Play Ball Matt Tuiasosopo & Heath Bell

This is part 5 in my series about Christ-following baseball players.  Today, our focus takes us back out to the western divisions of both leagues with stops in Seattle and San Diego.

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First stop is with a player in the Seattle Mariners farm system.  His name is Matt Tuiasosopo – He is a native of Washington state, drafted by his “hometown” Mariners. He is starting this season at their top minor league affiliate – the Tacoma Rainiers where he has spent parts of the last 3 years.
Matt’s family are all strong Christ followers, who have come to know some success in their sports, and yet managed to do so while living out their strong faith in God and putting their relationship with Him in the forefront of the way they lead their life.
Matt’s father Manu has a Super Bowl Ring (1986 San Francisco 49ers) from his NFL days.
Matt’s brothers Marques and Zach also played in the NFL, and Marques was also drafted in baseball by the Minnesota Twins (Go Twins!)
What struck me about this family though was the list of priorities that they have for their lives.  Ask any of the Tuiasosopo children and you’ll get the same answer. In order of priority, their passions are faith, family, friends, school and, lastly, sports.
Click here to read an article about the family.
They understand that making it to the top of your chosen sport is nice.  But to live this life looking with hope toward eternity that lies ahead is the best.  That is where the relationship you have with God and the impact that relationship will have on others will be evident.   This story is about a family that, despite being raised amid professional sports, have managed to get their priorities straight.  What a great lesson.  They understand the importance of a relationship with God and want to impact the lives of those around them.

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The second story that I have for you today is about the San Diego Padres.  Heath Bell is the Padres closer, the one who “saves” the game.  This story talks about an important save that happened a couple of years ago in his life.  That is when he and his wife decided to choose to follow Christ with their life. He is a new believer, and I’ve often wondered, with the travel involved, as well as the celebrity, how possible is it for new believers in baseball circles, or other sports, to grow in their faith and understanding of God?  The baseball season stretches from April to October, which is half of the calendar year.  Sundays are days of the week that often seen every major league team in action.  That means that for half of the year, there isn’t an opportunity to go to church or be  part of an community of believers in a faith-building environment.  I came across a great organization that saw this need and decided to meet the need.

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Baseball Chapel is an organization that has taken on the responsibility of offering chapel services to all major and most minor league teams.  They offer Sunday chapel services to anyone who is interested in attentding.  Most of the time, they offer 3 separate services – one for each team and one for the umpires.  How important is this ministry?!  It gives a chance for community and faith building, encouragement, bible study, and spiritual growth.  If you want more information about this ministry, click the photo to the left.
And to see one of the baseball chapel staff in action and the players support of this organization, click this link and read the article from Sharing the Victory which talks about Heath Bell, as well as Adrian Gonzalez (now with my beloved Red Sox), Chase Headley, and Nick Hundley. 
I know that I for one will be praying for this ministry as it seeks to pour into these athletes and encourage them in their faith.  As I mentioned earlier,  Heath Bell is a new believer, and to know that there is an organization that is there to teach, disciple and encourage new believers like him shows that pro sports is a mission field and God’s people are going into the world and making these disciples.
 Keep up the great work Baseball chapel!

Soul Surfer Review

Just as I was entering the theater to watch Soul Surfer with my 5th/6th grade youth group (Club 56) I read a tweet from a  Greg Stier, president of  “Dare 2 Share” Ministries.  His take on the movie was that it was refreshing to go to a movie that was not only “good – you know, for a Christian movie” but  actually a good movie overall.  I agree with that take. 
It has been great to see that over the last decade or so, there is no step down in quality from “good music” to “Christian music”.  Christian Movies have not progressed as quickly, but there is hope.  I’m not going to tell you that it was the best movie that I have ever seen and deserves to be remembered at Oscar time, but there are a lot of movies that come to theaters that are not necessarily Oscar worthy.  It is easy, however to find enjoyable, well-done movies.

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That is where I put this one too.  It was an enjoyable story, uplifting and full of lessons to learn about  depending on God, persevering through hard times, getting some perspective that life that doesn’t revolve around you, and trusting God to bring good in situations that seem to have no good in them.  It was pretty well acted, the Hawaiian scenery was BEAUTIFUL, and the story engaging.  Time well spent with Club 56 and worth the time and money to go see.
And to be honest, it is because of this movie’s release that I even know about this story at all.  I remember vaguely hearing about a shark attacking a young surfer a few years back, but it had fallen well off of my radar in the years since this incident was in the media spotlight. See what I wrote about this story before seeing the movie here

Now that I am familiar with the story, it is great to see how Bethany Hamilton has dealt with the loss of her arm,  struggled to understand why, and decided what to do about it.  To see how she sees every day as an opportunity to tell others about how God is working in her and helping her live a life that honors Him.  

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As I have learned the story, it brought to mind another story of another Christian athlete.  He also suffered a grim incident.  His name is Dave Dravecky.  He was a star pitcher for the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.  He had been successful in his career.  Then, in 1988, cancer had been discovered in the deltoid muscle of his throwing arm.  He was told that only a miracle would allow him to pitch again.  The attention of the baseball world was firmly focused on him when miraculously, he made his return to pitch for the Giants less than 18 months later.  But it was short lived.  In a gruesome moment, his arm broke mid-pitch during his second game back. The cancer had returned and weakened the arm. Later that year, he announced his retirement from baseball at the age of 33.  His childhood dreams were over. He eventually had the arm amputated to stop cancer from spreading to the rest of his body.  Since that time, he has become a speaker and author, sharing his story to many different audiences.  He understands that God has given him a platform to share God’s love to others. I read his first 2 books when I was in high school, finding his story amazing and faith encouraging.  For more about Dave Dravecky, check out his web-site here

There are some similarities to their stories.  They have suffered agony, loss, dream-shattering reality and moments of doubt.  They are also similar in that they have since accepted their responsibility to use their fame and influence to share not only their stories – which are very Christ-centered, but also to offer insight and invitation for others to trust Jesus and live life for Him.

What a challenge from these 2 believers.  They’ve been through more than I can imagine.  Yet, they are ready to share the joy that is in their life, and point to the importance Christ plays in their lives.  God’s plan always is the best, and by challenging his children to go through hard times and depend only on God for solutions, even when it is hard, uncomfortable or scary we can be sure that God is with us.  We can overcome.  Press on to attain the prize for which God has called us heavenward. 

Play Ball! Seth Smith, Charlie Monfort, Dan O’Dowd and Adam Wainright

This is part 4 in my series about Christian baseball players sharing their faith.  Now, because the 2 major leagues are not balanced, there needs to be 1 week when I focus on 2 teams from the National League.  This is that week.  Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals step into my focus. 

First up we have the Colorado Rockies. 
Confession time… I love trivia!! I think it is cool to see the random connections that are out there. Click here and scroll down to the “personal life” part to see a really cool, random connection between Rockies OF, Seth Smith – and his Rockies Teammate Todd Helton, and the Manning brothers of NFL fame.

Now, more to the point of this series,  Seth Smith is a Christ-follower.  Click on his picture to read more about his faith and how it helps him face the trials and temptations that fame can bring
But Christian faith runs deeper than just the players on the team. 

 Their CEO (Charlie Monfort) is a Christian.  You can read/hear his story here.  Their General Manager Dan O’Dowd also is a believer who uses his faith to guide the decisions he makes about team personel. Players do not need to be Christ-followers to play for the Rockies, but he does seek players will integrity and moral strength (men of good character) to build his roster.  In the past, this has been rewarded by seeing players taking a stand in the club house to reduce or eliminate things like obsene music and pornographic magazines

The Rockies also have yearly “Faith Days” at Coors Field.  The way that these days work in baseball is after a game is played,there is a Christian music concert and a player or two will share a challenge or tell part of his faith story.  There is an organization called Third Coast Sports who organize these events with various professional and minor league sports,  Here is their website. 

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The other story for the day is that of Adam Wainright, of the St. Louis Cardinals.  He made a name for himself in his rookie season of 2006. 

He hit the first pitch he saw for a homerun – this is a rare enough feat but even moreso for a pitcher.
He made the team out of spring training and became the closer when an injury ro their regular closer gave that role to him. 

Well, as a rookie, he wound up as the pitcher who was on the mound for the final outs of the clinching games of the National League Divisional Series, the National League Championship Series, and the World Series.  He played a big role in  helping the Cards win the championship.

The next year, he moved into the starting rotation, where he continued to excel, even landing on a video game cover.  Last year, he finished 2nd in the Cy Young Award voting, given to the best pitcher in each league.

This year, he was expected to compete for the award again, and lead his team back to the playoffs.  But, it was not to be.  In his first batting practice throwing session, he felt discomfort in his arm. it turned out to be something serious.  He had major surgery to deal with the issue which  ended his season, and may delay the start of next year for him. Recovery time is generally 12-15 months.  It is a major injury and brings in some light shades of doubt about whether he will return to his star form. 

I recently read a couple of blog posts written by Adam Wainright.  He talks first on the struggle of dealing with this injury, and then on the peace that he now feels.  He knows that even though it is hard, that God can ultimately bring about good from this challenge.  Check it out by following this link. 

It is refreshing to hear firsthand about how God is using this time to challenge Adam and draw him closer.  It can be hard to remember, but it is wonderful to think that God cares more about our hearts and our relationship with him then our worldly success.  In the end, God’s plan is always best, and the lessons and equipping we recieve, God can use down the road.  The post is in his own words and there is a challenge for us all to take.  Thanks Adam for sharing from your heart about what God is doing and teaching you.

Again, let me know what you think, and if you have any more cool stories that you want to share about athletes living their faith out for all to see.


Play Ball! Jeremy Affeldt

OK, bonus coverage time.  This is part 3 in my series about Christian Baseball players. The plan is to share the story of at least one player on each big league team in the coming weeks.  So far, I have been writing about players in the Western Division of each league.  I have already shared a story of a member of the San Francisco Giants, but hey,  I found another great representation of God’s work being carried out by another member of the Giants pitching staff, and so I want to draw your attention to it as well.

Jeremy Affeldt has been in the majors for about 10 years and has pitched for 4 different teams.   From his blog, in his words:

I have an organization called Generation Alive! that focuses on my heart’s passion: seeing youth learn about the love of Jesus.  I read and study a lot about global problems of poverty and slavery, and I want to stir a movement.  I want to see all the churches in America devote themselves in faith to ending these injustices.
I know we can do it.  If God shows you a problem, he also shows you how to fix it.  Join me in making this movement real.
To check out more of his heart, and what he is up to, including a recent CNN interview about his passion to combat child slavery, check out his website/blog.

Play Ball! Clayton Kershaw and Eric Chavez

The baseball season is a week old, and my beloved Red Sox are not getting any numbers put up in the right column yet.  0-6 start is not what I had in mind.  Aren’t we glad that our favorite team’s success is not the be-all and end-all of our lives.  There are more important things.  It just doesn’t always seem like it.

In any case, here is part two of my series on Major league baseball players and some of the cool things that God is leading them to do.

We continue our trek through the Western divisions of both leagues.  This time, with stops in Los Angeles and Oakland.

I came across a story of LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.  He was their opening day starter  this year – the ace of their staff, and has been making a name for himself over the 2+ years that he has been pitching in the majors.  He recently got married and he and his wife are actively supporting an orphanage in Zambia through an organization called “Arise Africa”.  For more on his story, Click here or on his photo to the left.  He spent some time in Zambia at the orphanage that he is supporting, and has vowed to donate $100 / strikeout this year to help them out.

I will also link to arise africa’s blog and Kershaw’s Challenge so you can see for yourself the goals that they have set and the needs that are out there.  I for one will be cheering for lots of strikeouts for Clayton Kershaw.

And speaking of having an impact on the world around us.  I want to draw your attention a little to the north of LA, to the Oakland area.
 I spent 2 years teaching Children’s ministry workshops around the US, and one of the churches we did a workshop both times was Abundant Life Fellowship in Roseville CA.  From this church came an outreach idea that is impacting the lives of young people in many places around the country.  It is an organization called Lord’s Gym.  They started when (from their website)

The Dream began twelve years ago in the heart of Doug Bird, Senior Pastor of  Abundant Life Fellowship in Roseville. When he drove through the city, he didn’t see a place, a safe haven, a youth center where young people could go and hang out. He did not see a place where young people could go and be inspired to live their dreams and achieve their goals.

So the dream was set in motion and a first youth center was opened.

They now have 15 locations around the country, offering youth a place to come, work out, and encounter Christ.

The Oakland A’s have joined in this outreach, promoting it, supporting it and seeing the important place it has in the area.  You can check out some of the promotional videos, etc by clicking here.

One of the faces on the videos, Eric Chavez, is no longer with the team.  He signed on to play with the New York Yankees, but he also is taking an active part in influencing the youth of America through baseball by providing equipment and opportunities to play.  Check out his website here to see what he is all about.

As a Red Sox fan, It is hard for me to cheer for any yankee.  But I think he has a great thing going on here and I support it by letting you know about it too!