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Tim Challies

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sports

2 years 4 months ago
I guess I’ve made my love of baseball well-known around these parts. Just as a sampler, I’ve reviewed a biography of Albert Pujols, I’ve interviewed Ben Zobrist, and a long time ago, back when the site was in its infancy, I gave a short example of why I love the game. Baseball remains the best sport around and watching it is one of my favorite pasttimes. This weekend a reader of the site mentioned that R.A. Dickey, a ballplayer and Christian to boot, had released a memoir. I picked it up and read it over the weekend. I’m glad I did.

Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball is one of the most gut-honest sports memoirs I’ve read. Dickey’s life has been anything but easy, both on the field and off. Born into a turbulent home, he tumbled up more than he grew up, enduring divorce and excruciating sexual abuse. A high school friend shared the gospel with him and from a young age he professed faith in Jesus Christ. Here is how he describes this experience:

So on a fall Friday in an upstairs bedroom on Walnut Drive in Nashville, Tennessee, I get on my knees with Bo and his mom and ask Christ to come into my life. I tell Him that I believe He is the son of God, and I want to trust Him with my life. I secretly ask for forgiveness for what seems like a galaxy of sins and guilt and shame. When I am done speaking, the room is completely still. I feel relief. A lightness. It’s not the sky opening up, or angels singing, or lightning bolts striking the big magnolia in the front yard. Nothing grand and God-like. It’s much more subtle, like the best deep breath you could ever take.

Dickey began to show great promise in two areas—his proficiency with the English language and his athletic ability. These twin strengths took him to the University of Tennessee where he played baseball for the Volunteers and majored in English literature.

Dickey was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 1996 draft and was offered an $810,000 signing bonus. His career was about to get off to a booming start. All that stood between him and a whole lot of money was the formality of a physical. That’s when things went wrong. An x-ray revealed that he has no ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow—the one ligament that is apparently absolutely necessary to throw a ball with any kind of force. Though he was able to throw fastballs in the 90’s, no team was going to take a big financial risk on a guy with no UCL. The offer was withdrawn. Eventually he did sign with the Rangers, but for a fraction of the original offer.

For years Dickey floated around the minor leagues, getting the occasional chance in the majors, but never excelling and never earning a long-term roster spot. Around 2005 he decided that his only chance to make a mark in baseball was to transform himself into a knuckleball pitcher. Here, for the uninformed, is Dickey’s description of the knuckleball, baseball’s rarest and most eccentric pitch.

The knuckleball is the only pitch in baseball that works by doing nothing. Curveballs curve. Cutters cut. Sinkers sink. The knuckleball? You want it to float to the plate, rotation-free, and let the laws of entropy or aerodynamics or whatever else is in play take over from there, the air rushing around it, the seams creating a drag, the ball wobbling and wiggling and shimmying and shaking. Or not. Sometimes the knuckleball will be unhittable and sometimes it will be uncatchable, but rarely is it predictable. You can throw two knuckleballs with the identical release, the identical motion, in the identical place, and one might go one way and the second might go another way. It’s one of the first things you have to accept as a knuckleballer: the pitch has a mind of its own. You either embrace it for what it is—a pitch that is reliant on an amalgam of forces both seen and unseen—or you allow it to drive you half out of your mind.

To make a long story short, for the past three seasons Dickey has has been a starting pitcher for the New York Mets and has been doing quite well for himself. I will leave it to you to read about his journey to New York City.

As he was transforming himself from a mediocre journeyman pitcher to the league’s one and only knuckleballer, he was also undergoing a personal transformation. With his marriage on the rocks he was forced to deal with the sins in his life, including an ugly betrayal of his wife. He also longed to find freedom from the trauma of the abuse he had suffered as a child. He was able to do this with the help of a skilled counselor and the guidance of a caring pastor. It has left him with a faith marked by maturity.

When I pray, I am not just talking to God. I am deepening my relationship with Him. To me, prayer is not a me-driven, goal-driven endeavor, something I turn to when I really need to pitch a dominant game or get out of a tight spot or a personal crisis. I’ve never prayed to God and said, “Lord, please let me strike out Albert Pujols four times tonight.” Nor will I ever do that. God is not a genie in a bottle that you rub when you want something. He is the ever-present, ever-loving Father, the guiding Spirit of my life, my Light and my Truth. He has a plan for me; I believe that as much as I believe anything in my whole life, and even if I don’t end up flourishing in New York or proving myself to be a trustworthy big-league pitcher, I know that’s because He has something else in store for me, and whatever that is, I know that I will be at peace.

It seems like more than coincidence that as Dickey was able to deal with his own sin and the way others had sinned against him, when he was willing to walk away from baseball, he began to excel at last. 

One of the elements of Wherever I Wind Up that I most enjoyed, beyond its setting in the sport of baseball, is its honesty and familiarity. Dickey never blinks, he never backs down from admitting his own failures as a Christian, a husband and a ballplayer. There are some for whom success comes so easily and naturally. Far more common, though, is a long history of occasional success, interspersed with painful failure. Dickey’s memoir is heartening and inspiring in its honesty and its search for answers. 

This is a book sure to be enjoyed by any fan of sports in general or baseball in particular. Note, however, that the accounts of sexual abuse, though not graphic, are ugly enough that you would probably not want to hand this book to younger readers.

6 years 3 weeks ago
For people living in a society so obsessed with sports and so given over to them, I’m not sure that enough Christians have paused to consider what they think about sports in a way that is firmly biblical. I can think of only a small handful of books that have considered sports in light of Scripture and that have offered truly Christian ways of thinking about them. Into this void steps Stephen Altrogge with his newly published Game Day for the Glory of God.

In this book Altrogge seeks to encourage Christians to enjoy the gift of sports and to seize the opportunities sports give us to bring glory to God. He wants to see Christians understand sports as a means of growing in godliness. Thus he grounds the book in the gospel and dedicates the first chapter to an explanation of the gospel message. In the second chapter he shows that God is the source of all talent and that our right response is to thank him, rather than glorify ourselves, for any of our athletic accomplishments. He turns next to the joy of sports, teaching that the joy of winning, the exhilaration of victory, is a reflection of God’s excellence. In pursuing victory, we are mimicking the God of victory. The fourth chapter deals with “Game Day Priorities,” pointing to humility, passion, self-control, trust and dependence as the character traits that should define those who wish to play sports to the glory of God. Chapter five looks at winning and losing, warning against temptations that may befall those who are driven to win, but (thankfully) not suggesting that winning is meaningless as long as we all have fun. The last chapter encourages parents to help their children understand the proper place of sports and the proper attitude with which to approach them. Appended to the book is an essay from C.J. Mahaney titled “Fathers, Sons, and Sports” in which Mahaney gives wisdom specific to fathers as they seek to help their sons enjoy sports for all of the right reasons.

While Game Day for the Glory of God is a book that offers few surprises, it is still a book that is well worth reading. All I would wish for the book is that it would deal more with those of us who are more likely to enjoy sports from the vantage point of a couch rather than a soccer pitch or a tennis court. It is geared almost entirely to those who play sports while only touching on issues related to those who primarily watch them.

At a time when sport supplants religion and athletes are reverenced as heroes, it does us good to consider if and how we can use sports to bring honor to God. In Game Day for the Glory of God, Stephen Altrogge does just that, exploring both the benefits and challenges that await those of us who enjoy the action and drama of sports. Stephen relies on the Bible’s timeless wisdom to guide us to a deeper appreciation of God and a deeper abiding in the truths of the gospel on game day and every day.

7 years 1 month ago

The quiet strength and outspoken faith of Tony Dungy.

Those who know the National Football League will know of Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. One of the league’s premier and most respected coaches, Dungy is a Christian and one who is outspoken about his faith. Two events in the past two years have put him in the spotlight: the death of his son in 2006 and the Colts’ Superbowl victory in 2007. Anyone who has read about Dungy or observed him on the sidelines will affirm that Quiet Strength is a perfect title for his memoir—a book that has reached as high as the top spot on the New York Times list of bestsellers, becoming the first NFL-related book to hold that honor.

Born in Michigan into a serious and scholarly family, Dungy was an excellent athlete who excelled in both basketball and football. Though he was most at home on the basketball court, it was on the gridiron that he made his mark in high school and college. He also played a couple of seasons in the NFL before turning to coaching. He spent fifteen years in a variety of assistant coaching positions before finally taking on the responsibility of head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After five years at that position in which he steered the team from perpetual losers to consistent winners, he accepted an invitation to become head coach of the Colts, a position he holds to this day. Since accepting the position he has led the Colts to become one of the most dominating teams in the league.

Dungy is an intensely private person and he makes no apologies for giving very little time in this memoir to discussions of his family (with the notable exception of his son James). He has sought to shelter his family, allowing his children to live as normal a family as possible despite growing up the children of an NFL coach. He maintains that silence in this book. He does, though, dwell for a while on the death of his son. In 2006, in the midst of a dominating season by the Colts, Dungy’s son James took his own life at the age of eighteen. Dungy discusses the effects of this tragedy on his life and on his family, dealing honestly and biblically with the pain and suffering James’ death brought to him.

Anyone reading this book will be struck by the depth and seriousness of Dungy’s faith. It is clear that he has thought deeply about issues, about theology, and that he has learned from wise spiritual mentors. His faith has been tried and tested through difficult circumstances and through personal tragedy. Dungy studies his way through the Bible once every year, doing so with some of his colleagues, and this attention to Scripture is evident in what he writes. He also invests heavily in the lives of his players challenging them with Scripture and challenging them to be wise and productive members of society. He is active in many ministries and organizations and is constantly investing himself in other people’s lives. He uses his fame, as much as he can, to bring glory to God.

I have read several NFL biographies, but none so serious, none so biblical as Quiet Strength. While so many athletes claim to be Christians, few appear to show that faith and express that faith as clearly and biblically as Dungy. He is an inspiration to many and for good reason. This is a fascinating memoir and one I enjoyed from cover to cover. My lasting impression is not of Dungy’s life as a football player and coach, but of his life as a Christian. And I know this is just as he wants it.

7 years 3 months ago

Wednesday June 27, 2007

Books: As promised, all the books at the Desiring God store are a mere $5 today. Even John Piper thinks this is crazy. So go and lose yourself in a frenzy of consumerism. You won’t be sorry!

Photo: Though the text accompanying it is a little over the top, this photo tells a story that the media seems to be hiding.

Islam: The NY Times has an interesting article about the etiquette of Jihad.

Theology: The latest edition of the 9Marks eJournal is now available. It focuses on the gospel and challenges to it.

Technology: WSJ reviews the iPhone . “Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer”

7 years 11 months ago

Wednesday October 25, 2006

Humor: Phil Johnson shares a humorous story about getting in trouble after a Starbucks craving.

Law: In a rather disgusting abuse of the law, an American judge has chosen to punish a pervert by banishing him to Canada. The “Toronto Sun” reports.

Halloween: Lots of people are discussing Halloween, including Darrin Booker, whom I met for the first time a few weeks ago.

Technology: Al Mohler discusses the fifth anniversary of the iPod. “So, happy fifth birthday to the iPod. I celebrated the iPod’s birthday by loading several dozen new selections into my music library. Now, my iPod is armed with a whole new arsenal of music. It was the least I could do in recognition of such an auspicious occasion.”