Peter Bourjos – Proverbs 3:5

 

Peter Bourjos

Former Los Angeles Angel’s outfielder, Peter Bourjos.  Photo by Keith Allison 

Before there was Mike Trout, there was Peter Bourjos.

 

Before Trout lit up centerfield at Angel Stadium with highlight plays, Bourjos was the exciting center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Going into the 2010 season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the #2 prospect in the Angels system.  He made his major league debut in August that year.  His career really took off in 2011.  He hit .271 with 12 HR and 22 stolen bases.  He also tied Austin Jackson for the American League lead in triples with 11.  He appeared to have a bright future ahead of him, plaBeying for the Angels.  The 2012 Baseball Prospectus said of his spectacular defense; “Bourjos covered so much ground as a center fielder that is sometimes backfired early in the season.  His corner outfielders, unaccustomed to flanking a player with such range, sometimes weren’t giving way to Bourjos, while other times they flinched or back away at his mere approach.  The turf war ended around June, when Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells learned what we all learned; When Peter Bourjos is chasing a ball, it’s more fun to just watch.”

In 2012, the outfield in the Big A was getting full.  The Angels had All-Stars Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter manning the corners, super prospect Mike Trout slated for centerfield, and Kendrys Morales taking more of the bats at DH.  Suddenly, playing time was difficult to come by.  To make matters worse, in September, Bourjos was hit by a pitch, and suffered wrist soreness.

In 2013, Bourjos had another opportunity.  Hunter had signed with the Tigers and Morales had been traded to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Jason Vargas, leaving the Angels outfield a lot less crowded.  Through June 29, Bourjos was batting .333, Trout was moved mostly to left field, and Bourjos was receiving regular playing time in center again.  He then, however, was hit by a pitch in his wrist again, this time breaking it.  That season would be his last in an Angel’s uniform.  In November, he was traded, along with Randal Grichuk, to the St. Louis Cardinals for third baseman David Freese and pitcher Fernando Salas.

While Bourjos may have planned on being an Angel, God had other plans.  Bourjos explained to Rob Maaddi in Baseball Faith: 52 MLB Stars Reflect on their Faith; “I grew up Catholic.  It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously, but I don’t think a lot of kids enjoy going to church.  When I got to St. Louis and met a lot of Christian players on the team, we would have Bible study once a week.  That kind of got me going again and following Christ, and that changed my life.  Things happen for a reason.  When I got traded to the Cardinals, I didn’t understand what that reason was; but when I left, I realized it was to bring me closer to Christ and get me back going to church and believing again.”

One of Bourjos’ favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 3:5; Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  He says that “this verse helps me calm down.  There’s so much going on in baseball and in life that you can’t control, so when I read this verse, it puts me at peace.  It puts everything in perspective for me.”

After the 2015 season, Bourjos’ time with the Cardinals came to an end.  He was claimed off of waivers by the Phillies, with whom he spent the 2016 season.  Prior to the 2017 season, he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox, who traded him before the season began to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Vogt – Colossians 3:23

Stephen Vogt

Oakland Athletic’s Cather, Stephen Vogt – photo by Keith Allison

No one ever seemed to notice Stephen Vogt.

Vogt grew up in Visalia, southern California city just south of Fresno.  His father, Randy, was a coach for Fresno State.  Stephen attended Central Valley Christian, a relatively small private school.  Though he had a solid high school career – including stealing 58 bases, he received very little attention from schools, outside of a few local community colleges.

There was one exception.  A small Christian university near Los Angeles, called Azusa Pacific University.  Though, the truth is, they didn’t really notice Vogt either.  While most people at Azusa Pacific had never heard of Stephen Vogt, one of their coaches was charged with finding ten players to recommend.  Vogt was one of the ten.  The coaches quickly did their research, and were impressed.

Vogt enrolled at Azusa Pacific, and had a stellar career.  While it certainly wasn’t the biggest school, attending Azusa Pacific turned out to be a huge blessing.  Vogt explained in an interview with the Alabama Baptist (subscription required); “I came into my faith.  I just kind of took it for granted until I got to college.  Being a Christian is not easy.  If it were easy, everybody would do it.  You are held to live to God’s standards of the world.”

Vogt not only grew in his faith – he also grew as a player.  He had been so successful that, by the end of his junior year, he thought we would be headed to the pros.  Just before the draft, coach Paul Svagdis went to a local sporting goods store, purchased every major league cap he could find, hoping that he had found the one for the team that would draft Vogt.  He didn’t.  By the end of the draft, no one had selected him.

That didn’t stop young Stephen Vogt.  If no one had noticed him before, he’d make sure they knew his name by the next draft.  Vogt came back for his senior year and put together an incredible season.  He hit .476, slugged .784, hit 14 homers, and drew just 17 strikeouts in 227 at bats.  That’s the type of season that usually makes you a high draft pick.

It didn’t.  Vogt was considered to have mediocre physical tools, questionable defense, and was downgraded for having played for a smaller college program.  He wasn’t drafted until the 12th round of the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

As usual, Vogt worked extremely hard.  In his first minor league season he hit .300 while playing short season single A ball.  The next season, he moved up to full season single A and hit .291.

But then 2009 happened.  In his second full minor league season, Vogt suffered a torn labrum.  Again, Vogt saw God at work in an unexpected way in his life.  He says, “God definitely took baseball away from me on purpose.  Baseball was becoming too much in my life.  I was not Stephen Vogt the man of God.  I was Stephen Vogt the baseball player.  God really tested me to see where my alliances were.  I learned my identity is not what I do for a living; it’s who I am as a person.  Baseball doesn’t define me.”

Vogt came back in 2010, and hit an impressive .345 in the Single A – Advanced level.  Still, however, scouts were largely unimpressed.  At 25, he was old for the level he was in, and was still criticized for his defense.

But, in 2011, he continued to hit in AA, hitting .301, and finally attracted some attention.  He saw success in AAA in 2012, and the big leagues were just around the corner.

He finally reached the majors with Tampa in 2013, but, for the first time in his young career, he struggled.  He saw only 25 at bats in the 4 months he spent on the roster.  In those 25 at bats, he didn’t record a single hit.  With a lifetime batting average of .000 after his first season, the Rays designated him for assignment.  Vogt had gone from unnoticed to unwanted.

That summer, Vogt received a phone call that would change his life.  He’d learned that his contract had been purchased by the Oakland Athletics for a measly $150,000.

In Oakland, everything changed.  It took some time, but Vogt eventually became a key part of the A’s team.  He was selected to the American League All-Star team in both 2015 and 2016.  He also received the A’s “Dave Stewart and Jim “Catfish” Hunter award, which recognizes service in the Oakland community, and was nominated by the A’s for Major League Baseballs Roberto Clemente Award, which is awarded to the player who best represents baseball through contributions on and off the field.  His hard work has paid off!

One of the keys behind Vogt’s success has been continuing to put in hard work, even when no one seemed to notice.  His favorite Bible verse is Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord, and not for man.  He explains; “Every morning I try to ask myself – and I’m not always good at it – “what can I do to further the kingdom of God?  I am not living for me.  I am living for my family and for the Lord.  We live for a greater purpose.  As baseball players, we are put on a pedestal.  We are viewed as celebrities, which we are not.  A lot of kids want to be like us.  Unfortunately there are some bad examples in this game, but as much as possible, I try to be involved with fans and with kids and give back.”

There’s a lesson for all of us in Stephen Vogt’s story.  We’re called to do our best for God, even when no one else is watching.  We don’t perform for them; we perform for Him!

Chris Heisey – Philippians 2:3-4

Chris Heisey

Chris Heisey of the Washington Nationals – photo by Keith Allison

At the time of this post, the Washington Nationals are in the 2016 Divisional Playoffs, one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.  It’s a glorious time to be a Washington National.

But for National’s outfielder Chris Heisey, life hasn’t always been glorious.  He has a different word he uses to describe his roots; humble.

Chris Heisey considers himself to be a regular kid from a regular family.  He grew up in Mount Joy, PA and was the son of two loving Christian parents, Craig and Linda.  Heisey says of his childhood in an interview with Beyond the Ultimate; “I grew up going to church every Sunday.  Ever since I can remember, even when I’d wake up to go to school, my mom would have a Bible verse on the table with the Bible flipped open.  So it was a non-stop reminder of who I was living for, and how to represent Christ as I was going to school or going to hand out with my friends.”

Growing up, sports always played a large role in Chris’ life.  “I had a bat in my hand when I was about two years old, and my parents were a big part of introducing me to sports and being active.”  Chris played baseball in high school and was the top player on his team, but he never really caught anyone’s attention.  He didn’t receive any Division I scholarship offers.  He wasn’t attracting big league scouts.  A career in baseball wasn’t even on his radar.

Instead, Heisey planned to go to a nearby Christian college, Messiah College.  He hoped to play baseball while he attended school, graduate, and become an elementary school teacher.  Seeking the glory of Major League Baseball wasn’t even on his radar.

It was Heisey’s best friend and college teammate who had the big dreams.  He wanted to make it to the majors and play for the Padres.  He went to open tryout camps the summer after he and Heisey’s freshmen year to try to garner some attention from pro scouts.  Heisey went along with him.

The following summer, Heisey learned that he’d been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 17th Round of the 2006 Amateur Baseball Draft.  Heisey recalls; It was a shock; I didn’t expect it to happen.  It was something I prayed about, and felt like I might not get the opportunity ever again to go after this dream.  I decided, ‘Hey, this may end up working out.  I may get to play in the big leagues.’  He added in an interview with Steve King for his Messiah College newspaper; “You have [to] work hard and keep Christ as your focus.  To be honest, I didn’t’ think I had much of [a] shot to be an MLB player, but I continued to work hard.  If you fall short, you’ll still end up in a great place with Christ as the center.”

Just like his amateur career, his minor league career got off to a humble beginning.  He was far from appearing on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect lists.  He didn’t even appear on Cincinnati Reds top 30 lists.  He flew under the radar for several seasons in the lower levels of the Reds organization.

That all changed in 2009.  Heisey hit a combined .314 with 22 home runs, 77 RBIs and a .900 OPS.  His performance led him to win the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as the Reds minor league player of the year.  In 2010, Heisey’s distant dream of becoming a Major League baseball became a reality; from humble beginnings to the big show.

But one thing that never changed was the humility.  Throughout his career, Heisey has been continually complemented on his character.  Jamie Ramsey of mlb.com says of him; “He’s an honest and wholesome man, a man of God, who feels he can also do better in life.  Humble, yet competitive, Heisey has the qualities of a Frank Capra character- a role model, not just for kids, but for adults alike.”  When Heisey was playing for the Reds, the Red Reporter blog informed their readers that “aside from his still-emerging talent, Reds fans should feel privileged to root for Heisey, who exudes humility and class.”  Even Heisey’s High School basketball team bus driver had the desire to chime in; “Chris is such an inspiration to all who know him… not because he is a major league baseball player, but because he is a good man, [and an] awesome son who helps his mom every chance he gets… [a] devoted husband to his wife Lisa and great friend all around.  His humble attitude is real folks… what you see is what you get with Chris… They don’t come any better!”

Humility is important to Heisey.  He told Beyond the Ultimate that one of his favorite Bible verses is Philippians 2:3-4; Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  He explains; Being humble is something that we’re called to do.  It’s pretty easy for me not to have a ‘big head’ because I’m just Chris Heisey, the same guy who was going to college to become a school teacher.  Just because I happened to get lucky and worked hard and got to the big leagues doesn’t mean I need to change that.”  Deep down, Heisey feels like the same guy he was when his baseball life humbly began in Mount Joy, PA.  He told Messiah College Assistant Athletic Director Cory Furman; “I’m not good at estimating, but I figure I’ve signed over 15,000 autographs during all of this.  I just don’t understand why anyone would want my autograph.  Because I can hit a ball?  It seems to me we should be getting the autographs of teachers, who make a difference to so many people, or doctors who save peoples’ lives.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the quest for glory.  Chris Heisey sets a beautiful example for us that we should all strive instead to be humility.  After all, that’s what Jesus did.  Philippians 2 goes on to say; Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.   That’s humility.  Jesus did nothing for His own glory, but gave up everything to save you!  May we all live for others as Jesus lived and died for us!

 

Ryan Vogelsong – Isaiah 41:10, 13

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Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong – photo by Dirk Hansen

Life is full of ups and down; highs and lows.  Just ask Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong was drafted in the 5th round of the 1998 amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants.  Two years later, he made his major league debut at only 22 years old.  His young career was off to a great start.

The 2001 season, however, didn’t go so well.  After compiling an 0-3 record and a 5.65 ERA, Vogelsong was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deal that brought All Star pitcher Jason Schmidt to the Giants.  The year finished worse than it had started, as Vogelsong only managed to last 6 innings over his 2 starts, compiling an 0-2 record and a 12.00 ERA.  He spent most of the next two seasons playing minor league ball in Pirates organization.

In 2004, Vogelsong got another chance to prove himself.  But, in 31 appearances (26 starts) he compiled a 6.50 ERA.  For the next two seasons, Vogelsong pitched out of the bullpen.  That appeared to be the end of his major league career.  He spent the next three seasons pitching in Japan, and split 2010 between the minor leagues and Venezuelan league.

While he was in Venezuela, Vogelsong met two very important people; San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens and Giants minor league instructor Guillermo Rodriguez.  The two coaches saw a changed man and a better pitcher than the pitcher who last played for San Francisco nine years earlier.  Rodriguez called the major league organization and encouraged them to bring him on board as an emergency starter who could be stashed at Triple-A.

Sure enough, in April, 2011, Giant’s pitcher Barry Zito suffered an injury, and emergency backup Ryan Vogelsong was called up.  He never looked back.  He went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA, which earned him a spot on the National League All Star Team for the first time at age 33.  He’d go on to pitch out of the Giants rotation over the next 4 seasons, winning 2 World Series rings with the team.  His Giants career came to an end in 2015, at which point he signed once again with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Vogelsong’s Christian faith played a key role in helping him keep it together through the trials and tribulations of his career.  He has a profound trust in God and deep love for the Bible.  At the Giant’s annual Faith Day in 2014, Vogelsong chose to talk about the Bible;

“It’s so funny to me that we have this great book, the Bible, and it tells us exactly what we need to know.   If you pick it up and you read it and take time to understand it, it tells us so many things in there about what we need to do.  And He tells us, all we have to do is pray and be thankful and He’ll give us whatever we need.  And it might not be without trials and tribulations and ups and downs. But at the end of the day, if we’re faithful and we believe, it’s gonna be there.

You know, we have all these apps now you can pull up an app and figure out how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  You know, there’s book, how to do this and how to do that.  I just think it’s funny because the Bible’s been doing that forever!  You know, it’s been the guide [to] tell us what to do forever.  And I put a couple of verses down here that I go to a lot when things aren’t going good, when things are going good.

And there’s a couple that I go to pretty much before every game.  Before I walk out on the field, one of the last things I do is pick up my phone.  My teammates probably think I’m texting my wife or something, but I’m reading Bible verses.  And it’s funny because, all these, what I’m saying is all these verses are in the Bible.  All you have to do is look them up.  They’re right there.

The first one that I love; Isaiah 41:10; So do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  I mean, that speaks to you that He’s gonna be for there and hold you up no matter what.

Then, Isaiah 41:13.  For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you.  Do not fear I will help you.  Anything that you’re going through, anything, He’s there.  All you have to do is trust and believe and ask Him for your help.

Then, Philippians 4:13.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.  2012 World Series, people, I prayed that every single day.

Then the one – the best one of all, Luke 1:37. For nothing is impossible with God.

What other book do you need to read that can lead you to where you want to be?  He is there for you.  He’s waiting for you.  He’s waiting for you to empty your life to Him so He can help you and take control and guide you…

Pick up that Bible and read it and let your heart open up because He will guide you.  He guided me and I’m so happy I opened it up again.”

 

If you would like to watch the video of Vogelsong’s speech at the August 16, 2014 Fellowship Day at AT&T Park, follow the link here

 

Chris Coghlan – Ephesians 2:8

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Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs.  Photo by John

Chris Coghlan’s life was an ugly mess.

It hadn’t started that way.   Chris was born in 1985, in Rockville, Maryland, to loving parents Tim and Heather Coghlan.  His dad was a police officer.  His mother was a teacher.  They were both hard workers.  Chris had good relationship with his brother, Kevin, and his sisters Katie and Kelly.  When Chris was 9, he moved with his family to Florida.  They were a regular, blue collar family, who loved each other and enjoyed life.

On June 5th, 2001, that all changed.  One evening, Chris was out, having just finished exams, and came home to find a large group of family and friends gathered in his home.  One look at his mother’s face, and he knew right away that something was wrong – that something had happened to his father.  He soon heard the tragic news that his father had been killed in a car accident.

From that moment, his life because an ugly mess.  His once happy home was now filled with tears and sadness.  He didn’t want to be there, so he found a place of refuge; the baseball field.  He recalls in an interview with I AM SECOND, that he would hide out there for hours, just “hitting, and fielding, and hitting, and hitting, and hitting.”  But that couldn’t fill the void in his heart.  When he turned 16, he started drinking.  He started feeling entitled and acting selfishly – like the world owed him something.  He began making bad decisions.  He recalls; “My dad had always taught me what was right and wrong, but I felt like this excuse that everybody felt sorry for me; that I could do whatever I wanted because I had the best excuse.  My world sucked at that time, so I just kept playing baseball and I kept doing the same thing.”

On the inside, Coghlan was an ugly mess.  But on the baseball field, everything looked beautiful.  Coghlan was a star on the field and he was rewarded for it.  In 2003, he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round of the draft.  He opted not to sign, and instead to accept a scholarship to the University of Mississippi.  He put together a pristine baseball resume; SEC All Freshman team in 2004.  SEC All-Conference second team in 2005.  NCAA 3rd team All-American in 2006.   Then, in 2006, Coghlan was drafted again – this time in the 1st Round by the Florida Marlins.  His dream had come true, and he thought he had everything he wanted.  His success continued, earning him his first invitation to Major League camp for Spring Training in 2008.  Everything seemed beautiful.

It wasn’t.

One night, Coghlan was out late drinking.  He says that – even though he was a professional baseball player with a bright future in front of him, he was so insecure that he had to get drunk just to approach a girl.  He was terrified of being rejected.  He came to camp the next day hung over, reeking of booze, and feeling awful.  Unable to concentrate, he was goofing around, and tried to throw a curve ball – a pitch he doesn’t know how to throw.  The ball sailed out of his hand, flew 90 feet or so away, and hit All-Star Second Baseman Dan Uggla in the cup.  He got yelled out.  He suddenly couldn’t field.  He couldn’t hit.  The next day, he got sent down to the minors.  The one word he used to describe himself was this; “empty.”

Chris Coghlan’s life was an ugly mess.  But God was about to do something beautiful.

Coghlan was walking through the clubhouse one day during minor league camp when he saw teammate Daron Roberts doing something unexpected.  He was carrying a Bible.  “I asked him, I said, ‘what are you reading,’ but I knew he was reading a Bible – I just wanted to see if he was realling going to tell me “yes, I’m reading a Bible.’   He said, ‘are you a man of faith?’  And I said, I’m not.  I believe that there’s a God, but by no means and I living for Him.”

Later that day, Coghlan was out on one of the back fields.  He had chosen not to wear his cleats.  His coach called him out on it, but Coghlan wasn’t about to go run all the way across the fields to get his cleats.  But then, Daron Roberts did something else unexpected.  He ran all the way back to the clubhouse, got Coghlan’s cleats, and ran them all the way back to him.  Coghlan was baffled.  Why would someone he didn’t even know do something like that?  He knew Roberts was different.  He just didn’t know why.

Robert’s act of kindness led to a brief conversation about family.  That conversaton led to an invitation to dinner on St. Patrick’s Day.  That St. Patrick’s Day dinner led to a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  That cup of coffee led to a two hour conversation about the Word of God.

Many Bible Verses were read at that Starbucks.  One of them was Ephesians 2:8.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works so no one can boast.’  Coghlan explained in an interview with Bruce Darnall; That was a huge turning point for me.  Everywhere in this world the message is you have to earn your way to ‘wherever.’  So it seemed just too easy for this great gift of heaven that God promises, but I wanted it.”

That conversation changed Coghlan’s life.  As Coghlan explained in his I AM SECOND interview; “I realized at that time that I wanted God.  I wanted Jesus.  I wanted Him in my life.  I was tired of chasing the wind.  I was tired of chasing these temporary satisfactions that I was having and realizing that every night I really had an empty feeling.  I had an empty feeling inside and I was trying to fill this void with these earthly things – with baseball…  And I wanted God and I wanted Jesus…”

Chris Coghlan was a changed man!  On May 8, 2009, he made his major league debut.  By the end of the season, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year!

Chris Coghlan’s life had once been an ugly mess.  Now?  In a way, it still is.  Coghlan explained to Blessed 2 Play; “I still have sin.  I still have things that I desire for my flesh…  It’s not a testament of what I’ve done…”   He added in an interview with Tom Rust at Face to Face; “To God, it’s not about performing.  And that’s what I love about God.  I just thank Him that He loves all of us so much that He doesn’t love us based on our performance.  Whether I get 3 hits or whether I do something wrong or sin, or whatever it is,   It’s not a performance based love.  And unfortunately, as humans, we love on performance, and that is what is so great about God’s grace and love is that He doesn’t work on that same frequency.

Coghlan came to learn that God loves us, not because of how  beautifully we may live, but in spite of our sin.  He explained to Bruce Darnell; “There is a price to be paid for our sin, and Jesus Christ paid the price on the Cross.  It is a free gift of salvation…  You can do nothing to pretty yourself.  God loves you right where you are.  Let God do the work in your heart…  The Lord has just done mighty things in my life by chiseling away at my heart, revealing sin to me.  I just prayed for new convictions.  It has been a tough journey, but I feel that is the Christian life.  I am grateful that I am one of His!” 

As sinners, each of us is an ugly mess who can do nothing to pretty ourselves. But, by His death on the cross for us, Jesus has washed away all of our filthy, dirty, ugly sin, and has made us beautiful in God’s sight!  No matter how ugly and worthless you may feel on the inside, that’s how you look to God!  God’s children are described in the Bible this way in 1 Peter 2:4; rejected by men, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious.

Jeanmar Gomez – Joshua 1:9

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Unlikely Closer Jeanmar Gomez.  Photo by Erik Drost

Jeanmar Gomez was not supposed to be the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016.

It was supposed to be Ken Giles.  But in December of 2015, Giles was traded to the Houston Astros for a group of prosects which included Vince Velasquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, and Harold Arauz.  After Giles was traded, the Phillies found themselves in need of a new closer.

The new closer was supposed to be David Hernanez.  Hernandez got his crack at the job on Opening Day against the Reds.  He entered the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead, only to allow 3 runs without recording a single out.

Perhaps, then, it would be Dalier Hinojosa.  Hinojosa got his opportunity the on the second game of the season.  He also entered the game with a 2-1 lead over the Reds.  His resultes weren’t much better, as he recorded only one out before allowing 2 runs.

Perhaps the Phillies closer would be Andrew Bailey or Edward Mujica.  Only, after rough springs, neither of them made the big league club.

Perhaps it would be Hector Neris.  Maybe James Russell.

Or, better yet, perhaps it would just be better not to even have one!  John Stolnis of the Phillie’s blog “The Good Phight,” wrote an article in March entitled “Phillies closer-less bullpen can kill the “save.”  He quoted Phillies manager Pete Mackanin as saying this; “Unless I’m 100 percent sure about somebody that I want to call a closer, I’m not going to call anybody a closer.  When you think about it, a closer is somebody you can count on in the ninth inning…  We probably have one.  I’m hoping we have one.  But I’m not going to name one right now.  Just to call a guy a closer doesn’t mean anything.”  Maybe “no one” was better than the options they had.

It turns, though, that Mackinin did have a closer in his clubhouse.  He had a guy he could count on in the ninth.  He had a guy who would become only the 11th man in Phillies history to record 30 saves.  Mackinin had Jeanmar Gomez.

You can’t really fault Mackinin for not seeing what he head in Gomez.  He lacks the typical characteristics closers usually possess.  While most closers have dominant fastballs, Stolnis wrote of Gomez in the preseason; “Jeanmar Gomez doesn’t have the stuff to close…”  While many closers are strikeout pitchers, Gomez is more of a ground ball pitcher.  Pitching coach Bob McClure says of him; “To me, he’s almost like a strikeout pitcher.  With a strikeout pitcher, you’re always thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a strikeout here and be out of trouble.’ With Jeanmar, you’re thinking ‘All right, he’ll get a ground ball, we’ll get a double play and be out of trouble.’ That’s how well he commands his sinker.”  While many closers have fiery personalities, Gomez is one of the quietest guys in the clubhouse.  Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly says of him; “if humility were a fastball, he’d hit triple digits on the radar gun.” While many closers pump themselves up with heavy metal or energetic hip-hop, Gomez relies on light Christian rock.

Gomez doesn’t have your typical closer stuff.  What he does have, though, is a quiet calm about him.  Jim Salisbury said of him, Gomez has another weapon as closer: his composure.  The ninth inning can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned baseball man.  Sometimes you wonder if Gomez even has a pulse.

Where does it all come from?  Where does Gomez find his strength and his peace?  It all comes from God!  Gomez confesses; “I’m a quiet guy, but I trust in God, and He does the rest.” Before coming to the mound, he says a prayer.  I ask God to take control.  That enables me to stay calm.  Gomez also reads the Bible every day.  One of his favorite passages is Josua 1:9; Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  He explains that “when you have Jesus in your heart you have to be humble.  When He came to earth He wanted simplicity for us.  That enables you to serve others.

Gomez’ story teaches us a valuable truth about Jesus.  Going into the season, no one seemed to recognize who he was or what he could do.  When Jesus began His ministry, few seemed to recognize who He was or what He was going to do either.  As Isaiah 53:2 says about Him; For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form of majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.  And yet, Jesus remained strong and courageous.  He calmly and faithfully did the work that God sent Him to accomplish, living the perfect life and going to the cross to pay for our sins.  And, as Gomez does, Jesus did in quietly.  Isaiah 53:7 goes on to say of Jesus; He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

Calmly, faithfully, quietly, Jesus closed out our salvation.  He won for us eternal life dying on the cross to pay for our sins and conquering our death.  Eternal life became a sure thing as Jesus declared a closer’s words with His dying breath; it is finished!

Collin McHugh – Jeremiah 29:12-15

Collin McHugh delivers a pitch during ALDS Game 1.

Collin McHugh of the Houston Astros – photo by Arturo Pardavila III

Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Venezuela.

10 States.  2 Countries.  Packing and moving 19 different times.

Collin McHugh’s situation wasn’t exactly what you would call stable.

McHugh was drafted by the New York Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 amateur draft.  With that, the whirlwind began.  He spent the next five years moving up and down within the Met’s farm system.  He played in Kingsport, TN; Brooklyn, NY; Savannah, GA; Port St. Lucie, FL; Birmingham, NY; Buffalo, NY; Las Vegas, NV; not to mention Fall ball in Peoria, AZ and Winter League in Caracas, Venezuelez.  It was exhausting.  He almost quit.  McHugh said in an interview with Sports Spectrum; “I was just tired and lonely, and over it.  I was just sitting there on my front porch and was thinking to myself, ‘This is it, I’ve got my bags packed and I’m ready to go.’”  McHugh’s wife, family, and friends encouraged him otherwise.  “Stick it out through the rest of this year. “Re-evaluate once the season is over.”  McHugh took their advice, and eventually was rewarded with some playing time with the Mets.  Only, it didn’t last.

In 2013, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies, and the carousel of his life started all over again.  Over next 6 months, he’d hop back and forth between from Tulsa, OK, Colorado Springs, and the big league Rockies in Denver.

It was tough.  He missed his family and friends.  He missed birthdays and weddings; the birth of his niece.  But, most of all, he missed his wife, Ashley.  “Most of all, it’s guilt…  It just starts to wear on you after a while; and when things are going poorly on the field, that’s when everything starts to culminate.”

McHugh’s Christian Faith helped him get through the hard times.  One of the Bible passages he clung to most was Jeremiah 29:12-15; “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”

I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you.  Places like Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and Venezuela.

“For me, it always came back to the promise in Jeremiah, and a promise in my life that He has proved over and over again in every big decision I’ve had to make.  When God says, ‘Seek me with all of your heart,’ literally every big decision I’ve had to make—where I’m asking God for wisdom for just a clear head about things—it always comes back to, ‘Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart, and I will be found by you.’ Just the idea that God is never far off—His answer is never far off, even if things look super weird, like nothing is ever going to work out, the reality is that we will always have that line of communication with Him. It’s never cloaked, and it’s not conditional; it’s just the best, and it’s better than anything you can ask for. For me, that’s something I’ve always been able to go back to.”

God’s answer wasn’t far off.  In the winter of 2013, God called Collin McHugh out of exile.  In December, McHugh was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros, and his life changed forever.  After a quick AAA stint in Oklahoma City, he was called up to the big league club in Houston, where he would remain on the big league club for 2 years and counting!

Looking back now on the struggles he faced, McHugh sees how he grew in his faith, and learned to trust in God in good times and bad.  He puts it this way in a video interview on mlb.com;

“In baseball, you tend to get knocked down a lot.  There’s a lot of failure.  There’s a lot of struggle…  My wife, Ashley and I were married throughout much of my minor league career, so she saw it first hand, and there are plenty of times our marriage was just hanging by a thread.

Just always understand that whatever circumstances are happening in life, God uses them in certain ways to bring you back, not just to bring you back to high moral ground or to make you do the right things and say the right things.  But remind you that you are taken care of; that you are loved; that you are precious in His sight.  And, in the dark times – in the times where things are rough and you’re kind of sitting there in silence wondering ‘what is going on around me?’  ‘How is this ever gonna get any better?’  A lot of times in my life it’s the only time I really hear Him clearly.  And, unfortunetly, a lot of times it’s when things are the worst – but I would never change it.  I would never ask for anything different because there’s nothing better in my life than hearing God and understanding His love for me on every different level.”

We all have times in life in which we feel like we’re in exile; when we’re far away from where we want to be.  In those moments, remember what God did for His people, when He called them out of exile and brought them back to the Promised Land.  Remember what He did for Collin McHugh, calling him out of the whirlwind and into Houston.  Remember all the times that God has helped you through hard times already, and look forward to His promise to always help His people.  As God says in Jeremiah 29:11; For I know the plans I have you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope.  May we always cling to that promise!

Wade Gaynor – Genesis 1:26-27

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Former Detroit Tiger farmhand, Wade Gaynor.  Photo by Roger DeWitt

Who on earth is Wade Gaynor?

If you’re not a die-hard Detriot Tigers fan or haven’t been to many games involving Tiger’s minor league affiliates over the last several years; if you didn’t’ attend Western Kentucky University or you aren’t from Louisville, you probably have no idea.  Gaylor had a brief career in the minors from 2009-2015 and has since retired from the game of baseball.  So, if you never heard his name before today, you may never hear it again after today either.  But you know who knows a lot about Wade Gaynor?

Wade Gaynor!

That sounds like a no-brainer, but perhaps it really isn’t.  On his website, Gaynor talks about a crisis in the game of baseball.  Something he calls the “Ballplayer’s Identity Crisis.”  He points out the sad reality that, aside from being baseball players, many players aren’t really sure who they are.  He claims that athletes and parents of athletes often allow what they do to define who they are.  That may work for a while, but what happens when the stadium lights fade?  What happens when a player fails to make it to the next level?  What happens when an injury derails a career?  What happens when a successful player retires?  Gaynor has seen it first hand way too many times.  When a person allows what they do to define who they are – and then they stop doing the thing that they’ve always done – they suddenly don’t know who they are any more.  Former players often spiral into an identity crisis.  They often lose their way.  They often turn to alcohol and drugs.

The solution?  Know your true identity!  Genesis 1:26-27 says this; Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

Gaynor explains; You see, what most of these men didn’t (don’t) care to know is their true identity. Who we are is laid out in the first pages of the Bible. Moses wrote these words THOUSANDS of years ago so we would understand that we are men and women created in God’s own image…  God has stamped us; He has told us how important we are, and that our identity is through the Living God. We turn to anything we can these days to find ourselves. We allow our gifts God has provided us with to become our identity. We are constantly worshiping the created and not the Creator! You hear people saying all the time, ‘I’m just trying to find myself.’ I want to tell them: ‘we don’t have to search because God already found and claimed us.’ What happens when we place our purpose and self-worth in something or someone, that can change or be taken from us? When that identity is gone, we are left confused and lost, not able to move forward. But we have an identity that cannot be taken away. If value is truly, ‘what someone is willing to pay for an item’ then you should know God sent His only son, Jesus, to die for you and me! This means we’re more valuable than we could possibly imagine.

Whether you’re a baseball player or just a fan; no matter who you are – don’t let what you do define who you are.  1 John 3:1 begins like this; see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!  That’s your identity!  You are beloved child of God!  May you find your identity, not in what you do, but in who you are; who God made you to be; how much God considers you to be worth!

Jason Motte – John 3:16

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Relief Pitcher Jason Motte.  Photo by Barbara Moore

No one is perfect.

On August 16, 2012, Jason Motte was far from it.

Motte – currently a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, was then serving as the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals were playing the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, and were leading 1-0 in the ninth.  Cardinals manager Mike Mattheny called on his trusty reliever to record the final three outs and bring the Cards to victory.  After recording the first out, Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt stepped up to the plate.  He homered to tie the game at 1.  The next batter was outfielder Chris Young.  He hit the go ahead homer, and the Diamondbacks won the game.

Later that evening, Motte found himself at a difficult place for an athlete to be after a tough night; Twitter.  The Twitterverse usually isn’t kind to a pitcher after a blown save.  But that night, one comment struck him.  Someone wrote to Motte these words; “No one is perfect.”  Motte responded; “One person was, and [because] of Him, I have peace.”  Motte spent some time that night on Twitter, talking baseball and faith among other things.  His final tweet of the evening read; “Not my first, probably won’t be my last.  Learn from the mistakes, correct them, and go get ’em next time.  #blessed.”

It’s often said that closers have to have selective short-term memory to be successful.  It can be a challenge to simply put the past behind you and try again.  Motte’s faith helps him do it.  He explained it this way in the book entitled “Intentional Walk: An Inside Look at the Faith that Drives the St. Louis Cardinals;” “Guys ask me, ‘How do you forget about it?’  Honestly, my faith helps a lot.  One of my favorite Bible verses is John 3:16, and it is one of those verses that lets you know that no matter what happens, He is there for you.  That’s how I feel after I pitch, no matter if it’s a good night or a bad night.  Just because a guy is religious doesn’t mean he can’t have a bad game.  But it can’t control your life.”

No one is perfect.  Not even the strongest Christians. But God loves us even in our struggles.  That’s why John 3:16 happened; For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believers in Him shall note perish but have eternal life.

Jesus, the one and only perfect one, came to save us who are imperfect.  1 Peter 1:22 says this of our Savior; He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.  When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”

In those moments in which you feel far from perfect, remember the perfect love that God has for you.  Remember that He died to forgive your sins.  You are a new creation and because of what Jesus did for you, you can follow Jason Motte’s wise advise; Learn from the mistakes, correct them, and go get ’em next time.

 

 

 

Andrew McCutchen – Romans 8:28

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Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Photo by Keith Allison

“Not as much as I should.”

It was August 1st, 2013.  The Pittsburgh Pirates were holding what would become their first annual Faith Night; providing players the opportunity to share their Christian Faith with their fans.  A little boy named Dylan stood before Andrew McCutchen and asked a profound question; “How many times have you read the Bible and how often do you read it?”

McCutchen answered; “Honestly, not as much as I should.”  In Joshua 1:8, the people of Israel were nearing the end of their 40 year trek though the wilderness.  God called Joshua to prepare to lead His people into the Promised Land, giving Him this command; “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  How many of us can truly claim that those words describe us?  How often are we speaking God’s Words?  How often are we meditating on God’s Word?  Our answer to those questions is likely the same as McCutchen’s; “Honestly, not as much as I should!” 

On that warm summer night, McCutchen was not admitting defeat to a challenge too great for us to bear.  Instead, he showed the many ways that he does strive to keep God’s Word on His mouth and in his mind.  He explained how his mom sends him devotions every single day.  He spoke about how he was currently going through a study on the 23rd Psalm.  He explained that devotional time in God’s Word is something that he does every day.

As the evening progressed, another young boy named Ethan asked ‘Cutch’; “What is your favorite memory verse and why?”  His answer; Romans 8:28 – And we know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  He explained to the young boy and to the crowd who listened in; “It just shows you that, no matter what you go through, there’s a reason for it, and it’s always gonna work for your good.  Regardless of how low you are.  Regardless of what you’re going through, He’s gonna see you through it and it’s gonna work together for your good and , you know, everything that we go through as people… that’s something that you always have to look at.  And  you have to think about the times that things weren’t going so good, but God see you through it.  And it always happens.  It always happens because God says so and, you know, God’s not a liar.  So,  that’s something that… that’s a verse that really sticks out to me.”

May we all strive to be in God’s Word daily and thus be reminded of His promises so that we never lose our way and never lose heart!

(If you would like to watch McCutchen answer all of the kid’s questions at the 2013 Faith Night Interview, check it out here)