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.

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.

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.


Jerry Narron


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.


Hamilton & Johnny Narron


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. 


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.