INSIDE STORY: Ziegler puts up zeroes, gives credit to God
To those who know him better, though, the Oakland A’s rookie stands out for a different reason.
“The thing that makes me proudest is knowing this young man is totally, completely, absolutely dedicated to God,” said Tom Norrell, a member of the Union Hill church in Nixa, Mo.
The East Grand church in Springfield, Mo., took time on a recent Sunday to ring up a member working out of town and unable to worship at home.
Via a Webcam, the congregation chatted with Oakland A’s rookie Brad Ziegler, his wife, Kristi, and their infant daughter, Kaylin.
“It was a real encouragement to them,” said Brad’s mother, Lisa Ziegler, whose husband, Greg, is minister of the 125-member Odessa, Mo., church.
Later that same Sunday, the submarine reliever etched his name into major-league history, breaking a 101-year-old record.
By recording six outs with no runs allowed in his team’s 6-5 win over Texas, Ziegler extended his scoreless streak to start his career to 27 innings. That eclipsed the previous mark of 25 innings set by Philadelphia Phillies right-hander George McQuillan in 1907.
Ziegler’s parents watched their son’s feat on television.
“He did it about 10 minutes before we had to leave for church,” Lisa Ziegler said with a laugh. If he had waited any longer, she joked, “I think we might have had to just bring the church to our house.”
Brad Ziegler, 28, grew up in the Odessa congregation, east of Kansas City. His father has preached there since finishing Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, about 25 years ago.
Greg Ziegler described his son as a young man of strong faith who “wants to be a positive influence for the Lord.”
I first heard the name Brad Ziegler back in the spring when a friend of his e-mailed me and suggested that I write about him. Doug Dunn, a member of the Slicer Street church in Kennett, Mo., talked about Ziegler’s faith and his “absolutely amazing” stats with the minor-league Sacramento River Cats.
“Brad and I were involved with the campus ministry at Missouri State University while we were in college,” Dunn wrote. “He’s been a fan favorite everywhere he’s been — college and pros.”
Big baseball fan that I am, I thanked Dunn for his suggestion and filed away his e-mail. I figured that if Ziegler made it to the major leagues, I’d maybe do a feature sometime. But his promotion to the A’s on May 30 didn’t exactly seem like breaking news.
Sure, the side-arming right-hander had allowed only one run in 24-plus innings at Triple-A Sacramento this season. But as Ziegler himself told me in a recent interview from Minnesota, “It’s supposed to be a very difficult adjustment to go from Triple A to the big leagues.”
Or maybe not. As Ziegler kept putting up zeroes on the scoreboard, he gained my attention — and that of media outlets ranging from The Kansas City Star to The New York Times.
It’s a true story that sounds like a Hollywood screenplay: A humble young man plays five seasons in college, one as a redshirt, and leads his team to the College World Series. After earning his mathematics degree, just in case baseball doesn’t work out, he’s drafted in the 20th round by the Phillies. But he’s released after just a few starts.
He then signs with an independent league team before getting noticed by Oakland. But with the A’s organization, he spends five days in intensive care after a line drive up the middle fractures his skull. He seems to be an average pitcher before taking a coach’s advice to develop a submarine motion after the 2006 season. In early 2008, a freak accident fractures his skull again, although far less severely. Still, he shows up for spring training ready to pitch, but he must wear a protective insert inside his cap for about a month.
Two months into the season, at an age when many minor-leaguers are considered over-the-hill, he finally earns his shot to pitch in the big leagues.
How does he respond? By baffling batters with sinking fastballs, sliding curveballs and a changeup that confounds lefties — and by going a remarkable 39 innings before he finally gives up a run.
Of course, Ziegler is quick to give credit to God and his teammates, noting that he is not a strikeout pitcher and benefits from a defense that committed only a couple of errors during his streak.
Most importantly, he looks back on his up-and-down journey and sees God teaching him lessons about what’s really important in life. It’s not baseball.
“I’ve cheated death in the past with the first skull fracture that I had,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m living a life that people around me can be proud of and that hopefully is bringing glory to the Lord and bringing people to follow him.”
A few more highlights from my interview with Brad Ziegler:
On playing against future St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols in high school (they also played together on a few prep all-star teams): “He definitely got me a couple of times — got a couple of homers. I had some success, too, usually when he hit balls hard right at somebody. … He was head and shoulders above everybody.”
On staying faithful in the world of professional sports: “I’m not going to say it’s easy. I think any workplace situation is very similar, maybe unless you work in a church building where you’re just surrounded by that all day. People in an office job have a lot of the same struggles. It’s definitely something that can be managed if you make that a priority.”
On God’s role: “I don’t think God necessarily cares one bit about baseball and how I do on the field, with the exception that it’s giving an opportunity to give him glory and give him praise. I feel like I’ve had to work extremely hard to get to this point … and I think God was definitely teaching me lessons over the last few years about what’s important.”