Game 12: AT&T Park, San Francisco

Something I’ve learned in this life of traveling, ballpark touring, scorekeeping and next-day blog posting: it’s hard work. Harder than I anticipated. Especially when trying to balance it with full time youth ministry and seminary work.

So forgive me for the delay on this post. I’ve been itching to get to it because AT&T Park was such a terrific host.

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, Seattle and Oakland. San Francisco was my last stop on the West Coast Tour, and it did not disappoint.

Five hours before game time, I was on the field.

My publisher, The House Studio, arranged for me to meet up with Jeremy Affeldt, Giants relief pitcher and all around stud, at the ballpark that afternoon. Jeremy is a two-time World Series champ in 2010 and 2012, and was Setup Man of the Year in 2009. He also wrote a book called “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice and Major League Baseball” last year. Told you. Stud.

We talked about his journey as a Christian in the MLB – struggles, failures, calling, morality, mission – and it was so awesome to hear him share his experience of God as a professional ballplayer.

I’ll mention part of our convo in this post, but you can read the whole interview with him here.

While I was hanging with Jeremy in the seats behind the Giants dugout, I couldn’t help but glance around as other players arrived at the ballpark.

Tim Lincecum, the Giants starter Monday night, came walking in sporting a yellow and purple Washington Huskies cap, which paired up nicely with his gorgeous mustache. Buster Posey had the night off, so he was out on the outfield grass playing with his little son. Sergio Romo rode in on a custom scooter.

I was borderline freaking out, but I tried to keep calm in front of Jeremy. It was just another day at the office for these guys. Yeah, killer office, man.

Affeldt told me the view from the seats we were sitting in was the most Instagrammed photo of 2013: the Coke bottle and glove beyond the left field wall. I told him that photo has been my Facebook banner photo for the past two years. I was trying to brag because I put it up in 2011 before it was cool. I think I ended up just sounding lame.

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It is beautiful though. AT&T Park is situated just south of the Bay Bridge on the west side of the San Francisco Bay on “McCovey Cove” after the former Giants slugger – although, I suspect that it wasn’t called that before the ballpark was built in 2002. The seats in right field are only three rows deep, so occasionally a ball will leave the park entirely and land with a splash in the Cove.

There have been 65* splash homers since 2002. Thirty-five were hit by Barry Bonds. Which means there have been 30 splashes over 12+ seasons. Which means, ignoring Bonds, it happens about 2-3 times a year. So it’s relatively rare. Nevertheless, you can always count on a handful of kayakers parked in the Cove hoping for a souvenir.

* – As of Monday night. Brandon Crawford hit one two days later to make it 66 splashes.

Our seats were in the front row of The Arcade, which is what they call the 3 rows in right field – hoping to see a splash on Monday night.

Second inning, two outs, in his first ever MLB at bat as a starter, Tyler Colvin unloaded on a 1-1 pitch. It sailed over our heads – over The Arcade -and splashed in the Cove. Colvin had a game: 2-3 with a triple and a homer.

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I watched the replay and took a screen shot of the home run. Hard to see, but there’s where I was sitting.

We actually got to see another splash homer. Braves’ first baseman, Freddie Freeman, poked one out in the 9th, but we weren’t cheering for the Braves, so…

What an incredible experience for Colvin. He’s probably been working to get into the big leagues for a long time, and to have a game – a moment, really – like that in his first MLB start? Amazing.

Jeremy and I were talking before the game about the pressure rookies feel they first come into the league. They’re still seeking permanent work and the financial security it provides. They want to feel like they’ve made it, and often times they – like Affeldt – don’t experience immediate success when they break into the league at a young age.

Now, I don’t know anything about Colvin’s spiritual life, and I’m certainly not claiming this to be true of him at all. I don’t know if he believes in God and feels a calling on his life like Jeremy and I do. But I wonder what happens to a rookie when they experience immediate success. Do they continue to need God? Or do they begin to rely on their own strength instead?

Jeremy had a great quote about this that I didn’t include in yesterday’s interview post: “They don’t need God, and they’ll tell you that. ‘I’ve got money, I’ve got cars, I’ve got women, I’ve got fame – why do I need God?'” Because of his early struggles in the game, Jeremy has a profound perspective on failure as an athlete.

Success doesn’t cause us to grow. Only failure can do that.

And baseball is a game of failures. “It’s who fails the least that does well in this game,” Affeldt told me, “you have to learn to fail…You base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your successes or not.”

I admire Jeremy for his pursuit of God in the midst of his struggles as a professional athlete. It is his frustration, struggle, pain and perplexity that have taught him to find his strength in God and not himself.

That’s what was running through my head when Colvin put the Giants on the board in the 2nd. Where do we find our strength – in ourselves, or in the one we created us in his image? Do our actions reflect that understanding? Is it about us, or is it about our Creator?

It’s a question not just for athletes, but for all of us to consider. When I finish this book, and it’s selling millions of copies and is a NY Times Best Seller*, who gets the glory for that success? Is it about me, the creator of this book, or is it about the ultimate Creator – the one who made me, gifted me, and has already written my story within his Story?

Or when this book flops, and the only people reading it are friends and family who are simply humoring me, reading it out of obligation because of their relationship with me, will I look to God to teach me why I’m not experiencing success for all my hard work? Will I allow the Spirit to grow me, give me strength and persevere in my calling as a follower of Christ?

What is it for you? Can you relate? What has been your experience of failure or success? Where does your strength come from?

I lift my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

San Francisco is a good place to talk about hills too. It’s been four days since I left the Bay and my calves are still sore from walking around that city.

Game Notes:

Earlier in the day, I was in a cab headed to Pier 39. My driver and I were chatting about the Giants and their season so far. I told him I was excited to see Tim Lincecum pitch that night, but the driver wasn’t so enthusiastic.

“I don’t know what his deal is. He’s not the same guy he was a few years ago.”

I agreed, but tried to keep it positive. “Totally, but you never know. He could turn it around.”

“I hope so. The Freak is still in there,” he responded, “It seems like any day he could be back to his Cy Young ways.”

It turns out Monday was that day.

Because Timmy and his mustache were awesome.

He was absolutely dominant. He went 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 11 K. His breaking ball is a slider-curve combo (slurve) that he can control all around the strike zone. It was unhittable on Monday night.

BJ Upton, by some miracle, had 2 hits – a solo homer and a double – but the rest of the Braves lineup was totally miffed by Timmy the Freak.

When I left for the coast, I thought I was going to get to see Aaron Harang pitch for the Braves. Instead, I saw Gavin Floyd, who did his best Harang impression holding the Giants to 1 run through 6 innings – Colvin’s splash being the only mar to his line.

But in the 7th, the Giants put on 4 straight batters.

Hector Sanchez led off with a single. Brandon Crawford reached on a grounder to first that Freddie Freeman couldn’t corral. Colvin ripped a triple scoring both base runners, and then he scored himself on a Brandon Hicks single. Floyd got to pitch to Lincecum, whom he struck out, before getting hooked, and the Atlanta bullpen shut down the Giants’ bats from there.

But the damage was done. 4-1 Giants headed into the 9th.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had Affeldt warming up for a long time, and closer Sergio Romo was ready too, but he decided to go with Javier Lopez to start the 9th instead to pitch to the lefty Freeman before bringing in Romo to get righties Chris Johnson* and Gerald Laird.

* – Also, how many people do you know named Chris Johnson? I know at least 5.

Lopez promptly gave up a splash HR to Freeman and left the game after 1 batter with a binary line: 0.0 1 1 1 0 0.

But Romo closed it: 4-3, 4-3, and struck out BJ Upton looking to end it.

The Bay Area really treated me right. Oakland and San Francisco have been the two best games I’ve seen so far, and they stopped my home team losing streak at 6. The home team is now 5-7 on my ballpark tour.

Twelve down. Eighteen to go.

Up next: Colorado Rockies.

-apc.

Talking Baseball & Spirituality with Giants’ LHP Jeremy Affeldt

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.