Talking Baseball & Spirituality with Giants’ LHP Jeremy Affeldt

Posted by

0834130513While I was in San Francisco over the weekend, I got to connect with Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants.

Affeldt signed with the Kansas City Royals out of high school and debuted in 2002. He has since spent time with the Rockies, Reds and Giants. He’s a two-time World Series champion with San Francisco in 2010 and 2012, and earned the Setup Man of the Year award in 2009 after posting a 1.73 ERA in 74 relief appearances.

Affeldt has a book titled, “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball“. He’s passionate about his faith and is an advocate against human trafficking and is very involved in other justice movements such as Something to Eat through Youthfront.

He agreed to meet me on the field a few hours before game time to discuss his experience of God in his journey as an MLB pitcher over the past 12+ seasons.

I’ve transcribed essentially the entire interview – the dude is a quote factory, and I felt like rather than finding just the best bits, I’d just share the whole thing. So here’s the bulk of what he had to say about Christianity, faith, calling, failure, morality and being the “aroma of Christ” in the game he gets paid to play.

On finding God through struggles early in his career…

One of the sad things about Christianity for me that I see a lot among church goers, or avid church goers, is that they get into this cookie cutter type God – you do this, this and this, you’ll get this – and I don’t believe in that god. I think that’s why Jesus came down and disrupted society, because it wasn’t cookie cutter religion that he was after.

I’ve experienced that in baseball.

Different areas of my journey I’ve experienced different ways of seeing, feeling or needing God. I think in Kansas City I went through a lot of pain, when it came to the injuries, but in addition to the weird injuries, I wasn’t doing very well. And that pressure of trying to be a major league athlete, trying to establish yourself in baseball as a young player without any kind of security because I was a year-to-year guy, I was young, I could get sent down – so trying to lean on God that way and also getting hurt, and not playing well. So it was a very insecure time in my journey with Jesus.

I knew for a fact he existed. I loved him. And frustrated with him feeling that maybe at some times he didn’t care about my career. Knowing that I got to the big leagues at a very early age, so it’s almost like, “Man, you’ve given me this ability, you’ve opened certain doors, being able to experience something that 99% of the people in the world don’t get to experience”, but then feeling like he didn’t care at the same time, and i grew to hate the game.

I started seeing God as – “look, I worship you, I praise you, I tithe, I do all these things right, yet I don’t succeed in baseball.” I had a cookie cutter type God, right? I make these sacrifices for you, then you get the clean slate, type deal, right?

Then you’d see ballplayers that weren’t believers doing so well, then you’re like, we’ll why do they get to be good?

So you get to that jealousy, envy stage in your faith of what I hear a lot in those TV evangelist-type scenarios where you accept Christ you’re going to get healthy and rich and all of a sudden that doesn’t happen and it’s a big let down…Do I believe he’s a God of wealth? Yes. Do I believe he’s a God of healing? Yes. But it doesn’t always work that way.

So I really starting hating baseball. Getting frustrated with God and not understanding. I would spend hours in the prayer room yearning for understanding of what he was asking of me.

I look back and I actually think he enjoyed that.

“Think about how many hours you’re spending with me, getting to try to understand me, you’re trying to know me, and would you have gotten there if we didn’t walk this path?” And I don’t know if I would’ve. If I had walked into the big leagues and had instant success, maybe I wouldn’t’ve understood pain and perplexity.

Maybe because he loved me so much that he allowed for that to take place.

IMG_2383

On discovering his purpose as a Major League Baseball player…

I went into an area of not understanding who I was as an athlete.

Right after I got traded [to the Rockies in 2006], and into the offseason, it was like I casted a fleece saying, “If you want me to play this game, then I need to know why I’m here. What is my purpose in baseball? If all it is is to entertain people, then this is a shallow life. And I am not enjoying it. There’s got to be something more than this.”

This is where he started to take me into the place where I am now…this “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. Understanding the platform which I’ve given you, to promote the Gospel.

People who sit in these seats will judge you whether you give up a hit or not or whether you hold a game or literally lose a game. So there’s no act of Gospel promotion, really, from that mound – maybe from action, how I do stuff on the mound – but even that I don’t necessarily buy into.

I remember seeing a girl who was very poor, and she was living on the streets – she was a street kid…I walked down on the street and that’s where I was asking God to show me, and I remember this young lady – she had a split lip and a black eye, here clothes were torn – probably not feeling very comfortable as a woman in her skin at the time because I don’t think she was treated well the night before.

That journey of seeing that girl and me going in and asking if she wanted something to eat and being able to provide that for her – seeing what that meant and the joy I experienced from looking into those eyes and saying, “I want to help you,” and her looking back saying, “You know I exist?” – there is where I started to find it.

I find this in baseball too, but the media doesn’t help at all in this area.

They put us as these supernatural, superhero-type people – our life is here [at the ballpark], and in our nice cars and our nice homes – and everybody else are just these…peasants. And some players do that – but I want those people to know, I put my pants on the same way you do: one leg at a time. And I get up. I have bad days. we exist in the same world, but sometimes they don’t think we do.

But I think God wanted people to understand that you always need to be aware of the least of these.

When Jesus walked the earth, he could’ve walked the same way – I am the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, I’m the child of the Most High God, I come from something way better than this. He could’ve acted like the high priests – you’re not holy enough to be around me – but he didn’t. He hung out with the people who were in pain and poverty, and the sick and in need of emotional and physical help.

He wanted to create an atmosphere of safety and trust, and he did that. And that’s where I want to be. I think I entered into that journey finding that God.

In Kansas City, I needed the God of comfort. I was going through pain and frustration, and I met him.

And all of a sudden I got promoted and all of a sudden I’m in the World Series, and I’m enjoying the game again. Suddenly, there was this whole different level of wanting to quit the game and hate the game, to being one of the top left-handed relievers in the game – and God said, “Yeah, and I needed you to understand that so you can use that platform  going go give you to help people, not a platform so that people can worship you.”

And I think that’s what he had to take me through and that’s the face of God that I met – a humbling God, but a God that made me understand, it’s not you that got you here, and it’s not about you that you are here – it’s about me.

It’s very hard int his game to see that because naturally in my flesh – you step out there, your name gets announced, and you get booed or cheered, but either way you’re getting it for who you are as a baseball player. And in some way shape or form, the pride will start to get to you. You boast in that. I’ve been there where when I go home, I’m just dad. I’m just Jeremy the Husband.

I mean, when I get home, she’s not going to ask for my autograph. It’s not happening. She’s not going to treat me like that! I even went through a time when I wasn’t getting the same respect at home as felt I was on the field.

You are not here for you.

On experiencing successes and failures…

Baseball. It is a game of failure. It is who fails the least that does well in this game. You have to learn how to fail, you have to be okay with failure.

Well, problem is, as athletes, we’re not okay with failure. We have a hard time with failure. We go out there and give up a lead and we end up becoming the loser, and everyone thinks we stink. We just have one bad day, or maybe its not even in our control. I can’t control where they hit the ground ball, it just happened – you’re frustrated, you lose, but some fans will be like, “well, you didn’t pitch well.”

No, I did pitch well, just – why can’t I succeed every time?

You start to base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your success or not. You trust in me as God, but you don’t trust me as God. You don’t trust me with your life. Do you trust in the identity of who you are?

When God says that because you believe in Jesus you are holy and righteous, do you live out of that identity? Or do you live out the identity of you are going to be happy as long as everything is great?

Do you trust in the fact that whether the circumstances are not necessarily what you’re asking for, do you believe that I am God, and that you can trust me, and that you are holy and righteous, and I’m for you and not against you, and I’ve already written the Story and you’re living it, but don’t think I’ve all of a sudden given up or that I don’t love you, or that you’re not doing something right – maybe you didn’t pray enough or you didn’t read your Bible enough – because you’re not doing good enough.

And I think that’s now the journey I’m in now with God.

No, I am good enough. Because of Jesus.

It’s not about how much Bible verses I memorize, or how much I pray, or did I give up a hit and say “shit” in the game and “oh my gosh I cussed! Is God gonna…”

He doesn’t look at you like that! He might convict you at times, but the conviction is because he is reminding you that your identity is holy and righteous.

Live out of that identity. Do not live out of your flesh.

When things don’t go right, it’s not because God is punishing you. He doesn’t do that! You’re holy and righteous and you’re forgiven by the Almighty God. You live out of that. so when things don’t go right – that’s where you have to lean more, not pull away from, run to – just lean and trust that he’s God. Find the joy in Him.

On why he continues to play the game…

I’m probably at the latter part of my career.

Now, it’s not about the amount of money, or the security – all the things I worried about in Kansas City and Colorado – now it’s about, do I want to play this game anymore? Now, if I don’t do well, it’s like, I’ll just go home; I don’t need the game anymore. I want to be with my three sons and my wife and have a normal life. I don’t want to deal with the media calling me out for not doing good, or people booing me – I’m over that.

So now, God is saying, “No, you have two years left on your contract, I have you here for a reason. Understand that. Don’t sit there and think, ‘I don’t really need to be here anymore.’”

He says, “No, you stay. and you stay not for those reasons. You stay because I’ve called you to be a holy and righteous servant of mine in this game that is far from holy and far from righteous. This game is the furthest thing from a moral heaven that you will ever find.”

IMG_2392

On the morality of the game, and interacting with teammates…

The morality of the game is very very tough, and that’s where I think the cookie cutter God, again, does not make sense in baseball.

If I live in church society, go to a church, work in a church, live in a church, office in a church, and everywhere I look someone is reading a Bible, or praying or having a bible study and everyone is saying the same things – blessed! – they gotta be holy, and the live in that culture.

But this here, you walk in, and I cannot whip open a Bible and start quoting Scripture and expect any of these guys that don’t believe in God to feel comfortable enough to walk up to me and want a dialogue. They’re not going to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, I see you’re reading your Bible. Tell me more about that.” No, they’re going to say, “You are a wacko man.” Or, “Here we go. We got another Bible thumper on the team. Another guy who – when I get back with a girl to the hotel or I come back from the bar drunk – is going to sit in the hotel and judge me.” They don’t want to feel that way. They don’t want to feel judged.

My view of spirituality in the game, when it comes to the morality of the game, when i look at Scripture, Jesus never gave his opinion unless he was asked for it. He didn’t walk in and say, “You’re wrong, and you’re wrong, and you’re wrong.” Jesus never just walked into a situation and just gave his own opinion, and I try to do the same thing in my clubhouse.

Do I go out and get drunk with the guys? No. Why? Because I don’t believe that drunkenness is good. I believe that drunkenness s a sin. I’m a holy and righteous person and I live out of that identity. Now, do I go and grab a beer with them? Yes. Why? I like the taste of beer, for one, but two – I can just have a conversation with these guys. We go out to dinner, we have a few beers, they decide they want to go out to a strip club or something, I go back to my room.

If they ask me, “Jeremy, why don’t you go out to the strip club with us? Well, are you asking you my opinion? Well then here’s my opinion.

I don’t walk up to them and say, “Hey, I want to talk to about where you guys went last night.” By just my actions alone they’ll see it. That’s my promotion of Jesus Christ.

You have guys that don’t want to believe in God, but when they’re struggling all of a sudden it becomes, “Uh, so I have a question about God.” They know who to come to, because they come to the guy – I’ve had teammates that always want to shout out stuff, but they usually don’t want to go to those guys for any advice about Jesus, because they don’t  really respect them.

I’m going to simply love you as my neighbor. Do I agree with your morals? Nope. Do I agree with your actions? No. Do I agree with the words you use? No. But I still love you. And I’m going to continue to love you. And I don’t believe that I save you.

I’m not going to be the one to change your morals. When you become a believer in Christ, the Holy Spirit changes your morals.

I’m only someone that’s just reflecting the Kingdom of God. I’m only going to be what I believe I’m called to be in my identity – a holy and righteous person. Will I act out of my flesh? Yes. Because Jesus didn’t die for my flesh, he died for my spirit.

I’m going to promote that, but I’m not going to be perfect, I am a saint that sins. But I believe my actions are going to see and feel the aroma of Christ. And that’s who we are, and that’s how you have to be in baseball.

On being the aroma of Christ…

A lot of times I’ll have conversations with people from church culture and they’ll say, “No, no. You can’t be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus.”

I’m far from ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I just don’t think I have to whip out the Bible and quote verses to a guy who will look back and say, “Well, that’s great. But I don’t believe in the Bible.” They’ll look at me and say, “Well that’s a verse you live by, but considering that I don’t believe in God or the Bible – why should I listen to you?”

If all I’ve got to go on is me quoting verses, then no one is ever going to want to listen to you, but if they see my actions, and they see that real joy that I carry, eventually they’ll come up to you and they’re going to be asking, “Now where do you get these thoughts from? And I can tell them about God.”

We finished the conversation, and I told Jeremy that I felt like I’d just gone to church. Incredible guy with an incredible passion for Jesus and his journey with him. What a joy to dialogue with him about his faith and baseball.

IMG_2400

Thanks, Jeremy, for being generous with your time and hanging with me a bit this week. Looking forward to seeing you in Kansas City when the Giants come to town in August.

* – By the way, this post is coming soon. I learned today that transcribing an interview is not a quick process. Play. Type. Pause. Rewind. Play. Edit. Pause Rewind. Repeat. It should be posted tomorrow.

-apc.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s