‘Tales from Dugout’ shows strength in vulnerability
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Baseball players and umpires generally don’t want to look vulnerable, but there was strength in admitting that supposed weakness during the third annual “Tales from the Dugout” Sunday at Grand Canyon University Arena.
The event, organized by former major league players Aaron Boone and GCU alumnus Tim Salmon, is designed to give prominent baseball people a chance to share their Christian faith. This time they brought in local favorite Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitcher Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants and umpire Ted Barrett, and as in the previous two years, it proved to be an hour of enlightenment.
The participant who got the most reaction from the crowd of 600 was Affeldt, who showed why he has been considered one of the key “clubhouse guys” in the Giants’ run of three World Series championships in the last five years. His self-deprecating wit was evident right from the start when he was asked how he’s doing in spring training.
“I feel like I’m 36 … because I am,” he said, adding that when manager Bruce Bochy underwent a minor heart procedure at the start of spring training he told Affeldt it was brought on by watching one of his early throwing sessions.
It was no laughing matter, however, when Affeldt struggled in his first shot at the major leagues, with the Kansas City Royals, and he talked about how he “felt like a loser” and “wanted to quit but couldn’t” before the Royals traded him to Colorado in 2006.
In the most poignant moment of a night that contained several, Affeldt told the audience why he was “the guy crying in front of 30 million people” after the Giants won Game 7 of the World Series last fall in, of all places, Kansas City, and Affeldt was the winning pitcher. He went on for several minutes professing his amazement about how God had blessed him in that way and in that place.
“That should be a message for all of us,” said Salmon, who shared the moderator duties with Boone.
Goldschmidt has had almost continuous success in his career, but he said his faith “wasn’t a priority whatsoever in my life” when he was in the minor leagues. When a teammate invited him to a Bible study, “I was so against it. But it was not what I thought it was going to be.”
The Diamondbacks’ star first baseman said he has grown in his faith during the last couple of years as he reads the Bible more.
“I wanted to know what the Bible said so I could know how to live my life,” he said. “I’ve learned that even super important people all sin and make mistakes. I make mistakes on a daily, hourly, minute-ly basis.”
Barrett told a similar story of resisting God until he couldn’t help but surrender. When a player argued with him and Barrett responded with a string of expletives, another player, Chris Singleton, tried to tell Barrett afterward that maybe that wasn’t the best way for a Christian to talk. Barrett said he angrily told him to get out to his position.
“As I lay in my hotel room that night, God spoke to my heart,” Barrett said.
He decided to be “all in” for Christ on the field as well as off it, and the next day he went to Singleton and apologized. Barrett felt compelled to help found a ministry for umpires, “Calling for Christ.”
“Jesus loves umpires because no one else does,” he joked.
Salmon and Boone said every athlete or umpire they have approached for “Tales from the Dugout” has agreed to do it. This year, they added performances by Christian musician Justin Unger before and after the baseball/faith talk.
“For the most part, I think the ballplayers nowadays recognize the platform, especially the Christian ones, and they look for those opportunities to share their faith,” Salmon said. “And spring training is such a great environment to do it in because the pressures of the season aren’t quite there and they have a little more free time and they’re a little more laid back.”
Those pressures, Affeldt said, are why it’s so important to have a positive effect in the clubhouse. As one of the Giants’ leaders, he said he goes out of his way to try to help teammates, but not by preaching and using Bible verses. Instead, he asks permission to start and grow that relationship.
“The vulnerability is big for me,” he said. “I try to live my life like Jesus wants me to live it. Guys live with this mask and look so tough, but they fear failure. I want to tell them who I am because of Jesus.”
Affeldt couldn’t resist talking about what it’s like to face Goldschmidt. He’s still shaking his head about the time last season when he was told to pitch around the D-backs’ slugger, and Goldschmidt hit a pitch eight inches off the plate for a home run.
“I believe when I’m on the mound I can get the guy out — except Goldy,” he said. “The next time I face him, I’m going to out-pray him. I’m going to start worshipping out there.”
Imagine if Barrett were the home plate umpire. Maybe they could recite Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in their midst.”) before the first pitch. It would be a victory for vulnerability to God.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.