One is a respected veteran rounding out an All-Star career. One is making a mid-career transition to the Arizona desert. One is a rising star coming off his first season in the majors.
Three men, all at different points in their game. Three men, all at different points in their faith. But three men, all with great insight on Christ and baseball.
Take note: This is wisdom from three of the most stand-up infielders in the game.
Tony Clark – 1B
San Diego Padres
It’s Good Friday. San Diego Padres first baseman Tony Clark leaves the field at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix only to find hundreds of fans waiting for an autograph from the 6-foot-7, 14-year Major League veteran.
“When I hang my spikes up, I’ll do so knowing that I gave everything I had...”
Clark has seen this movie before. The former first-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers drops his bat bag, grabs a Sharpie and engages fans with questions of his own: “How are you doing, brother?” “How’s your bracket doing, my man?” It is, after all, right in the middle of March Madness. But this kind of daily routine could be considered a madness of its own.
Not to Clark. The former two-sport star, who also played college basketball at the University of Arizona and San Diego State University, joyfully signs autographs for a full 20 minutes.
Joy: Clark’s claim to fame. Even on Easter Weekend, one of baseball’s true “good guys” has time for everyone.
…being known as a positive influence:
“To be quite honest with you, I don’t believe that really was the case until I gave my life to Christ. On January 27, 2001, the focus of my career and the process of changing the desires of my heart all began. It was no longer about me but rather how I could impact others for the Kingdom. I officially was in the people business. That philosophy, combined with a warrior mentality, I believe, has endeared me to being labeled a positive clubhouse influence.”
…how God got his attention:
|#7 Tony Clark|
Born: . . . . . June 15, 1972
Birthplace: .Newton, Kan.
Height: . . . 6-7
Weight: . . . 245
Bats: . . . . . S
Throws: . . . R
College: . . . San Diego State
MLB Debut: Sept. 3, 1995
Honors: . . . MLB All-Star (2001)
•He’s spent time with six different Major League teams: Detroit, Boston, both New York teams, Arizona and San Diego.
•Currently, both he and his wife, Frances, coach basketball at Northwest Christian High School in Phoenix. Clark’s team won the state championship this season.
“He broke me down and revealed Himself to me when I was most vulnerable. It was after an injury, and I was concerned about how I was going to provide for my family. He showed me His grace. [I had to rely] on Him to guide and direct my path. Relinquishing control of my life was the hardest and scariest thing, yet the most rewarding and enlightening thing I’ve ever experienced.”
…different team atmospheres:
“Each of those years [on different teams] was special in its own way. Never was my faith challenged the way it was in Boston, and yet, it was the greatest opportunity to display Christ in my life. The next year, playing for the Mets, was another year of character building, but with different challenges. Playing in New York for the first time and being apart from my family for significant lengths of time during the season required an increased level of discipline in my walk.
“The following year, I was again in New York, but as a member of the Yankees. It was there that I enjoyed a level of success that brought me within three outs of our goal of a World Series. Amazingly, the two years prior prepared me for what I would experience with the Yankees. At the end of that three year trek, I had built relationships and endured challenges that I never thought possible. All the while, I kept gaining the confidence I needed to continue becoming more of the man, father, husband and athlete that Christ has called me to be.”
“Other than winning a World Series, I’m simply focused on making the most of every opportunity I have. When I hang my spikes up, I’ll do so knowing that I gave everything I had to being the best player and teammate I could be. Wherever that leaves my personal career statistics, so be it. I’ll have no regrets.”
…how he wants to be remembered:
“That I was a warrior for Jesus Christ—and all that it entails on and off the field—for my family and for my teammates.”
Chris Burke – 2B
It’s a new season of life for Chris Burke. After being the top draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2001, he spent the better part of both the 2006 and 2007 seasons bouncing between AAA and the majors trying to find a consistent niche.
He may have found it now, but not in Houston. After being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December, Burke tore through Spring Training, leading all National League players in runs scored and ranking in the top 10 in both RBIs and total bases.
On a clear, 80-degree day in Tucson, Ariz., Burke climbed into an empty press box overlooking Tucson Electric Park to share his insight with STV. But unlike most Spring Training interviews, this one took place before the day’s game. Doing an interview could have distracted him from the game; it could have made him anxious to get the interview finished. But it didn’t. He chatted easily during the questioning, offered great insight, and then said calm good-byes before heading down to the field.
Then, as if to show the power of God at work in his game, he stepped up for his first at-bat and hit a home run.
“The best thing about Scripture is that it holds a mirror up to your face every time you read it. For me, there’s nothing like the Word to challenge me to be more compassionate, to be more loving, and at the same time, to be more disciplined.”
…lessons from failure:
“I think the challenge is to be steady and consistent in our walk all the time so people see that our joy is not derived from our results on the field but more our faith in Christ and our relationships with others.”
“The game of baseball, because it involves so much failure, teaches you how to be on an island. In soccer, basketball and football, you can get lost in the crowd, but in baseball, you’re up to bat; and even when the ball’s hit to you, only you are going to field it. It teaches you how to fail honestly and then to be able to pick yourself back up.
“We play a game where, if you do well 30 percent of the time, you’re really good. And through that, you certainly learn about yourself and handling failure, and hopefully you learn how to treat people respectfully even when things aren’t going your way.”
…how to fail well:
“It’s so easy to be kind and upbeat and outgoing when you’re doing well. I think the challenge is to be steady and consistent in our walk all the time so people see that our joy is not derived from our results on the field but more our faith in Christ and our relationships with others.”
…discipline and preparation:
|#2 Chris Burke|
Born: . . . . . March 11, 1980
Birthplace: . Louisville, Ky.
Height: . . . . 5-11
Weight: . . . 180
Bats: . . . . . R
Throws: . . . R
College: . . . University of Tennessee
MLB Debut: July 4, 2004
•Three-time collegiate All-American and the consensus 2001 SEC Player of the Year
•First round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 200(10th overall)
•One of Burke’s most notable MLB moments came in the 2005 National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. He hit the series-winning walk-off home run in a game that lasted 18 innings and took five hours and 50 minutes to play. It stands as the longest playoff game in MLB postseason history.
“For me, I’m able to handle results more based on the effort that I’m putting into my preparation. I truly believe God gives us abilities, and He expects us to make the most of them. I look at the parable of talents (see Matthew 25:14-30); and that’s all we can do. I try to leave the results up to Him and just be able to at least look myself in the eye and say, ‘I’m taking care of myself. I’m putting my time in, and I can’t really control how the game is going to unfold.’”
…being a witness:
“As Christians, we’re all called to ‘walk the walk’ first and, hopefully through that, we get a platform to maybe verbally share our beliefs and share the gospel. But, first and foremost, we’re called to live by example.”
“As athletes, it’s easy for us to lose ourselves in the fact that we do something the world holds up as very important, but we’re not any more gifted than anybody else. For me, faith has helped me stay humble in the fact that God loves us all. He’s made us all unique, and just because I can play baseball doesn’t make me any different than anybody else.
“That being said, I certainly feel fortunate to earn the living I do and have the opportunities I do, and with that comes responsibility to give back and hopefully be a positive role model.”
…advice to student-athletes:
“Stay grounded. Realize that your dreams are important, but certainly your relationship with Christ is more important. And just know that all you can do is prepare and try your best. I’m big into everything: eating well, working hard in the weight room, taking advice from coaches, playing your tail off. But at the end of the day, try not to get your self-worth wrapped up in making an all-star team or becoming a starter. Just try to really work hard, stay grounded, stay in the Word; and if you do that, in my opinion, you’re successful. Being a good teammate, being a good student and being a follower of Christ is being successful.”
Josh Fields – 3B
Chicago White Sox
It could have been a stressful day for Josh Fields—well, as stressful as Spring Training can get under the warm Arizona sun. At the time in a tight position race for third base with All-Star Joe Crede, Fields had been scheduled for a day off.
Instead, he was inserted into the lineup last-minute against the Colorado Rockies. Even then, he was only supposed to play a few innings, but instead stayed in for all nine and went 3-4 in the victory. Directly after the game he was shuffled straight to a magazine photo shoot on the practice fields. Then, before he could leave for the day, he still had to get in that interview with STV.
Better call the wife and tell her he’ll be late. So, that’s just what Fields did.
Ashleigh, on behalf of FCA, we appreciate the time.
A legend in the state of Oklahoma, Fields made a name for himself as a two-sport standout at Oklahoma State University—most notably as the Cowboys’ quarterback with the most career touchdown passes. But according to Fields, also a collegiate All-American at third base, a career at the hot corner fit his laid-back demeanor more than one under center.
Now, coming off his first full season in the majors, it is no question that Fields made the right decision.
…being in the public eye:
“Going out and speaking has been the biggest blessing to me because, not only is it hopefully a chance for God to speak through me and help other people, but it also helps hold me accountable. If I go out and speak, and then those people see me out doing something that is the exact opposite of what I’m speaking about, there goes my witness. Someone’s always watching you, no matter who you are.”
…being a judgmental Christian:
“When I was in college, my faith really became personal and I really grasped what it meant to be a Christian. Before then, I looked at people judgmentally and looked down on them for whatever they were doing. But I came to a point in college where I just got broken down, and I realized I was the same as them, but I was failing them in a different way by being judgmental.
“Now, being around a clubhouse and being around people for so many days during the year, you know everything about them, and they know everything about you. So, if you’re going to judge them, they’ll be quick to come back and say, ‘Well, you need to clean this up on your part.’ And that’s the good thing: You have many accountability partners in the locker room.”
…what he does for accountability:
“John Talley was my FCA director in Stillwater, and I keep in close contact with him throughout the season. He gives and sends me books, and he really holds me accountable because he likes to get the books back. He lets me borrow them and then says, ‘Have you read this? You still have my book.’ It makes me get on it and start reading.
“I also love talking to people about their faith. I have great conversations with [outfielder] Jerry Owens, who is one of my best friends and teammates. He is my accountability partner on the team and in my life. Even in the off-season we’ll call and check on each other. We realize we have a bond past the game of baseball. We love going out and playing baseball, having success and winning, but the ultimate goal is to be the best people that we can to bring others to Christ.”
|“You can witness as people watch how you handle situations.”|
...enjoying the game:
“In college, I got to a point where I started realizing that it wasn’t about me. I had been out there doing it for me, but it was supposed to be for God. At that point, I started praying before practice and saying, ‘Just make this practice the best practice You can and help me develop relationships with people.’
“When you start going into sports with that attitude, you stop thinking about your personal gains. You really focus on your relationships, and, when it’s done, you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was really blessed in that period of time because I did have the right mental attitude.’”
“It’s very tough because, in order to keep a job, you have to perform. I want to have the attitude that no matter what I hit I’m going to stay positive and keep the same attitude. But the truth is, it’s hard. Like when the media is there and you’re answering questions on a daily basis about why you haven’t got a hit in your last 20 at-bats, and you’re like, ‘I have to answer this again?’
“But when you realize what you’re actually here for and you keep your perspective straight—and luckily I have a wife who can humble me with a snap of her fingers—it makes it a lot easier to handle those times.”
|#22 Josh Fields|
Born: . . . . . Dec. 14, 1982
Hometown: Stillwater, Okla.
Height: . . . 6-1
Weight: . . . 220
Bats: . . . . . R
Throws: . . . R
College: . . . Oklahoma State Univ.
MLB Debut: Sept. 13, 2006
•1st Team 2003 Big 12 All-Conference at third base
•First round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2004 (18th overall)
•Fields is also known as one of the best quarterbacks in Oklahoma State University history. He currently owns the record for career touchdown passes (55).
•Married his wife, Ashleigh, also a former OSU athlete, in December 2006.
• Started 2008 with AAA Charlotte.
…how to use tough situations as a witness for Christ:
“You can witness as people watch how you handle situations, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now: handle situations the best I can and not blow things out of proportion. You have to realize what the ultimate goal is and that, no matter what happens, everything is going to be all right—my family is still going to love me and my wife will still love me.
“I honestly have to tell myself that every day, because when I go out and strike out three times, I can easily drag that home and make things worse. But I have to realize that there are things beyond the field. This is fun, but it’ll come to an end at some point. Some guys realize it, some don’t.”
…his advice for college and high school athletes:
“Everyone has struggles, but the main thing is just to realize that they’re not the end of the world. Whatever is happening is happening for a reason. That’s hard to choke down sometimes, but I’ve definitely learned through my struggles that they happen for a reason. The struggles I’ve had have made me who I am today, and I’ve gotten stronger through them.
“Since we’re talking about faith right here, I’m expecting everyone to understand that faith is No. 1. You can say the most perfect answer about, ‘Do this and do that,’ but you have to realize that you’ve got to give it up to God and let Him show you the way.”
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Photos courtesy of Chris Hardy/San Diego Padres, Debbie Franz/Northwest Christian High School, Chris Kaiser, Steve Wigginton, Brian Beltramo, Jonathon Willey/Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, UT Sports Information, Oklahoma State Athletics.