A couple of years back, I wrote about the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series. They were in the World Series again, playing against the Kansas City Royals who were the champs in 1985. The Infamous `86 Mets were known for their off-field antics as much as they were for their on-field success. The remarkable thing about the Mets was that many of them would later become Christians share stories of how following God has changed their lives. Check out my post about them here.
The next summer would bring a World Series title to the Minnesota Twins. And a similar story to those of the `86 Mets became a compelling story in the Twin Cities – the story of Gary Gaetti.
Gaetti was drafted by the Cardinals and the White Sox before the Twins drafted him in 1979 and signed him a few days later. He played his way through the minors for the next 3 seasons. He was called up late in 1981 playing in 9 games and hitting a home run in his first major league at bat. He took over as the starter the next season and would remain a fixture with the Twins for the rest of the decade. He would play in 2 All-Star games, win 4 Gold Glove awards and of course the World Series title in 1987. He even became the first player in MLB history to homer in his first 2 playoff at bats.
The season after winning it all, All-Star third baseman Gary Gaetti went down with a knee injury. During his rehabilitation, he did some deep soul searching. In this article from the Post Bulletin, Gaetti turned away from his partying lifestyle. He says “`It wasn’t a gradual thing at all, and it wasn’t something I really planned,” Gaetti said of his whirlwind born-again Christian experience.`It all happened in the span of two weeks, maybe three weeks tops, from the time I hurt my knee to the time I came back to the lineup.” Torn cartilage in his left knee forced Gaetti onto the disabled list for the first time in his pro career on Aug. 21, 1988.`The knee injury had a lot to do with it, because it gave me some time to think about my life, evaluate what it’s all about. It was a combination of a lot of personal things, really, that led me to pick up the Bible and start reading.”When Gaetti returned to Tom Kelly’s lineup on Sept. 7, following arthroscopic surgery, the startling transformation was already complete. Gaetti entered the Twins clubhouse with a Bible in hand, and promptly vowed an end to all of the vices which over the years had become trademarks of his swashbuckling personality. No more post-game beers with Rex (Hrbek). No more celebratory shots of Royal Crown brand whiskey after home wins. No more smoking cigarettes; he was up to a pack a day. No more chewing tobacco. No more foul language. `Rat’ was dead. Just like that.”
This brought some discord to the Twins. As you can read in this article from the Chicago Tribune. The article says “Some teammates said his lifestyle change off the field hurt his play. “In Minnesota, (Christianity) was kind of looked down upon,” said Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Greg Gagne, who played next to Gaetti on the Twins’ infield. “For Gary, it was a difficult situation. He ran at night, partied, did whatever he wanted to do, and then when he came to Christ, he had to answer to a different person. He had to answer to God. That caused some problems in Minnesota.”
He had been part of the party scene on the Twins, and now, he was showing “Jesus is Lord” written on his batting glove for All Star game introductions (see the 2:20 mark of this video).
Gaetti would leave the Twins after the 1990 season for The Angels. He would bounce around for another decade, playing with 5 different teams before retiring in 2000. These days, he is a manager for the Sugar Land Skeeters. As you can read in this article from 2004 from NewsOK.com, Gaetti still maintains a strong faith in God but his approach in sharing his faith has changed a little. The article says “…These days, Gaetti is sort of that way with his religion: close enough and yet far enough away. He remains deeply religious but also seems to have a newfound respect for other peoples’ beliefs. “I’ve changed, but it doesn’t change what I believe about God,” … “Gaetti seems to have a deeper understanding of the bigger picture, a wider appreciation of other peoples’ sensitivities. And that’s mighty important in the not always friendly confines of a baseball clubhouse. “Do people bring their beliefs with them wherever they go? Yeah but does that mean you preach or proselytize everywhere that you go? No. There’s a time for playing baseball, there’s a time for church, there’s a time for Chapel, there’s a time for all those things. But some people are more outspoken than others.”
Here are my takeaways about Gaetti’s story
1- A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5.17 says “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” This is something that we all see when we begin to live for God, but the picture is very clear in Gaetti’s story. Before he went on the disabled list, he was a known partier. When he returned a couple weeks later, he was passing out religious literature and vowing to stop drinking, smoking and swearing. He was experiencing the change that Jesus makes in our lives. Jesus doesn’t require us to stop doing all those things to earn salvation. Our Salvation was secured when He died on the cross. Instead, He invites us to know Him and accept His offer to enter our lives and make it the best it can be. He doesn’t leave us where we are. When we fall in love with Him and make Him the most important part of our life, the result will be a change in our behaviors, not because He requires them, but because our love for Him compels us to change the way we live. The old life, its empty joys and motivations are dead and the new life of loving God and living in the purpose that He has made for us takes over. What an amazing thing this transformation is!
2- Appreciating other People’s Sensitivities – The more recent articles talk about Gaetti and the change in his delivery of the Gospel message. At first, he was very outspoken about his newfound faith and he began to rub people wrong with his changed attitudes. And while the change was good and necessary for him, it alienated others to the point where they felt they had lost their friend. So where do we draw that line? What does that look like? God changes our hearts completely and resets our priorities and so there will be a noticeable difference to those around us who are not following God because we are no longer on the same journey as them. And it is important that we acknowledge God and the work He is doing in our lives. Yet we can’t force others to make a decision to follow God and can’t change their lives on our own. We can simply love them and share our story. We can pray for them and ask God to show us how to love them best? We don’t want to hide our faith from others, but we don’t want to alienate them either. This is why prayer needs to be an important part of our daily life. We need to be constantly asking God to help us represent Him well and love others as He does. This will allow them to meet Him and allow Him to work on their heart.