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.

Jeanmar Gomez – Joshua 1:9

6844557207_d3bb5445d3_o

Unlikely Closer Jeanmar Gomez.  Photo by Erik Drost

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps it would be Hector Neris.  Maybe James Russell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collin McHugh – Jeremiah 29:12-15

Collin McHugh delivers a pitch during ALDS Game 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Norris – 2 Peter 3:18

 

Daniel Norris

Detroit Tiger’s Pitcher Daniel Norris.  Photo by Keith Allison

Detroit Tiger’s pitcher Daniel Norris is not exactly your typical baseball player.

He doesn’t play for the money but instead strives to keep his life simple.  He was described by ESPN in an article called Man in the Van as a quirky soul who lives by his own code and as a “hippie who has never tried drugs.”  After signing his first contract, and receiving a $2 million signing bonus, Norris prayed to God that the money didn’t change who he was, made donations to his church and to his parents, and set an $800 a month living allowance for himself.  His dream car is his 1978 VW van!

He doesn’t play for the glory but instead strives to to give all the glory to God.  In fact, he was baptized while wearing his baseball jersey!  He explained his reasoning in an interview with the Christian Chronicle; “God blessed me in my ability to play.  I saw it as kind of a way to show God, ‘hey, I see what You’re doing with baseball.  This is an opportunity to give You glory.”

Norris is definitely not your typical baseball player.  So, who exactly is Daniel Norris according to Daniel Norris?  He defined himself in an interview with New London Red like this; “Well, 1st and foremost I am a Christian who doubles as an athlete, not the other way around… I’m passionate about baseball, surfing, and my relationship with God.  I think that true passion consists of a real deep desire to always get better at something.  To always be in seach of opportunities to improve.  Yea, that’s passion.”  On his instagram page, he sets his goals in life as follows; “In search of 3 things: 1. Eternal life, 2. The Strike Zone, 3. Good waves.  2 Peter 3:18 – just keep livin’ *dirtbag*”

In 2 Peter 3:18, the Apostle Peter offers some final words to his dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  His parting words are “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.”  Norris recognizes that his purpose in life is to give God glory in all that he does.  He explains; “2 Peter 3:18 is my life verse and basically it means to me that everything that comes my way is a gift from God and I always give thanks to Him by turning the glory over to Him.”

That should be the goal for each and every one of us; not to live for our own glory or gain, but to do all things for God.  That was Jesus’ goal in His life as well.  He could have lived for His own glory.  He could have fought to establish an earthly kingdom.  He could have allowed His Disciples to worship Him on the Mount of Transfiguration.  But instead, He gave up everything that God the Father might be glorified.  He showed us that this was His purpose during Holy Week.  As Jesus neared the cross, He prayed in Garden of Gethsemane just before being arrested; “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me in your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”

With Jesus and with Daniel Norris, may we all strive to accomplish the work God gives us to do and humbly and graciously use the blessings He gives us to glorify Him!

Steve Cishek – Colossians 3:23

27554174732_2359a61742_o

Steve Cishek, Relief Pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Photo by Laura Smith

When God first gave the Ten Commandments to His people, He also provided the following instructions; And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).  For Seattle Mariner’s pitchers, Steve Cishek, perhaps we should say it a bit differently; write them on a piece of paper, tuck them in your pocket, and carry them to the pitcher’s mound.

Every time Cishek takes the mound, he carries with him a small, square, laminated piece of paper, tattered and wrinkled on the corners.  On that piece of paper are the words of his favorite Bible verse, Colossians 3:23 – whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master.”  Before facing his first batter, he reads these words.  

Cishek explained to mlb.com’s Jenifer Langosch;  “I could recite it in my head, but pulling it out of my back pocket makes me slow down and take my time a little bit when I just want to go, go, go.  I can sit back and read some scripture to really set my mind and get after it with hitters.”  He added in a JesusnSports interview; “It reminds me that when I am pitching, I can’t pitch to impress our coaches of staff or any team mates. I’m working for God’s glory. With good outings or bad outings He doesn’t care how I pitch. No matter what He loves me. So it takes an enormous amount of pressure off me to perform for a crowd or coaches. And good outing or terrible outing I always thank the Lord for what He has done in my life and for allowing for me to play baseball.”

Whatever we do in our lives, we do well to remember God’s Word from Colossians 3.  We should do nothing in life to bring glory to ourselves.  Instead, we should constantly remember that all that we do is for God and His glory.  That’s the model that Jesus set for us.  He came, not to be served, glorified, or honored, but instead He made Himself nothing that we might be saved. Everything that Jesus did, He worked at it with all His heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master.