The Closer
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Mariano Rivera has never been one of my favorite people. After all, for many years he was a fixture for the New York Yankees, divisional rivals of my own Toronto Blue Jays. When a game came to the final inning and the Jays were down by a run or two, Rivera would jog onto the field and shut it down. Once he came onto the field, the outcome was rarely in doubt.

But he has retired now, and I like him a lot better. No sooner did he retire than he got to work penning his memoir, The Closer. It’s quite a story. Born in abject poverty in Panama, Rivera grew up in, on and around fishing boats, working with his father to scrape together a living. When the tides were out, he and his friends would play baseball on the beach, improvising the equipment they needed: wadded up fishing nets for balls, rocks for bases, tree branches for bats, and milk cartons for gloves. It was an unlikely start to one of the great baseball careers.

When he was in his late teens, Rivera began playing shortstop for a nearby amateur baseball team. One day the pitcher played so badly that Rivera was asked to take over for a couple of innings. The results were so impressive that friends contacted a scout for the New York Yankees. Rivera gained a try-out, then a minor league contract. And the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to become the most dominant closer in the history of the game, earning 652 saves in the biggest baseball market in the world. He was an All-Star 13 times, won 5 World Series, and was once the World Series MVP. He had a storybook career and through it became world famous and fantastically wealthy, with his earnings topping $150 million. He has come a long way from that fishing boat in Panama.

But there is more to his story than baseball. In his early twenties Rivera was exposed to the gospel and became a Christian—an unashamedly outspoken Christian. While the book describes his life, it also describes his faith and, to borrow a sport’s metaphor, he leaves it all on the field. He tells how important his faith has been, how it has sustained him, and how the Bible has given him guidance throughout his life.

The Bible can’t tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life. For me, the Bible is not just the word of God, but a life road map that is packed with wisdom that you cannot beat even if you spent the next hundred years reading spiritual books and self-help books. It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple wisdom. This sort of wisdom, from the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twelve: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

When it comes to his faith, Rivera describes just what he believes and why he believes it. While it becomes clear that he loves the Lord, it also becomes clear that he is not a theologian. Unfortunately, a few of the things he says are unclear or confusing and probably owe more to Pentecostalism than to the historic Christian faith. And yet, again, it is clear that he is passionate about the Lord and the spread of the gospel. In the aftermath of his storied career he has both moved on and stayed just the same. “For the last nineteen seasons, the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees. My job was to save games, and I loved every part of it. Now I have a new job—probably better described as a calling—and that is to glorify the Lord and praise His name, and show the wonders that await those who seek Him and want to experience His grace and peace and mercy.” To do this, he and his wife have co-founded a church where they serve as pastors.

As is the case with most sports memoirs, this one is dominated by descriptions of games and plays. Those who love sports, and who love the Yankees in particular, will find it riveting. Those who are a little less enthusiastic about sports may find themselves skimming over certain sections. And if you’re like me, you may find yourself silently finding yourself hoping he’ll lose the games, just because he’s pitching for New York. In any case, Rivera’s story is a good one and well worth reading.

Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist

I met Ben Zobrist at the first conference I ever spoke at. I was in Nashville, at Community Bible Church, to speak on discernment, and someone introduced the two of us, telling me that Ben was a major league baseball player with the Tampa Bay Rays. I think he was manning the book table at the time. We talked for a few minutes and he told me that the next time the Rays came through Toronto, I should look him up. I did that, and it has become something of a tradition, so that once or twice a year I spend a few hours rooting against him, and then, after the game, we get together to spend some time catching up. It has been fun to watch his rise from a utility player and pinch hitter bouncing between the majors and minors, to a two-time All Star who is undoubtedly one of the most under-rated players in Major League Baseball.

What I appreciate about Ben is that he seems unchanged by the fame and the fortune that have come his way through being a professional athlete. He is as down-to-earth today as the day I met him, still a small-town pastor’s son unimpressed with his own success. He is a humble guy who sees his career as a unique opportunity to speak about Christ. As he has established himself as a great player, he has seen those opportunities grow.

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Ben and his wife Julianna have teamed up with Mike Yorkey to write Double Play. This is really four different stories woven into one: Ben’s long climb to the major leagues, Julianna’s growth as a professional singer, their spiritual journey as individuals and then as a couple, and the tale of two people falling in love. Each of the stories is enjoyable and well-told. They open up their lives with honesty, yet without exhibitionism. You won’t have to be a hopeless or sheepish romantic to enjoy reading about how they met and fell in love and (finally!) married. You won’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy reading about Ben’s struggles and successes at the plate.

A few aspects of the book merit special mention.

Ben tells about his early career as a major leaguer where he struggled and found himself demoted. He went through an excruciating depression where he blamed God for his failure and just wanted to give up. Yet through this time, and with the help of his pastor Byron Yawn, he came to see that he had made baseball into his idol, the one thing in all the world he felt he needed to succeed at in order to experience joy and fulfillment. It was only when he was able to identify this as idolatry that he was able to recover his joy in the Lord.

Julianna shares that as a young girl she was sexually assaulted. She describes how this affected her and how the weight of it has carried into her adult life and even into her marriage. She describes Ben’s kindness and patience in helping her come to terms with what happened to her. Those who have experienced similar grief will be helped, I think, by her openness and honesty.

Finally, the Zobrists make no attempt in Double Play to hide or disguise who they are and what they believe. From the first page to the last, the book is soaked in their Christian faith. Both Ben and Julianna grew up in Christian homes as the children of pastors and both of them have a deep and mature commitment to the Lord. They go to a great church today and, despite the difficulties of a career that involves seven months a year of near-constant travel, they celebrate it and are committed to it. They get the gospel and are eager to share their faith with those who read their story.

Sports memoirs vary greatly in their quality, and, though I admit my bias, I can say confidently that this is one of the good ones, up there with the likes of R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up (my review). Zobrist is one of baseball’s best players and one of the sport’s men of true character. His story—and Julianna’s—are worth knowing. If you like baseball or if you like memoir, you’ll enjoy this book.

[Note: Double Play is $4.99 in audio format at Christian Audio. You can get the print edition at Amazon. R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up is also $4.99 at Christian Audio.]

Dr. David Rice

Five years ago today, my Dad, Rev. David Rice went to his final reward. When I reflect on his testimony, I am utterly amazed at sovereign hand of God in all of our lives. Born May 18, 1935 to Ernest Glen and Mary Elizabeth Rice in Patton Junction, MO, Dad spent the majority of his life serving the God he loved and the people of his various congregations.

His testimony begins on a Sunday in 1947, just before his 12th birthday when he was invited to the Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, MI where he heard J. Frank Norris preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was that night that the Lord saved him and Dad immediately became active in the church's youth department. Through these events, my aunt and both of my grandparents came to know the Lord and our family has never been the same since.

Dad attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield, MO where he met my mother, Edith and they were married May 25, 1956. From there he pastored and ministered in churches in Florida, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas for over 30 years.  He founded two churches during that time: Fellowship Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, FL (now Derbyshire Road Baptist Church in Holly Hill, FL) and Ambassador Baptist Church in Mount Morris, MI (now North Flushing Baptist Church in Flushing, MI).  He also served as the school administrator for Braeburn Baptist Academy in Houston, TX.

Dad retired from active ministry in 1990 due to declining health, but even during his retirement, he still traveled with me as an evangelistic team.  Under his ministry, over 50 people committed their lives to full-time Christian service: going on to become pastors, missionaries, and Christian educators.  He was instrumental in hundreds of people coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, and ministered to countless others as a preacher, teacher, counselor and friend.

He loved enjoyed making people laugh, and always had a kind and caring word for those he came in contact with.  An avid fan of baseball, he rarely missed a game on TV, and usually called at least one of us after big games. One of my great memories is calling and talking with him when our beloved Detroit Tigers clinched the 1987 American League East Divisional title, which sadly would be the last time the Tigers would make the playoffs in his lifetime. It is only fitting that the year he passed away, the Tigers actually would go on to become the American League Champions.

If asked what his hobbies were, he would quickly say it was his family.  If asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he would say being married to his best friend and three fine sons.  “Paw” also enjoyed having his grandsons around to play with and keep him young at heart. He measured his worldly wealth not in money or possessions, but in his family and friends.  Using this as a measurement, he left us as the richest man we will ever know.

Dad's favorite hymn was “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” which is a fitting tribute to a life well lived to the glory of God.

Come Thou Fount of every blessing tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it, mount of God's unchanging love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

There are so many things in this life that still remind me of him, but the greatest is the legacy of changed lives that the Lord used him to impact. I am so thankful that God saw fit to place me under the care of such a Godly and loving man.

My second CD is entitled “When I Get Home.” It just seems appropriate to quote the chorus of the title song.

I'll see you when I get home in the sweet bye and bye
And we'll walk along the streets of gold with angels by our side
And time will have no meaning there in a land of no “goodbyes,”
Oh it's good to know, I'll see you when I get home!

I can't wait to see you again Dad. I'll make sure to look for you … right after I see my Savior first!

It is no doubt that one of the rarest feats to accomplish in baseball is the perfect game. 27 batters up, 27 batters down. It is so rare that only 20 pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball have accomplished this feat, so if it were to occur 3 times in a season, that would be the story of the year.

He looks out to me!

So far this year, Dallas Braden of the A's pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Mother's Day (with his grandmother who raised him in the stands!) and this last Saturday, Roy Halliday of the Phillies pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. Last night, we were a thin thread from witnessing baseball history in the making when Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers face 26 batters, punching all of them out!

Facing hitter number 27, rookie Jason Donald, on a 1-1 count, hit a weak grounder to Miguel Cabrera at first who threw to Galarraga covering first for the apparent third out. But first base umpire Jim joyce called Donald safe at first. The reactions from the players was telling. Cabrera and Galarraga were shocked, Brandon Inge at third just fell to the ground, Jim Leyland came out to argue the call (which he makes a point not to do under normal circumstances), Even Jason Donald was shocked! But Armando got Trevor Crowe to ground to Inge at third who easily threw out Crowe at first.

After the game, Jim Joyce asked the video operators to cue up the play and when he reviewed it, he admitted that he blew the call. He then asked for Galarraga to come to the umpires room where he apologized profusely and hugged Galarraga who told him that he understood. But even this may not qualify as the most disappointing lost bid for pitching perfection.

In 1959 Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix' 12 innings of perfect baseball were lost in the 13th by an error by Don Hoak leaving Felix Mantilla on first. After a sacrifice that moved Mantilla to second, Haddix intentionally walked Hank Aaron to set up the double-play. But then Joe Adcock hit an apparent home-run, that ironically, only scored 1 run because in confusion, Aaron left the base path and Adcock passed him, so the league president ruled it officially as a double and only the first Braves run counted. So Haddix lost 12 innings of perfect baseball, 1-0.

Lew Freedman wrote a book about Haddix and called it, “Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost” and I would still have to agree because if Lew Burdette had not pitched shutout ball as well, Haddix would have officially had his perfect game. To add insult to injury, Major League Baseball in 1991 took Haddix' name off of the no-hitter list due to a definition change of what constitutes a no-hitter. But Armando's game was blown by an umpire, not in the normal course of the game so it runs a very close second.

There are some who are calling for intervention by commissioner Bud Selig to overturn Joyce's call. I do not hold to any hope that Selig will do it, but a solid case can be made for overturning the call. This illustrates that instant replay review should be available in extremely controversial plays such as this one, where history is in the balance. one commenter on said that even Jim Joyce would benefit from overturning this call because he has been a solid big league umpire for 22 years and this one blown call should not define his otherwise excellent umpiring career. The only one adversely affected in overturning the call is Jason Donald who would not have credit for a hit that he clearly did not deserve. Mr. Commissioner, I know you love the human aspect of the game of baseball, as do I, but this is clearly a case where instant replay would have preserved history and so this call should be overturned and instant replay available for extremely controversial calls.

It sure would have been nice to have a Tiger perfect game in real life! (Kevin Costner's character Billy Chapel pitched a perfect game in the movie “For Love of the Game“) Well, we can look at this game and say that Gallaraga is the first pitcher to pitch a 28 hitter perfect game and win! (Since Haddix lost) No matter what we think of Jim Joyce or what the official line score of the game is, those of us who watched the game know Armando was perfect! And it was magnificent!


Josh HamiltonAnyone who knows me for more than a day or two knows that after my relationship with the Lord and my family, one of my great passions is for Major League Baseball, especially my beleaguered Detroit Tigers. While the Tigers season this year was one of the biggest disappointments I had in the last few years (only exceeded by their awful 2003 season when they lost 119 games, but even that was not totally unexpected), here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex we witnessed of the greatest sports stories of the last 10 years or so. It is a story that began with such promise back in 1999.

Josh Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Josh was named as North Carolina High School Player Of The Year twice, High School Player Of The Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player Of The Year by USA Baseball. After receiving a $3.96 million dollar signing bonus, it appeared that Josh was well on his way to a long productive career in baseball. Then the wheels fell off.

Prior to the 2001 season, he was involved in an automobile accident where he and his mother were injured. Suffering a lower back injury, Josh found himself with way too much free time and way too much pain. Josh began experimenting with drugs which was escalated by various back and shoulder injuries. After an injury-shortened 2002 season in the Devil Rays organization, he showed up late several times during spring training in 2003 and was reassigned to minor league camp. Due to his substance abuse, Josh was suspended several times by Major League Baseball eventually banning him from the game and he did not play for about three years.

Josh tells the story of walking down the middle of the road on the double yellow line in a drug-induced stupor after running out of gas on the way to his dealer's place and describes it as the point where he was pushed over the edge. He literally was a dead man walking. He describes his lowest point in the summer of 2005 when he woke up after a crack binge in a trailer full of people he did not even know. But like the prodigal son who came to himself, Josh went to his grandmother’s house and began the long process of rehabilitation.

It was then that God began an incredible work of grace. Just like the father in that classic parable of the prodigal son, God has restored Josh and given him such a unique platform to exhibit His forgiveness and restoration.

Today, Josh is the new reigning RBI champ of the American League. He rocked the Home Derby before the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium and had even die-hard Yankee fans on their feet, screaming his name as he blasted 35 total home runs. But even through all of this, Josh understands where he came from and where God is leading him.

What a unique platform to display the amazing grace of God! Josh is quick to give God the praise for the work He has done and wants nothing more than to be an example of hope to those who are enslaved by their addictions.

Whenever Josh comes to the plate at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, over the PA system played loud and clear is Phillips, Craig and Dean’s song “Saved The Day,” which is a perfect soundtrack to a life that God has supernaturally changed.

The darkest day in history was over
All was lost on the cross
Beaten, battered, bruised beyond description
You gave it all, what went wrong?

This couldn't be the end of Heaven's story
‘Cause You came to save, to beat the grave
Three days and now they're looking for Your body
But You were gone, and now I know

You saved the day
The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Rescued from the shackles of my failure
In the dead of night, You shined Your light
Your gift of love is hope that springs eternal
And because of You, all things are new

You saved the day
The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Oh God, You rescued me
From my iniquities

Your gift of love is hope that springs eternal
And because of You, all things are new

You saved the day

The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Thank you, Lord for your amazing gift of grace and for every example that you give to us. May our lives shine as beacons of your loving-kindness in a dark and dying world.

For more on Josh Hamilton, here are two news stories: