Cover Story

Finding the strike zone

"Finding the strike zone" Continued...

Issue: "Agony and ecstasy," April 7, 2012

Many baseball players have manic-depressive swings depending on how their last game went, but Meryl Masterson speaks about how even-tempered her husband is, and he says the secret is faith that "Christ controls it all." Trusting in God's sovereignty, Masterson says, does not make him less competitive: "Watch me play." Once, when told he was too nice to hit a batter crowding the plate, he replied, "'I'll hit the first guy of the game,' and I did-with a fastball right in the gut. ... Whether I win or lose I'm going to put it all on the line and know that whatever happens, I still have Christ in my life."

Masterson admitted that he is not immune to praying, "Lord, I could really use a strikeout right here"-but adds, "If He doesn't give it me, I'm not like, 'Oh, God, why have you forsaken me?'" He says his usual response is, "I could have made a better pitch." He tries to communicate that attitude to others, but realizes he has a lot to learn: During the off-season he attends East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, "a good Bible-believing church."

Sportswriters, often a cynical bunch, will be looking for evidence that Christ doesn't make a difference. One Cleveland sportswriter, Jodie Valade, wrote last August, "It might be nice, perhaps, if one day Justin Masterson really exploded, really expressed the emotions churning beneath that perpetually cheerful exterior. ... If he spouted off the bitterness everyone knows must be simmering somewhere deep down, if he'd stop being so gosh-darn merry and upbeat about everything tossed his way."

Valade did admit that Masterson's "perpetual optimism" and "unflappable demeanor" have "helped him progress from an unsteady pitcher" to a prime-time starter. This year he'll begin having the benefits and pressures of major league wealth, as his salary jumps from $468,000 in 2011 to $3.83 million for 2012. Sportswriters will be watching carefully to see if success goes to his head.

They do say Masterson is well-regarded by his teammates, in part because of efforts like one last year that aided utility infielder Jack Hannahan, who was batting only .217. The Indians were in Boston when Hannahan's wife went into labor, two months prematurely. The only way for Hannahan to get to the hospital in time was by private jet-at a cost of at least $35,000 that Hannahan did not have. Masterson learned about the problem and talked with teammates: Together they came up with the money. Hannahan flew to Cleveland and rushed to the hospital. Fifteen minutes later his wife gave birth.

Masterson may be the player best-positioned to become baseball's breakout Tebow or Lin, but every team has Christians who don't hide their faith. For example, Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants writes weekly posts for his personal blog on topics such as "Living like Jesus," discipleship, and social justice: He wrote recently about the importance of both clean water and indestructible soccer balls in poor countries, and also noted that the greatest injustice anyone could experience is not knowing who Jesus is.

Affeldt, 32, went to Northwest Christian School in Spokane, then headed to Florida for minor league ball: "That's when I took myself to church and read the Bible on my own." In recent years he has been reading books by Christian authors including New York pastor Tim Keller: "The Reason for God is pretty awesome. I really enjoyed the book. I pass it out." (See "Book of the Year," June 28, 2008.)

Affeldt has seemed headed for stardom several times during his decade-long major league career, but each time a physical ailment-blisters, a partially torn rib-cage muscle, a groin injury-sidelined the left-handed relief pitcher: "I went through times when I was quitting this game because I failed so much. ... I was wondering if I should be doing this for a living. ... During those times I truly was leaning a lot on God. ... So now when I'm dealing with some young guys who are going bad, I have stories to tell. If I was always succeeding, then I would have no stories."

Now, Affeldt has a tattoo on his forearm that proclaims "Solus Christus," Christ alone. He got it on Mother's Day last year because his wife, Larisa, wanted a tattoo but she wanted him "to do it first, so I said, 'OK, I'm a big church history guy and the five solas of church history are very important to me.'" (The Protestant Reformation emphasized five solas-living by Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, glory to God alone.) Larisa went for an "Eternity" tattoo on her wrist because during the baseball season her husband is on the road half the time: When she's caring alone for their two small children, she wants a reminder of the long-range perspective. (A third child is due in September.)

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