There come moments in the lives of individuals where we are faced with frustrating and seemingly impossible decisions. I was faced with one such decision recently as I turned on the television to watch the Major League Baseball home run derby which is an annual event that comes the day before the All-star game usually near the middle of the baseball season. I was elated to discover that one of my favorite players for my favorite team (Justin Morneau, of the Minnesota Twins) was participating in the home run derby. As I watched the first round of the home run derby I found myself entertained as batter after batter hit home runs and the crowd lept every time they heard the swift crack of the bat on the ball. Batter after batter came to the plate and each one did fairly well hitting anywhere from 4 to 8 or 9 home runs each. It was near the end of the first round that slowly but surely I became aware that this was not going to be your garden variety home run derby. A young player from the Texas Rangers baseball team stepped up to the plate, his name was Josh Hamilton. After several pitches he seemed to be on track to making it to the second round of the derby. And then it happened....
He started to get hot, blazing hot in fact. Crack, crack, crack came the sound as he swung the lumber and sent baseballs to their deaths a veritable ocean of human beings. He reached the mark of about 15 home runs and all of the sudden it dawned on me: this twenty something year old baseball player had tens of thousands of baseball fans on their feet and chanting his name at the top of their lungs. And if that wasn't enough to make this scene a crazy frenzy he kept hitting home runs. The record for most home runs hit in the first round of the derby was set in 2004 by Bobby Abreu of the New York Yankees at 24 home runs (no small feat!). However, the young Mr. Hamilton went on a freakish tear cruising right up to and passing the 24 mark. It was at this point that I found myself being carried by my adrenaline. Every crack of the bat made my eyes open wide and my mouth drop even lower. I watched as the rabid fans who packed the stadium to the brim were on their feet chanting "Ham-il-ton! Ham-il-ton! Ham-il-ton!" and every time he hit a home run the immeasurable surge of decibels filled the stadium and I am convinced probably most of New York City as well.
While this near super human display of physical strength and power was being unleashed on the teeming masses, the commentators began to fill in some rather insightful and emotive background on this young slugger. He had been a first round draft pick to the major league baseball a couple of years ago and when he came up to play he eventually made some poor choices one of which was using heroine, he eventually left the major leagues and found himself hopeless and out of touch with what was once his dream, playing baseball. It was in the lowest of the low that Josh Hamilton said he found God speaking to him. In an interview after the derby he explained his belief that his faith and the grace of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ carried him through the rehab process of getting rid of the drugs in his life. He rediscovered his love for baseball and at one point during the derby it was reported that he had a dream after coming back to baseball that he would one day participate in the all-star home run derby at Yankee Stadium. This was long before they had picked the site for the 2008 All-Star derby and game! As I sat and watched this amazingly talented baseball player crush balls into the center field bleachers as well as into the upper deck I found myself overwhelmed by his story. I was seriously brought to the brink of tears. I saw redemption. I saw God's faithfulness to never leave us nor forsake us, even when we are faithless and make mistakes (which we all do!). I saw a young man, who had been given another chance to realize his dream of playing baseball and do something that God gave him the gifts and talent to do. Some people might think that hitting a baseball over a fence, or playing a game is not ministry or that you can't play baseball and serve God at the same time, well, I would have to disagree with those people. I would have to say that I believe you can use your status as a baseball player to bring awareness to important issues, inspire giving to charitable causes, and you can play baseball for God's glory.
The entire experience of watching this indescribable scene was amazing! When Mr. Hamilton had reached something around the 28 home run mark, one of the commentators who had been retelling Mr. Hamilton's inspiring story said: "Look at this kid! All I can say is that it is a hard night to be an atheist!" I chuckled.
Mr. Hamilton chose to ask his city league batting coach from back home to come with him to the home run derby and be his pitcher (each slugger can choose who they want to have pitch to them during the derby). This coach was over 70 years old! All told, by the end of the derby the coach had thrown more pitches than years in his life, and more pitches than most starting pitchers throw in a major league game!!!
Well, the story of this home run derby ended with Josh Hamilton actually losing the final round to Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins. Honestly, I love the fact that Justin Morneau won because I am a huge Twins fan, but inside I am so torn, because Josh Hamilton did something amazing and I believe God did something amazing through him. What an amazing story and for baseball fans/disciples of Jesus Christ?! What a tale to tell?! Thus the story of my being torn between a Twin and a Miracle will be one that I will look upon for inspiration and with fond recollection for the rest of my life!