James McCann – Mark 10:27

 

James McCann

Detroit Tiger Catcher, James McCann.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

1-in-4.

Jim and Carla McCann were a Christian couple living in Southern California.  About 5 years into their marriage, they were ready to start a family.  Carla became pregnant, and, for nearly 9 months, everything was perfect.  About 3 days before he was due to be born, the boy stopped kicking.  Carla went to the doctors and learned that her greatest fear had become reality; her baby boy had died in the womb.

The doctors told the young couple that they could try again, but that it would likely take a long time for her to conceive, due to the trauma her body had just experienced.  A few months later, however, she was expecting another baby.

13 weeks into the pregnancy, Carla receive terrible news.  She had suffered a tear in the amniotic sac.  The child in her womb was given a 1-in-4 chance of surviving.  Even if he did survive, however, he was almost certain to be born with mental or physical disabilities.  They were given their options and advised to have an abortion.

Carla tells Jason Beck of mlb.com; “Being people of faith, we decided we were going to see it through.  It was a leap of faith, but it really wasn’t more than what other people do every day – putting one foot in front of the other.”

Only Carla didn’t take many steps at all for the next 6 months.  She stayed in bed, watching a lot of Lakers games and a lot of Dodgers baseball games.  She jokes that she named her son James after James Worthy, and knew he would be a baseball fan because of how much baseball she watched.

On June 13, 1990, Carla gave birth to a healthy baby boy!  He had no physical handicap.  No mental handicap.  When she first saw her newborn child, her first words to him were “not bad for a 1-in-4 chance.”

That child grew up to be an All-American Catcher at the University of Arkansas.  He became the 76th overall pick for the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd Round of the 2011 draft.  He made his major league debut on September 1, 2014, and became the Tigers starting catcher the following year; pretty impressive for a man that was never supposed to be born in the first place!

James McCann knows why this all happened.  It was all a gift from God.  He now includes his favorite Bible Verse, Mark 10:27, along with the autographs he signs.  Jesus says “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”  This verse is very personal to McCann.  He explained in an interview with Liberty University; “From day one, the doctors said it was impossible.  That’s man telling my parents it was impossible.  And, obviously, God had other plans… But when you put your faith in God and you trust in god, He has a bigger and better plan that that.”

In Galatian 6:17, Paul says that he bears in his body the marks of Jesus.  He urges the Christians in Galatia that, when they gaze upon the scars from the beatings he suffered for trying to preach the Gospel, they should be reminded of the wounds that Jesus suffered for them on the cross.  Likewise, the life, health, and success of James McCann serve as a daily reminder of the power of God.  To Him, all things are possible; even what man says is impossible.

Robinson Chirinos – Mark 9:23

Robinson Chirinos

Texas Rangers Catcher Robinson Chirinos.  Photo by Keith Allison

Robinson Chirinos was always a long shot to make it to the major leagues.  In 2000, he was signed as an infielder by the Chicago Cubs out of Punto Fijo, in the oil producing region of Venezuela.  But, as his minor league career progressed, it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it as an infielder.  After nearly a decade of work, the Cubs decided Chirinos career as an infielder was over.  In 2008, they decided to try something else; they auditioned him as a catcher.  The position change meant more work, more learning, more time to hone his craft in the minor leagues.  The soft-spoken Chirinos kept plugging away, chasing his dream to become a major leaguer.  He spent over a decade in the Cubs minor league system, but never made it to Wrigley Field.  In 2011, he was included as part of the blockbuster trade which sent star pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs from the Tampa Rays in exchange for a package headlined by future All Star pitcher, Chris Archer.  He finally got his chance that year, playing 20 games in the majors.

2012 was supposed to be his year.  He went into spring training, hoping to have a greater role.  Not only was he hoping to seize a great opportunity professionally, but he was also growing spiritually.  Chirinos recalls attending the team’s chapel service on the morning of March 11, and feeling closer to God than ever before.  That morning, he became a Christian.  He told T.R. Sullivan of mlb.com; “He talked to me — and that morning, I really felt Him in my heart. It was hard to run away. I’m not like other people who had people talking to them about God. It wasn’t like other people talking to me about God; it was Him. It was something I never forgot.”

But that afternoon, everything changed, as Chirinos crashed from a spiritual high to a physical low.  The Rays were playing a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when foul ball ricocheted off a bat straight backward, and hit him directly in the face mask.  It stung, as foul balls do, but he felt fine and he stayed in the game.  When he got to the dugout, however, things started getting worse.  Before he knew it, he had to be carried off in a stretcher.   It was quickly discovered that Chirinos had suffered a concussion.

What started as a concussion, however, didn’t end there.  He began suffering constant headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurry vision and anxiety.  He could hardly walk and could barely sleep.  It took months for his symptoms to subside, and Chirinos feared that his Major League career might be over before it really had the chance to start.  The 2012 season came and went, and he missed the whole thing.

As Chirinos struggled through the year, however, he knew he wasn’t alone.  “He is the one who gave me the strength to keep me believing I was getting better and giving me the strength to get through that, and then my family being around me and all the people who pushed me trying to get me where I am.”

Finally, with the help of a concussion expert, Dr. Michael Collins from the University of Pittsburgh, Chirinos began to heal.  By 2013, he was ready for another shot at the big leagues.  On April 8, 2013, his contract was purchased by the Texas Rangers.  Now he had a team, but would not have much of an opportunity.  The Rangers had a roster full of stars, and already had veteran AJ Pierzynski and Geovany Soto on the roster.  As expected, he spent most of the season in the minors, only seeing 13 games in the big leagues.

2014 was not looking any more promising.  Pierzysnki was gone, but the Rangers still had Soto and had added JP Arencibia, who was coming off a 21 home run season with the Blue Jays.  The 30 year old Chirinos was considered nothing more than a depth piece in the minors.  But then Soto got hurt and Arencibia was struggling.  Suddenly, he found himself the starting catcher.

All was finally going well for Chirinos.  Soon, however, history seemed that it would repeat itself.  A foul ball struck him in the mask again.  And again.  And again.  Before the season was over, he estimates taking about 15 foul balls off his facemask.  Thanks be to God, he stayed healthy and did not suffer any more concussions.

To this day, Chirinos knows that God is with him.  He regularly speaks about God’s presence in his life and often includes Bible verses on his Instagram page.  One of his favorites is Mark 9:23.  In this passage, a man whose son had been possessed by a demon approached Jesus, and asked Him if He could heal his son.  Jesus responds to the man; “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”   Chirinos has learned firsthand what it means to trust in God and to trust in His power and presence.  He explains; “There is only one true hero and He is the greatest man in history; His name is Jesus Christ. He had no servants and they called Him Lord. He had no title and they called Him master.  He had no army and the Kings feared Him. He didn’t win military battles, and yet He conquered the world. He didn’t commit a crime and He was crucified, died and buried.  He loved me first without my knowing Him. He was buried in a tomb and on the third day rose and even today lives and accompanies me always…  So I proudly say; ‘I love You my God.  Thank You for being always with me, with my family… I am proud to believe in You.”*

God was with Chirinos throughout all of his struggles and will also be with you in yours.  Remember that God is always with you, in good times and in bad times, and will help you in every time of need.

* Translated from Spanish

Chase Whitley – John 3:16

 

Chase Whitley.jpg

Tampa Bay Rays Reliever Chase Whitley.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

It’s the end of July.  That means it’s the heart of the Major League baseball season.  For many of you it’s summer vacation time.  And for others of you, this time of year is best described by 3 little letters; V.B.S.

Vacation Bible School

For Christians across the country, it’s a week of decorating, dressing in goofy costumes, preparing snacks, and coming up with creative object lessons and classes.  If you’re like me, it’s a week in which your normally healthy diet is replaced with Oreo Cookies and pizza.  Sleeping gets replaced with feverishly planning for the next day.  The whole time you hope and pray it makes a difference.

It made a difference for Tampa Bay Rays reliever Chase Whitley.

Whitley told Unashamed Athletes; “I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 9 years old at Vacation Bible School.  The message was on the verse John 3:16;For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”  “I felt God tell me at that very moment it could be the difference between me going to Heaven or Hell.  When the message was over, I went down and accepted Christ as my Savior.  I thank God that He saved me at such a young age.  With Christ as my side, He battled the temptations of adolescence for me.  When the temptations got too much for me, there is no better person to fight off the Devil than the God of the Universe.”

But can hearing a Bible Verse at Vacation Bible School as a child really change your life?

God had helped Whitley resist temptation as an adolescence, but the challenges weren’t nearly over yet.  After graduating High School, Whitley enrolled in junior college, where he had freedom for the first time.  Would he embrace the faith his parents taught him?  Would he follow their paths or choose something different?  Would he do the right thing or would he go wild?  He found himself really wrestling with those questions for the first time.

But God was still at Whitley’s side, helping him fight off the temptations.  “I could have gone wild, but thank be to God, He used this time to develop my faith in Him.  I am so thankful He did.  I began reading His Word daily and grew more in those two years than ever before.”

The temptations, though, kept coming.  After two years of growth in junior college, Whitley transferred to Troy University, where he faced more temptations.  But again, God surrounded him with good Christians and he dedicated himself to baseball and Bible study and walking in God’s path.

In 2010, Whitley was drafted in the 15th Round by the New York Yankees.  He moved to Staten Island to begin his career.  “Being from a small town, Staten Island was a major test for me.  I was completely outside of my comfort zone being in one of the biggest cities in America.  However, God gave me a peace and direction while I was there to be a missionary through the game of baseball.  I don’t beat people over the head with my faith, but if God creates an opportunity to share, I pray I will always have boldness and wisdom to speak up for His Name.”

Proverbs 22:6 says; Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Whitley is a great example of that.

So, whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a sleep-deprived VBS volunteer, think about the story of Chase Whitley.  The work you do makes a difference.  God makes the seeds you plant grow.  The impressions that God makes through you can last a lifetime!

Nick Goody – Luke 1:37

 

Nick Goody

Cleveland Indian’s reliever Nick Goody.  Photo by Erik Drost

 

Like many people, Goody grew up in a Christian home, but God was far from some the center of his family’s life.  He explained in an interview with Athletes in Christ; “Church was not something we did often, but we all believed in god and in works He did… baseball consumed my life and I was fine with it then because I did not know better.”

Only it wasn’t long before baseball became challenging.  “High School freshmen year, tryouts were a disaster, and I was almost cut from the team.”  Thankfully, the coach’s dad saw something in him, and encouraged the coach to keep him around.  Goody had a good high school career, though not quite good enough.  He watched as his friends received Division 1 scholarships to schools like UCF, Miami, and Virginia.  They weren’t interested in him.  So, Goody enrolled in South College of Florida, where his life would soon change forever.

Goody earned a job as the starting shortstop as a freshmen.  He got off to a hot start, but soon things fell apart.  He found himself in a long hitting slump, and was benched for, what he called, “a week break.”  That week turned into two.  Two weeks turned into three.  His coaches gave up on his bat, and tried to get him to turn into a pitcher.  He hated pitching.  He wasn’t happy with his school.  He didn’t have faith in his coaches.  He was ready to give up and go home.

But one night, his coach, Barry Batson, invited him to a Bible study in his home.  Goody went – perhaps more for the free meal than anything else.  While he was there, Goody prayed to God, asked for forgiveness, and asked God to direct his life.  He recalls; “I felt this huge weight being lifted off my shoulders.  I could see changes in my life happening, relationships with people were better, and I felt like I was a part of something bigger.  I was not caught up in a terrible baseball season, my attitude changed and so did my game.  I went from being the starting S to a bull pen guy and found some success, baseball was fun again.  Life was good.”

After receiving Christ, Goody’s life changed quickly.  By the end of his freshmen year, he received a scholarship to play at LSU and was also drafted in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft.  He had always hated the Yankees.  He prayed about it and finally chose to attend LSU.  He faced struggles as he adjusted to the talent in the SEC, but credits his faith as helping him get through it.  When the Major League Draft rolled around in 2012, Goody heard his named called again.  This time in the 6th round.  By the Yankees, again.  This time, Goody signed and attended major league camp.

One day, after camp, Goody’s life took another challenging turn.  Goody drove to Orlando to spend his girlfriend’s birthday with her.  On the way to dinner, he was part of a 4 car accident.  His truck was totaled and he tore 3 ligaments in his ankle.  The whole time he recalls staying calm, trusting that God was in control.  He recovered from the ankle injuries, but then his elbow started acting up.  He found that he had a partially torn UCL, and would have to chose between rehab and Tommy John surgery, which has about a year to a year and a half recovery time.  Goody committed it to prayer, while driving home one day, and asked God for a sign.  As Goody recalls; “I needed His help and, I kid you not, the next car that drove by me license plate had a big ole TJ written on it.  I called my trainer the next day and told him I was getting the surgery.”

The surgery was a success.  Goody recovered and, by the 2015 season, he made his major league debut with the Yankees.  In December of 2016, Goody was traded to Cleveland Indians.

Nick’s favorite Bible passage is Luke 1:37, which reads, For nothing is impossible with God.”  “I never really knew what that meant or truly believed it until I had to… I’m living proof that God can change your life.  I’ve seen Him work in my life and in others.  The signs God has given me and the prayers that have been answered cannot be explained.  Other than that the big man upstairs is watching over us.  I am not saying I’m perfect or have never messed up because I do daily.  But God has blessed me… and I find comfort knowing… there is a plan for all of us and it is exciting to know it’s exactly what God wants.”

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

Milwuakee Brewer’s Catcher, 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!