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.