Bottom of the 9th

Eliminate the Hate - A New Pregame Ritual

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Baseball at the amateur levels has had an interesting week. On June 18, a fight broke out between parents at a youth baseball game in Lakewood. A 13-year-old umpire made a call that upset one of the coaches and then the fight ensued. The kids on the field were 7 years old. Then, on the night of June 21, Luke Smith of Louisville was throwing a gem against Vanderbilt when, after striking out the last hitter in the top of the eighth, launched into a stare-down, profanity-laced tirade as Smith allowed his emotions get the best of him. Smith said he was “celebrating” the strikeout and brushed off the incident.

In a broken world, these things are going to happen. I don’t want to write something condemning the people involved in either incident, but I do want to call us up to something better. As followers of Jesus and His teachings, we have an opportunity in these moments to bring the culture up to a new levels and condemning these people isn’t the starting point. Condemnation moves people to shame. Quick forgiveness is the answer. Let’s move past the incidents, forgive them as far away as the East is from the West, and make the culture better.

We live in a world that seems to believe that anything that happens between the lines is okay. It’s a battle that is meant to be won and the ends justify the means as long as you win. We have to raise our emotions to a fever pitch in order to achieve the highest levels of competition and anything that happens there is acceptable. Somehow the field of play is like Las Vegas. “Anything that happens on the field, stays on the field.” These are the lies that we believe.

Back in 2014, I had the opportunity to interact with Walker Buehler who was an integral part of the Vanderbilt team that won the College World Series (Buehler is now pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers and fanned 16 Rockies just this week). When I asked him what the coaches were telling the team to prepare throughout their run in the CWS, he said the message was simple. “The first team to relax wins.” Relax. Trust your training. Achieve a deeper level of focus. That’s the message of a champion. Is it any wonder that Vanderbilt came back to beat Smith in the top of the ninth and move into the CWS finals this weekend?

This mindset switch boils down to our perspective of competition and of God. It’s so vital that we change our the preposition in competition. We’re not competing “against” the other team, we’re competing “with” the other team. We’re trying to draw out the best in one another so we can enjoy a great game together. We’re not working against the other team. When we do, we look like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings holding desperately to “my precious” win.

This is where our view of God matters. Is God a God of abundance or a God of scarcity? If we believe that the resources are scarce, we compete differently. We hold tightly to the ring, to the win. We compete out of fear. We compete out of anger. But when we believe that God is a God of abundance, that there is enough love to go around for everyone, we compete differently. We can applaud the opponent when they make a good play. We can blow off a bad call, and we can even correct an erroneous call that was made in our favor. If we’re dealing in abundance, we know that our time will come. It might be today, it might be tomorrow, but it will come some day.

So here’s the call to action. Earlier this month, our Valor Baseball program went to the Dominican Republic. Before each game we played down there, we lined up at home plate and gave our opponents high fives in a line. It put that day’s competition in proper perspective. We were both trying to win (believe me, the Dominicans want to beat any team of Americans they play), but the tone was one of excellence. It was competing with, and not against. It was rooted in love and it raised the play of everyone involved. Let’s make the pregame high fives a staple of the baseball culture moving forward. Youth teams and coaches - start today during your tournaments. Club and high school teams - follow the example. Let’s see how far this thing can go to change not only the baseball culture, but maybe our communities as well.

#PregameHighFive
#EliminatetheHate
#CompeteWithNotAgainst
#ChangetheGame

Showcase Lessons - Albuquerque Pathway Games

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As a guest and a fan here at the Pathway Games event here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’ve had a chance to observe the opening day of individual player workouts. There are hundreds of people roaming around the two-year-old facility, including players hoping to find their path to college baseball. Gino Grasso and his staff know how to organize and execute an exceptional event - that’s for sure. It’s encouraging to see where the game continues to grow and find life, even in the desert!

This event, like so many others around the country, open the door for us to explore the spiritual implications and lessons of this time of life and where the Gospel of Jesus is being spoken in the Language of Baseball. It’s an incredible thought that ancient writings from thousands of years ago would still be relevant here today during a baseball event. Below are a few of my thoughts. I’m sure there are more and I’d enjoy hearing yours as you attend showcases and tournaments across the country this summer!

First, God knows you. Every hair on your head. He made you and designed you for a purpose in this world. It might not feel that way while you’re in a line waiting to show off what you can do. It might not feel that way if you don’t post a number you want on the radar gun. It might not feel that way if you strike out or get lit up on the mound in front of 30 college scouts. But it’s true. One of those purposes is for your own good and here it is: it’s to persevere through difficulty. It’s one of the greatest lessons baseball teaches us on a daily basis. Life isn’t going to be perfect, and your baseball path certainly isn’t going to resemble perfect or easy. Keep persevering.

Second, seek out and trust adults who want to know you the way God knows you. Being “Well Coached” is one of the greatest compliments you can receive. Listen to the wise counsel of those who have gone before you. Listen to those who want to feed into you and know you. Find coaches who give you love and accept you even before you make a play for them. Those people represent the unconditional love that God has given to all of us. Live a life “from” the acceptance of God, not constantly working “for” that acceptance. You’ll play much better because of it.

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Lastly, one of the promotional posters here in Albuquerque this weekend asks, “#WhereDoYouFit.” You fit with your brothers - your brothers on your high school team and your club team. You fit in the baseball brotherhood. You have an important role to play. Build that brotherhood now and then when you play in college. Find those connections, honor them, and stay with them. We need you. We need you to make meaningful connections within the game, both with your brothers and to the game, or we will see the game drift away. It’s too great of a game and it has too much to offer. Care for the game and one another. You fit here.

The Bible is as alive on a baseball field at a baseball complex in the middle of the New Mexico desert as it is in any church. Complete Game will continue to be here to support and encourage you in that journey!

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Jeremiah

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This is, by far, the deepest dive I’ve ever taken into the Bible. I’ve read the whole thing before (somewhere around 2010 or 2011), I’ve immersed myself into the red letters of Jesus for a couple straight years, and I’ve tried to apply those words to my life. However, this particular journey into the Word has been the most enlightening and impactful thing I’ve experienced as it relates to the Bible. I’m watching hours-long lectures from Tim Mackie (the voice behind The Bible Project videos) and seeing how God brings to mind connections to the game of baseball. I’m learning more about God and it’s  deepening my experience on the field. I hope people, both today and in the future, will experience the same through what I’m pulling together through these writings. I know this experience isn’t just meant for me.

In spite of Ezra and Nehemiah being up next in our modern Bible, it is more appropriate to write about Jeremiah next (more on that later). The book of Jeremiah was written as God instructed him to make a collection of all of Jeremiah’s 25 years of teachings on a scroll. At one point, all of those teachings were torn up and thrown in a fire by the king and they had to be rewritten. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Jeremiah, take some time to read Jeremiah and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of Jeremiah (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/jeremiah/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.” Also, if you’d like to dive even deeper as I have, take a look at the lecture Tim Mackie gives about the Making of the Bible as well (Making of the Bible by Tim Mackie (The Bible Project))

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Batting Out of Order
- Hope
- Renewing a Contract


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Batting Out of Order

On May 9, 2018, the New York Mets batted out of order against the Cincinnati Reds. To make matters worse, the mistake ended up in the team’s 15th loss in 21 games as the Mets lost 2-1 in 10 innings that day.

Though many would call this a “Little League” blunder, this mistake is more common than I would have imagined. It happened just two years previous as the Milwaukee Brewers committed the same mistake against the Washington Nationals in 2016.

As I was researching the next books in the modern Biblical order, naturally I started exploring ideas from Ezra and Nehemiah. In the midst of that study, I discovered that the beginning of Ezra contains completed prophecy from the book of Jeremiah - a book that occurred before Ezra chronologically (Jeremiah in around 626 B.C. and Ezra in around 458 B.C.). Our Bible is out of order!

Well, to be fair, the Bible is just presented in a different order. The Old Testament is in a different order than the Bible that Jesus would have read in the Temple. Wait, even that’s a problematic statement as Jesus would have read scrolls and not a bound book. Understanding how other people through history would have interacted with these ancient writings can become a valuable piece of our study.

The idea that our books of the Bible are in a different order should not cause the same level of concern as a baseball team batting out of order. One is breaking the rules and the other is accounting for how people experience a series of writings inspired by God. We should study how other people have ordered those writings to deepen our understanding of Jesus and God’s revelation to all people.


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Hope

Having been a fan of Major League Baseball since the early 1980s, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of guys labeled as “top prospects” provide a new sense of hope for their franchise. I remember as a high school and college player how an incoming freshman or a kid working his way up through the system (J.V. in high school, JUCO in college) was often greeted with great hope.

At the big league level, there is much written about the farm systems and top prospects around the league. Right now we’re watching as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was just called up by the Blue Jays and we wait in anticipation for Fernando Tatis Jr.’s long-term impact on the San Diego Padres. Guys my age will vividly remember the promise their dads represented for their teams and now their kids have that same potential for impact.

The most quoted verse from Jeremiah is one of the most familiar verses in all of modern Christendom - Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Unfortunately we often tend to miss the level of judgment levied upon the Israelites in the full context of the verse as well! But there’s an important lesson to latch on to in Jeremiah. Though there is articulation of harsh judgment for both Israel and all nations in the book, there is also hope. There is hope for Israel and all nations included. Jeremiah points to a time when God will write His instructions on the hearts of His people and never again remember their sins (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Now this is a hope far greater than that of Vlad Jr.’s effect on the Blue Jays! God provides us all with a hope that is eternal through His Son, Jesus Christ.


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Renewing a Contract

This past winter, Los Angeles Dodger manager Dave Roberts was hoping for a contract extension. And for good reason. In his first three years as manager, Dave Roberts led the team to three National League West titles and consecutive World Series appearances. In November, the Dodgers exercised their team option for the 2019 season.

The idea of a “team option” or a “player option” is an interesting one. It’s an interesting play in who holds the cards in the negotiation. Either the team says, “Yes, I want you to stay” or “No, you can move on” in the scenario of a team option, or the player has the rights with a player option. Thankfully for Roberts, he signed a contract extension making him the manager through 2022 (or until the team decides they want to go a different direction, under which scenario the team can always fire him as manager).

The business part of baseball and contracts is certainly interesting, and it makes me thankful that we live with a God who deals in covenants. In spite of all of man’s unfaithfulness to Him, God will not abandon His people. Instead, God’s consistent faithfulness is manifested in His continual renewal of the covenant He has with His people. We don’t deal with a finicky owner who isn’t sure about his commitment to you. We have an eternal God who is always looking to renew His covenant with us (think the father in the Prodigal Son story). He’s always running to us - no matter if we lead our team to wins or losses!

The Movement of Around the Mound

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I wanted to take a quick break from a Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide to talk about the movement of the Around the Mound prayer in the state of Colorado. In the early days of “Around the Mound,” most of the prayer happening around pitcher’s mounds in the state came from our program at Valor Christian and a couple of other private schools. We now see private school teams, public school teams, youth teams, softball teams, and programs outside of the state engaging in a postgame prayer “Around the Mound” as well. The thirst for God’s goodness on the baseball field is apparent in the area and He will continue to quench our thirst with His living water.

One of my favorite TED talks is titled “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers. Take three minutes to watch it by clicking the link, if you’ve never seen the talk. We’ve seen “Around the Mound” move from our postgame program prayer to people with a direct connection to us praying with their team to people we’ve never met before praying with their teams. It’s amazing how a couple guys “dancing” can create the desire in many others to dance with them (check out the video to understand the reference).

At the end of the day, the goal of this movement is simple. We want people to understand that the game of baseball can be an expression of worship to our Lord, and to join the brotherhood of players locally and nationwide who desire to connect with God through the context of the game of baseball. The style doesn’t matter. Arms around each other, on a knee holding hands, standing up holding hands - there are no rules here. Legalism would tell us to all do it one way, but a heart for spreading the Gospel of Jesus couldn’t care less. The prayer is what matters. We have the same God, we desire that every baseball player comes to know life in Jesus, and connect with this brotherhood of ballplayers.

One of the hard parts of inviting the other team to pray with you is being turned down by the other coach or by some of the players who choose not to join in. Maybe they’re too tough, too angry, or don’t experience joy in what they do on the field the way we do. We’ve had players decline by flat out saying, “God’s not real.” We have to keep walking our walk, loving those coaches and players, and continue to invite them into relationship with us, with God, and with the greater purposes of the game. We don’t know if they’ve been hurt by religion or religious people, and we must act as the father from the story of the prodigal son inviting them with open arms when they do choose to engage.

“Around the Mound” prayer has, and will continue, to face resistance. If you’re in a public school like the coaches pictured above, make sure that the prayer and the movement to pray after the game is led by a player or group of players. You might stand outside the circle. You might pray on your own in the dugout. Be wise. While the law of the land could come down on you, remember Paul’s words from Galatians 5:22-23: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Let the fruit of the Holy Spirit exude from you in your coaching and leadership!

It’s been amazing to watch players, coaches, and parents in the Colorado baseball community come around this movement of praying “Around the Mound.” I hope people continue to recognize that this game can be taken from us at any moment and that our identity must be firmly rooted in that which is eternal. If you’re interested in learning more about “Around the Mound” prayer and how to do this with your team, click this link: https://completegameministries.org/aroundthemound. May the rest of the spring season be a blessing to you as we all begin to turn our focus to summer!

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - 1 & 2 Chronicles

1 & 2 Chronicles is like a review session for the Bible through Samuel and Kings, and also includes some stories of prophets we’re still yet to explore. Traditionally, these two books were positioned last in the Jewish version of the Bible. There are two main focal points for the book: The coming Messiah and the future of the Temple. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from 1 & 2 Chronicles, take some time to read 1 & 2 Chronicles and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of 1 & 2 Chronicles (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/1-2-chronicles/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- The Can’t Miss Prospect
- Our Baseball Temples
- Pleasure Through Pain


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The Can’t Miss Prospect

I was 13 years old when Ken Griffey, Jr. was picked #1 overall by the Seattle Mariners. You have to remember that this was before the internet, before YouTube, and before social media. You’d get your hints and tips from publications like Baseball America and by listening carefully to game broadcasts and ESPN. By all accounts, Ken Griffey, Jr. was going to be a “can’t-miss” prospect. Our family vacation was going to intersect with Junior’s appearance at the old Comiskey Park in 1989, but he suffered an unfortunate injury just before I would get to see him play. I can’t begin to express how disappointed I was at the moment and still hold a little of that to this day!

The hope that accompanies a prospect of this magnitude cannot be understated, especially when you match that prospect with a floundering franchise like the Mariners. Born from a lawsuit against Major League Baseball stemming from the city’s first franchise, the Seattle Pilots, moving to Milwaukee after just one season, their on-field ineptitude matched their financial issues. The Mariners didn’t finish above .500 from their inaugural season in 1977 until 1991. They had never finished above third in the division until winning the AL West in 1995.

Griffey, Jr. was the point of transition. He was the centerpiece of charisma and the cornerstone for success. He triggered the golden days of the franchise from 1995-2003 when the team experienced their highest levels of success in the regular and postseason, though the franchise has still never appeared in the World Series. Not only was Griffey, Jr. the point of transition for success, he has also represented the same for a new era of Mariner futility. The team now owns the longest postseason drought in the MLB, having failed to earn a playoff spot since 2001 (Junior left the team in 2000 before returning briefly later that decade).

This idea of the “can’t-miss” prospect in baseball has to be the closest thing we can relate to the Jewish people’s longing for a promised and coming Messiah. The longing. The anticipation. The emptiness waiting to be filled. In this way, baseball franchises are like mini nations who share the same worldly desires - winning and success. For the Jewish people, their desires are similar. They want their kingdom to survive and thrive. Their hopes are rooted in the promises of God and their faith in those promises, whereas a professional sports franchise are rooted in loyalty and, sometimes, long-suffering.

The next time your favorite team is hyping a prospect who will change the fortunes of the franchise, harken back to the story of Junior’s impact on the Mariners and the heart of the Jewish people’s desire for a Messiah. Our longings in both situations are similar.


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Our Baseball Temples

I’ve been lucky enough to see games or do a ballpark tour (or both) in 19 of the 30 Major League cities. These temples to our game represent such cool congregation places for communities. It is a place where so people come to share their common interest and passion for baseball. Based on my travels, I put Fenway Park as the best of the classic parks, and Coors Field as the best of the modern parks.

Back in 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in Baltimore and a new wave of traditional, single-use ballparks swept baseball communities across the country. By 2012, all but two teams (Toronto and Oakland) played in these newer, more fan-friendly parks. The rejuvenation of the cities and downtown areas near the ballparks has been a part of a renaissance throughout the country.

In Jerusalem, the Temple represented the center of life. It was where people gathered for everything from commerce to religious observances throughout the year. It was where they went to feel close to God. The Temple was where He resided, the one place in the world when Heaven intersected with earth. As I mentioned in my Easter piece this week, the tearing of the veil was a symbol for God being able to move in all of mankind through the Holy Spirit after Jesus’s death and resurrection.

It seems that we need these temples. Obviously we need a stadium to play games that thousands wish to witness, and temples were needed as a place to gather. However, the idea of a temple may be more for us than it is for God. God didn’t ask for the Temple to be built, potentially because He knew that His plan was to dwell in all of us. While we adore our baseball stadiums and some of the temples built for worship, maybe we should look at ourselves and our own lives in the same context as a representative of the living God.


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Pleasure Through Pain

1 & 2 Chronicles possess a number of character studies. One of those made popular by Bruce Wilkinson’s writing is Jabez. The short, simple story of Jabez appears in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10:

There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.

Jabez’s life represented pleasure through pain. God granted Jabez his prayer of expansion without trouble and pain after His mother experienced the pain of childbirth.

Looking back at World Series champions since 1995, many MLB franchises have experienced pleasure after a period of pain. The Braves, Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, Royals, Cubs, and Astros all went through long periods of loss before experiencing the adulation of a World Series championship. Even the Marlins and Diamondbacks experienced great success in this period of time after starting as expansion franchises.

We often forget that pain is sometimes necessary to appreciate great pleasure. Now that so many teams have switched to pleasure from years of pain, we will focus on those franchises clamoring for success. Coincidentally, the Mariners and Orioles appear on the list of franchises in a World Series drought. Add the Indians, Pirates, Padres, Nationals (formerly the Expos), and the Brewers and you have a long list of teams hoping to experience the same blessing that Jabez did after a period of pain.

The Torn Veil - Easter 2019

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Having been reading and writing about the Old Testament here in early 2019, Easter is hitting me in a different place this year. The indications and words pointing us to the coming Christ are abundant in the Old Testament, yet many Christians don’t take the time to study and understand it. All I can share in this moment is my experience. The Easter story intensifies and my adoration of God has grown immeasurably by being in the Old Testament, specifically the story of the Temple.

God never wanted a barrier between us. His desire to be with us and walk with us is apparent throughout the Old Testament. Our rebellion against Him begins in the Garden and continues throughout human history. We reject His desire to walk with us.

After the Exodus, God dwells with Moses and the Israelites in the creation of the Tabernacle. Later, in the era of David and Solomon, man wants to build the Temple as a dwelling place for God, even though God didn’t ask for it. This was an important thing to realize - God has never desired a barrier between us. Because of our rebellion against His goodness, laws and rules are necessary to approach His perfection.

Then comes Jesus. Instead of staying in His perfection in Heaven, He comes to us. Again God shows His desire to walk with us, this time with nothing between us and Him. What do we do? In their pride and ignorance, the most religious people of the time kill Him.

But then, as Jesus is breathing His last human breaths on the cross, the veil inside the Temple was torn (Matthew 27-50-51, Mark 15:37-38, Luke 23:45-46). The veil was the size of a tennis court and as thick as four nickels. Torn from top to bottom. The barrier between the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God on Earth, was removed forever.

No one could have understood the significance of this moment until Jesus was resurrected on this Easter Sunday and the Holy Spirit released. This is the time in which we live now - God is no longer in the Temple. The veil was torn when Jesus died and the Holy Spirit unleashed for all believers in Him. Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Do you realize the significance of this? It means we can have church on a baseball field and experience His presence there as well as we can at church. We can play and coach as an act of worship because the veil has been torn. God is no longer confined to the Holy of Holies. He desires to be in our every action and that includes as we play. It means there should be a way that we play, coach, and interact with people that allows for our Lord to be present. Let us continue to deepen our experience on the field by allowing Him everywhere we go. The veil was torn so that we could experience the fullness of God in every corner of our lives!

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - 1 & 2 Kings

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1 & 2 Kings traces the story of the Israelite kingdom and three memorable people in Solomon, Elijah, and Elisha. It continues the storytelling from 1 & 2 Samuel and takes us to the exile of the nation at the hands of the Babylonians. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from 1 & 2 Kings, take some time to read 1 & 2 Kings and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of 1 & 2 Kings (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/1-2-kings/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- A Fallen Dynasty
- Criteria for Kings
- Too Far Gone


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A Fallen Dynasty

David’s son, Solomon, leads Israel into a period of extraordinary greatness. He leads the nation into a unified kingdom and completes David’s dream to build a temple, the place where Heaven and Earth meet. This period of dynasty should have lasted longer than it did, but the people fail to follow God, the nation falls into civil war, and ultimately heads towards destruction and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. The books of 1 & 2 Kings are a sad story of a fallen dynasty.

In the baseball world, there is no dynasty like that of the New York Yankees. It’s a dynasty of Biblical proportions. From 1921-1964, the Yankees won 20 World Series champions and lost in the Series 9 other times. To put it another way, in 44 seasons, they were in the World Series 29 times and won 20 of them. There’s nothing comparable in professional sports.

In 1964, team ownership sold the Yankees to CBS, the television network, and the franchise struggled for a decade. After a decade, CBS sold the team to an ownership group headed up by George Steinbrenner. In spite of a successful span from 1976-1981 when the Yankees won two World Series titles in four appearances, the Steinbrenner period represented something of a fallen dynasty. The team had 21 managers from 1973-1996, a number of whom had multiple tenures with the team. So, from 1964-1996, the Yankees success came nowhere close to original dynasty.

The 21st manager was Joe Torre. Torre and a new generation of Yankees including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera led a new Yankee dynasty from 1996-2003 where the organization appeared in six World Series and won four world championships.

Dynasties are meant to rise and fall. All of the dynasties we witness will fail to live up to the promises of the Kingdom of God and the one true King, Jesus Christ. The glimmers of hope at the end of 1 & 2 Kings points to Jesus in the same way Revelation points us to His second coming. May we keep our focus on that dynasty still to come!


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Criteria for Kings

The criteria for hiring a baseball manager differs as much from team to team as the culture of the cities where the team resides. One team might have a long history of sustained success and choose conservatively to maintain that success. Another organization might need to shake things up in an effort to achieve new levels of success.

A team like the Pittsburgh Pirates hires a manager like Clint Hurdle because they were searching for a man of integrity who fit the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Being a culture fit can lead to long-term benefits for the team and the manager. Such clarity is important and often missing in professional athletics.

In the kingdoms of Northern and Southern Israel after Solomon’s death, there was a clear criteria for the kings of each kingdom. There were three simple checkpoints:

Did they worship the God of Israel alone or other idols?
Did they rid Israel of idolatry?
Were they faithful to the covenant?

Unfortunately for the two kingdoms, only 8 of the 40 kings met the criteria and this leads to their demise.

With the importance of coaches in our society, it might be wise for us to consider the criteria of the Israeli kings for our modern coaches. After all, they do rule over their programs and people in an area that is of increasing importance. Do those leaders worship God alone or do they worship other idols? Do they rid their people of idolatry, such as the idolatry of their sport? And are the faithful to the New Testament covenant of Christ? I wonder if today’s coaches, including those who claim to be Christian coaches, would grade out at a higher percentage than the kings of the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel!


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Too Far Gone

Derek Dietrich hit a home run last week that was just too far gone. Darn thing landed in the Allegheny River!

By the time Dietrich came up to hit again in the fourth inning, emotions on both sides were also too far gone. Pirates starter Chris Archer threw behind Dietrich to send a message about his prolonged pose at home plate during his river-bound home run. The benches cleared and a melee ensued.

Sometimes things just get beyond us and end up being too far gone. The same was true for the Israelites by the time Josiah came around. Even after Elijah and then the double portion provided to Elisha, the nation is beyond the point of no return and headed towards exile. Josiah does all that he can to bring the people back under the Lord when the Book of the Law is found in 2 Kings 22. But the people were too far gone.

In today’s society, it can be difficult to fight against feeling that everything is just too far gone. Our goal should be to live out the greatest commandment - Love God, Love Your Neighbor. It’s time to draw closer to people and away from polarization. It’s the only way I can see that we can prevent from becoming too far gone.

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - 2 Samuel

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1 & 2 Samuel were meant to be told a single, coherent narrative. But, because of the length of the scrolls in ancient times, the book had to be broken into two. It’s some of the greatest storytelling in the Bible and makes for an even more incredible, impactful narrative when you weave together David’s Psalms into the story. This week, we’ll look at 2 Samuel as a standalone piece. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from 2 Samuel, take some time to read 2 Samuel and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of 2 Samuel (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/2-samuel/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Covenants & Contracts
- Sin & Consequences
- Importance of Writers


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Covenants & Contracts

The last couple of baseball offseasons have been strange for players who were free agents. The players have been waiting, or forced to wait, much longer than in years past. The two biggest free agents this past year, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, waited until late February to ink their deals and report to spring training. Many other free agents waited the same amount of time, if they signed at all. It’s a different era as owners wait to formalize their agreements with players and many are wondering about collusion, which is also an unfortunate part of baseball history.

As we enter into the second half of the book of Samuel, we see the fourth covenant from the Old Testament - the Davidic Covenant. God enters into a series of formal relationships with humans in an effort to work alongside mankind to achieve a common goal. Unfortunately, we break the covenant every time. Take a look at the Bible Project’s outline of these covenants before reading on. 

The first covenant comes with Noah. God cleanses the world and asks Noah to simply be obedient in building the ark. The agreement comes from God that He’s not going to destroy the world again and we’re working together to save a righteous example of man in Noah. That’s the simplicity of the first covenant. Second, God enters into a covenant with Abraham and God promises to bless him. Abraham must trust God and train up his family in God’s ways. From the Abrahamic covenant comes the whole tribe of Israel and the third covenant. This covenant comes for the whole tribe, for the people to obey a set of laws as God promises to bless the Israelite people by representing Him to the rest of humanity. The last of the four covenants comes through King David. Israel is now a nation and David is to lead in doing what is right and just. After David’s moral failure, we see a promise that one of David’s sons will come and extend the peace and blessing bestowed upon the nation of Israel to all of the nations of the world.

That “son of David” is Jesus, and Christ actually fulfills all of the covenants (check out 2 Samuel 7 to see this promise). He’s from the family of Abraham and represents the whole world’s blessing. He’s the faithful Israelite who fulfills the law. He’s the king from the line of David. The connection between the Old Testament covenants and the genealogies presented for Jesus are so important! Jesus is the faithful covenant partner and God has opened up a way for all of us to become partners in living in relationship with God as we seek to achieve His goals for the world.

While Machado and Harper may fulfill some of the longings for the fan bases in San Diego and Philadelphia, Jesus is the one who will fulfill all covenants and longings for all mankind. How thankful we can be for God’s grace, mercy, and divine plan through these covenants!


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Sin and Consequences

As a kid, I got to serve as a batboy for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the AAA affiliate for the Cleveland Indians at the time. I was 14 or 15 so I wasn’t that young, but I was certainly impressionable. I remember the players standing on the top step of the dugout talking with each other while looking into the stands. Their conversation was simple - they were scoping the stands for the prettiest girls, possibly even ones that would get with them after the game. This was common and I’m sure that practice is as common today as it was then.

In 2 Samuel 11, we read the story of David & Bathsheba. Here is the story as told in 2 Samuel 11:2-4:

“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.”

I’m going to give David the benefit of the doubt in that he didn’t get up from his bed expecting to see a naked woman bathing as he walked around the roof of his palace. Unfortunately, David can’t be afforded the same benefit of the doubt for his actions from that point on. He holds on to that image and lets the desire take root until it is consummated in sin. The consequences of David’s actions are chronicled from that point on, never erasing the consequences of his decision.

Let me share some of the Bathsheba-esque temptations I get by running this baseball ministry in the social media and digital space. At least once per month, sometimes much more often, I receive a like, friend request, a follow, or even a message from a female with ill intent. In order to block their profile, I often have to open them and view them. It’s a flaw in the system and often times I’m subjected to the same images David saw on the roof of his palace. It sucks. I’ve shared this with my wife and she knows that I’m not searching out these internet trolls. Unfortunately, the more frequent my posts and the deeper the spiritual impact, the more I get.

Why share this? As a man, I’m no different than David. We, as men, are wired for the visual and our minds have the potential to follow what we see. It concerns me that those trolls see my profile (influential Christian male) as a target. It means other people with a similar profile have fallen to the same temptation as David. We have to set up positive, healthy boundaries so we don’t allow sin and the consequences thereof to follow. We should continue to pray for one another and come into support of our fellow men stuck in darkness in these areas instead of judging them. Many of them are also men after God’s own heart just like David.


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Importance of Writers

As someone who writes a lot, I’m certainly biased in this view. Writers are important for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and in the enjoyment of the world of baseball. Though it is true that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” I recently had a friend tell me that writers are important because they give people a new window through which to look into eternal truths. He’s a writer, too. :)

I’ve read a lot of books about baseball, and am going to read some works by Roger Angell, the famous baseball writer, this summer. He’s widely regarding as one of the greatest baseball writers in history and I’ve yet to encounter his work. Even someone as well-read as I’d like to consider myself to be can miss some good ones from time to time!

Baseball writing aside, where would we be without the writings of David? We get the story of his rise and fall in 1 & 2 Samuel, but we get to understand what he was feeling through the Psalms. David’s life is certainly interesting, but what an incredible gift it is to be able to read how he processed times of triumph and trial through the scriptures. David’s poetic memoirs provide us with a constant reminder of God’s grace, God’s promises, and instills the hope of a future king in us.

To all of the writers out there, continue telling your stories and honing your craft. To those of you thinking about writing (which I tend to believe is everyone else), get started. Your story and your testimony is important to the world you influence. Be the David in your family and community, and join the fellowship of writers around you!

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - 1 Samuel

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The books of 1 & 2 Samuel was meant to be told as one narrative, but was broken into two because of ancient scroll length. It’s some of the greatest storytelling in the Bible and makes for an incredible, impactful narrative when you weave together David’s Psalms into the story. This week, we’ll look at 1 Samuel as a standalone piece. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from 1 Samuel, take some time to read 1 Samuel and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of 1 Samuel (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/1-samuel/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- God’s Not a Good-Luck Charm
- Needing a King
- Goliath Measureables, David Heart


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God’s Not a Good-Luck Charm

The baseball bat cross pictured here is increasingly cool and common in the baseball world. As jewelry goes, It’s hard to argue with the design and what it represents. But 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches us an important lesson: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I wore a cross around my neck my junior year of college. I didn’t know Jesus at the time. I was raised in a Lutheran church and, for a short time in college, attended an Episcopal church. God’s existence was never really a question for me but I was searching late in my college life. So, when you’re searching and you’re a baseball player, you put a cross on your neck.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was searching a good luck charm more than I was searching a relationship with the living God of the entire universe. As that cross hung around my neck, I went through a horrendous slump. It was like the one Robin Ventura experienced when he got to the big leagues. There was no chance I was getting a hit. It was brutal. Late in the year I popped a couple of doubles in the regional tournament, including one in the final game of the season that year when we were just one game away from the NAIA World Series.

But something funny happened during that last double. My chain broke and the cross was lost. I never found it again. I didn’t find Jesus and recognize Him for who He is until I was 27 years old when my heart was radically changed. For that brief season in college, I had only desired a good luck charm, not a relationship.

1 Samuel 4-6 tells us an interesting story that is similar to all of us using God and the symbol of the cross as a good luck charm. The Philistines rise to power and Israel gets proud. They trot out the Ark of the Covenant, their version of a cross, as a magic trophy that will automatically grant them victory. It doesn’t. The Philistines steal the Ark. Then they try to use it because they’ve seen its power. Plagues ensue on their people and they return the ark to the Israelites. Both the Israelites and Philistines suffer because of how they were trying to use God and the Ark.

God is not Israel’s trophy and He is certainly not our good luck charm. God will oppose pride, even among His own people, and we all must remain humble and obedient. In no way am I saying that you should throw your baseball bat cross away. Let’s just recognize what it represents - our humble, loving relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.


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Needing a King

Did you know that at least one man served as a player-manager in every major league season since “Honest” John Clapp’s debut in 1872 through 1955? People often ask why baseball managers and coaches wear the same uniform as the players and this is the simple answer. There was a time when owners would use the dual role as a cost-cutting opportunity. There is a history here that is important to understand and, before the increased focus on analytics, has been considered in this century as well by the Cincinnati Reds with Barry Larkin and the Chicago White Sox with Paul Konerko. Ultimately, there came a point in time where a baseball team needed someone to make leadership decisions and bear certain decisions to manage the team.

For whatever reason, human beings value and recognize a need for leadership in some form. It’s true in baseball and it was true for the Israelites. In 1 Samuel 8, we see this tension played out as Israel demands a king. Though it’s clear that God and Samuel were incredibly reluctant to provide them with a king, God raises up kings to rule the Israelites.

The kind of leader becomes very important. We’ve seen all different kinds of leadership on the baseball field and see two kinds of leaders in 1 Samuel in Saul and David. Both men provide us with something of a character study so we have the opportunity to see ourselves as leaders. Saul forces us to reflect on our dark side as a leader. He’s tall and good-looking but possesses a dark side of dishonesty, pride, and is incapable of admitting his mistakes. He disobeys God’s commands and ultimately descends into madness. David, on the other hand, is the least likely candidate to be king. He’s an example of patience and trust in God. David shows hope in spite of the human evil all around him. David provides us with a great example of the kind of human king we need, but he points us to our need for the Messianic King we all truly desire.


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Goliath Measureables, David Heart

The battle of David and Goliath has been a topic of conversation since it occurred. It still sparks interesting dialogue and is such a popular idea that Malcolm Gladwell and Louis Giglio recently wrote excellent books on the underlying meanings of the battle. To add to that discussion, we can evaluate players based on the measureables and heart of both characters.

David Measureables, Goliath Heart - This player is difficult. They’re undersized and don’t bring the ability needed to succeed consistently on the field. At the same time, those who really value their inordinate arrogance will play them believing that they’ll succeed because of their misplaced confidence. This isn’t a recipe for long-term success, but there will be flashes.

Goliath Measureables, Goliath Heart - While also difficult, this player can have a lot of success on the field because of their natural ability. Their heart makes them difficult to endure because of their constant shows of pride, but no one can deny their ability. Because they are so talented, few people even attempt to address their heart.

David Measureables, David Heart - These players are often the coach, manager, or organizational favorites. They’re small but they get it done. They tend to be the players that smaller players across the country point to as an example for their hopes in the game. However, few can approach their mix of humility, appropriate confidence, and grind.

Goliath Measureables, David Heart - These are the unicorns. People with all of the ability in the world and a humble heart. They can perform but do so with a radical trust and humility. In terms of leadership, these guys are the example everyone wants to follow.

The cool part of this matrix of measureables and heart of Goliath and David is that we can apply the same idea to leadership. Through time and experience, we can all work to develop something that would resemble Goliath measureables and David’s heart.