Memorial Day and the Greatest Sacrifice

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Memorial Day is a special day.

It’s important to take some time out of our lives to give thanks to the brave men and women who have risked their lives and sacrificed so much to protect us and to ensure our freedom.  Today we especially honor and remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice of all, giving their lives for our freedom.

On Memorial Day, though, I am always reminded of an even greater sacrifice.  I’m reminded of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life on the cross.  He died, not to serve one country, but to pay for the sins of the world.  He died, not for political freedom, but to free us from sin and hell.  He won the victory, not against a nation, but against death and the grave.

By sacrificing His life on the cross for us, Jesus won the free gift of eternal life for all who cry out to Him for salvation.

Today, as we remember those who died serving our country, we should also remind others of Jesus Christ, who died to give us life.

Former major leaguer (and current minor leaguer) Daniel Nava put it this way in an interview with Rob Maadi for the Faith on the Field Show:

“A lot of us athletes look towards the military men and say those are the people who sacrificed the most for us.  But then Jesus sacrificed everything for us.  And He knew He was going to die and He still chose to do it.  Those who serve our country – I mean I have the utmost respect for them – they’re willing to lay their lives down for us.  In a similar fashion, but obviously Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice.”

If you would like to read more about Nava’s story and his faith, you can read more about him in this blog’s previous post.

Daniel Nava – The One Who Was Never Supposed to Make It

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Major League Long-Shot Daniel Nava.  Photo by Dennis Heller

Daniel Nava was never supposed to be a star.

He grew up near San Mateo, California, the home of NFL quarterback Tom Brady. Brady is a superstar.  Nava’s sports career was never expected to amount to much of anything.

He was never a prospect.

He was never recruited to lead a College Baseball program.

He was never expected to make it.

When he graduated from Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California, Nava was only 5’7’’.  His hope was to play baseball for Santa Clara University.  He didn’t make the team.  Instead, he took the volunteer job as equipment manager; performing menial tasks like washing uniforms.  His hope was that, if he stayed close enough to the team, he might one day be asked to play.

He wasn’t.

He spent two years serving as equipment managers, never making the team.  After two years, he could no longer afford to pay his tuition, so he transferred to a smaller school, the College of San Mateo College.  During his 2 years at Santa Clara, he had grown about 3 inches.  The coaches at San Mateo liked what they saw from Nava, and, this time, he made the team – as a player!  Nava performed so well at the College of San Mateo that he was able to earn a Division I baseball scholarship the following year.  The college that offered him the scholarship was Santa Clara.

Nava returned to join the team whose uniforms he once washed; this time as a player with a scholarship.  A star was born…  Almost.

Even though Nava found success at Santa Clara – batting almost .400 for the season – no one seemed to notice.  He was not heavily scouted.  He was never drafted.  He was never signed to play in the minors.

Nava, though, wasn’t quite ready to give up on his dreams.  His next option was to play for a baseball team in the independent league.  He tried out for two teams but got cut from them both.  One of the teams he tried out for was the now-defunct Chico Outlaws.  Nava didn’t make the team, however, as the season progressed, one of their outfielders stopped showing up for games.  They needed someone to take his place.  They settled for Nava.

Nava played well enough that the he caught the attention of some major league scouts.  In 2008, the Boston Red Sox decided to invest in Nava.  They paid for his contract rights, which cost them a whopping $1.00.

Nava played well enough in the minors to be called up to the Red Sox in 2010.  His appeared in his first game on June 12 against the Phillies.  He stepped up to the plate against Phillies starter Joe Blanton.  He swung at the first pitch he saw.  He hit a grand slam!

It was finally Daniel Nava’s time.

It didn’t last long.

Nava spent the entire 2011 season in Triple-A.  In 2012, he appeared in about half of the Red Sox games, being shuffled in and out of the lineup.  Unlike fellow San Mateo native Tom Brady, Nava had not become a Boston legend.

In 2013, that all changed.

The spring of 2013 was a tragic season for the city of Boston.  On April 15, a bomb exploded during the Boston Marathon, leaving a dark cloud of sadness, shock, and despair over the city.

The Red Sox next home game would not be played until June 20 against the Kansas City Royals.  In a city that desperately needed a win, the Red Sox went into the bottom of the 8th trailing 2-1.  Nava stepped up to the plate with 2 runners on.  He hit a three-run homer, giving the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.  Closer Andrew Bailey would surrender a run in the 9th, but the Red Sox ultimately held on for a 4-3 win.  The city of Boston burst into cheers.  Nava – a man who has become accustomed to persevering when all hope seemed lost – helped give a broken city hope.  He later told the Boston Globe; “You don’t script that stuff.  It just happens… I honestly felt honored and blessed to be a part of it.”

As the 2013 season progressed, Nava soon worked his way into the starting lineup on a regular basis.  He hit .303 for the year with 12 homers, playing a key role during the 2013 World Series Championship run.

Nava remained a part of the Red Sox through 2015.  Since then, he’s bounced around the league quite a bit.  He’s appeared in games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Kansas City Royals, and the Philadelphia Phillies.  He’s currently in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Nava says that his faith played a key role in his success on the field.  He told Rob Maadi on the Faith on the Field Show; “I know that if I didn’t have the faith in Jesus that I have – or even had when I was making this journey to the big leagues – that there’s no shot I’d even be here.  Fortunately, He had a lot of favor in my life and opened doors for me that I never could have done.  And I think it’s evident in the fact that I got cut so many times that even my best efforts sometimes didn’t get me any place.  So, having that to go back to – I hate to use this word – it kind of kept me centered.  It kept me grounded.  It kept me focused on – I’m playing a game and I’m grateful to play a game at whatever level it was.  But, moving forward, if I don’t make this team or if I never am a Big Leaguer, I have something beyond that that I can hold on to.  That helped a lot.”

One of Nava’s favorite Bible verses is Luke 1:37; for nothing will be impossible with God.  He explained to Rob Maadi;Another translation is no Word from God shall be void of power.  I really like that one.  It just kind of changes things up.  I really like that.  It’s simple.  Sometimes playing this game, as a hitter, you’re reminded of how much you fail – you don’t succeed very often. And to be reminded that sometimes these things are just out of your control.  The person who actually gave me life or gave you life is far bigger than hitting a baseball.”

When things in life aren’t going the way you hope, remember the way that Nava persevered and kept working to reach his goals.  Rely on God the way that he did.  Remember that with God, all things are possible.  Trust in Him and leave your life in His hands.

David Hess’ Major League Debut

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David Hess throws a pitch during his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Photo by Keith Allison

You may not know much about David Hess.

That might change soon.

Since being selected in the 5th round of the 2014 draft, David Hess has been a minor league pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles.  Of course, being a minor league pitcher for the Orioles isn’t exactly a promising proposition.  While the Oriole’s organization has preached the importance of developing homegrown pitchers, their on-field success hasn’t matched their hopes.  According to Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun, the last homegrown Oriole pitcher to make his major league debut as a starter was Mike Wright Jr. back on May 17, 2015.  The last one before that was Kevin Gausman in May of 2013.

Few expected David Hess to be the one to break that drought.  The Orioles have higher rating pitching prospects, such as 2013 1st round pick Hunter Harvey, 2014 6th round pick Tanner Scott, 2016 first round pick Cody Sedlock, 2016, 2nd round pick Keegan Akin, and 2017 first overall pick DL Hall.  None of them has earned a major league start as of this writing.  As their names have grace the top of Orioles prospects list, hovering in the mid-twenties has been another player; David Hess.  While never considered a top prospect, Hess has quietly put in the work and found success.

In the middle of 2017, people started to notice.

After putting together yet another solid season as a 24-year old in AA Bowie, Hess began making people notice.  He entered 2018 as the Orioles #16 prospect, according to MLB.com.  Hess has been off to a good start in the minors this year, posting a 2.12 ERA and a 2-0 record in 6 starts for AAA Norfolk.

On Thursday, May 10, Hess received news.  The Orioles would be playing a doubleheader the following Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and he would be added to the major league roster.  In what capacity, he didn’t yet know. It wasn’t until Buck Showalter’s post-game conference after Friday’s game that it was announced that Hess would get the start.

Hess was ecstatic!  His wife, Devin, his mom and dad, and 24 additional friends and family members would be in Baltimore to watch his start.  When he first stepped on the mound, however, things didn’t go the way he planned.

His first inning as a major league pitcher was a rough one.  After allowing CJ Cron and Joey Wendle to reach base, Hess surrender a 3-run homer to Matt Duffy.  After that, however, he settled down, going 5 more innings without allowing a run.  He picked up the win over Rays starter Chris Archer.

Hess knows that his major league debut, and everything in his life, is a gift from God.  One of his favorite Bible Verses is Lamentations 3:22-23: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  Hess said on Twitter; New day, new mercies.  Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us His grace is never short and always sufficient.  Hess will continue to rely on the mercies of God, be thankful for the gifts that God has given him and strive to keep God 1st in his life.  He also tweeted; The more we see that God is enough, the more we can be thankful for what He’s given and trust Him when He doesn’t.”

It will be exciting to see what God does next in Hess’ life.  Orioles fans are hoping to see him in action again soon and see what he can do next on the mound.  George Batterbsy of Camden Chat wrote the following Monday; “David Hess has earned more of a chance with the Orioles.  After throwing a quality start in his MLB debut as the 26th man in Saturday’s doubleheader, it’s time to put David Hess in the rotation for real.”

Whatever happens next, Hess will trust in God and rely each day on His mercies.

Jordy Mercer – Strength in the Midst of Change

 

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Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Jordy Mercer.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

When you go through a series of change, it can be a lot to handle; even if those changes are good ones.

For Jordy Mercer, 2012 was a great example.  As a kid growing up in Oklahoma, Mercer’s dream was to one day become a major league baseball player.  In 2008, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 3rd round of the Amateur Player Draft.  Mercer kept working hard as he sought to fulfill his dream.

Fast forward to 2012.  During Spring Training, Mercer received some fantastic news – only it was news that had nothing to do with his baseball career.  Mercer learned that his wife, Kacey, was expecting a child!  The good news didn’t stop there.  On May 29, Mercer learned that he would be heading to Pittsburgh to join the Pirates.  Mercer told Pittsburgh Sporting News; it’s a dream come true.  Words can’t describe it.  It’s something you dream of when you’re a little kid.”  On August 18, Mercer’s story became even more joyous.  The Pirates had a road game against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Mercer was pinch hitter and wound up going 2 for 4.  The game lasted 19 innings, before the Pirates eventually pulled off a 6-3 victory.  When the game was finally over, the real excitement began; Mercer had to rush to the airport, with the hopes of making it back to Oklahoma and witness the birth of his baby boy, Maverick.  Mercer recalls; “I knew I was catching a plane in St. Louis… it was an 8:30 flight.  We went 19 innings which was incredible to be a part of, but I barely made my flight.  The next morning, I went to the hospital at 5:00 am, and she had it at 1:10, so it was pretty cool.”

Mercer spent the 2012 season learning.  He learned how to be a dad and how to adjust to life as a major leaguer.  Two veterans helped show Mercer the way.  Clint Barmes mentored him on how to be a shortstop while Rod Barajas – who has 7 children of his own – imparted advice on fatherhood.

It’s only been 6 years since that magical year in Mercer’s life, but a lot has changed.  After an offseason that saw key players like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole traded out of Pittsburgh, Mercer now finds himself a veteran on a young team, and the longest tenured Pirate.  In an article in the Republican Herald, Mercer explains; “I look around and I’m the last guy here, which is kind of a weird feeling.  It’s a good feeling, too, to know that they still want me around after all these years.”

Going into the 2018, the Pirates expectation was much different than they were 2012.  While they have gotten off to a hot start, the rebuilding Pirates aren’t expected to win many games.  It’s also likely that this will be Mercer’s final season in Pittsburgh, as his contract expires after the season.  The Pirates also have two former first round picks ready to take his place in Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker.  Mercer’s role may become more about mentoring his future replacement than making a run for the playoffs.   Mercer sees it as an opportunity.  “It stinks to lose Cutch and Gerrit because not only are they good players, but I’ll miss them as friends and teammates.  You have to look at the positives, though.  We have a lot of young guys who are hungry.  They want to get better.  They want to win.  That’s’ fun… It’s really fun to see those guys ask questions because I’ve been in their shoes.  I asked questions and I’m glad I did.  I learned so much from Clint that I have a hard time even putting it into words.  Hopefully, I can pass along some of the things I’ve learned to these younger guys and maybe they can learn a few things that can help their careers.”

While 2018 may be a challenging season, Mercer will find his strength and stability in the Lord.  Mercer’s favorite Bible Verse is Psalm 16:8; “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be shaken.”  He explained to Blessed 2 Play;

My favorite’s Psalm 16:8…  I think that’s something that I will never forget.  I always keep that in my back pocket and even I can carry it with me on the baseball field.  If I’m not having a good day or something – it don’t even have to be on the baseball field… if things aren’t going my way, I know that’s He’s always there and for me not to be shaken because He’s always right beside me, He’s always there with me.  And I remember reading that verse the first time I read that verse and I’ll never forget where I was – what I was doing – I was laying in bed and having my daily devotion that night, and I came across that verse.  That’s the first time I ever heard that verse, and for some reason, somehow, God just spoke to me and it stuck with me.  And it’s always been on the forefront with me wherever I go; knowing that, whatever happens – not to be shaken.  For He’s gonna be there right beside me.  He’s gonna take care of me.

While 2018 may not be as exciting as 2012 was, Mercer will continue to serve God and encourage his teammates, trusting in God to give him the strength to do it!