TobyMac writes hit albums in his sleep. At least that’s what I’ve decided. I mean he’s had hit albums dating all the way back to 1992 with dc Talk’s “Free At Last.” And “Eye on It” is no different. It debuted as the top album on the Billboard Top 200 list, only the third Christian album to accomplish that feat. I could just give you those stats and you would know enough to buy this album, but I guess I’ll give you a little review.
Musically, TobyMac has always been able to evolve with the times. From grunge in Jesus Freak with dc Talk, to more heavy metal influences infused with rap on his debut solo album “Momentum,” he’s never one to stay stale with his sound from album to album. Eye On It has a bit of influence from Owl City (who Tobymac has collaborated with) and many other modern pop stars. And it’s not a bad thing, there are some incredibly catchy songs on this album like “Me Without You,” “Lose Myself” and “Speak Life.”
One thing about TobyMac’s music I can always appreciate is that there are many layers of sound. You can listen to a track a few times over and center in on a certain sound effect or riff that you didn’t necessarily pick up on the first time.
As always, TobyMac delivers upward pointed lyrics. “Steal My Show” talks about letting God be the star of his shows, and “Thankful For You” talks about how his music has always been about glorifying the Lord. And “Made for Me” talks about how his wife and their life’s journey together and how God made her for him.
Eye On It is another stellar effort from TobyMac. Go get it before he writes another hit album.
Popularity in the Golf World
TobyMac, who played four years of collegiate golf at Liberty University, is still popular in the golf world today.
Yeah, Super Bowl XXVII was a long time ago — 1993, to be exact. While you’re reading through this year’s Super Bowl issue that we released for free, we dug through the archives to give you this issue from 1993. Take a step back into the past, and read about legends like Reggie White, Barry Sanders, Mike Singletary, and Bart Starr. Happy Throwback Thursday, everyone.
Some love him. Some hate him. Some say he has matured, born again, in a sense; others say he’s a womanizer (six children, four women) who got away with murder. All judgment and preconceived notions aside, however, there are certain things you cannot question about Ray Lewis: his leadership through action and inspiration through words. But don’t let us do the talking…
Lewis,known for wearing his faith on his sleeve, or, shirt, evidenced by the “Psalm 91” shirt he recently revealed, has never shied away from his faith.
“I tell them, trust me, don’t ever take my path. Don’t ever do it the way I did it, because everyone won’t make it. You got to be willing to walk in a storm. That’s what I tell people all the time. If there’s something in your life that you know needs changing, make sure you change it before God’s got to change it. Because if God’s got to change it, you ain’t going to like it.” (Lewis, on how his past mistakes provide a mentoring opportunity for his younger teammates, in a recent New York Times article written by William C. Rhoden.)
“God has done something in my life—and not just for me to see it. God has done something in my life for every hater, every enemy.” (Lewis, as quoted in Sports Illustrated in 2006, preaching during a church service.)
“I don’t believe [God] picks a winner or not. What I do believe is that if you give Him true credit to say ‘Whatever your will is, so be it.’..There’s irony in sports. There’s truth. If there’s a winner there’s a loser…But the bottom line is you never lose when your mind-set is whatever His will is, so be it. If you come out and give everything you got, that’s all you have to do. Whatever happens after that, it happens.” (Lewis, on whether God cares about who wins and loses the Super Bowl, as quoted by Sports Spectrum at Super Bowl Media Day.)
“I know along my journey, a lot of people didn’t know that one of my driving forces was my grandmother, who is in the hospital and she is on life support right now. Every day, she asks me to promise her that I would bring her one more Super Bowl before she went home. Just to be able to give that to her, and I am always emotional any time when I talk to God. Just having that conversation with Him is so much different than having a conversation with anyone else. I do get emotional in times like that when it is at that point.” (Lewis, on how his emotional personality, as quoted by Sports Spectrum at Super Bowl Media Day.)
“Back then, I was a little bit more of a follower, because I hadn’t won a Super Bowl yet, and Shannon (Sharpe) was always trying to tell me what it felt like, what were the things you had to do, and the things you had to give up. So now, it’s different, because now I’m a leader going into this Super Bowl, and I have touched the confetti before. Now, there are a bunch of young guys sitting there and saying, ‘Oh my God, I don’t believe it’s real.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s real.’ So, now I am leading them into what this game is all about and what this 60 minutes is all about. I think that is the biggest difference. I was once a follower, and now I am a leader into this game.” (Lewis, on how he has changed between his last Super Bowl and this Super Bowl, as quoted by Sports Spectrum at Super Bowl Media Day.)
Lewis talks a big game; not everyone believes it. But is his Tebow-esqe vocality frowned upon because of his jaded past, or does his message lack authenticity? Is his preaching merely a facade to hide his guilt?
“It’s definitely all about him. Once a guy goes to the center of the field, goes into the victory formation on the last play of his last home game. I just don’t think the Giants or any organization I’ve ever been a part of, even growing up, would allow somebody to single themselves out like that. If you single yourself out after you make a play, that’s one thing. But to walk out on the field reminds me of the WWE, like The Rock coming out. You’re becoming a caricature of yourself. It’s exhausting. I don’t know why somebody would want that…If you want to say you’re Mr. Religious and all of that, have a clean record. Don’t say all of that stuff if you know there’s stuff that might come back. Those are the things that, when I look at him, I just think hypocrisy.” (Amani Toomer, former New York Giants wide receiver in a recent interview with USA Today Sports.)
“Stop acting like you are one of the people that come out of the Bible. If you’re redeemed—and he’s always quoting Scriptures—then you would have stood up like a man and said what happened.” (Greg Wilson, whose nephew Jacinth Baker died in the infamous Atlanta brawl 13 years ago that nearly destroyed Lewis’ career, as quoted in a recent CNN story.)
Those who know Lewis best believe his message is authentic and heartfelt. He’s admitted he has a dark past, but should that stop him from preaching? It didn’t stop Paul, the apostle. So why should it stop Ray Lewis?
“We are all ex something’s. Ex-drunks. Alcoholics. Womanizers. Whatever it is. He’s got a past. So what…He is the first one to say, ‘I didn’t always get it right.’” (Tatyana McCall, the mother of three of Lewis’ children who has known Lewis for half of her life and possibly better than anyone else and has also went separate ways with Lewis. McCall also told Orlando’s WKMG Local 6 that Lewis is caring, kind, sensitive, and has reinvented himself; she believes the Atlanta nightclub incident 13 years ago changed Lewis and led to him embracing his Christian faith.)
“He was the best defensive player on the field every game he played in. Off the field he was the best. He had this unique ability to resonate with every single person in the locker room. And that’s hard to do. In the NFL, unfortunately, sometimes the guy who is most productive has the loudest voice and that messaging is wrong. Well, that’s not the case with Ray. He is the most productive player but his messaging within the locker room is always right. There’s an intensity to him. That intensity is authentic. It’s genuine and it’s always directed at making the football organization better. … When I say he’s the best, really in my experience in the National Football League, I’ve never seen a person better than him at those three layers: preparation, leadership and play.” (ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl with Lewis and is also an outspoken believer.)
“We have already used him as our team chaplain so Ray could double up anytime he wants. He can coach; he can do whatever he wants. I think Ray’s got big plans. Ray’s that kind of guy and when he’s done playing he’s always a guy trying to affect people and change the way that people think and make an impact on the world. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to do that in some big ways.” (John Harbaugh, on whether Ray Lewis could be the team’s chaplain after he retires, as quoted by Sports Spectrum at Super Bowl Media Day.)
There are certain things you cannot question about Ray Lewis. He is a leader. He is inspirational. And he is vocal about his Christian faith. But Lewis also raises another crucial question. You don’t have to like him. You don’t have to like the way he carries himself. You don’t have to embrace him. But is it your job to question what he proclaims? Or Someone else’s?
By Sports Spectrum
This story was put together by the Sports Spectrum staff.
Get ready for this year’s Winter X Games starting TODAY! Don’t miss out on our most interactive magazine yet, as this issue features TWO professional full-length snowboarding documentaries produced and provided by Nations Foundation.
Our 28-page, interactive January DigiMag also includes features on freeskier David Wise and snowboarder Nick Visconti, along with closeups on Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers center/guard Daniel Kilgore, snowboarder Kelly Clark, and Winter X Games 2010 silver snowboarding medalist Eric Willett. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt also addresses the complicated Manti Te’o situation, staff writer Stephen Copeland answers the question, “Is religion restricting?” and Unpackin’ It podcast host Bryce Johnson interviews Notre Dame alum Renaldo Wynn. Log in here to view.
Kelly Clark sat alone in a Utah hotel room, writing in her journal. It was another contest beginning another season: 2004, two years past the pinnacle of her stellar career when she became the first American female to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal.
That same year, 2002, she also won every other event, including the Winter X Games, and attained all her professional goals—at age 18. Clark was the queen of snowboarding and had everything: fame, money, travel, the ability to dictate her career. It was incredible—for a little while.
Now it all felt empty. “I was writing about if I didn’t wake up tomorrow, I was fine with that,” says Clark in the Nations Foundation film One Year. “I didn’t think anybody would care if I didn’t wake up tomorrow. I was writing if this was what life was, then I was done with life.”
Fast forward to the present: Kelly Clark is still alive. She’s still pushing women’s halfpipe riding to new levels. She’s still a medal favorite going into Olympic qualifying for Vancouver. But the emptiness is gone. Now she’s filled with love—a love that she can’t contain. And that changes everything. “Basically when I came to the end of myself, God met me,” Clark says.
Back to Rock Bottom
Later that dark day in Utah during qualifying heats, Clark overheard another rider consoling a crying contestant who had fallen and been knocked out of the competition. “It’s all right, God still loves you,” the girl offered.
The simple statement lit a spark of hope. Maybe God loves me? Clark thought. It was something to hold on to. Clark tracked down the girl at their hotel, introduced herself and asked the girl to tell her about God.
Clark had never been to church and only knew stereotypes about Christianity. “It was about going to church. It was about being good and following rules. That was my understanding of God,” she says.
Her new friend explained that following Jesus was about relationship, not religion. Clark took it to heart and began questioning life, spirituality, God. She knew her conditioning coach was a Christian and asked if she could bounce questions off him as she sorted things out. “He was like, ‘Definitely, we’ve been praying for you,’ ” Clark says. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ ”
He gave her a Bible and The Purpose Driven Life. Clark began to read and pray, asking God, “Okay, if you’re real, show me that you’re real.” After about five months, she asked herself two questions: “‘Could I ever wake up another day and not think about God?’ And the answer was no because He was already so real and active. And I asked myself, ‘Could I ever run from Him?’ And I was like, ‘No, because I know that He loves me.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it, and then I gave my heart to the Lord.’”
With the winter season ending, Clark’s world travels slowed down, and she plugged into The Lighthouse, a snowboarder church in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. There she found community and a haven to grow in her new beliefs.
As the next winter drew closer, Clark felt some nervousness about how she would be received back on the snow scene. One day at church she was struck by the words of a worship song and sensed God speaking to her. “He was like, ‘Kelly, your love for me is going to be something that you can’t hide. It’s not going to be something you’re going to have to tell people about or put on display or prove. It’s just going to be something you cannot hide,’” she says.
It brought her peace and gave her an idea. She asked a friend to create a new sticker with the words Jesus I cannot hide my love. A snowboarder’s board is a place of importance, a place to display stickers of sponsors and allegiances and things of value. Kelly placed the new sticker prominently on the nose of her board.
“I basically figured honesty and openness are the best way to go,” she says. “Regardless of what was going to happen, I knew God was with me and that it was about love. It wasn’t about making a point or something.”
Some people didn’t understand the changes to Clark’s lifestyle, but most of her friends and sponsors embraced her for who she was. It was hard to argue with the fruit of her new life.
The biggest changes came internally as her identity shifted. Clark had been snowboarding since she was 7, structuring her life around the sport since her early teens and riding as a full-time pro straight out of high school. Snowboarding defined her, so it took a process of unlearning and relearning to separate who she is from the sport she loves.
“There came all sorts of freedom and joy with my snowboarding, with my competing, with my career,” Clark says. “I get to snowboard because I love to do it, and because God made me to do it. I don’t have to snowboard anymore to prove to people who I am.”
“That’s what’s rad about Kelly, she’s not trying to fit an image. She’s totally cool with how she is,” says J.J. Johnson, pro snowboarder and vice president of Nations Foundation, a snowboarding ministry. “She pushes the focus at Jesus and not at herself.”
Life didn’t become perfect after meeting Jesus, though. Clark experienced more injuries than ever in the two years after becoming a Christian. Her TK knee surgery took six months to heal, and she suffered a concussion and two broken wrists. Her return to the 2006 Olympics wasn’t sealed until the last possible qualifier.
Then at Turin, she missed a medal by one point after falling on the last trick of her final run—a frontside 900, or two and a half rotations. She describes it as “a heartbreak,” adding “But it’s not a life-shaking thing.”
Clark feels healthier than ever in all aspects of her life as she focuses on Vancouver 2010. “It’s so much more fun when you’re not thinking that if it doesn’t work out, then your life’s going to be over,” she says. “But at the same time I’ve got to put my entire heart into it.”
Being a self-described, goal-oriented person, Clark is focused on gold. If she can maintain her momentum from a strong last season, her chances should be good. Last year she finished on the podium in every halfpipe contest she participated in and won the overall titles for Dew Tour Halfpipe, Swatch Ticket to Ride World Snowboard Tour and the Grand Prix.
“She’ll definitely come out of Vancouver with another medal,” says fellow 2006 Olympian Andy Finch. “She’s riding so well. Her confidence is up. She’s boosting bigger than all the other girls. There are definitely some other girls stepping up, but they don’t have her amplitude.”
Winning another Olympic gold would bring a sense of freedom, satisfaction and validation of eight years of hard work. But whatever the outcome—win or lose, healthy or injured—Clark is confident in her identity. She knows God loves her, and that’s something she just can’t hide.
“Just being able to pursue my dreams with God is something that’s part of the journey I’m on right now,” Clark says. “It’s been a really fun adventure.”
By Jeremy V. Jones
Jeremy V. Jones is a freelance writer, and the former editor of Breakaway magazine, who lives in Colorado Springs, Co.
Below are segments of Sports Spectrum’s interview with Mark Jackson from our February 1995 issue.
SS: How have you changed since your college days at St. John’s? Has being an NBA star affected you? Jackson: No, I think the things that have changed me are being married, having two children, and most important, becoming a Christian. That changed my life more than anything else. That changed my perspective, changed my attitude, changed my whole outlook, and that really was the greatest thing that happened to me.
SS: After a couple of seasons with the Clippers, you moved on again, this time to the Pacers. How do you keep any stability in your life with all these changes? Jackson: I keeps stability in my life with God by trusting in Him, knowing that He’s not going to steer me wrong and that things are going to go great as long as I stand firm. Also, I have a wonderful wife an wonderful children. Those are the key things in life. It doesn’t make any difference where I play. Still, I must say that this is a great situation: great organization, great coach and twelve guys committed to winning, and I really welcomed this trade.
SS: What keeps you driving to succeed in the NBA? Jackson: Perfection. Wanting to be the best. Wanting to continue to prove people wrong. And, most important, wanting to touch lives: Wanting people who sit in the stands or sit watching the TV to say, “There’s something special about that guy. Not his basketball ability, not that he can pass the ball and make people around him better, but there’s a special light shining on him.” And wanting to them to want the same thing and letting them know that the light is Jesus Christ.
SS: You mentioned giving your life to Christ. Was it in college? Jackson: No, it actually happened in my third year as a pro, when I met my wife, Desiree. She told me about the experience of giving your life to Jesus Christ. Nobody had told me that up to that point. She told me about it on our first date, and I thought: “This lady is really special; she just saved my life!” So I accepted Christ as my Savior…
SS: How have you changed? You said that believing in Jesus made a big change in your life–how did it change you? Jackson: Well, I was never a “bad guy,” but it’s changed me to the point where I try to witness and to minister to people so they don’t have to go 20-something years of their lives without knowing they could become a Christian, that they can give their life to the Lord, and the Lord is waiting. I try to–whether it means mentioning my faith in an interview–allow the Lord to use me as an ambassador, trying to touch someone, trying to bring a soul to Christ.
SS: What NBA story best typifies you and your character? Jackson: Coming down on a fast break with another teammate alongside of me, when I could just go in and take the shot myself, giving him the ball. As simple as that sounds, that probably best typifies what I’m all about: Unselfish and doing things for others, and sitting back and thanking God for the opportunity.
SS: What’s God been doing in your life recently? Jackson: Hey, He’s blessing me! He just blessed us with a beautiful baby girl! (Heavyn Nicole was born on December 12, 1994.) Being in the delivery room, watching the precious gift of life being given to my wife and me–you cannot imagine how special that is! And that’s what God continues to do for me.
SS: You’ve got a little boy and a daughter now. If you could pass one thing on to your kids, what would it be? Jackson: The only thing I’d pass to them is Christ–saving their souls and telling them about Jesus Christ and the wonderful things He’s done and continues to do. I’ve done that with my son, and I’m going to continue to do it with my daughter. That’s the only thing I want to pass on to them. Basketball, and everything else, when it comes down to it, doesn’t make a difference.
By Nancy VanArendonk
This Q&A appeared in the February 1995 issue of Sports Spectrum.
In senior Rex Burkhead, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have another outstanding I-back—and because of Burkhead’s relationship with Jesus Christ, they have a lot more.
His relationship with Christ has been reflected in his approach both to football and life. The more he has learned God can be trusted, the more confident he grows in whatever he does.
But Burkhead didn’t always have that outlook about faith, although he has always believed in God, and knew that faith in Him was helpful for life.
“I didn’t know what it meant to have a relationship with Him in Jesus Christ,” says Burkhead, a powerful-looking, 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back who is projected to be one of the top running backs in the upcoming NFL Draft.
When he attended a church retreat with friends during his sophomore year in high school, he received Christ as his Savior. Thus began the relationship.
“Since then, it’s been a journey,” he says. He grew a little as a Christian during high school and noticed he was surrounded by new temptations. “Right there I knew I needed something else of strength to hold on to, and that was my relationship with Christ.”
As he considered where to play college football, he realized that the culture at the University of Nebraska provided the best opportunity for him to grow in his relationship with Christ. When he arrived at the school, Christian teammates introduced him to opportunities for growth. He began attending Bible study, which he says sparked an interest to learn more of what God has to offer, especially the teachings in His Word.
What Burkhead was learning proved to be valuable, because he experienced highs and lows. He especially learned from the low of suffering a broken foot after five games in his freshman season, and he learned to maintain a positive attitude and trust in God.
“No matter what, He’s got a plan for you,” Burkhead says. “He’s got your life mapped out. Just have faith in Him that He’s going to take care of you.”
From the adversity, he also learned to make the most of his opportunities and glorify God in whatever he does. In the Holiday Bowl, Nebraska featured him in the Wildcat formation, where someone other than the quarterback takes the snap. He was productive, rushing for 89 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown as the Huskers routed Arizona, 33-0.
He continued to grow more productive during the next two seasons. In 2010 he rushed for 100 yards or more in three games, finishing with 951 yards on 172 carries and seven touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 148 yards. The following season, in 2011, he rushed for 1,357 yards (the most by a running back at Nebraska since 1997) on 284 carries and 15 touchdowns, and also caught 21 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers earned him first-team All-Big Ten.
This season, though, he has battled injuries. He sprained his left knee in the opener, a 49-20 win against Southern Mississippi, and then aggravated the injury two more times (against Northwestern and Ohio State). He missed eight games and left early in three others, but he was able to play the last regular season game (a 13-7 victory against Iowa), the Big Ten Championship (a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin), and the Capital One Bowl game (against SEC runner-up Georgia).
But Burkhead has increasingly endeared himself to others by running hard and decisively, and few can recall him fumbling more than three times in his career. Additionally, he is appreciated for his dedicated work ethic and his gracious, humble demeanor.
Although he is not known for breakaway speed, “he’s like a wild animal when he has the ball in his arms and uses that off-hand as a weapon,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown says. “He plays the game with incredible enthusiasm, passion and with a fierce spirit.”
Burkhead says he approaches each play with a “fearless” attitude and lets his talents and instincts take charge. His teammates and position coach have noticed firsthand his passion for football, best illustrated by his work ethic and his leadership by example. “He’s gone above and beyond in terms of training, Brown says. “Anything that he can do to improve something in his game, he’s hungry to do it. He’s one of the most coachable guys I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps Burkhead has most impacted others for Christ with his attitude of humility and servanthood. “Whatever helps the team, whatever helps us win games is what I want to do,” he says.
His versatility as an athlete certainly does not hurt. In addition to rushing he has made plays catching and throwing passes or executed a key block to create a big play. One of his most memorable plays was catching a short pass from Taylor Martinez in the comeback win over Ohio State in 2011. Martinez was being rushed and threw to Burkhead, who was able to evade the defender’s tackle with a little hop and then head to the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.
FCA staff member Robbie Trent has seen how God has used Burkhead, an Academic All-American, as well. “Rex is a guy that really desires to be an ambassador of Christ and to correctly handle the Word of Truth,” Trent says. “He definitely is desiring to reflect Christ in everything he does.”
Aaron Green, one of two talented sophomores, who trail Burkhead on the depth chart at I-back, sees Burkhead as a leader. “The best lesson I got from Rex is to go hard always, in all that I do,” he says. “Once you see him in the weight room and on practice, you know you got to go hard, because Rex brings it every day.”
In addition to simply playing for the Huskers, Burkhead, is continuing their tradition of great I-backs such as Roger Craig, Mike Rozier, Calvin Jones, Ahman Green, Roy Helu, Jr., etc. “It’s a privilege”to have such a platform, Burkhead says.
“I’ve appreciated Rex’s generosity with his time,” Trent says. “He has been more than generous,” to share his testimony, the Gospel with people in Nebraska.
Says Brown: “It’s an honor to have him in my room every day, to coach him, and he rubs off on everybody, including me.”
By Timothy Laux
Timothy Laux is a freelance writer who lives in Nebraska.
Just the mention of his name elicits a collection of defeated, almost fearful responses from major league hitters.
Some shake their head and laugh nervously. Others ponder their fate for a moment…then shrug their shoulders in resignation. Still others take a deep breath and slowly exhale as if they’ve narrowly escaped death.
Remember the 1993 All-Star Game? The always colorful, left-handed hitting John Kruk stepped in to face Johnson. The 6-foot-10 inch southpaw promptly sailed a fastball over the first baseman’s head. That’s all Kruk needed. He was finished.
He was transformed into a wide-eyed little leaguer batting for the first time as he bailed out against Johnson’s next two offerings. One feeble swing later — Kruk K’d.
“It’s tough to hit when you’re dead,” said the now-retired Kruk in a post game interview after his brush with fate. “If he was going to hit me, he was going to have to hit a moving target. It would be embarrassing to die on national TV.”
Imagine stepping into the box just 60 feet, 6 inches from the game’s hardest-throwing, most intimidating hurler. Facing the long, lanky, lean, and sometimes loose lefty isn’t exactly a walk in a roadside park — it’s more like a night-time stroll through Central Park.
“He’s a very intimidating person,” says Brewers slugger Dave Nilsson after a long sigh. “When you step in the box against him, you know you have to be at your best. Everything really has to come together for you to be successful against him.”
That rarely happens. Not just in Nilsson’s case, but for the entire league.
No matter what statistical formula is used to calculate effectiveness, Johnson is simply the best pitcher in the American League:
Wins: Over the last three seasons nobody in the American League has won more. Johnson has 50 wins.
Earned Run Average: Randy’s three-year ERA is 2.97, tops in the American League.
Strikeouts: Nobody in the American League even comes close. He’s racked up an unbelievable 806 K’s in three years! Dominant? California starter Chuck Finley is second with 530 strikeouts in the same time frame.
In this decade, no pitcher in either league has sent more men dragging their lumber back to the dugout as often as Johnson. He has rung up 1,469 batters — leaving a healthy distance between Johnson and second place strikeout artist David Cone with 1,249 K’s.
Johnson is the first pitcher in history to post five consecutive seasons averaging 10-plus K’s per 9 innings.
But statistics don’t tell the complete story of his dominance. The respect Johnson has from his competitors fills in the details. They voted him as the pitcher with the “best fastball” and “best slider” in the game today, according to a Baseball America poll.
“He’s got a great slider, and his fast ball just seems to explode,” says Paul Sorrento, Johnson’s first-year teammate and former Cleveland Indian. “There are some other hard throwers in the league, but none of them compare to Randy. It’s not even close!”
Why is the 32-year-old southpaw so dominant?
Yes, he has awe-inspiring stuff. And yes, he has a warrior-like competitive spirit. But combine those things with the third and most important aspect of his life, and you’ve found the secret to his success — Randy Johnson is a follower of Jesus Christ.
“About three years ago, I had a traumatic experience in my life — my dad passed away,” explains Randy with a photograph of his father atop his locker. “I was on the brink of becoming a Christian anyway, but when my dad passed away I finally made the vow to the Lord that He could have my life, and I would glorify Him on and off the field.
“In the last three years, I have had more heart and more desire, and I feel that’s a direct reflection of my Christian beliefs and lifestyle.”
Glance at the last three years of his career, and who could argue? Johnson’s game has risen to another level. From good to great. From tough to nearly unhittable. From simply a thrower with good stuff to a pitcher with total command of his repertoire.
“He was tough a couple of years ago when he really didn’t have command of his pitches,” explains Sorrento. “Now he’s really got control of the strike zone. It’s scary.”
The improvement in Johnson’s game is no mistake. When Randy made a dramatic change in his life, his game changed too – for the better.
When Randy’s dad died, the big lefty evaluated his life. He knew what was missing and what was needed.
“Sometimes people need to go through a traumatic experience to turn to God,” says Johnson. “I believed in Him, but I didn’t dedicate my life to Him until I had a tragic experience in my life.”
“When you make that commitment to the Lord, you’re gonna have lots of confrontations, and there’ll be lots of tugging. I feel that myself. But there’s only one way to be on this earth, and that’s to be a Christian!”
Johnson, always candid and never shy, speaks about his faith as openly as he talks about his pitching. Ask him question, and get out of the way-Randy’s got plenty to say!
Ask him about the notion that Christian athletes are soft. He replies with passion, “The Christian athlete is misconstrued as being like an ostrich. When things get tough they bury their head in the sand.
“I would confront any fan or professional athlete to say that to me, because that hasn’t been me in the last three years.
“There have been several times in the last three years where I could have been soft and been that ostrich burying my head in the sand because the going got tough. I got through those situations because I believed that the Lord would get me through them, and because I dedicated myself to doing the things I needed to do to be the best. Thats’s one way I can glorify the Lord.”
Johnson’s performance in 1995 was certainly no ostrich act. No other pitcher came close to his accomplishments. Big No. 51 led the league in earned run average (2.48), winning percentage (.900), strikeouts (294), batting average against (.201), and strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (12.35 – A new Major League record).
Randy finished the season with an unbelieveable 18-2 record, just one win short of capturing the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and K’s). Had he captured that, Johnson would have been he American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 50 years.
The fact that he got only 26 of 28 first place votes for the American League Cy Young Award is a travesty! Not voting for Johnson after the season he had in 1995 would be like putting artificial turf at Wrigley Field. It’s just wrong.
But Johnson doesn’t revel in his amazing success. He knows hitters respect him. He knows he’s good. But he also recognizes that it isn’t all his doing.
“There are a lot of professional athletes who think they are doing it all on their own,” says Randy. “I was one of those athletes at one time. I felt that when I struck out a bunch of guys, that it was solely me doing it-but not anymore.
“The Lord’s given me the ability to go out and do the things that I do. It’s being done by the Lord.”
Johnson has been gifted with a Kingdome full of talent. He’s tall, he throws amazingly hard, he’s smart, and his competitive spirit is second to none.
“He does not like to lose,” says Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. “He is a very competitive person-a real warrior-type!”
Although he doesn’t go to battle with a javelin in his hand, as Wilson’s comment suggests, some hitters would rather stare down a flaming spear than a Johnson fastball.
“As a hitter, you’re hoping to get a couple walks and maybe chink a flare in somewhere and beat him 1-0,” says Sorrento. “It feels good to be on the other side of it now.”
Others aren’t so fortunate. They have to face the slants of Johnson every fifth day, which usually means success for the Mariners. In 1995, the M’s went an amazing 27-3 in games Johnson started. When an irritated nerve in his lower back sidelined the 1995 Cy Young winner for much of the current season, Johnson was already 5-0 and leading the league in strikeouts-again! Before the injury Randy had won 25 of his last 27 decisions, and he was 34-5 in his last 52 starts.
Although he has missed several “fifth days” this season, the California native takes great pleasure in taking the hill and representing the Lord.
“The greatest feeling I get playing baseball right now is knowing that I can go out every fifth day and be a warrior for the Lord,” says Randy. “I can go out behind the mound and crouch down and say my prayer and then be a very aggressive, warrior-like pitcher, glorifying Him in that sense.
“Knowing that I can go among 50,000 fans and pray, and people take notice of that-it’s very gratifying to me.”
Randy’s relationship with God isn’t something he uses as a showpiece or as a good-luck charm. His faith in Jesus Christ is authentic. And more than being just a warrior-like pitcher, Randy Johnson is a prayer warrior.
He prays before, during and after games. He enjoys close communication with God through prayer.
“I do a lot of praying. I do a lot of talking to the Lord. It’s something I really enjoy,” says Johnson. “When people think I’m talking to myself-I’m doing a lot of praying. So I’m in constant contact with Him.”
The 32-year old pitcher is very honest about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He knew about Jesus for years. But he didn’t live for Him. Today, Randy knows the Lord in a very personal way. He knows the Lord in a way that many people don’t, but in a way that he would like them to.
“I’m sure a lot of people believe in the Lord, but they’re not committed to Him-they haven’t given their life to Him.”
“I think everybody realizes there is a Lord Jesus Christ. Whether they’re committed to Him or not, it’s gonna be important to them before they die to make that decision. We’re talking eternal life-we’re talking forever.”
Sound like a guy who is timid about the Gospel? Not a chance! Randy makes no more apologies for talking about his faith in Christ and his source of blessing than he does for tucking a fastball under somebody’s chin. Even when normal media types don’t want to hear it, Randy gives the credit for his success to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I realize a lot of media people shut that out They want to know why you have so much success, but they don’t want to hear the real reason-because the Lord has given you the abilities.”
And the Lord has definitely given Randy Johnson extraordinary abilities. Abilities he has worked hard to develop, hone, and master.
Unlike the thrower who broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in 1988, Johnson has mastered the slider, the fastball, and the art of intimidation. He is a compete pitcher-in every sense of the word.
His peers’ responses don’t lie.
“You just hope to see the ball out of his hand,” says Oakland A’s infielder Scott Brosius after he smiles, chuckles anxiously, and responds to an inquiry about the Mariners’ ace. “He is the ultimate power pitcher!”
Just mention the name and the players will tell you. Randy Johnson is the big league’s Mister Big.
Sports Spectrum magazine seeks to highlight Christian athletes of all sports and levels to help motivate, encourage
and inspire people in their faith through the exciting and challenging world of sports.