Jordy Mercer – Strength in the Midst of Change

 

Pirates at Orioles June 13, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Jordy Mercer.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightmare Season for Chris Maragos

 

Chris Maragos.jpg

Chris Maragos of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

Thursday, October 12, 2017 was a great day for the Philadelphia Eagles.  They defeated the Panthers in Charlotte on a nationally televised Thursday night game, bringing their record to 5-1.  The night before the game, something even better happened!  Eagles Wide Receiver Marcus Johnson became baptized into Christ!  It was a great day for the Eagles!

But not for Chris Maragos.

Maragos is a unique football player and an inspirational human being.  In NFL terms, he’s a little guy, measuring in at only 5’10” and weighing 200 lbs.  After high school, he enrolled at Western Michigan University as a wide receiver.  He played sparingly as a freshman, reeling in 25 catches for 222 yards.  With his football career not getting off to the start he desired, he felt God leading him to transfer to a different school. 

Maragos had a great option.  He could transfer to a Division II school, Grand Valley State, where he would receive a full football scholarship, start at wide receiver, would live relatively close to his girlfriend, Serah, (who is now his wife), and, because he would be transferring to a lower level, he would get to play the very next season (NCAA rules require that a player who transfers from one Division I school to another to sit out a year).

He never attended Grand Valley State.

Instead, he felt called to enroll in a different school, the University of Wisconsin.  His friends thought he was crazy.  He says in an interview with the Increase that people were asking him; “If you can’t even make it on Western Michigan, how are you going to make it at Wisconsin?”  But that’s where he felt called, so that’s where he went.

The transition to Wisconsin wasn’t an easy one.  He received no scholarship.  He would have to sit out for a year.  For a while, he wasn’t even sure he would make the team!  They wanted him to change his position from wide receiver to safety.  But as time passed, things began to fall into place.  He made the team, earned a scholarship, became a team captain, and ultimately played well enough to sign an NFL contract with the San Francisco 49ers.  He only played in 3 games with the 49ers, but signed with the Seahawks the following year, with whom he would win the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.

The 2013 season was a dream season for Maragos.  On October 12, the 2017 season turned into a nightmare.  On what he calls a ‘fluke play,’ Maragos tore his posterior cruciate ligament, ending his season.  The injury has been a difficult one.   Maragos explained the process to The Increase;

After surgery I went from 200 pounds to 178 in a few weeks. The procedure literally zapped me of all my strength; I couldn’t eat for 10 days after. During this extremely hard time, one thing became really clear to me: just how dependent I am on the Lord. I had to completely lean into Him and trust that He would bring me through this. I felt like I had been stripped down to nothing as I learned to rely on Him for all the mundane, daily things that are easy to take for granted. I was barely able to move or eat; the simplest things suddenly became almost impossible and very time consuming…  [After] surgery, suddenly I had to trust in God for every detail and find my strength in Him for even the smallest of things. It’s been a painful process and recovery is slow, but I’ve found a new contentment in the Lord unlike anything I have experienced before.”

 “I can’t imagine going through this time without Jesus by my side. When difficult times come, all I have to rest in is the love and sovereignty of God. I’m continually asking the Lord, “How can I honor and serve You with my life? How can I draw others to You?” But during this time I’ve realized that though I can still point others toward Christ through this situation, God wants to refine me in this time. He wants me to draw closer to Him as He both challenges and encourages me. The Lord is meeting me here in the pain.”

It hasn’t been easy for Maragos.  He confesses that “these circumstances have definitely not been easy for me. My heart is heavy as I wrestle with this every day.”  What’s gotten him through it is his faith.  One of his favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Maragos explains; “The Christian walk is not about following something blindly. It’s about trusting in God’s Word and gaining assurance from His promises, which He makes very clear to us. This is what gives us strong faith. We can have confidence in things not seen because of the resurrection of Christ and the hope God has given us through His Word and His Spirit.  This is true. This is accurate. This is sure.”

Regardless of what happens on February 4, the 2017 season will not have a fairytale ending for Chris Maragos.  But he knows for certain that God will be there to help him through these difficult times, and that the fairytale ending he’s looking forward to most – eternal life with Christ – is a sure thing! 

JJ Hoover – Matthew 20:27-28

JJ Hoover

Love what you do.  Make a lot of money.  Retire and enjoy it.

That’s pretty much the American dream.

At one point, that was Milwaukee Brewers pitcher, JJ Hoover’s dream too.  He wrote in an Article for the Increase entitled “In a New Light;” “While I was growing up, my intent was to play baseball, make a lot of money, and sit at home in my hometown of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania.”

A lot has changed.  Hoover grew up in a Christian home and began attending baseball chapel pretty early in his baseball career.  At the same time, he didn’t take it all that seriously and hadn’t really given his all to Christ.  That all changed in 2012.  He began to see the light of Christ in some of his teammates, including Chris Heisey.  Hoover tells the Increase that, “at that point, something clicked – the lightbulb went on and I was sold out for Christ.”

Since then, Hoover’s life has changed.  While by nature not outspoken, he’s become intentional about speaking about his faith.  Instead of focusing on making money, he invests in people; supporting ministries that care for the needs of others.  Instead of sitting at home, he’s left the comforts of this country to travel the world to help those in need, recently flying with his wife, Megan-Kate, to Ethiopia with a group called “Crisis Aid.”

One of the Bible Verses that touched Hoover’s heart is Matthew 20:27-28; “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Hoover recalls, concerning his trip to Ethiopia; Seeing a country so different from my own and people living a life so far from the “American Dream” was really eye-opening for me. It seems like in America we work hard to earn as much money as we can so we can buy as much as we can. But the people that we met in Ethiopia were simply trying to utilize as much as they could in order to survive. Most people lived in tin huts that were the size of a normal American bathroom. If you traveled further outside the city those huts were made out of mud, and even further out the huts were formed by grass. Most people live with no running water or electricity. We weren’t even able to travel further out into the tribal areas and see what life is like there, because the whole country is in a state of emergency.  One of the things that stirred our hearts the most during this trip was talking to the women who had been rescued from prostitution. We were able to pray over those who were brave enough to share their stories with us. Another humbling moment was walking into the orphanage and meeting so many girls who were without parents. It physically hurt when we weren’t able to take them home. Megan-Kate and I are continuing to try to adopt one or two of these girls we met but with the country currently closed off, we’re not even sure it’s possible.”

Hoover learned another important life lesson; We all have to take God’s command to spread the Gospel to the world seriously, whether that’s to our neighbors, teammates, friends, or family. I will never see the world in the same way again and I wouldn’t want to. I recognize that God desires for me to die to myself a little bit more each day; I want to be open to the Holy Spirit’s call on my life, wherever or whatever that may be.

Our goal as Christians ought to be to live for others and not for ourselves.  Jesus lived for us, giving up His comfort and even His very life, dying on the cross to pay for our sins.  His sacrifice alone pays for our sin and wins for us eternal life.  What better way is there to thanks to Him than to give up what we have to serve others?