Given Major League Baseball’s All Star game was played this week in beautiful Dodger Stadium, I’m reminded of a game several years ago and an event featuring Christian ballplayer testimonies. ◊
(from Biblical Viewpoint, 07/04/15, Christian Ballplayers)
When professional ballplayers share their Christian testimonies, we see that they are very real people who struggle with life and faith in the midst of a very public vocation. It’s actually very refreshing, disarming, and highly inspirational.
Over 40,000 people watched them play a baseball game that afternoon in a gem of a stadium (Oracle Park) in San Francisco. The home team lost but an estimated 7,000 people stayed after the game for an event that’s been occurring here annually with this team for 15 years.
It’s a post-game event where professional ballplayers share their faith and Christian testimony. The event has grown from a couple hundred people at a local restaurant to a live concert and stage event held at the ballpark in right-centerfield with thousands of patrons lounging in the outfield grass.
This past weekend my wife and I attended our first San Francisco Giant’s Fellowship Day.1
Real Players. Real People. Real Christians.
The concert performer was Christian recording artist Jeremy Camp, who himself looked like an athletic ballplayer, even a football tight-end. He played 3 warm-up songs before turning over the reins to Giant’s General Manager, Bobby Evans, who served as the Master of Ceremonies. I had heard Evan’s personal Christian testimony earlier in the year at a Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast event. He’s honest, humble and deep in a faith that has carried him to the upper echelons of major league baseball and the Giant’s front office. His Christian faith syncs well with his business competence, high integrity, and family commitment.
He introduced the panel of players and interviewed them about their own personal Christian faith and how it applies to the demanding ups and downs of working as a professional baseball player. Here’s a summary of the players and their comments:
- Kelby Tomlison – a rookie second-baseman called up mid-season now performing like an All Star. The previous two nights he’d hit a grand slam home run and winning walk-off single in the 9th inning. He spoke of turning to Jesus Christ as a youth in his hometown church. He’s submitted his life, his marriage and his career to the Lord.
- Ryan and Nicole Vogelsong – the losing pitcher that day, Ryan and his wife lived through a very long and meandering career that took them around the majors and minors and even to Japan with their young family. His real opportunity with the Giants came in 2011 at age 34. He now possesses 2 world Series Championship rings. He and his wife shared their faith in the living God who gets them through wins and losses, good times and bad, with a perspective that expects nothing but to reflect His love and “sweet fragrance.”
- Hunter Strickland – a immensely talented power pitcher who works hard to control his fastball as well as his emotions. He’s worked through questions like ‘Why do bad things happen to us?’ with an acknowledgment of God’s purposes as more important than anything else in the life of he, his wife and family.
- Santiago Casilla – the Spanish-speaking closer/reliever from the Dominican Republic has a pastor’s heart and a prophet’s word and mission. He’s known for receiving and delivering a prophetic vision last season that the Giants would win the World Series and that God would bless the team. He preaches at home and in the clubhouse and is a unique inspiration to his teammates.
- Justin Maxwell – a utility outfielder added to the ball club this season, Maxwell spoke of God helping him through a personal family tragedy at the beginning of the season. He also spoke of his being welcomed into the Giant’s family, particularly by another fellow Christ-following teammate, Hunter Pence (not in attendance) despite both of them competing for outfield playing time.
- Jeremy and Larissa Affeldt – the senior veteran Giant’s relieving pitcher, a vocal Christian whose lips can be seen praying on television closeups while he pitches on the mound. Jeremy expressed his frustration and even anger at God for some of his disappointments, including compounded injuries this year that has kept him out of the lineup. Nevertheless, he is grateful for the opportunity to play the great game of baseball and be a light when and where he can.
Note: Past speakers at Giant’s Fellowship Day: Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, Travis Ishikawa, Barry Zito, and Brian Wilson.
Why We Idolize
It’s interesting that we watch players and cheer for teams, applauding and lamenting good and poor play and outcomes. It’s easy to look at high-caliber professionals athletes and raise up and idolize them as something different from us and our normal worlds and lives. When you have the privilege to watch and listen to them share as individuals about their marriages, families, fears, desires, victorious highs, crushing lows, uncertain futures and steady disappointments, you realize they are simply people like all of us.
They just live their lives in an arena with people judging how well they perform.
When they come off the pedestal and shed the hype, Christian ballplayers are highly appealing people. We can still admire them yet now come closer to understanding we all have a similar walk with Christ – one that requires, no matter our status, full surrender, humility and dependency. Our life becomes a living sacrifice.
Thank you and congratulations, San Francisco Giants – you’re an impressive organization full of quality and inspirational people.
And that coming from a life-long Dodger fan.
Apart from their paycheck, workplace, and baseball skills, are we really any different from Christian ballplayers?
The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. – Psalms 37:23-24
1 Note: SF Giants Fellowship Day is still an annual event. This year’s event was on May 15, 2022.