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Power To Win
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It's all about saves for baseball's Mariano Rivera-once the baseball kind for his team, but now the eternal kind for others. Rivera has spent well over a decade as a solid fixture in the sports world. He rose quickly in the baseball arena, gaining the respect of those who watched how he played and how he lives. But he's wished, at times, that his saves would come as frequently off the field as they do on the hill.
Rivera met the Lord in 1994 after seeing how He kept providing in unexpected ways that he had never seen before. "I realized the Lord wanted a relationship with me," he says. "That's when I became a Christian."
Now, when he retires, he might be interested in working with young minor leaguers from Latin American countries. He's not ashamed of God; his passion is for ministry. Rivera wants to teach people about the Word of God "because that will make them better people, better players, better everything."
Certainly the New York Yankees have been proud to have Rivera on their team. But the Lord is indeed even more proud to have him on His.
Mark Knowles is learning late in his career how unexpected life can be. However, he's also learning the importance of the constants in his life: his wife Dawn, his son Graham, and his foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.
It is that faith that has directed him in his marriage, provided comfort in the sometimes lonely sport of tennis, and given him strength in a challenging career. When Dan Nestor, Knowles's double partner for 13 years, decided to move on after the pair experienced a "slump," Knowles could have become discouraged or disillusioned. Instead, he finished the season strong with his long-time partner. Now, he's open to what may happen in the future.
God has given Knowles a great balance in his life. He focuses much of his time and energy on his wife and son now, though he is still fully committed to the sport he loves. He also is heavily involved in giving to charities. The family travels a great deal, but wherever they go, they connect with believers, attend Bible studies, and find churches to attend. They are leaning on God and trusting him to guide them in the future, just as He has in the past.
Cubs 3, Marlins 0. Five outs to go. In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. However, one fateful foul ball, a pivotal error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, seven straight hits and eight runs later, the Florida Marlins had gutted out another win.
After posting three straight wins against the Cubs in the NLCS the Marlins went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series four games to two. But for Marlins' pitcher Mark Redman fun hasn't always been there.
In 2001, Redman was brought in to Detroit, where in his first year he finished 8-15. Redman's faith was being stretched like it never had been before. "It was frustrating," Redman says. "Everyone knows it's easy to win. But what about when you're losing? There were a lot of times when I wondered why God had me going through this. What had I done wrong?"
Redman then signed with Florida. But although so much had changed, one thing stayed the same. God had a plan for Redman. "God really used me as a disciple," Redman says.
Now, after a trade, Redman finds himself with the Oakland Athletics. "I'm looking forward to seeing what God's going to do with (my family and I) here."
Alone on a California beach, 18-year-old Marty Tadman, a high school All-American with the game and the gumption to one day be an NFL player, anguished about his past and his future. After teen-aged years filled with alcohol, drugs, and chasing women, Tadman realized there was something huge missing from his life. "I said, 'God, if you are here, prove it to me because I think I'm done with this life,' Tadman recalls. "After I said that, I felt God's presence."
After reading through the first six chapters of Matthew, Tadman the party man suddenly became Tadman the Bible man. Today as Boise State's free safety and an All-American, Tadman is sharing his faith in a variety of ways. He leads an on-campus Bible study he started, while also talking about his faith at churches throughout the Northwest. Also, fans of Tadman show up at games wearing "Madman Tadman" T-shirts, which display Galatians 2, with a big 20, which is Tadman's jersey number. The Scripture, "I've been crucified in Christ and through Him I live," is something Tadman lives by. Tadman's tattoos display the gospel message that saved his life on the beach in California. "I came to the beach that night with nothing, and I left with everything."
Marvin Williams, selected No. 2 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in July's NBA draft, has never talked a big game. Whether dominating local courts as a point-forward for the Knights of Bremerton High, or helping the North Carolina Tar Heels to a national championship this past March, the 6-foot-9 athlete has deferred credit for his successes and downplayed his eye-popping talent. From the pews of his home church, Williams spent every Sunday of his childhood absorbing the traits of true greatness-diligence, honesty, respect.
Williams' faith has not wilted under the heat of a glaring spotlight thus far, as a strong strand of faith running through North Carolina's basketball program helped mitigate potential temptations. "Guys like Jawad (Williams) and Melvin (Scott) would take Quentin (Thomas) and me to church whenever we had a free Sunday, if we didn't play or if we were in town," Williams said.
Williams' mother Andrea Gittens will continue to live in Bremerton. Williams will visit often- the opportunity to se a public example never precluding his need to set a private one. "Somebody's always going to be looking at you, so you can always affect somebody's life whether it's just being nice to somebody or helping somebody out," Williams says.
It was in the poverty-torn country of Jamaica that Matt Hasselbeck began his unexpected journey to the NFL, to the Pro Bowl, and to the Super Bowl. As a sophomore at Boston College, Hasselbeck worked in a home for elderly lepers on a mission trip to Jamaica. There he met George McVee, a man disfigured by leprosy. McVee would recite scripture in between hymns during times of song and worship. "Then he'd say, 'Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,'" Hasselbeck recalls. "I'm saying to myself these people should be so angry."
A month after arriving home in Boston, Hasselbeck got sick with hepatitis A and was sent to the hospital. Hasselbeck never complained about his situation. "I thought, 'This is nothing compared to what the lepers in Jamaica deal with.'" It was then that Hasselbeck made a prayer to God. "I said, 'Dear God, I apologize for not using my health and my athletic ability You've given me to the fullest.'"
Hasselbeck's desire and work ethic completely changed, and the results were dynamic. He went from being a forgotten backup to the starter at Boston College, and then onto the NFL. And this was all started by a most unlikely motivation talk in Jamaica.
The Colorado Rockies surprised America by winning the National League Championship in 2007, taking them to the threshold of the World Series. Right in the center the notoriety and success were Matt Holliday and Todd Helton who became role models to many, not only because of their impressive stats, of which they certainly could boast, but largely because of their decency on and off the baseball diamond.
Holliday and Helton actually don't boast about personal accomplishments. Instead, they focus on their personal relationships with the Lord. They humbly acknowledge that God is using them where they are. "If I...prepare my heart for a chance to share with others, God will use me," says Holliday. Helton, who in recent years recommitted his life to Christ, strives to lean on Him. He admits that though athletes "still have the same problems that everybody else does...faith helps."
The two baseball stars don't like to overplay their faith and never claim their success comes because they're Christians. They do believe, however, that God has placed them on a strong team with rare and special camaraderie. They simply rely on that support and desire to live lives that set an example of integrity for others.
After winning a gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament with Team USA, Michael Redd was certainly in the perfect place-Las Vegas- to indulge in the party scene. So what was Redd, an All-Star guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, doing to celebrate? "I'm up in my room playing some dominoes, beating up my man Rick Davis," Redd said with a chuckle.
Redd has been at the forefront of Bible studies, preaching the gospel, sharing his testimony, and leading others to Jesus. Redd says it was an honor to join Team USA, but he wasn't there for hoops alone. He says it gave him a greater stage for sharing the gospel not only to the NBA's top players but also to the world at large.
When Redd first played in the NBA with the Bucks in 2000, the temptations of the NBA lifestyle revealed themselves. "Going and bumping my head a couple times really made me understand this wasn't me, and I needed to do the things God wanted me to do," Redd says.
Redd hopes his Milwaukee Bucks team will continue to improve and contend for a championship. Besides, if a title comes, it'll give Redd one more stage on which to carry out his purpose.
To talk about Mike Fisher is to talk about a man who has his life in perspective. Fisher comes from a large, close-knit family full of love and support. His parents provided a nurturing home where he learned what it meant to be a Christian and live a Godly life.
Fisher's love for hockey is in his blood. He played growing up and knew he wanted to make it to the NHL. But he's definitely seen his share of disappointment as a young athlete. His cousin and spiritual mentor, Warren Robinson, best states what sets Fisher apart. "Mike goes to [God] when the pressures of being a professional athlete get tough." His first priority is God, then family. Everything falls into place after that.
Fisher's faith is strong enough to keep his spirits up even at the hardest moments, like when his team, the Ottawa Senators, lost the fight for the Stanley Cup in 2007. He admits that it was faith that reminded him that the Cup was not the most important thing in life. And though he will surely still pursue the dream of winning that famed prize, he will continue to pursue his relationship with God even more.
Mike Minter is no Michael Jackson. At a birthday party the Carolina Panther threw for his wife 2 years ago, this fact was made very clear as an attempt to sing and dance to 'Beat It' was not too successful. "I'm the first black man without any rhythm," he says.
You want rhythm and soul? Check out Minter on the football field. He is the Panther's King of Pop, dishing out hard hits to claim many of the franchise's all-time defensive records. However, Minter's NFL legacy extends far beyond the roaring crowds of Sunday stadiums because he has a heart to serve the Lord. After an injury in college at Nebraska and his first taste of parenthood Minter reached out to God. "I knelt beside my bed and said, 'Lord, I don't know what to say to you, but I do know I need you in my life.'"
Minter is known for helping out others. For example, Minter and several teammates started the Ruckus House Learning Center, a unique child-care concept that blends academics, athletics, and Christian principles.
Minter is set to retire after this season. He desires to focus on ministry, with no NFL distractions. Now that's something to dance about, Mike Minter-style.
All Mike Rupp wanted was to go home.
Rupp was called up in mid-April by the NHL's New Jersey Devils from their American Hockey League affiliate in Albany, New York. He was one of five "Black Aces" - warm bodies being kept around by the Devils as insurance during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"I thought to myself, 'What am I doing this for?'" Rupp recalls now. "I'm not even playing. I'm not with the team...Just let me go home and enjoy the summer."
New Jersey had a different plan, however. And so, Rupp thinks, did God.
After an injury to New Jersey forward Joe Nieuwendyk, the Devils activated Rupp for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and then again for Game 7.
Rupp came ready to play in the decisive game, as he scored the winning goal, and then added two assists in New Jersey's 3-0 victory.
Rupp's life has not been the same since. "When I look at everything that happened to me over a 3-month period, I realize it wasn't me that did any of it," Rupp said. "It was obviously the work of God. He showed me His power, and He showed me what can be accomplished if you work hard and stay faithful to Him."
"I'm not playing for the name on my back," says Mike Sweeney. "I'm playing for the name of Jesus Christ and I want to bring honor to His name." However, that wasn't always Sweeney's priority. The ups and downs of his baseball career have brought him a long way. At a particularly low point, Sweeney had to undergo an attitude adjustment.
After much self-examination, the young star became aware that he was doing most of the pedaling on his spiritual tandem bicycle. "I just realized that there were areas of my life and career where I was on the front seat of the bike and Jesus was on the back seat," he says, "and I was saying, 'I'm steering-just ride the bike with me, Jesus.' Right before the 1999 season I came to the realization that I needed Jesus on the front, and my job in life was not to worry about where I was going but to pedal as hard as I could. And with that, I had a lot of freedom."
Since that point, Sweeney has allowed that mindset to permeate his entire life. He pedals as hard as he can, trusting God to decide where they're going.