(Photo courtesy of Norm Hall/Arizona Diamondbacks)
Long before I ever stepped up to the plate in 2001, I was a 22-year-old, wondering if my career was already coming to an end.
It was a difficult time for me...my wife and I had only been married for two years, and of those 24 months we had spent 16 of them apart as I tried to start my MLB career. To make matters worse, I was on the verge of never playing baseball again. In my first season with some regular playing time, in 1987, I hit .216. That's not good, even for rookies, and then the next year I hit .218. It was around that time I told my wife to stay in school, because my baseball career was hanging on by a thread.
One thing I realized, however, was that Christ will use any scenario for His glory. Whether I struck out or hit a home run, He was going to be right there in the middle of everything. It was an easy concept to grasp when I accepted God into my heart at 10 years old, but it's another thing to do that when you are wondering if your career might be over.
Here's the honest truth: I don't think God cares whether or not I won a World Series. I think He is more concerned with how I would use each situation to honor Him. And for me, at that time, one of the big tests was not just how I was going to handle my adversity, but also how I would view my opponent.
Baseball is a game of adversaries. Pitcher vs. hitter. Runner vs. catcher. Manager vs. Manager. And when your paycheck depends on you beating your opponent, one of the temptations can be to view the competition as the enemy. Fortunately I had some great teammates like Don Gordon, Andre Thornton, Brett Butler, and Chris Bando who helped me build a solid Christian foundation as I started my career, and I was able to view the other players as someone to respect rather than to detest.
Philippians 2 talks about being imitators of Christ, and for each day of my 18-year career, that's what I tried to do. Each and every day I tried to imitate Christ, but I didn't make him my top priority. Rather, whenever I had a task at hand, whether it was taking batting practice or lifting weights or watching film, I was concentrating on that. The thing was, I wanted to make sure God was present in every activity I did.
The strategy paid off. I eventually turned that .217 batting average over my first two years into a 18-year career. I wasn't usually the greatest player on my teams, but I was good enough that in 1998, the Diamondbacks wanted to make me one of the original members of their organization.
When I was brought in, team owner Jerry Colangelo had a specific idea in mind - to be the Yankees of the West. The Yankees were admired for their tradition, legacy of winning, and doing things the right way. We want a team full of character, not characters, he told me. We just didn't realize that in our fourth season, with the World Series on the line, the Diamondbacks would be playing the Yankees.
But before that World Series took place, baseball stopped for a week as our country endured one of the greatest tragedies in our history.