The 1998 Major League Baseball season promises to be one full of questions:
(1) Will Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals break Roger Maris's single-season home run record?
(2) Will Pedro Martinez prove to be worth the $75 million that the Boston Red Sox threw at him?
(3) Will someone get conked on the head by a steel beam at Yankee Stadium as the ballpark crumbles to the ground? (Perhaps this will be the demise of George Costanza in the much-hyped Seinfeld finale.)
(4) Will anyone drown in the swimming pool located behind centerfield at the Arizona Diamondbacks new ballpark? (And, given the fact that the pool also features a swim-up bar, should a sign be posted there stating, "Don't drink and dive"?)
Another question on the mind of every hardball fan is whether the Cleveland Indians will repeat as American League champions. The Indians lost a heartbreaking World Series Game 7 in extra innings to the Florida Marlins last October, but the Tribe is off to another good start this year. A large part of Cleveland's success so far this season is due to the sterling relief pitching of righthander Mike Jackson, who also starred for the club in the post-season last fall.
Mr. Jackson, who started his career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1986, also hurled for the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants before landing in Cleveland. He is one of the most humble professional athletes that you'll ever meet, and a player who was ready to talk about his Christian faith when WORLD interviewed him recently after a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Mr. Jackson credits his relationship with Christ with helping him become Cleveland's closer. "My Christianity makes me more intense, more focused," he noted. "Just because I'm a Christian doesn't mean my intensity level should lighten up. It's more intense now, because I'm not just out there pitching for myself, but I'm pitching for the Lord, and trying to be an example in a professional way."
For well-paid and famous ballplayers, an avalanche of temptations awaits just outside the clubhouse door, and Mr. Jackson knows he must guard against them at all times. "The way I avoid those things is by getting with my other brothers in the Lord in fellowship and by trying to be accountable for all of my actions and things I do off the field. I pray and ask God for strength so that I won't fall into the snares of the evil one. I try to spend time in the Word when I'm on the road and back at the hotel, and I talk with my wife and my family all the time, in order to keep myself out of certain situations so that I won't be tempted."
Accountability to teammates also helps: "We have Baseball Chapel on the road and I have fellowship with other Christians on the team. That's important to me. That's what we did last year. We had a lot of times when we got together and shared the Word with one another-me, Orel Hershiser, Tony Fernandez, and Kevin Seitzer. We lost Orel, Tony, and Kevin this year, but now we have Travis Fryman and Alvin Morman who are believers."
But the key deliverer from temptation and evil is Christ himself, Mr. Jackson concludes: "I love Philippians 4:13, which says 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' I have that reference written under my cap. Whenever I face adversity, I know I can do all things through Christ if I seek him first and seek him in every situation. He said that he'll never leave me or forsake me."
Mike Jackson's job is to deliver his team from bases-loaded jams on the field. As he tries to do so, he has confidence in a far greater Deliverer.