual lesson in this, too.  God is ultimately in control and the decision to follow Him or not lies with each one of us individually.  But we need to depend on God no matter what, at all times.  When things are going great, we need to depend on Him.  When things are hard, we need to depend on Him.  He is the only constant.  Let’s keep our eyes and our focus on Him.  He loves us.  He values us.

2- What Defines You – McCullers gives a great reminder for us about how much God values us.  We can be hard on ourselves and see our greatest failures – allowing them to eat away at us.  The world tends to place our value on how successful we are in their eyes – by their standards, so if we buy into their value scores, we are always trying to live up and measure up – and that can be exhausting.  But God created us, he loves us enough that He went to great lengths so we could be with Him.  In fact, he values us enough that he sent his only son to face death and separation from God so that we wouldn’t have to.  Because of how He values us, we can be confident in Him and His love that will never run out.

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03:  Lance McCullers #43 of the Houston Astros throws a pitch in the ninth inning during their game against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

McCullers faith in God has been important to him in his budding major league career.

McCullers faith in God has been important to him in his budding major league career.

3- More Than a Class, More Than a Textbook – He talks about how going to church with his girlfriend in high school proved important in his spiritual development more than attending Bible Study as a class did.  The heart is an amazing thing.  When it is open to hearing and learning about God, there is nothing better.  He was studying the same bible in his class at high school – but the motivation there was for a grade.  When his heart connected with God, he sought to attend church to honor and glorify God, not simply for a grade.  I pray that we will all allow God to draw our hearts to Him and that we will seek to honor and glorify God in all that we say and do out of love and not duty.

Life Changes in a Moment – Robinison Chirinos – Texas Rangers

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Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos

I don’t know how many baseball games I’ve watched in my lifetime. I played little league baseball for 6 years and church softball for at least that many more. Add to that, games watched on TV and live. Too many to count!  If you are a baseball fan and have watched lots of games like me, you’ve no doubt seen it happen countless times too – a foul tip miss the catcher’s glove and catch him on the mask.  Equipment has been improving for years and concussion awareness is a touch point for all sports at all levels.  And yet, stories like the one I share today of Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos remind us that things can go from good to bad in a hurry and sometimes, it doesn’t seem to take much.

<> at O.co Coliseum on April 8, 2015 in Oakland, California.

Chirinos return to catcher and baseball in general was in question after a concussion sidelined him for all of 2012

Chirinos was signed out of Venezuela by the Chicago Cubs in 2000.  He put in 11 years in the minors, with only a 20 games at the Major League level – all with Tampa Bay in 2011.  He was hoping to turn that audition into a permanent spot with the Rays in 2012.  But on March 11, 2012 – a spring training game for the Rays against the Pirates, a fastball was foul tipped and hit Chirinos in the mask.  It had happened to him before, but as you can read in this article from The Tampa Tribune, this foul tip was different than any that had come before.  He was dazed, dizzy, he vomited when he reached the club house. He had what the article calls the first headache of his life – and it lasted day and night for 5 days.  He couldn’t stand and close his eyes because he would lose his balance and fall over and it would be a while before he would get more than a couple hours of sleep in a night. Over the next season, he would go through an array of therapy and treatment to try and recover.  This included vision therapy – a process that helps the eyes and the brain work together again.

The therapy was slowly successful.  On August 19th, 2012, Chirinos was cleared to play catch, hit and run.  On November 2, he was removed from the disabled list – a season lost but some perspective gained.

Jun 16, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) points as he circles the bases on his walk-off solo home run in front of Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (23) during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Rangers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Chirinos leaned on his faith in God during his recovery and beyond.

In this article from mlb.com, you can read the role that Chirinos’ faith in God played through this process.   Earlier on the very day of his injury, Chirinos made “a strong and lasting commitment in his relationship with God”  And that commitment to God helped Chirinos and his family through the challenges of the months-long recovery.

So now, 3 years later, how has his career recovered?  Chirinos appeared in 93 games for the Rangers last season, with 28 extra base hits and 40 runs driven in.  He was also among the league leaders in throwing out potential base stealers.  This season, he has played in 70 games 25 extra base hits and 33 driven in.

He has started The Robinson Chirinos Foundation,  helping out both in his native Venezuela and in his current home, Arlington, Texas.  Check out this video of some of the work that he is helping with in the community.

Here are my takeaways from Chirinos’ story

1- Thing change quickly – Chirinos experienced how quickly things can change in our life and how fragile we really are.  The truth is we don’t know what will happen today – it may be the day when something happens that alters our life forever.  It may even be the day when our life here comes to an end.  Are we ready for that?  Reminds me of Larry Norman’s song “Wish We’d All Been Ready” which -tunefully brought attention to Luke 17.34-35 and Matthew 24.40-41.  It talks about how Jesus will return at a time when life will be going on as normal and in an instant, everything will change.  It will at the same moment be the most incredible and most terrifying moment in the lives of those involved.  For those who will be with God, it will be a life beyond our greatest imagination.  For those who are “left” it will be a time of heartache, searching and maybe even despair.  The statement repeated over and over in the song is “I wish we’d all been ready”.  Are you ready?  Do you have assurance that should you die today or should Christ return that you would be with Him?  There is great comfort in knowing that we can have that assurance. Make today the day that you know for sure!

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Chirinos has started a foundation to give back to the communities he calls home (Arlington Texas and his native Venezuela)

2- No time to wait –  I also shared that Chirinos has started a charitable foundation to help people in his home country (Venezuela) and his adopted home town (Greater Dallas Area) to give back and help people and the needs that they have.  Chirinos salary is above the average salary in this country, but it pales in comparison to the average for a baseball player.  For example he is making about 2% of teammate Josh Hamilton’s salary this season. But he didn’t wait to sign a big money contract before starting his foundation.  Instead, he felt God lead him to open it and was obedient.  What is God calling you to do? Are you listening and ready to obey?  Or are you giving his excuses why you shouldn’t do it?  Hear God, trust Him and follow.  He can use you to touch lives and make a difference.  He can show his love through you as you meet needs in His name.

The Sacrifice of Others – Scooter Gennett – Milwaukee Brewers

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Brewers 2B Scooter Gennett

When I played baseball as a young boy, my game was build around my quickness.  I was always among the shortest and lightest on my teams so power wasn’t a thing.  I was the speed guy – I could beat out an infield hit (or error as was often the case in the early years) much of the time.  As I grew older, I decided to take advantage of my speed by learning to bunt.  In my best season, I lead my team in bunt singles.  I don’t remember how many, but I was called on to bunt a lot.

I find the bunt single to be an exciting play – one that is not often used in the majors these days.  Most bunts at the Big League level are used as sacrifices.

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Gennett is small by MLB standards, but has had a solid career so far.

Now sacrifices are important in baseball.  Giving yourself up so that others are moved forward.  It is a key strategic part of the game and used frequently. And there are different types: Sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, sacrifice your body to make a diving play – sacrifice is part of baseball.

Sacrifice is part of Scooter Gennett’s story, too.  Gennett is a second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers.   As you can read in this article from jsonline, at the age of 10, his father asked him how seriously he wanted to take baseball.  His answer led his family to move from Cincinnati Ohio to Sarasota, Florida so Scooter could play baseball year round.  He put his all into baseball – for love of the game and for desire to not let them down. Drafted in the 16th round in 2009, Gennett debuted at A ball.  He was called up to the majors in 2013 and tore it up for almost 70 games.  He hit .324 with 5 home runs and only 5 errors.  He turned in a solid 2014, as well and despite an injury and a trip to the DL this season, he is still playing reguarly at second for the Brewers. Check out this video from his debut and learn where the nickname “Scooter”comes from.

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Gennett spends time in his off-season giving baseball lessons to youth.

This article from Athletes in Action tells us that Gennett took baseball seriously after his family moved to Florida.  In fact, he was so serious about baseball that he put his faith in God aside and admittedly made baseball his god.  Realizing this, he decided that he needed to make his faith in God a priority again.  Now, looking back on how he “made it” he says “It all points back to the love of Christ [who has a purpose for my life]”.  The article continues to share Gennett’s desire to continue growing in his relationship with God and sharing about Jesus wherever he goes.  He has also sought places to connect with others, through baseball.  It will be great to see how God uses him in these opportunities.

He gives baseball lessons to players in the Sarasota area.  Check out his website here. And he has partnered with Open Arms home for Children in South Africa, which was started by Brewers broadcaster Davey Nelson.  From the AIA article:

“The charity provides a residential home for orphaned, abandoned or disadvantaged children and a few adults in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. They receive emotional, physical, spiritual and developmental support.

“I hope to go spend some time there, not only to help provide food, toys and clothing, but to share Jesus, too.” (Gennett says)

Here are my takeaways from Gennett’s story

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Gennett knows that God has allowed him to play in the Majors. He wants to help others know Him.

1- The Thin Line – Gennett spoke of playing baseball and missing church often when he was young.  The AIA article says”He had put his faith aside for a time, but realized it needed to take a central place in his life once again.”

When someone shows promise in any endeavor, it can be tempting to make it more important than God. For me, baseball mainly impacted my schedule a couple nights each week.  But eventually I reached the age where there were weekend games and practices.  This caused conflict in my schedule and with my parents as church is what we did as a family on Sunday mornings.   My parents always  emphasized the importance of being in church and how it should take precedence over sports. I resented that when I was a boy but now I am glad they were so insistent on church.  As a dad and a kids ministry guy I see it in a way I didn’t in my youth. As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to succeed with the talents that they have.

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 12: Scooter Gennett #2 of the Milwaukee Brewers lays down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning advancing Khris davis to third base against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park on April 12, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Gennett lays down a sacrifice bunt. Sacrifice has been a part of Gennett’s story.

Let’s give them every opportunity to succeed as followers of God, too.  Does this mean perfect attendance at church is required? Of course not, but it does mean being intentional in guiding our children’s spiritual development.   After all, it is OUR duty.  The local church can be a great resource to assist us in showing how important God should be in their life.  If we are going to let our kids miss church, we need to be even more intentional with helping our kids understand the importance of a relationship with God. We need to equip them because the choice to follow God or not is ultimately theirs.

2- Sacrifice of others – I began this article talking about sacrifice in baseball.  In Gennett’s story, we also see the sacrifice that his parents made to give him the chance to be successful, moving their life from one place to another. It is a remarkable sacrifice that worked out great for Gennett and his family.  In some ways, Jesus did the same thing.  He gave up his home to move to another place. He gave up his life so that others could know a life beyond their wildest dreams.  In baseball, sometimes a player sacrifices and sometimes he is the beneficiary of the sacrifice.  If we have chosen to live for God, we have benefited from His ultimate sacrifice. Let’s be willing to give of ourselves so that others can know Him, too!