For love of God, family and baseball
ARLINGTON, Texas — The stadium felt like a furnace —…
I may have mentioned that once or twice — or a million times.
In my 15 years with The Christian Chronicle, I’ve enjoyed meeting and writing about a number of Christian players and coaches. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, I certainly miss America’s favorite pastime.
As we wait for the game’s return (and it sounds like Opening Day could happen by the Fourth of July), I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite baseball stories featuring members of Churches of Christ:
1. Retired slugger and his wife are on a mission for God: I first interviewed Josh Willingham in 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and was thrilled when he introduced me to my all-time favorite player, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. I caught up with him again the next year. But my favorite Willingham story is my latest — featured on the front page of the Chronicle’s June 2020 issue — as he and his wife, Ginger, talk about living out their faith in their Alabama hometown.
2. Why Detroit Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris was baptized in his baseball uniform: I interviewed Norris in 2015 in the home clubhouse at Comerica Park in Detroit. His star teammate Justin Verlander (later traded to the Houston Astros) sat nearby. Norris remains with the Tigers and is eager for baseball’s return, notes MLB.com.
3. Life of ‘The Rookie’ Jim Morris takes more extraordinary turns: Morris’ incredible life story was featured in a 2002 Disney feature film starring Dennis Quaid. But the movie didn’t tell the full story. I had the opportunity to hear more of it when I interviewed Morris at Abilene Christian University in Texas in 2010. Morris remains active as a motivational speaker.
4. After brain tumor, Bobby Murcer grateful for life: I was blessed to sit down with the New York Yankees legend in 2007 and discuss his cancer battle. “It’s not what my will is. It’s what God’s will is,” he told me. “And whatever his will is, it’s fine.” Murcer died on July 12, 2008. He was 62.
5. Major-league coach puts faith not in game but in God: I met Steve Liddle, a former Lipscomb University baseball star, at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2007. At the time, he was the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins. His longtime friend Ron Gardenhire was the manager. Liddle later served as bench coach for the Tigers after Gardenhire became manager there. Liddle retired at the end of last season.
6. Houston Astros coach swings for the heavenly fences: I grew up collecting baseball cards, and Cecil Cooper was one of the players whose stats always stood out to me. I first interviewed the five-time All-Star at Minute Maid Park in Houston in 2006 during his time as the Astros’ bench coach. Later, after Cooper spent parts of three seasons as Houston’s manager, I joined him and my friend David Duncan for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Cooper was kind enough to talk to me about life after baseball.
7. Pitcher Brad Ziegler signs autographs with a favorite Scripture: I first connected with Ziegler on the phone in 2008 after the Oakland Athletics reliever set a major-league record by starting his career with 39 consecutive scoreless innings. I interviewed him at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010 and again at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, in 2011 when Ziegler and Josh Willingham played together with the A’s. Our last in-person interview came in 2016, not long after Ziegler was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox.
8. From bat boy to major-league executive: I met Chad MacDonald, then vice president and assistant general manager of the San Diego Padres, at the North Davis Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas, in 2014. MacDonald is now a scout for the New York Mets, who hired him earlier this year.
9. Oh, Brothers! For Rockies pitcher, there’s a higher calling: I interviewed the flame-throwing Rex Brothers in the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 2013. The former Lipscomb star was then with the Colorado Rockies. He later pitched for the Atlanta Braves and was a non-roster invitee to the Chicago Cubs’ spring training this season.
10. He pitches with heart — a brand new one: OK, so this is not a story about a major-league player, although a Kansas City Royals pitcher makes a brief cameo appearance. But this is an encouraging tale of a high school pitcher’s life-saving heart transplant. And the good news is this: Four years after this 2016 feature was published, Josh Oakley is doing great. His mother, DeVona Oakley, tells me that he’s graduating from college this week and hopes to coach high school baseball.
BONUS: After this column was published, a reader introduced me to Lindy McDaniel, a pioneering relief pitcher who compiled a 141-119 record with 174 saves and a 3.45 ERA in a 21-season career. Read my interview with McDaniel, a Texas church elder who at age 84 remains active in teaching and preaching the Gospel.
Until we can meet again — at the ballpark, hopefully — enjoy reading!
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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