Terry Shumpert, Ty Blach, and Setting an Example

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Pitcher, Ty Blach.  Photo by Don DeBold

If you were a baseball fan in the 90’s, you may remember Terry Shumpert.  Shumpert was a 2nd Round pick out of the University of Kentucky in the 1987 draft, selected by the Kansas City Royals.  He made his major league debut in 1990 for the Royals, mostly in a utility infielder role.  He played 5 seasons with the Royals, going on the play for the Red Sox, Cubs, and Padres.  In 1997, he signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies.  It was in Colorado that Shumpert enjoyed his greatest success.  Shumpert would play with the Rockies from 1997-2002, peaking in 1999 with a career high 10 home runs, a .347 batting average, and a .997 OPS.  Shumpert’s final season would be in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Rays.

One day, while playing for the Rockies, Shumpert signed an autograph.  Under his signature, he wrote a Bible verse; Matthew 6:33.  The verse says Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you.

This particular autograph went into the hands of a young boy from Colorado named Ty Blach.  Ty grew up in a Christian home and had faithful Christian parents who prayed with him every night.  Faith was a big part of his life.  He would attend a catholic high school, Regis Jesuit in Aurora.  After High School, he chose to attend a Catholic College; Creighton University in Nebraska.  In college, he immediately joined up with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and continued his walk with the Lord.

Ty would go on to have a successful collegiate career.  He would later be selected in the 5th Round of the 2012 draft and would go on to pitch for the Giants from 2016 through August of 2019, at which point he was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles and moved into their starting rotation.

Even as an adult, he still remembers the way that Terry Shumpert’s willingness to share his faith impacted him.  He explained to “Unashamed Athletes;” My favorite verse is Matthew 6:33. It says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you” When I was a kid I got an autograph from Terry Shumpert who was a utility infielder for the Colorado Rockies. Under his signature he had this verse written. Ever since that day, that verse has never left me. It reminds me that in everything that I do, I should put God first and God will help take care of everything else. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shumpert a year or so ago and I told him about the autograph and the Bible verse that he put with it and the impact it still has on me to this day. He made an impact on me with that Bible verse and I too hope to make an impact on someone’s life when I include Matt 6:33 on my autographs for fans.

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul urges young Timothy to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.  Shumpert set an example of how a Christian athlete can make an impact on the lives of others.  Blach strives to use his platform to share the Gospel with those around him.  He encourages other athletes to do the same.

Blach says; the advice that I would give to other athletes who are afraid to share their faith is to remember what Jesus Christ did for you. He died on that cross so that you could live eternally. There is nothing more important in this world than that love that Jesus showed to us and sharing that love with other people is all that He asks in return. It can be difficult and you may feel unaccepted by some people in society today, but you will come to find out that there are a lot of people in the world who are very accepting of God’s love. Someone may just be needing a ray of hope in a tough time or someone else might be just as afraid to show their faith just like you. No matter what the case, God has put you in this world to make an impact on the people around you so don’t be afraid to live for Him. There are so many wonderful people in this world and you should never be afraid to seek the advice of another Christian on how they live out the gospel message in their daily life. Trust in God with all of your heart and know that He has a plan for you and to never be afraid to live your life for Him because of the blessings that he has put in our lives.

Adam Haseley – All Glory to God

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Adam Haseley, while playing for the Phillies’ High A affiliate, the Clearwater Thrashers.  Photo by Bryan Green

On June 4th, 2019, Adam Haseley made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Haseley is a top prospect for the Phillies.  He was drafted with the 8th overall draft pick in the first round of the 2017 amateur player draft.  He entered the 2018 season as mlb.com’s 6th rated Phillies prospect and improved to 3rd prior to the 2019 season.

When June 4th rolled around, and Haseley stepped out onto the field at San Diego’s Petco Park, he took to Instagram to share his joy.  He summarized his feelings with one short sentence; Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power to work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Those are the words of St. Paul, eternally recorded for us in Ephesians 3:20.

For Haseley, his Christian faith has always been an important part of his life.  He was raised by his parents, Rich and Mary-Kay, in a Christian home.  He attended First Academy, a Christian school in Orlando, Florida.  When he went to the University of Virginia, he attended a fall meeting with the team. When asked what was important to them, he spoke about his faith – quickly earning him the nickname, “Rev.”

His reputation for being a faithful Christian grew as time went on.  One Easter Sunday, Haseley was the featured speaker at the McIntire Amphitheatre at UVA.  Men’s basketball coach was in attendance.  So was Men’s tennis coach, Brian Boland.  Another Virginia baseball star, Pavin Smith was in attendance.  As were a couple hundred others.

Hasely told Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress;  I was nervous.  If I did it my freshman year, I’d be completely shaken.  Probably would say no to it.  I think it’s something that, as you grow up, you’re a little more comfortable with.  Those who attended did not notice how nervous he was.  Instead, the impression they left with was how authentic his message was.

His father, Rich Haseley, says of Adam’s faith; it’s what he relies on.  And it’s always been that way for Adam.  It’s just become more and more as he’s matured as a baseball player.  He just gets a better understanding of what that faith means.

Haseley explains; “Our faith is really important.  It’s a matter of taking the pressure off and just trusting in the bigger plan.  It’s just going out there and playing and having fun.  And enjoying the opportunity we’ve been given.”

Haseley’s faith will continue to guide his as he continues to build what Phillies fans hope will be a long and successful career.  And, with each moment of success, he will continue giving all glory to God!

 

Slade Heathcott’s Inspiring Journey

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Slade Heathcott, playing for the Trenton Thunder.  Photo from Flickr

 

On January 14, 2019, there was a small piece of baseball news.  It wasn’t enough to push rumors of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado’s free agency off the front page.  It was barely more than a footnote.

Slade Heathcott announced his retirement from baseball.

You might have missed Heathcott’s career.  He only appeared in 17 major league baseball games, all with the New York Yankees in 2015.  It was a short, but memorable run.  In only 28 plate appearances, Heathcott put together a slash line of .400/.429/.720.  He hit 2 homeruns, collected 8 RBIs and garnered an OPS of 1.149.  Ultimately, though, he ended back in the minors, bouncing from team to team, spending time in the White Sox, Giants, and A’s organizations.

On January 14, Heathcott announced that his baseball career had come to an end and that he would now pursue a new path, aiming to become a commercial pilot.

The inspiring part of Heathcott’s story, however, are not so much the 17 games he spent with the Yankees as they are the rocky path that led him there.

Heathcott’s childhood wasn’t exactly ideal.  He grew up in Texarkana, Texas with his brother, Zane.  The two were raised by their mother, Kimberly, and their step-father, Jeff.  Jeff had his share of troubles, ultimately leading him to spend a portion of Slade’s high school years in jail.  In time, Jeff and Kimberly’s marriage began to fall apart.  Many nights ended in screaming and yelling.  Slade couldn’t take it anymore.

The tipping point came one night during Slade’s junior year of High School.  In bitter anger, Slade pulled out the family shotgun, a Remington 12-guage, and aimed it at Jeff.  He told  Gene Sapakoff at the Post and Courier (I highly recommend reading the entire piece); “I was ready to do it.  Had my finger on the trigger.  It was just a matter of where I was going to shoot him.”  Thankfully, Slade never pulled the trigger.

Early in Slade’s senior year of high school, his mother, Kimberly, moved to Alexandria, La., leaving Slade behind.  He spent the year bouncing from one friend’s house to another.  At times, he lived in his truck.  He was lonely.  He was probably scared.  Most of all, though, he was just angry.

To cope with the anger, he turned to the bottle.  Predictably, everything started falling apart.  He was arrested with DUI.  He tore up his knee playing football.  He got kicked off the baseball team for academic reasons.  But he kept on drinking.

One night, Slade went to a party, had way too much to drink, and left the party intoxicated.  Things spiraled out of control that night, ultimately leading him to having a gun pointed at his head.  He doesn’t remember many of the details, but eventually was able to piece the story together.  He told Sapakoff; “I didn’t know what happened until later.  I went up to a random house and started pounding on the door. Then I punched my arm through a kitchen window. The woman who owned the house said she just bought [a gun] from a drug dealer and was really afraid. She would have shot me but said she forgot she had unloaded the gun.”  He was able to get away.  The police found Heathcott that night a bloody, blacked out, mess.  They took him to the emergency room where he had a deep slash several inches up his right forearm.

Despite his troubled youth, Heathcott was receiving serious consideration as a first round pick in the 2009 draft.  The Yankees were doing their homework on him.  They sent their director of mental conditioning, Chad Bohling, to Texarkana or two separate occasions to interview Slade, as well as his friends and coaches.  His High School coaches believed that, deep down, he was a good kid, and they gave him a glowing endorsement.  The Yankees were concerned about the giant scar on Heathcott’s right arm.  “I told the Yankees a story about how I cut it trying to hop a barbed-wire fence,” Heathcott said. “They believed it.”  Ultimately, Bohling reported that Slade was a good kid who had made some mistakes.  The Yankees believed in this young man enough to select him with the 29th pick of the first round of the draft.

Heathcott went to Tampa to begin his minor league career.  Part of his development would include a week-long trip to the Dominican Republic.  The night prior to his planned departure, Heathcott went out drinking.  He told Sapakoff;  “Let’s just say that people in Tampa know if you’re a first-round pick and that even at 19 I could get into any bar I wanted to and not have to pay for anything.”  He blacked out.  When he woke up, he rushed to pack his belongings, but his passport fell out of his bag.  When he tried to explain himself, the truth about his alcohol addiction came to light.

The Yankees weren’t ready to give up on him.  They sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous and introduced him to Sam Marsonek, a high school coach and former professional pitcher.  “Sam started talking to me and took me to church.  At first none of it mattered. I didn’t grow up going to church so I wasn’t really paying attention.” 

In time, that all changed.  The Gospel began to touch his heart and change him from the inside out.  By the following spring, Heathcott was sober and, for the first time in his life, at peace.  He was able to pick up the pieces.  Marsonek explained to the Joel Sherman of the New York Post; “Before, he was a reckless kid starving for attention. He didn’t get it at home growing up. Once he found out what he was here for, it changed his focus from himself to trying to serve the Lord.”  Yankees scouting director, Damon Oppenheimer added; “I think he has done a lot of growing up with us, and what more can I say than this: I would trust my kids with him.”

The knee he damaged playing high school football ultimately prevented him from being able to stay healthy and greatly hindered his development.  But, through hard work and dedication, he was able to make it all the way to big leagues for that memorable 17 game stretch.

Slade’s greatest mission, however, became to share his story.

His step-father, Jeff, was one of the people who was touched by Slade’s journey.  He, too, came to hear and believe the Gospel, and turned his own life around.  Now, the two text Bible verses back and forth to one another.  Jeff told Sapakoff; “It’s been tough for me.  Finding the Lord was the best thing that happened to me, and Slade was a big part of that. It just kind of fell apart for me for two years. It was just hard.”

Slade knows that it was God who made all these changes possible.  “The way I look it now, God gives us grace.  He was there for me even when I was not there for Him.”  He added, in an interview with Chad Raines; “God is my light in a very dark world. Without Him I would be lost, I wouldn’t see how amazing life can and is each second of each day, and I would have a gap in my heart that can only be filled by our awesome creator.”

Heathcott’s favorite Bible verse is Colossians 3:23; Whatever you do work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.  Heathcott explained to Chad Raines; That right there sums up how I view and how I try to attack each second of every day. In my opinion and belief none of us are entitled to anything, we all have to earn what we want in life. I know that every second I am on Earth it is a blessing. So with saying that, when it is time for me to go home I want to know in my heart I didn’t waste one day, that every single day I became better at every facet of my life. My daily goal is to make every second as productive as I possibly can, without passing by all the small amazing things throughout the day.”

Slade Heathcott’s baseball career has come to an end.  But now, he continues a new chapter, striving to serve God in each and every moment.

Mike Dunn – The Long Road Home

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Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes through the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6.  Photo by Alan Levine

Sometimes the road back home is a long and arduous one.

Mike Dunn was born in Farmington, New Mexico.  He spent the first 17 years of his life there, where he attended Piedra Vista High School.  His journey away from home began in 2003 when he moved to Nevada for his senior year of high school; a move designed to get him in front of professional scouts while playing for Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas.  The moved worked!  In 2003, he was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 14th round of the draft.

He didn’t sign.

Instead, he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson.  In 2004, he was drafted again, this time by the New York Yankees in the 33rd round.  He was the 999th player selected.  He signed with the Yankees, making his debut in the Gulf Coast league in Florida and was promoted to the Staten Island Yankees.  In 2007, he pitched in Charleston, South Carolina and in 2008 he played minor league ball in both Tampa and Trenton, New Jersey.  In 2009, he was promoted to AAA, bringing him to Scranton, PA, and finally, in September, he made it all the way up to New York to make his major league debut for the Yankees.  After the 2010 season, Dunn was traded to the Marlins, whom he played for through the 2016 season.

Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.  5 states; none of them home.  As his baseball career moved him across the country, to Dunn, the Southwest would always be home.  He told the Farmington Daily Times; “I come back all the time.  Of course, I lived there my whole life, so I had a lot of friends there.  I come back to Farmington at least two, maybe three times every off-season.”

In 2016, that would all change.  Dunn signed a 3-year deal with the Colorado Rockies, who play about 380 miles from Farmington.  Colorado is rarely the top destination for pitchers, and Coors Field is famous for inflating pitcher’s statistics, due largely to the high altitude.  For Dunn, though, Colorado was the top choice.  He explained; “It was probably the one destination spot I wanted to go, based on the team they had, but also close to home.  Once Colorado got involved, I told my agent ‘let’s really try to push this,’ and if not, we were gonna go back to the other guys.”

It was a long road, but the game of baseball finally brought Dunn back home.

In the Bible, Jesus talks about another road that leads us home.  The Greek word “odos,” means road, though it is often translated as way.  Jesus says that He is the road; the only path that one can take to make it to our heavenly home.  Jesus says in John 14:6; “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

This is one of Mike Dunn’s favorite Bible verse.  He told Rob Maadi in the book “Baseball Faith:“In one little sentence, Jesus tells you there’s no other way to heaven except through Him.  No one can boast.  No one is better than anyone else.  Everyone is made the same in God’s eyes.  Everyone is equal, no matter your race, gender, or anything.  It’s about doing what you can for the Lord while you’re here on earth.  Jesus will get you to heaven.  The road to hell is wide.  It’s an interstate, fifteen lanes wide.  The road to heaven is one way…  It’s right there in the Bible.  You can’t earn your way to heaven.  The only way is to go through Jesus.  He took the punishment for us.  We’re all sinners.  It’s our nature.  Repent, ask for forgiveness, and you will be saved.”

Jesus truly is the only way to heaven.  We can’t earn our way into eternal paradise through our good works or by being a good person.  It’s only by admitting that we are sinners and relying on the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross on our behalf that can take away our sins.  Faith in Him is the only way to heaven and the only road home.

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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Former Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Jordy Mercer.  Now with the Detroit Tigers.  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!

Jackie Robinson: Turning the Other Cheek

Jackie Robinson 1

Baseball Legend Jackie Robinson.  Photos in this article are public domain photos courtesy of LOOK Magazine.

 

Every year on April 15th Major League Baseball Celebrates Jackie Robinson Day.  Every player on the field wears the number 42, as they celebrate the day in which Jackie Robinson played his first major league baseball game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier back in 1947.  Robinson’s story is well-known.  There is, however, a part of the story that often goes untold; the role that the Bible played in Robinson’s success.

The story of how the Bible impacted Robinson began with his mother, Mallie.  Mallie was a strong Christian woman, who was a faithful member of her church.  When her son, Jackie, began getting into trouble as a youth, Mallie sought the help of a young African American Pastor, Karl Downs.  Downs took Robinson under his wings, teaching him the importance of prayer and of social and racial equality. Robinson continued to grow in his faith, his character, and his athletic ability.  He soon went to UCLA, where he met his wife, Rachel.  Instead of completing his degree, Robinson left school early to play baseball in the Negro League.

The Negro League was challenging for Robinson for a number of reasons.  First, teams were forced to stay in dirty motels, eat cheap junk food, and were paid very little.  Second, Robinson found that the majority of players in the league enjoyed drinking, partying, and the company of women in ways that made him uncomfortable.  Robinson refused to partake in them, earning a reputation for both his high moral standards and his stubborn refusal to bend in the face of peer pressure.

Jackie Robinson 2

While playing in the Negro League, Robinson caught the attention of a man named Branch Rickey.

Wesley Branch Rickey’s name alone gives you good insight into his upbringing.  He was named after John Wesley; the founder of Methodism, and the name “Branch” is believed to have come from Isaiah 11:1, a verse which prophesied the birth of Christ; “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

Rickey grew up in church, and, like Robinson, had strong moral beliefs from which he refused to stray.  His moral beliefs derailed his baseball career.  Rickey was a good catcher; good enough to make it to the pros.  However, as a Christian, he refused to play on the Sabbath.  His refusal to play that day caused his first team to trade him; his second team to trade him; and his third team to transition him from player to manager.  Rickey thrived as a manager, and later became the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was a shrewd businessman, who often drew the ire of his competitors, mostly because he continuously outsmarted them.

But, there was something eating away at Rickey.  Before his professional career began, Rickey played baseball at Ohio Wesleyan.  One of his teammates, Charles “Tommy” Thomas, was African American.  During a road trip to the University of Notre Dame, the team was planning on staying at a nearby Indiana hotel.  Players checked in one by one without incident, until it was Thomas’s turn.  The clerk rudely told Thomas that African Americans weren’t welcome at the hotel.  His teammates stood up for him, but the clerk wouldn’t budge.  Finally, shrewd Branch Rickey thought of something.  He knew that hotels allowed African American servants to sleep in their master’s rooms.  So, Rickey asked if Thomas could sleep on a cot in his room.  The clerk allowed it, so Thomas and Rickey became roommates for the night.  Rickey recalls hearing Thomas crying and rubbing his skin saying; “Black skin, black skin.  If only I could make them white.”  Thomas and Rickey remained friends for years.  Rickey, recounted this story decades later, saying that this account moved his heart to want to challenge baseball’s color barrier.

To break the color barrier, Rickey would need someone special.  He wasn’t just looking for a player with talent; there were plenty of players with the talent in Negro Leagues to succeed in the majors.  He was looking for someone who possessed several qualities; the drive to push through oppression, the strength to remain cool under incredibly intense pressure and hatred, and the strength that can only be found in Christ to get you through it all.

Rickey wanted to scout the Negro League teams to find the right person, but didn’t want his intentions discovered, for fear that he would be stopped.  He claimed interest in beginning a new Negro League Team and claimed to be scouting players for it.  His scouts found Jackie Robinson.

Rickey was impressed by the reports that he’d received, so he called Robinson in for an interview.  He began by asking Robinson if he knew why he was there.  Robinson thought that he did; because Rickey wanted him to play for a new Negro League team.  Rickey told him that he was wrong; that he wanted him to play for the Dodgers.  He knew that Robinson had the talent, but he also knew that Robinson had a temper.  He told the young player that he wasn’t sure he had the guts to make it.

This angered Robinson.  No one had ever questioned his guts before.  But, before he could respond, Rickey clarified that he was looking for someone with the guts not to fight back.  The unfair accusation made against African Americans was that they didn’t have the temperament to play in the Major Leagues; that they would be easily angered, lose their temper, and cause fights.  If an African American were to challenge this mindset, they would have insults hurled at as those who stood against them would do everything in their power to make them lose their cool.  Robinson would need to promise never to lose his temper and fight back, no matter how badly he was treated.

Rickey then quoted the Scriptures.  Matthew 5:38-42; You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you; Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

In his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” Robinson recalls responding plainly and simply; “I’ve got two cheeks, Mr. Rickey?  Is that it?”  He vowed to do everything in his power to ignore the hatred and racism he would face to prove that African Americans belonged in the game of baseball.

Robinson endured a hate-filled spring training in Florida in 1946 and played minor league baseball in a far more accepting environment in Montreal.  After achieving great success in the minors, he was called up to the begin the 1947 season playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A pivotal moment in Robinson’s young career came on April 22 that year, a week into the season.  The Dodgers were playing the Phillies at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.  It was a cold day, so the stadium was far emptier than usual.  Fans could hear what was said on the field and in the dugouts.

The Phillies had a manager named Ben Chapman.  Chapman was from Alabama and was known for his bigotry.  He had played for the Yankees in the 30’s but was traded after making Nazi salutes to fans he perceived to be Jewish.  Every time Jackie Robinson stepped into the batter’s box, Chapman would verbally assault him with hate-filled attacks.  His words were vicious and venomous.  They were so vulgar that even Segregationists in the crowds grew uncomfortable.

Robinson was beginning to lose him composure.  In his autobiography, he recalls thinking to himself; “To hell with Mr. Rickey’s ‘noble experiment.  To hell with the image of the patient, black freak I was supposed to create.  I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of b’s and smash his teen in with my despised black fist.  Then I could walk away from it all.”

But Robinson remembered his promised to turn the other cheek.  He refused to fight back, or to say a word, or to even look in the direction of the dugout.  He simply played baseball that day.

As teammates, and fans, and even Segregationists watched Robinson that day, they saw him do something they doubted they could have done themselves.  They saw a bravery, courage, and strength that deserved admiration and respect.  While certainly not every heart was touched, and not everyone changed completely, many hearts began to change that day.  Fans who walked into Ebbets field booing Robinson found themselves beginning to cheer.  Teammates who didn’t want him on the team began to consider him one of the Dodgers.  A young, white, high school student, Gil Jonas, was in attendance that day.  Prior to that game, he never thought much about the challenge that African Americans faced.  Because of what he witnessed in Robinson that day, he became an advocate of human rights and an avid fund raiser for the NAACP.

Robinson strived to put the Words of Jesus into action.  In doing so, he changed the world!

Steven Souza Jr. – The Importance of Teammates

 

Steven Souza Jr.

Outfielder, Steven Souza Jr. Photo by Keith Allison 

 

It is not good for man to be alone.

When God first created Adam in the garden, he was all alone.  No spouse.  No friends.  No family.  Our Triune God knew that we couldn’t live out our lives in His image if we had no one to love and care for.  So God created Eve to give Adam a partner, helper, and friend.  After sin entered the world, we needed each other more than ever.  We all need other people in our lives to encourage us and to keep us from straying in our walk with God.  The story of Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder, Steven Souza, shows why.

Souza was raised in church, but refers to himself as a prodigal son.  He quickly found himself wandering from the faith he was raised in and living life his own way instead.  Instead of living for others, he lived for himself.  He explained to the Increase, “I thought everything revolved around me.  Elevating myself in every environment I was in – whether I was with my family, friends, or teammates – I developed a lot of pride.”  But Souza soon found himself in a dark place and began to feel like he was losing his identity.

God sent teammate Michael Taylor into Souza’s life.  One day, as Souza’s life in a dark place continued, Taylor asked him how his walk with Christ was going.  Souza lied.  He said that everything was going fine, though that could not have been farther from the truth.  Perhaps Taylor saw through it, because the next thing he did was encourage him to start reading God’s Word.  Souza went to God in prayer that night, asking God to do something to show him that He was real.  But nothing happened.

Though God may not have performed the miracle Souza had been seeking, He was still at work in his life.  As Souza recalls; “over the next few days, God continued to bring key people into my life who pointed me towards Christ. One of those people – a friend of mine – invited me to church that week.”  God touched his heart that day.  Not long after – on January 31, 2012, Steven Souza was baptized.  He recalls now that, after his baptism, some things in his life changed completely right away, but other changes have been more of a slow, gradual, refining process.

To this day, God is still using other people in Souza’s life.  In another article on the Increase, he explained how God has continued to use others to help in his Christian life.  He said of his time with the Tampa Bay Rays;

“We have a team Bible study that meets once a week which has really blown up. There’s a giant group of guys that come and it’s been really fun to grow in community and knowledge of the Lord together. The relationships that we’ve been able to create with each other have been awesome, though there’s only so close you can get with a large group of guys. But there are two guys who I’ve really been able to really go deeper with. Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley have become two of my best friends and men with whom I have been able to establish solid accountability. Alex, Chase, and I have found a community with each other where we can challenge, encourage, and grow closer to God together. The three of us are able to really energize and uplift one another; within this brotherhood we can really feel the presence and blessing of the Lord. Desiring to go deeper with each other in our faith and friendship, we’ve committed to meeting daily with each other, whether over breakfast or by our lockers, to check in and share what’s on our hearts.   I’ve seen incredible encouragement and growth in my own life come as a result of these men’s fellowship. I remember last year Chase and Alex approached me one day with something that they had observed in my life—something that was manifesting itself on the field. I didn’t have wrong intentions in my heart, but I was coming across in a way that demonstrated less-than-Christlike behavior. Out of genuine care and concern for me, they pointed out to me the way that my demeanor was portrayed in certain situations on the field and encouraged me to be more careful about how I act so that I can be a good light for Christ. I immediately recognized what they were saying and was surprised at how I had not been able to see this. So thankful for their desire to lead me on a good path, I began to work on paying closer attention to my responses and actions during the game… This type of daily community and faithful accountability is what Jesus calls us to find in our brothers and sisters.”

In the article, Souza points to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” 

This year, things will be different for Souza.  The Rays spent the offseason clearing payroll and investing in the future.  The Rays waved Whitley, who was then claimed by the Braves.  Alex Cobb remains an unsigned free agent as of this writing.  Two other fellow Christians, Peter Bourjos and Steve Cishek, both signed with the Cubs.  After watching some of his brothers in Christ move to other cities, Souza surprisingly learned that he was the next to go.  On February 20, 2018, he – along with Yankees minor league pitcher, Taylor Widener was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-team trade.  The Yankees received infielder Brandon Drury in the deal, with the Rays picking up a group of prospects, headlined by pitcher Anthony Banda and infielder Nick Solak.

2018 will mark a new beginning for Souza. He begins the season on a new team in a new city in a new clubhouse.  Now, it will be him who stands alongside new teammates, encouraging them with the Gospel and serving as a living example of what a man of God should be.

Sometimes, instead of sending miracles into people’s lives to show them His presence, He sends us.  God came to Souza in his time of need through his teammates.  God uses us, too, to come into people’s lives at just the right time to point them to Christ.  We should remember that in all of our relationships and in every interaction we have.  We’re there to point other people to Jesus and to be lights that shine for Him!