Griffin on a Mission

Jason Griffin Spread

The scene is repeated, over and over.

A new spectator has decided to come watch the motorcycles race, on a dirt-surfaced oval track. Eighteen of the high-powered bikes roar off of the line, sending plumes of dust and dirt in their wake. Inches apart, sometimes even closer, the riders slide through the turns. Accelerating down the straights, they repeat their battle in the next turn.

As the fan adjusts to the rhythm of the two-wheeled choreography, one rider catches their eye. It usually takes a moment for the viewer to comprehend what it is that makes this helmeted figure stand out. As realization strikes, jaws drop. Fingers point. There is an unintentional gasp.

“He’s only got one arm!”

This is how many people have come to meet Jason Griffin, No. 23C on the AMA Pro Flat Track racing circuit. Jason is currently the only licensed Pro amputee to compete on the circuit.

He lost his arm in a lawnmower accident, when he was 2 years old.

“It was my dad’s first time on a riding lawnmower, and my first time underneath one!” Jason says. “I had slipped out of the house, and it was an accident. Well, he SAYS it was an accident.”

He laughs.

“When I was 3, right before my little brother was born, Dad bought me a Suzuki JR50,” Jason says. “Man, I loved that thing!”

Jason’s father was a member (and, later, President) of the Greenville Enduro Rider’s Association. While his dad raced, Jason (and, eventually, his younger brother) would ride around the pits on their bikes. Eventually, they began competing in Motocross and Enduro races, as well.

“My brother had a YZ80, and I was on an XR250. We were out motocrossing, all the time… riding the Enduros… and I did pretty good! Then, when I was about 15 or 16, we just quit doing it… started getting into other things.”

As Jason left the racing scene, and entered the turbulent years of early adulthood, he began to find other ways to get the rush he had once filled on two wheels.

“We were Deadheads,” he admits. “I wasn’t your stereotypical stoner, sitting in his parents’ basement…my brother and I each worked three jobs, 60-70 hours a week. We had good work ethics. But, yeah, we drank. We ‘partied.’ We were on a bad track.”

Eventually, Jason’s dad and brother reentered the racing scene.

“Dad had an ‘82 ST Honda Ascot, and we fixed it up into a racer. They had found this racetrack in Neeces, South Carolina, and were racing on the weekends,” he says. “I had moved away, but they called me all of the time and told me how things were going, and it sounded really neat. Things had done a total turn around. My brother was working out again, living the healthy lifestyle, and it sounded like they were having a great time.”

Then, tragedy struck.

“In October of 2004, I got a call… my little brother had died of alcohol poisoning. He was 27.”

Jason was crushed. His first impulse was to turn back to the escape he’d relied on, before… the bottle. Lost in his grief, he was reaching for the comfort and salvation he’d relied on in the past. That salvation and comfort was waiting for him, but not in the form he had anticipated.

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“One day, this guy pulled into the driveway. He said, ‘God told me to come see you. Let’s go to dinner.’ Um, okay… So we went to this Macaroni Grill. It was one of those places with crayons and paper on the tables, for the kids. We talked, and he said he wanted to pray for me. I asked God to take the drugs and alcohol away from me.

“The next day, it was like I had won the lottery. I couldn’t believe it! I felt it! I just KNEW it… God is REAL! I wanted to tell the world. It was as if a light switch came on, and I saw the world in a whole new way, like I had never seen it before! This is the REAL DEAL!”

Overnight, Jason’s world changed. He went to work for the man (a doctor), returned to school, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and two Master’s degrees. Still, he realized that his calling wasn’t in the medical field. There was something else he was meant to do.

His heart was being drawn back into racing.

He began researching online, to see how much a set of racing leathers (a one-piece bodysuit) would cost. The figures were far beyond his reach. However, he stumbled across a set on E-Bay, identical to the ones he was looking for.

“I put in a bid that I could afford. I believe it was $133.25. The auction was set to end in eight days, and I knew there was no way I would win with a bid that low. After eight days, I got the notification. The leathers were mine! They still had the tag on them, and everything!”

Jason acknowledges that some might consider that to be a coincidence, but he saw it as a sign.

“I started racing on my brother’s bike,” he says, “And it was incredible. If I didn’t wreck, I won!”

His record proves his statement. In 2006, Jason won the AMA Sportsman of the Year title, after winning the AMA Amateur National Championship. In 2007,  he won the AHRMA Southeastern Regional Championship. The following year, he took second place in the AHRMA National Championship. In 2009, he obtained his Pro Twin license and received the AMA Most Determined Rider of the Year Award. In 2010, he became the AMA  All Star Nationals Pro Twin Champion. He claimed the title again, in 2011.

Along the way, Jason continued to find affirmations that he was on the right path.

“The first time I rode at Daytona, at the Municipal Stadium, I fell down,” he says. “I fell down, repeatedly. I was so sore, I couldn’t even get my leathers on. I was sitting there, sweating. I was sick from the pain. A man walked up to me and started a conversation. I told him I was sick. I said that I couldn’t race. He laid his hands on me, and we prayed… and the pain was gone! Just like that.

“And the Twins bike I ride? It was given to me to ride. The guy just gave it to me, told me to race it as long as I wanted, and give it back when I was done. That kind of thing doesn’t ‘just happen.’ I look at it as a sign… a gift, from God.”

Throughout his years on the dirt tracks of America, Jason has found many opportunities to share his testimony with others. Words of appreciation, hope, and encouragement fill the eager and listening ears of his fans:

“You need to do what God wants you to do. You’ll see, anything negative that ever happens, happens as the result of choices we make when we don’t listen!”

“Life is short. Eternity… that’s FOREVER. As we grow older, time goes faster. Too many people are living in the here and now, and that’s not what it’s about. You need to prepare, now.”

“God’s always talking. We just aren’t always listening.”

Despite his achievements, Jason says he doesn’t race for the trophies or the titles. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “Flat track is a tough discipline. It’s made of the best people, a true family. It’s one of the few sports where the top guys… the legends… are just as accessible as anyone else. Nobody’s in it to get rich or famous. We all help each other out. This sport is self-sustaining. It has only survived because of the love and dedication of the people involved in it.”

Jason isn’t seeking to put his name in the history books as a Grand Champion, but he does dream of getting his Expert Plates.

“I’ve gotten my points, and applied for my Expert number,” he says, “But I keep getting denied.”

While racing, Jason took online courses towards his next career field, and secured a position teaching Biology at Tri-County Technical College. He spent his winter racing motorcycles on ice, as part of the I.C.E. Nationals, and is very active in the SEMDTRA (Southeastern Motorcycle Dirt Track Racing Association). Recently, he began racing in the Paralympic Cycling events, claiming two silvers on his six-geared brakeless bike. If all goes well, he could earn a position on the US National team, in the 2016 Paralympics.

Wherever he ends up, one thing is for certain. He will continue touching hearts and reaching souls, everywhere God leads him.

By Mia Moore

Mia Moore is a freelance writer and photographer. She and her fiance, Kevin “Chew” Larcom, live in Central Ohio. They spend their weekends covering flat track motorcycles or working on their family homestead.”

Switchfoot’s ‘Joy of the Journey’

Summer 2014 DigiMag #1 FINAL2You look the most hipster out of all of us with that bike,” Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman laughs.

I look back over my shoulder at Foreman behind me.

“I don’t know about that,” I laugh, as I coast down a hill on a yellow, rusted fixie they’ve lent me from their tour bus. The paint is peeling, and the bike appears to be more silver than yellow. The bike is wobbly and the front brakes are practically non-existent.

A girl is walking toward us on the sidewalk and it feels, for a second, like I’m going to run her over. I dodge her and tell myself I was never one for first impressions.

“If I die,” I say to Foreman behind me, “just tell my mother that I love her.”

It’s 7 p.m., and the sun is setting on a cool, March evening in Charlotte, North Carolina. Switchfoot is set to perform at Amos’ Southend, a concert hall just south of downtown Charlotte, but first, they’ve scheduled an interview with Sports Spectrum magazine, and apparently, the interview is beginning with a bike ride.

We coast past All American Pub on our right, then ride past World of Beer on the corner of South Boulevard and East Bland. We make a right onto South Boulevard, and Foreman pedals up next to me. Drummer Chad Butler is in front of us, leading the way.

“Bet this is one of your more interesting starts to an interview,” Foreman laughs.

“Hey,” I say matter-of-factly, somewhat out of breath, “It’s all about the journey, right?”

For Grammy-Award winning alternative rock band Switchfoot, “journey” might be the best word to describe their story as a band.

Formed in 1996, the San Diego-based band consisting of brothers Jon (lead vocals, guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keyboard), and Drew Shirley (electric), have continued to revamp their sound and top the charts since they burst onto the scene in the early 2000s—when their fourth studio album The Beautiful Letdown went double platinum. This last year has been one unlike any other, as they produced an album and a documentary, both sharing the name Fading West.

In the documentary, Foreman reflects on their story as a band and is quoted as saying, “It was all about the joy of the journey.”

His words “joy” and “journey” seem to be a summation of life. The journey might be hard. But joy was always there. Despite circumstances, joy was always accessible, if you could only find a way to continually revisit its fountains.

2013, SWITCHFOOT

Joy In Saltwater

We’re on Your shore again / I can feel the ocean / I can feel your open arms / That pure emotion / I’m finally free again / By my own explosion / We’re on your shore again / I can feel the ocean

We bike across South Boulevard, and arrive at Nova’s, a quaint coffeehouse and bakery a few blocks from the concert hall. Butler locks our bikes up to a sign in the parking lot, and we enter the coffeeshop.

Foreman, 37, has long, blond surfer’s hair hanging out of his black-and-gold patterned ski-cap, and he has a tight leather jacket over his zip-up sweater. I notice a scar running below the right side of his nose. He would later tell me it came from a “gnarly” surfing accident. Butler, 40, another passionate surfer, is wearing a red and gray, plaid button-up shirt and a heavier greenish-gray jacket. Away from the lights, stage, and thousands of screaming fans, they seem rather ordinary, just a couple of “bros” hanging out in a coffeehouse…like anybody else.

I offer to buy them coffee.

“You sure?” Foreman says.

“Are you kidding me?” I tell him. “After the impact you guys have had on me, I wish I could get you more than a coffee.”

It’s true. If we had time for a steak dinner, I’d feel as if I owed it to them for the times their music has carried me through. Most recently, I’m reminded of when I quoted their song “Where I Belong” in the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral: On the final day I die, I want to hold my head up high, I want to tell You that I tried, To live it like a song.

Foreman and Butler are as genuine as I always imagined them, thanking me for the coffee and telling me that the compliment meant a lot. Even their willingness to ride bikes to a coffeehouse with a random writer, in a random city, merely hours before they take the stage at Amos’ Southend, I figured, was a good anecdote to demonstrate how relaxed and free-spirited they were, and a reflection of how much they valued people.

Butler gets his coffee and takes a seat. Foreman and I stand at the coffee bar, as the barista prepares our drinks. Foreman begins to tell me about an article he’s working on for The Huffington Post. I tell him that I really enjoyed a previous article he had written about the concept of wonder. “Against the backdrop of wonder,” his article said, “I am reminded of the larger symphony going on around me, reminded of how small I really am.”

I tell him how I’ve been thinking a lot about wonder lately—how love can lead to wonder, how fear can lead to wonder, how doubt can lead to wonder. It’s as if every emotion we experience in this lifetime, whether positive or negative, points toward a bigger story that is being told.

Foreman then goes on to tell me about Victorian literature and their fascination with “the sublime,” how writers like Charles Dickens and William Butler Yeats brought their readers into a world where they experienced a “state of ecstasy,” which caused them to think outside of themselves.

We eventually sit down at a table next to Butler, and Foreman asks me whom some of my favorite authors are. I tell him that I’m currently enjoying German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship, then confess to him that I can only read a page at a time because of its depth.

“How about you?” I say.

“Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is amazing,” Foreman says. “He wrote a book called Ethics, I think, that wasn’t finished (before he died), and I’m reading that off and on right now. Again, it’s one of those, where you pick it up, read a couple pages and say, ‘Well, now I can think about that for a year,’” he laughs.

We start talking about martyrdom, as Bonhoeffer died for the sake of Christ under the oppression of Nazi Germany in 1945, then start talking about grace and the will of God, lofty concepts we do not understand yet long to understand more fully.

It was obvious—whether it’s through their music, documentary, or the current interview—that Switchfoot loves to think and ask big questions about both life and God.

This leads us to talking about the sublime again, these things that remind us how small we really are, things that free us from a world where we think far too big of ourselves. Foreman and Butler start talking about surfing in the context of the sublime, thus giving me a sports angle in my guilty pleasure of writing music stories.

“Surfing might be to Switchfoot what music would be to a professional athlete,” Foreman says. “Where music is their release, their escape, their chance to connect with their soul and go to another land for a second—for us, surfing is that. Our job—we love it and we wouldn’t trade it for the world—but it’s demanding at times. There are ups and downs. To be able to stare back at the shore and remember how small you are and to gain that kind of perspective and see all of your problems down there on the shore, and realize, wow, this is a much bigger world than all the text messages I’ve been dealing with, the problems I’ve been having in the studio or on the road.”

“It’s usually removed of all human noise,” Butler adds. “You are removed, you have the ocean, maybe some birds flying above. You are in the elements.”

The ocean is where Switchfoot feels small again.

“The stage is this bloated, weird place to exist,” Foreman says in Fading West, “where people give you unnecessary amounts of attention, and in the water, all of that is washed clean.”

Surfing has always been one of the threads to Switchfoot’s brotherhood—even their band name is a surfing term. Recently, Switchfoot spent all of 2013 touring the globe while filming a rock/surf documentary (released December 2013) while recording an album (released January 2014) while hitting up some of the world’s most renowned surfing hotspots in Australia, Bali, South Africa, and New Zealand, alongside surfing legends Rob Machado and Tom Curren.

“Every great novel or album comes from a place,” Foreman continues. “Bob Dylan goes and visits the homeless, and Bruce Springsteen visits the people that he admires musically…For me, I don’t think that any of these songs could exist without the ocean. The ocean is a common thread in our friendship—my wife calls it my baptism—it’s this element that can be the breath in when so much of life is giving and breathing out. The ocean, really, just gives back.”

Switchfoot 2 ph cr Brian Nevins-2

Joy In The Hurricane

Hello hurricane / You’re not enough / Hello hurricane / You can’t silence my love / I’ve got doors and windows / Boarded up / All your dead end fury is / Not enough / You can’t silence my love

I tell Foreman and Butler that I enjoyed their documentary, that the videography made it a spiritual experience, and their honesty and transparency amidst trials and doubts made it an intellectual experience.

At one point in the film, Foreman has to abandon their global tour and fly home to San Diego because his daughter, Daisy, is unexpectedly rushed into surgery. Another scene shows him and his younger brother, Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman, having an emotional conversation about Tim and his wife’s miscarriage years before.

Suddenly, in a documentary with spiritual undertones, both through its music and videography, the sometimes-taboo subject of doubt is brought to the forefront.  I tell Foreman and Butler that this is what I identified with the most in their documentary: doubt.

“We included a lot of personal stuff in the film. We are not filmmakers, we are not actors,” Foreman laughs. “If there is anything compelling that is going to come out, it’s going to be honesty. If you take away honesty, you probably don’t have a reason to be on a film. As a songwriter, those are always the most compelling elements of the song—when there is some risk involved and you actually put yourself in the music. You can really feel the difference. If someone is emotionally invested in a song, or if they are just kind of playing it cool, trying to be somebody else. At the end of every song, you have the question to ask: Do I believe it?

“We were talking about Springsteen and Dylan earlier—all of my favorite singers/songwriters bands/whatever, are people that, when the song ends, you can say: that guy believes what he is singing. I might even disagree, but he believes it.”

For years, Switchfoot has used rock-and-roll as a channel to address issues that might not be able to be addressed effectively otherwise. Politics. Pain. Doubt. Faith. Their documentary was as honest as their music.

“As far as doubts, I think doubt is the flipside of belief,” Foreman says. “Any form of faith or trust in a relationship, doubt is available at any point. We show what we believe by the way that we live our lives.”

Foreman looks down at his chair.

“For example, I believe that this chair is going to hold me up as long as I’m sitting here. In talking about our doubts, it’s another way to talk about our faith and another way to talk about what God has brought us through. I think, as a songwriter, I’m not afraid of being honest in that way. Fortunately, I think it kind of reflects the stance that we’ve had as a band.”

“I’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t trust a man without a limp,’” Butler adds. “I think it’s important to acknowledge your flaws and, in them, pursue honesty. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are in this together, and I mean that as a brotherhood, as a band, and also in it with our audience.”

Foreman piggybacks off Butler: “It’s funny, because, just like doubt is always available to you, joy is also always available. Joy is one of the few things that set us as a human species apart…Maybe dolphins enjoy riding waves…But the idea of taking joy in every stage of life, the rationality that it takes to find joy in both places (good times and hard times) is something that is uniquely human.”

“Counter-intuitive to our human instincts,” Butler adds.

“Especially a winning-losing culture,” Foreman continues. “It’s all, ‘You’re happy when you win, sad when you lose.’ But that means you will be sad most of the time—for most of us,” he laughs. “Or it may mean that you’re happy for a little while, and then, at the end of your career, it’s all sadness! But for a believer, it comes down to the idea that, no, this life is only a fraction of the joy that is available to us. As far as winning and losing, there is so much more joy than just the joy of victory.”

As we rode back to the concert hall on our bikes, I thought about two words—joy and journey—and how our journey includes both winning and losing, like Foreman said, and how the joy in this life is only a fraction of what we’ll one day experience.

When Switchfoot took the stage that evening, I noticed how it all tied together, how their music, for a moment, helped people experience a fraction of joy and step into the sublime, while, at the same time, their music also helped direct them to the Source of all joy.

And before launching into their final song of the evening, Foreman prefaced it with a statement that seemed to tie “joy” and “journey” together perfectly.  A white flag draped over his neck, with the song title “WHERE I BELONG” spray-pained in black on the flag, Foreman stated: “This is a song about a destination.”

And perhaps it is this reality, that we are merely passing through this life on earth toward a much more glorious destination, which frees us to experience true joy in the journey.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Airing It Out — Merciful messengers

Manhattan College vs University of Louisville, 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional Playoffs Round 2Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello had just led the program to the most wins in 10 years, and the Jaspers ended the season by nearly beating defending national champion Louisville in a much talked-about first round NCAA tournament game.

That success earned Masiello praise on the national level and also an interview and job offer from the University of South Florida to take over that program.

He took the job and everything seemed perfect.

He traded in the mid-major Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the Big East and the cold winters for sunny Florida.

Then the roller-coaster ride that had been so much fun began taking the twists and turns that turn strong men’s stomachs inside out.

The difference was that Masiello, or anyone for that matter, couldn’t see the ups and downs that were coming—the type of ups and downs that would humble and embarrass anyone.

After accepting the job at South Florida, the university did a basic background check that showed Masiello had never earned a degree at the University of Kentucky. He had put his graduation date as 2000 on his resume ever since he left the school that year, but he never graduated.

He had enough credits to walk with his class during graduation ceremonies, however, he still lacked a few classes to graduate. His intent was to return that summer and finish his degree, but even though he enrolled he never finished the classes.

South Florida rescinded the offer and Masiello was not only out of a job—but his image and reputation were tarnished. The likelihood of him receiving a head coaching opportunity anytime soon, much less a job offer on any college coaching staff, seemed small.

Then, Manhattan did what no one could have predicted. They showed grace and mercy, the two words that resonate with Christians all over the world because they provide life, hope and second chances while doing away with the condemnation often associated with our sins.

It’s not a license to continue doing what we did, but it’s the hope that, after seeing our wrong, we can live as if there was never a wrong. Even though we remember it, God shows us so much mercy and grace that when we give or confess our wrongs to Him, He does away with them (Micah 7:19: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”; Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us) and cleanses us (I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”).

Manhattan’s statement by school president Brennan O’Donnell to the media and public dripped with grace.

“After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college. After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded,” O’Donnell wrote.

“We appreciate the counsel of all involved in assessing this complex situation. Our policy was always that the coach must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties.”

Masiello, realizing the magnitude of such a  gesture, expressed his appreciation with a humble statement—the type of humility that you and I show to God when we confess our sins to Him and realize that He still forgives (when we think He wouldn’t) and He still loves us (like He said He always will).

“I am extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity to continue as the head men’s basketball coach at Manhattan College,” said Masiello in the statement. “I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love. Details matter.

“Manhattan College has shown me a great deal of compassion and trust during this process, and I will do everything in my power to uphold that trust. I understand that I am very fortunate to have the chance to remain here at Manhattan.”

Thinking about all of that is why Matthew 5:7 still resonates with me, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Remember that the next time you need mercy and also when you have the opportunity to extend mercy.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s April 2014 DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

NEW April 2014 DigiMag Now Available

April 2014 DigiMag CoverOur April 2014 DigiMag is now available for viewing. Log in here to view. To receive 12 issues of Sports Spectrum magazine a year, subscribe HERE.

This issue includes exclusive feature stories on Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller and Luke Ridnour of the Charlotte Bobcats. It also includes an in-depth feature on one of the best players in Japan’s professional baseball league, Alex Ramirez. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt writes about what Steve Masiello’s situation at Manhattan College can  teach us about humility, mercy and second chances. Enjoy.

Special 2014 World Cup issue now available

Spring 2014_coverThis issue is Sports Spectrum’s largest undertaking and likely our most important edition since the magazine began in 1985. Not because of the amount of stories we are giving you, our readers, about athletes playing the world’s most watched, and arguably the most popular sport, but because of the potential impact this issue can have on others around the world.

That potential impact is made possible because the 2014 World Cup issue is being produced in 14 languages and will be used by ministries all over the world during the World Cup — through the internet, via mobile devices and also on the ground as the World Cup is being played.

Please pray as we launch the Sports Spectrum Go Mag, with the mission of the mag based on Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Please also pray that God would use this issue, and others that follow, to reveal Himself to others and to lead people to accept Christ, so that lives would be changed for eternity.

Sincerely,
Sports Spectrum Global Team

Riches That Last

Los Angeles Angels Photo Day“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 

What does it mean to be rich? When Stan Musial signed his 17th contract in 1958, he became the first National Leaguer to make $100,000. He was rich. In 1975, Catfish Hunter signed as a free agent for five years with the Yankees, making more than $3 million. He was richer. In 2012, Albert Pujols signed a 10-year deal with the L.A. Angels for more than $250 million. He is very rich.

There is a permanent way to become “rich.” When a person acknowledges he is a sinner and trusts in Jesus as his Sin-Bearer, he becomes rich in at least three ways. He becomes rich in grace. Ephesians 1:7 says he has redemption and forgiveness “according to the riches of His grace.” How do you put a price tag on that?  Second, He becomes rich in friends. Psalms 119:63 says, “I am a companion of all who fear You…” Christians have a blood-bought bond with other Christians. They are friends forever.Third, he becomes rich in blessings. Proverbs 10:22 says, “the blessings of the LORD makes one rich…”

Do you want to be rich? If you choose Jesus as your Savior, He may (or may not) bless you with possessions, goods and property. He may (or may not) bless you with wealth, dollars and cents.

But he will definitely bless you with eternal life and a new identity as He welcomes you into His purposes, which is priceless.

By Stanley Tucker

Stanley Tucker writes devotionals for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Randy Johnson, Big Man in Seattle

Mister Big

Randy Johnson.

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.

By Rob Bentz

This story was published in the August 1996 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. Click here to view the entire issue. 

Assured of Ultimate Victory

618_348_michael-wacha-cardinals-starting-pitcher-players-to-watch-at-spring-training“But whoever listens to me will dwell safely and will be secure, without fear of evil.” Proverbs 1:33  

Game 2 of the 2013 National League Championship Series was a classic for baseball purists. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the L.A. Dodgers 1-0 behind 22-year-old rookie pitcher Michael Wacha.

Each batter Wacha faced represented the tying or go ahead run. The tension was thick in every inning.

In the sixth inning, trailing 1-0, the Dodgers had runners on second and third with no outs and later had the bases loaded with one out. Wacha was able to get out of the jam, striking out the next two batters. In the post-game interview, he was asked how he dealt with the pressure in those situations. He simply said, “I listened to Yadi.”

Catcher Yadier Molina is the Cardinals’ team leader. He is their best hitter and best fielder. He has nurtured several rookie pitchers this season through tough spots.

James 1:19 says “let every man be swift (ready) to hear…” As Christians, our team leader is Jesus. He endured more pain and suffering than any human in history during His arrest, trial and crucifixion. After rising from the dead, He sent His Spirit and His Word to be there for us through all the tough spots in our life.

Are you ready to listen to Him? He’s ready to help out at a moment’s notice.

He is our team leader. Put your trust in Him. Daily victories are likely; ultimate victory is assured. 

By Stanley Tucker

Stanley Tucker writes devotionals for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

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