Sports and The Savior

The Legend and The Lord: A Lesson From Nolan Ryan and the Savior

September 22nd, 1993. It’s a day that will live long in the memory of two boys and their Dad.

“I can’t believe it, Dad,” my oldest son said, “Nolan Ryan’s very last road game. This is history and we’re here to see it.”

“I know, Matthew. Seven no-hitters. Almost six thousand strike-outs. He pitched when I was a boy. This is awesome!”

“Where is he, Dad? Dad, I can’t see him.” My youngest son, Daniel, was almost frantic. He couldn’t bear the thought that he might miss something. His anxiety grew with every thought that number 34 would step from the dugout without his eyes fastened to the legend’s every move. The “Ryan Express” commanded too much of his respect for even one glimpse to go uncollected. So, with a reassuring smile and a gentle nudge in the right direction, I turned his head toward the visitors dugout. “Keep watching son, he’ll come out any moment now.”

Such were the thrilling minutes before the final game of Nolan Ryan’s legendary career. For much of the world, baseball means very little. Nolan Ryan means even less. For true fans, baseball means a great deal. Nolan Ryan means even more. The two go together like melody and lyrics. One is the song. The other the verse.

“Here they come, Dad! The Texas Rangers are coming out,” my oldest said.

“Where? Where are they, Dad? I can’t see them,” my youngest exclaimed.

The rest of the Texas Rangers took the field. I stood and began to applaud. “Dad,” the boys almost shouted, “why are you clapping? We don’t see him. Where is he, Dad?”

“He’ll be out soon boys. Come on. Stand up. He’s a living legend.”

The three of us stood there clapping. It seemed like eternity, but in reality it was but seconds. The anticipation was exhilarating. Suddenly, there he was, number 34, Nolan Ryan, the greatest pitcher of all time. All around us people began to stand. The ovation was thunderous, the moment spectacular, the spectacle frozen in time — a few seconds that shall never fade away.

For two boys and a dad those moments have created a bond stronger than time itself. The smell of popcorn and candy, the feel of a hundred thousand hands smacking together, the sound of Seattle’s Kingdome resounding with fifty thousand voices lifted in joyful cheer, and the sight of number 34 raising his hand in recognition and appreciation of our recognition and appreciation for him were meant just for us. The Legend is a man.

However, Nolan’s game is up. He was the greatest. Never mind that his last game ended bittersweet. Never mind that a torn ligament ended that game before even the first inning concluded. Never mind his last inning as the most awesome pitcher in the great game of baseball included a grand-slam against his record. Never mind, because he brought his own brand of greatness to the ball-park that evening. We’ll remember it. We’ll cherish it. We’ll talk of it. And, like all good stories, it will instruct us about life. My boys will learn something from those few moments with the Legend.

You see, my boys did not have many heroes. This old world offered them precious few. I always hoped that in days to come their lives would be filled with men and women who would inspire them. I could hope that as they became men they would model their lives after men and women who press forward, who work hard, and who demonstrate the goodness and kindness that Nolan Ryan had given us during four decades of major league greatness. I could hope that I would be for them such a model. Time will tell.

Yet, there was greatness already at work. Our brief moment in time with the Legend reminded us of something far better. There approaches a day when again we shall stand to applaud. Perhaps, if we are sensitive enough, we will once again stand to clap and shout before we see his face. This time, however, it will be more than applause. It will be worship. We shall shout and sing, “All hail King Jesus.” Only this time it will last. This time it will consume our very beings. This time it will be more than a brief moment in time. This time it will mean life, not memories. This time it will be the Lord, not the Legend.

Can you only imagine? Oh, dear friend, think about this…if Jesus is your Savior…well, here, let God’s word convey this truth for itself (Revelation 21:1-7)…

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”

What? Are you kidding me?

The dwelling of God is with men?

There will be no more tears?

There will be no more death? No more mourning? No more crying? No more pain?

Me? Me? I will be his forevermore son?

Incredible! Amazing! My God, oh my God, thank you.

No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus these words: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

The time is coming. Are you ready?

Sports and The Savior

Comebacks and Testimonies: A Tribute to The Kid and The Savior

Ken Griffy

Ken Griffy’s recent retirement sparked some memories so I pulled this from my archives…

It was incredible. On August 6th they were thirteen and one half games out of first place. By September 21st the Seattle Mariners were in sole possession of first place in the American League Western Division. The California Angels had collapsed The Mariners had climbed. It was one of the greatest pennant drives in major league history.

For 63 games of that spectacular baseball season, The Kid, Ken Griffey, Jr., sat on the bench with a broken wrist. Some called him The Natural. Many considered him the best all around baseball player alive. Yet, he sat on the bench. The first part of that season left him out of the line-up.

His frustration grew. His desire to help his team could be indulged only through cheers and encouragement.

Then came that late season charge. Ken Griffy Jr. finally took the field. He played like tomorrow no longer existed. Number 24 sailed across center field making one spectacular play after another. Swinging the bat, his offensive production placed fear in opposing pitchers. And then, in the eighth inning of game 159 in a 162 game season, he stroked a grand slam against the Texas Rangers giving his team a 6-2 victory. With only three games left in the season the Seattle Mariners had closed to within two games of first place. The miracle was under way.

When regular season play came to an end, the Mariners had drawn dead-even with the California Angels for first place. The Division Pennant would hinge on a one game play off — my boys and I were there.
My two sons and I love to sit in the Kingdome when the Mariners are making baseball history. Watching Number 24, The Kid, perform sometimes takes our breath away. During that pennant fever stretch of ‘95 we were sucking wind big time!

I still recall when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit the big leagues. He decided his number would be 24. Of course. Why not? For baseball fans the number 24 occupies special significance.

Another great player also wore number 24. He too was a center fielder. He too punched home runs like clock-work. He too possessed speed and skills like few others before or since. He too was referred to as the Kid — “The Say Hey Kid.” His name was Willy Mays.

It seems to make sense. A boy grows up playing America’s game. He watches his baseball heroes and dreams of following in their cleats. In his teen years, his parents and coaches know something special is about to explode. And in his mind he longs for the day he might wear his favorite player’s number and play the game like his favorite player plays.

This young man, Ken Griffey, Jr., the son of a major league ballplayer, comes to the major leagues at the tender age of, what was it, 18 or 19? He instantly thrills the baseball world. Sooner or later, it had to happen — the reporters ask him the same question I’ve been wondering about, “Hey, Kid, why did you pick number 24?”

Naturally, everyone figured they knew the answer. We all expected him to say, “It’s in honor of Willy Mays.” But then came the unexpected. Ken Griffey, Jr. said, “Because Rickey Henderson wore number 24, of course.”

Huh!? Rickey Henderson? At first the reporters were stunned. Then it all began to make sense. During the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, Willy Mays was the greatest in the game. Rickey Henderson grew up idolizing him. As a result, he chose to wear number 24. Then Rickey broke into the majors. Through the late 70’s, 80’s and still in the 90’s Rickey too had left fans in awe. He still owns the single season and all time base stealing records. Guess who grew up watching him from afar — Ken Griffey, Jr.

Three generations of baseball players. Each wears the same number — 24. It’s a legacy — one man’s tribute to another.

I sometimes wonder…

“Will there be something that marks my life like this?”

“Will my sons and daughter know my number and desire to show it off in their adulthood?”

How about you? What do you intend to pass along? What will your legacy look like?

The Bible talks about legacies. In the Gospel of John, we read, On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:19-21). And Paul wrote to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). That’s the number I want to wear. That’s the legacy I hope my children will receive. That’s what I want my kids to think about after I’m long gone. I want them to know that Dad was all about Jesus. And I hope that when we all get to heaven they will have passed it along to their children.