Oct 2011

The moment arrives in chaos.

Electricity saturates the atmosphere, as if the air itself is a conduit of high voltage. The crowd noise starts to swell like a massive breaker off the coast, cresting with awe-inspiring force. Indeed, the fate of the free world seems to hinge on what happens next. At least, that’s how it feels when the score is tied, a base hit would drive in two, and the screams of 37,000 fans are echoing off every green-hued corner of baseball’s oldest cathedral.

This is the place where the great Bambino himself debuted—where Foxx mashed, Lefty vexed, and Fisk waved it fair. This is Fenway Park.



Adrian Gonzalez – #28
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Born: May 8, 1982
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Bats/Throws: L/L
Height: 6-2
MLB Debut: April 18, 2004
Highlights:
• 4-time MLB All-Star (2008–2011)
• 2-time Gold Glove Award winner (2008, 2009)

Adrian Gonzalez pauses. He steps out of the batter’s box and stares at his bat, a PS27:1 model from the Trinity Bat Company of Fullerton, Calif. In that brief moment, Gonzalez soaks in the wisdom of his favorite verse, Psalm 27:1 (NIV): “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”

Now ready, Gonzalez digs back in to await the pitch. He is baseball’s “next big thing”—the Boston Red Sox’s newly acquired superstar whose powerful left-handed stroke is so smooth it should be accompanied by a Miles Davis soundtrack.

After being traded by the San Diego Padres last offseason, Gonzalez, 29, has now been unleashed on a baseball stage that, outside of New York City, is unrivaled in terms of fan passion, expectations, mythology, finances and media scrutiny.

While his career promise seems limitless, so, too, does his potential for spiritual impact. Yet in the midst of the clamor all around him, he has one main goal.

“I don’t want to be remembered in baseball,” he said. “I want to be remembered as a good witness for Christ.”

At the rate he’s going, both are entirely possible.

• • •

Fish need water. Fire needs oxygen. The Gonzalez brothers needed baseball.

Growing up on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border near San Diego—the result of their father’s air conditioning business—Adrian Gonzalez and his two older brothers, David Jr. and Edgar, rarely went a day without swinging a bat. Sometimes it was in their backyard cage, sometimes on their old Nintendo system, sometimes in a bedroom.

The boys concocted all sorts of games, and “Bedroom Baseball” was a particular favorite. Scattering their collection of trading cards across the floor, they’d choose lineups of their favorite stars and mimic each player’s swing during their turn in the batting order.

“When Adrian won, he’d be shouting it all over the house, and Edgar would get mad and want to play again,” said David Jr., who is four years older than Edgar and eight years older than Adrian. “And it was the same thing the other way.”

The boys caught the bug from their father, David Sr., who once played for the Mexican national team and earned the nickname El Correcamino (“The Roadrunner”) for his speed and sly offensive skills. The Gonzalezes were Catholic, but Mass often took a backseat to baseball. As they traveled to weekend tournaments, David Sr. would tell his boys, “God will forgive us if we don’t go to church as long as we’re playing baseball.”

David Jr. played at San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University, and Edgar was a 30th-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2000 and recently finished his 12th professional season by competing with the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. But baby brother Adrian, a power-hitting first baseman, took it to the next level.

In 2000, the Florida Marlins drafted him No. 1 overall out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., making him the first high school infielder to be the top pick since Alex Rodriguez in 1993. One day later—only 29 days after his 18th birthday—he signed with Florida for $3 million.

After that, little came easily for the Marlins’ top pick. In August 2002, Gonzalez suffered a wrist injury that required offseason surgery and sapped most of his power, prompting the Marlins to package him in a July 2003 trade to the Texas Rangers.

The next spring, on April 18, 2004, Gonzalez did make his major league debut, but, with Mark Teixeira firmly entrenched at first base for the Rangers, Gonzalez struggled to stick in the majors. Eventually he was shipped to San Diego in a six-player deal in January 2006.

Gonzalez’s big break finally came early in 2006 when Padres’ starting first baseman Ryan Klesko went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Gonzalez stepped in and responded with a .304 average, 24 home runs and 82 RBI in 156 games.

 
“My stats don’t matter. I’m just trying to use this platform to bring people to Christ.”

“Looking back, I’m grateful for everything that happened,” Gonzalez said. “It made me a stronger person. It made me understand that you have to leave it all up to Christ and His path for you.”

In five seasons with his hometown Padres, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound “A-Gone” amassed 161 home runs, 501 RBI, two Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances, becoming arguably one of the greatest hitters in franchise history. He even got a chance to play with his brother Edgar in 2008 and 2009.

But as Gonzalez’s stock rose, San Diego’s small-market budget forced them to trade him to the Red Sox on Dec. 6, 2010, for three highly regarded prospects and another player.

This season, even after offseason shoulder surgery, Gonzalez has been nothing short of beastly in Beantown. He earned his fourth All-Star appearance in July, and, by the break, led the majors with a .354 batting average, 77 RBI, 29 doubles and 214 total bases. His 128 hits were the most at that point by any player in Red Sox history. In fact, he’s one of the few left-handers in the game today who warrants a defensive shift in which opposing teams load the right side of the infield with three players.

While Gonzalez’s power numbers weren’t shocking, his batting average was, considering it was 70 points higher than his career average prior to 2011. Playing for Boston certainly helped, as Fenway Park is regarded as a lefthanded slugger’s park more so than San Diego’s cavernous PETCO Park, and Gonzalez’s stats do benefit from the Red Sox’s powerful hitting lineup. But those factors don’t account for everything. Quite frankly, Gonzalez has been in a zone. This summer, he reached the All-Star Home Run Derby final, and in the game itself he accounted for the American League’s lone run with a blast to right-center off Cliff Lee.

As far as great statistical seasons go, this one is tough to beat.

“He uses the whole field,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “A lot of power hitters, like David [Ortiz, Boston’s designated hitter], are going to take some of the field away from him. That’s OK because that’s the way he hits. Gonzi can manipulate the bat. You don’t see that with power hitters that much. He can loft the ball to left field. Sometimes, it looks like a right-handed hitter, which is impressive.”

• • •

So much is different for Gonzalez now.

Take for instance his team. While San Diego’s payroll this season was roughly $46 million, ranked 28th out of 30 teams, Boston’s ranked third at $161 million—a fact that, for better or worse, affects a player’s experience and career. As a transplant to the AL East, Gonzalez is also getting acquainted with ubiquitous media coverage, general fan hysteria from Red Sox Nation and the annual expectation of winning the World Series.

Indeed, so much is different for Gonzalez, and yet so much is the same. For one, his faith in Christ remains strong, and he claims that any new level of wealth or celebrity won’t change that—a fact to which his former chaplain with the Padres, Doug Sutherland, agreed: “That’s one guy I’m not concerned about his money owning him.”

 “Looking back, I’m grateful for everything that happened...It made me understand that you have to leave it all up to Christ and His path for you.” 
                                                             – Adrian Gonzalez

"Nothing is mine,” Gonzalez said. “Everything is God’s; everything is Christ’s. No matter what you do, no matter what you obtain, it’s all earthly. It’s not godly.”

Gonzalez first placed his faith in Christ in April 2003, just shortly after marrying his middle school sweetheart, Betsy. Since then, he has pursued sanctification like a hitter tirelessly refining his swing in the cage.

Upon meeting Sutherland at spring training in 2006, Gonzalez immediately expressed his interest in attending team chapels and positively influencing his teammates. He did the same thing this year in Boston.

“He probably opened up faster than any player I’ve had in three seasons,” said Red Sox chaplain Bland Mason. “He wanted to connect and talk about what the vision for the season was. Before I could even bring up weekly Bible studies, he said, ‘I want to do some Bible studies on the road with the guys.’”

Since Gonzalez’s arrival in Boston, attendance at the team’s Sunday chapel services has increased, which, according to Mason, is hardly a coincidence. Gonzalez takes his teammates through studies of the Bible and other Christian books, and, thanks largely to his influence, the Red Sox hosted their first Faith Night in at least 30 years on Aug. 27. There, he and several of his Christian teammates shared their testimonies with the crowd.

According to Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Gonzalez’s presence “has been a big uplift.”

“That’s kind of where we struggled as a team [in the past],” Saltalamacchia said. “We’ve had some great guys who have been in the faith, but Bible studies have been pretty small. When he came in, we talked about it, and he delivered on every bit of it. He’s getting Bible studies on the road, he’s getting Bible studies at home, and he’s getting Faith Nights in Boston. So it’s been fun. He’s definitely different than anybody else.”

Outside the stadium, Gonzalez’s faith is just as evident. In August 2008, he launched the Adrian & Betsy Gonzalez Foundation, which reaches out to underprivileged youth, and this season, he teamed with New England’s Eastern Bank to donate $1,000 to Habitat for Humanity for each home run he hits.

Gonzalez has also connected with FCA, taking part in his first ministry event in December 2009 at the San Diego Bowl Breakfast, an outreach connected to college football’s annual Holiday Bowl. He exhorted the crowd of 900 from Ephesians and encouraged them to live for God’s glory.

“He just walked in like he was someone else in the crowd who was there for the breakfast,” said Colin Sinclair, FCA’s area director in San Diego County. “He didn’t come in to mandate. He was really humble—that’s the word that sticks out most of all—and thankful for the opportunity.”

• • •

Back to the batter’s box.

Pausing to recall the truth of Psalm 27:1 helped. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

 
Gonzalez has been active in the community throughout his career including his years with the San Diego Padres in which he regularly took time out for young fans.

Certainly not any defensive shift.

Gonzalez scans the field, which is ripe with possibilities. The Green Monster proudly bears the dents of icons past and offers an inviting challenge to lefties: “I’ve made legends out of others. What about you?”

But as Gonzalez looks out, he also sees a different field. He sees a mass of lost and hurting people. He sees helpless kids facing an 0-2 count in life against poverty or disease. He sees other pro athletes with millions in the bank and holes in their souls. Jesus’ words in John 4:35 (NIV) resonate with him: “...I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

Gonzalez is ready now. He positions his Scripture-inscribed bat above his shoulder, turning off his body’s safety switch.

With its latest hero locked and loaded, Fenway anticipates.

These moments, really, are building blocks for legacies. Deliver in enough of them over time and a player will be ushered into the chambers of the all-time greats. It’s not something Gonzalez dwells on, but it’s reality.

Said Mason, “I really think if they win the World Series this year, he’ll start down that path of immortalization in Red Sox baseball.”

Here comes the pitch. Gonzalez rocks back, triggering his potent swing. The Fenway faithful lean forward in expectation. So, too, does all of New England. The fate of the free world—well, at least Red Sox Nation—hinges on the man whose perspective on such moments, honestly, is far from what they’d expect.

“There is no pressure,” Gonzalez says. “My stats don’t matter. I’m just trying to use this platform to bring people to Christ.”

As for the result of the at-bat—well, they don’t call him A-Gone for nothing.




BRINGING IT HOME 

Adrian Gonzalez may have some of the best stats in Major League Baseball, but, after reading his story, it’s clear that baseball is more than a career to him. There’s purpose in his game that goes far beyond the field.

Think about your life. Do you feel like it’s full of purpose, or does it seem meaningless? Does it ever feel like one endless performance revolving around being the best, winning, earning and achieving? And for what? To earn more money or get famous and drive a nice car? In the end, those things are all temporary. They can be taken away in a moment, and none of them will go with us when we die.

Deep down, we all long for more than fleeting, earthly success. We want to be part of something that lasts—something permanent that can’t be taken away by time or tragedy. We want to find real fulfillment for our souls.

Thankfully, we can.

Jesus Christ was a man who lived more than 2,000 years ago, but He was so much more than just any man. He was the only one in human history ever to live a sinless life, suffer a horrific death and rise to life again. And the best part is that He did it for you.

As the Son of God, Jesus was sent to earth to rescue humanity from the penalty of their sins. The Bible says that everyone has fallen short of God’s holy standard and is accountable for his or her shortcomings, which can only be atoned for by death. In His mercy and love, though, God chose to pay that penalty for us all by sending His own Son to die in our place so that we could be forgiven. The only thing required for us is to receive His free gift of salvation.

By placing our faith in Jesus Christ and allowing Him to become the Lord of our lives, we can be made right in the sight of God. What’s more is that we will be able to develop a deep, personal relationship with Him centered on His unconditional love. If we engage with God on this level, we will be guided through life and comforted in all situations by the power of His Holy Spirit, which will come to dwell inside of us if we place our faith in Christ.

Talk about fulfilling!

Today, if you want more than the world has to offer, know that you can have it. In fact, you can have everything your soul truly desires if you are willing to embrace it. Call out to God in prayer and ask Him to forgive and restore you through Jesus Christ. Then, let Him cultivate that personal relationship for which you were designed. Begin living with Christ as the Lord of your life and enjoying the peace of knowing that your eternity is secure and your love-tank is full.

The choice is yours, and your Heavenly Father is waiting for you to make it. All you need to do is say yes.

Have questions? Visit morethanwinning.com or call FCA’s National Support Center at 1-800-289-0909.

--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.

Courtesy of Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox; Shana Siler