October 2009 Mark Teixeira New York Yankees Bright Light in the Big City
They don't call it the Evil Empire for nothing. You either love 'em, or you hate 'em.
For nearly a century, the New York Yankees have been establishing their status as the dominant franchise in Major League Baseball. The club is rich in both tradition and dollars and has a track record of success that makes small-market teams both sigh in exasperation and raise their fists in what is usually described as righteous anger.
Still, no one can deny that the Yankees back up their bark with a fatal bite. With 26 World Series titles and 39 American League pennants, the Yankees have more championships than any other sports franchise in North America. They've retired the jerseys of some of the game's most legendary players (Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle) and continue to produce an abundance of all-stars each season.
Mark Teixeira — #25
|Position/Team: 1B/New York Yankees|
Born: April 11, 1980, in Annapolis, Md.
Family: Wife, Leigh, and children Jack and Addison
College: Georgia Tech
MLB Debut: April 1, 2003
• Two-time MLB All-Star (2005, 2009)
• Two-time Gold Glove Award winner (2005, 2006)
• Two-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2004, 2005)
• Dick Howser Trophy Award winner as the collegiate baseball player of the year (2001)
• Is one of just five players in major league history to hit at least 100 home runs in his first three seasons combined.
• Set MLB record for total RBI in a season by a switch hitter in 2005 (144).
Among that list is 2009 All-Star Mark Teixeira — a man who seemingly contradicts all those stereotypes. He's humble, friendly, unassuming, down-to-earth and talented.
OK, all the stereotypes but one. The guy can more than handle the pressure to perform for the Pinstripes.
Acquired by the Yankees in January, Teixeira has spent this season making himself at home — a dominant force of his own, even — among a talented group of Bronx Bombers, batting third in the lineup after Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, and setting up Alex Rodriguez. Through press time, he led the American League in RBI and ranked in the top three in home runs.
Teixeira's journey to New York, however, has been anything but a direct flight into JFK. It's taken him from college in Georgia to the Midwest for the minors, to Texas for the Majors, back to Atlanta, across the country to Los Angeles and then back to the East Coast. But, like any good journeyman, Teixeira hasn't wasted his time on the road. A faithful follower of Jesus Christ, he has used the years and the miles to draw close to the Lord. And now, with the bright lights of the Big Apple illuminating him from baseball's biggest stage, Teixeira is using his position from inside that infamous Evil Empire to shed light on all that is good.
A walking contradiction? Absolutely not.
STV: What would you say has been the defining moment in your faith walk?
MT: You can never completely get it — being a Christian — but I think I really got it when my first son was born in 2006. I just realized the love that God has for all of us. It was seeing my son born and knowing the unconditional love that I have for him.
I also read the book The Shack* recently. That book opened my eyes even more to how much God loves us. It was very powerful, and it changed my life.
STV: To this point, how has your relationship with God impacted your career?
MT: Baseball is a game of failure. There are plenty of opportunities to be down, to feel sorry for yourself or to be upset at somebody. One thing that I've realized is that you're never going to be 100-percent successful. You're always going to be let down. But when you have God in your life and you follow Christ, you're never going to be let down. Every time you fail, He's there to pick you right back up. Every time you think the world is going to end because you had a couple of bad games, God's there to remind you that that's not what it's all about.
STV: Tell us some of the biblical principles that define you.
MT: Our deeds don't make us righteous. Our deeds don't make us worthy to be in God's presence or to be in His Kingdom. God made that decision already. God's righteousness is given to us, and His grace is given to us as a gift. No matter what I do on the baseball field, no matter how hard I try to be a good player, no matter how hard I try to be a good father or a good husband, I can never do enough. In this world, I can never be perfect. But God is there to tell me that it's not what I do; it's whom I believe in, and it's Him loving me. That's very important to me because this game can be tough, and life can be tough.
STV: We talk all the time about the platform pro athletes are on and the amount of attention people pay to their personal lives. With that in mind, do you feel like you have a responsibility to share your faith with others?
MT: I have a huge responsibility. With this platform, I have an opportunity to be a good example. Hopefully people will see me and say, "There's a man who lives for Christ," and, "There's a man who's doing the right thing."
Every day I have a forum — the media, the fans, my teammates — and I have a responsibility to help prepare this world for the coming of Christ. If I can be a good role model and help non-believers, or even believers who need a little help along the way, I want to take that job very seriously.
STV: What is the predominant message that you try to share with young athletes?
MT: That Christ doesn't keep score. It's not about what you do here. It's about the person you are; it's about your faith. That's one thing that I'd like for young kids, or anybody, to know.
We can't be perfect all the time, and that's OK. In the heat of the battle, in the heat of the moment, you might say things or do things that aren't right, but, at the same time, Christ forgives us. Christ will always forgive you. I hope people realize that, just because of certain situations or certain things they've done, doesn't mean that that's it. It doesn't mean God has turned His back on us. That's something I love to tell young people or anybody, really, no matter what their situation. Christ is always there for us.
"Our deeds don't make us righteous. Our deeds don't make us worthy to be in God's presence or to be in His Kingdom. God made that decision already."
STV: How important is prayer in your daily life?
MT: Every time I pray, I ask for forgiveness. I'm a sinner, and I miss the mark every single day. But I do know that God loves me; I do know that God forgives me. It helps me in my everyday life because it reminds me that there's nothing anyone can do to me that I can't, in turn, forgive them for.
STV: How does that understanding of God's forgiveness impact the other areas of your life?
Teixeira often takes part in community outreach events such as the Yankees' 2009 HOPE Week, which focused on "Helping Others Persevere & Excel."
MT: God has forgiven everything I've ever done. If someone does something to hurt my family or me, I can always forgive them. It helps to keep hate and anger out of my heart.
STV: As a Christian athlete and a family man, what helps you keep your priorities straight during the hectic season?
MT: I don't play baseball first; I put Christ first in my life. I put my family behind Him, and I put baseball down the line. I obviously want to succeed; I want to perform. But, at the same time, I'm at peace no matter what happens on this earth. The more important part is being a Christian and being in the Kingdom of Heaven when it's all said and done.
STV: What kind of commitment should the Christian athlete have to excellence?
MT: Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you don't run hard, or you don't play hard or don't want to succeed. What I would tell fans or other players is that I think my relationship with Christ makes me a better player. It allows me to handle situations better, allows me to treat people better, and it allows me to have a better mental attitude toward baseball. When you put too much pressure on yourself, it's harder to play.
STV: At the end of the day, how much of your identity is wrapped up in baseball versus your faith in Christ?
MT: If you are searching for your purpose in life, then you're never going to be satisfied. This life will never satisfy you. You'll never be happy, and you'll never be content. The only real contentment or true happiness is with Christ.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of the New York Yankees.