In 1994, the Christian band Newsboys recorded a song called “Shine”. In the first verse of the song, the lyrics say “The truth is in. The proof is when you hear your heart start asking`what’s my motivation'”. Those words came quickly to mind when I started looking in to the story of St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. Carpenter was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. That qualifies him as a long-shot to make it to the pros. But he did make it to the pros. He made his debut just 2 years after being drafted. He would play seven games with the Cardinals that year but received a World Series Championship ring as part of the team that beat the Texas Rangers thanks to the heroics of David Freese (whom I blogged about a couple years ago). The next season, he appeared in 114 games, mostly off the bench, playing 5 different positions. He finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.
The next season, Carpenter continued to build on his resume, taking over second base for the cardinals, winning a Silver Slugger award and being named an All-Star. He finished 4th in National League MVP voting while leading the league in hits and doubles. He has appeared in 2 more All-Star games since, and has helped his team reach the post season in 4 of the last 5 seasons. That is a great result for someone who wondered after his final college game, if he had played his last game of baseball ever. Check out this video from “The Increase” to learn more about Carpenter’s story.
Carpenter had played baseball for most of his life, and had “always one of the better players on my team”. He expected college to be a simple stepping stone to professional baseball. In “Intentional Walk” by Rob Rains, we read about Carpenter, who had grown up in a Christian home and had been baptized at 12, struggled with college life. He says “I said I was a Christian, but when I went off to college , I kind of became a normal college student and made lots of bad decisions, selfish decisions.” His Junior year brought a torn ligament that cost him the season and as a result, the chance to be drafted. His coach at TCU offered a choice. Go through the motions of rehab, finish out your career and be done with baseball, or work extra hard at rehabbing the arm and at baseball in general and see what could be out there for you. Carpenter opted for the hard work. He worked to rehab his arm and at the start of his next baseball season, he felt great. But in his words from the video “I was awful”.
Carpenter was distraught. He shared how he didn’t understand what the problem was. He had reestablished his faith in God, he was reading his bible – why was baseball not working out better? Then came the realization “This isn’t about me.” He played his final season in college with new understanding of what surrendering to God really meant. And he walked off the field after his last game okay with the idea that baseball may be over for him.
But it wasn’t the end for him. The Cardinals took a chance on him with the late draft pick and he would pay dividends for them. He had realized that he had no control over baseball, and no control over the game of life. The only thing he could control is where he put his faith.
Also an interesting part of Carpenter’s story is the role that former Major League outfielder Torii Hunter played in his development. Hunter’s sons were playing high school baseball for Carpenter’s dad and so Torii became aware of Matt Carpenter, too. And Hunter invited Matt to come and work out at a top flight facility, paying the expensive costs for Carpenter to participate. You can read about it in this article from mlb.com.
Here are my takeaways from Carpenter’s story:
1- What’s My Motivation – At the start of the post, I referenced the Newsboys song. That question of “What’s my motivation” is an important one to ask. Carpenter talked about how he expected the rest of life to line up and go right when he started following God. And in some ways, it does that, but following God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go as we imagine it should. God isn’t concerned with our success as the world sees it. He is only concerned with the depth of our trust in Him and will we continue to follow Him when things don’t go as we think they should. We are not promised an easy road or even a measure of worldly success. If that is the motivation that we have for living for Him then we are not truly living for Him, we are still living for ourselves. And while living for Him is the best thing for US, it doesn’t mean that life will go as we want it to. In fact, I would say that living for Him puts us in a place where we are vulnerable to attack because Satan wants to trip us up, knock us down and keep us from moving forward. So what is your motivation for following God. Will you trust Him even when things don’t go well for us? No matter what comes our way, He is the solid rock we can hold onto.
2- Seeing Potential – Torii Hunter invited Carpenter to come and work out at a top facility. He even paid the way for Carpenter to attend. Why would he do this? Because he saw the potential in Carpenter. This is a small reflection of what God does for us. He sees potential in us. In fact, He created us with the potential to accomplish amazing things for Him. And like Hunter paid the fee for Carpenter to go to the elite workout facility, Jesus paid the ultimate cost to cover us so that we could reach the potential that He sees in us. Carpenter would have been foolish to say no thanks to the workout opportunity Hunter offered and we are foolish to say no thanks to the offer of eternal life and God’s Spirit coming to live in us. Yet many do. Let’s take full advantage of the opportunity God offers and invite others to accept his offer too.