Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray has developed into one of the most dominant starters for Arizona over the last two years. The southpaw is 20-7 over that span with a 1.24 WHIP and more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Those are some impressive numbers for the 26-year-old, who hasn’t always seen things go his way.
The 2017 All-Star was drafted in the 12th round by the Nationals in 2010 out of Brentwood High School in Tennessee. During his four years in the minors, Ray felt the ups and downs of a young career, with 2012 being the year he reached the peak of his struggles on and off the field. But then something changed. Ray made a decision that would change his life.
One of Ray’s current Diamondback teammates, and proud Christian, Steven Souza Jr., was also in minor league ball with Ray on that 2012 Potomac Nationals team. Ray credits Souza with having something to do with his faith journey.
“I grew up in the church but I never had a relationship with Jesus until the 2012 offseason,” Ray told Sports Spectrum. “Actually Souza was a big part of it really. It was the end of the year. I was having a really bad year (4-12 record with a 6.56 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP), questioning a lot of things, and Souza and I actually got into a verbal fight or altercation. It was really just me yelling at him. It was over something really stupid, like playing cards or something like that. I went home that offseason and I thought I was done. I thought baseball was done. I was like, ‘God, why are you doing this to me? Why?!'”
Ray, in his questions to the Lord, said he found his answer. “I’m not doing this TO you. I am doing this FOR you,” Ray says he felt the Lord saying to him. “So you can see that life is bigger than just baseball. I have a purpose for you. It’s like He was saying, ‘I have given you this great opportunity, this awesome platform and you’re squandering it. I gave you this gift of baseball to reach out to people and you’re doing nothing with it.'”
That’s when it really hit Ray. “I was playing for me!” he says. That was when it all sunk in and Ray committed his life to Christ. “The good and the bad, I gave it all to God.”
After being traded to the Tigers following the 2013 season and having made his major league debut with them in May 2014, Ray was again traded that December, this time to the Diamondbacks. He went on to make his Arizona debut on May 6, 2015.
Since then, Ray and his quiet nature but confident mound presence, have quickly become a favorite in the desert. The lefty has had some great accomplishments in his few years in Arizona, including his first career home run on June 7, 2016, off Chris Archer, becoming the first Diamondbacks pitcher to “go yard” since Wade Miley in April 2013. In 2017, Ray led the National League in strikeouts per nine-innings (12.1).
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On July 28, 2017, every pitcher, manager, teammate, coach and fan’s worst nightmare came true for Ray. During the second inning of a road game in St Louis, Cardinals first baseman Luke Voit crushed a ball 108.1 mph that hit Ray flush in the head. Ray fell to the mound, gripping his head. The Diamondbacks medical staff rushed out to him. They held towels to his head to collect the bleeding. They sat him up and carted him off. The crowd stood, cheered and Ray waved to show his appreciation.
When asked about that moment and how he saw God in it, Ray smiles and says, “You know, it’s crazy. I’m getting chills about it right now. The second the ball hit me, I had this unbelievable peace about me. It was like God was laying His hand on me and saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to be OK. I have got you. I am not going to let anything happen to you.’”
And get him He did.
Ray under went CT scans where no extreme concerns were found. He had suffered a concussion. His head wound was stapled up and he was back at the game by the seventh inning. God’s faithfulness and protection showed up for Ray.
“I just had this unbelievable peace about me that I knew I was going to be fine,” he said.
To bring life and baseball full circle, Souza and Ray are back playing together not only as teammates, but as brothers as Christ.
“In this clubhouse, we have a lot of amazing guys,” Ray said. “We started doing a pre-game prayer. It started with 4, 5, 6 guys and it’s grown to 15-20 guys on a daily basis. We go in there, read a short verse, someone prays, we do prayer requests; its just really cool to see what Jesus is doing in this clubhouse. He’s making an impact, that’s for sure.”
An impact in the desert, you could say. Jesus led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, showing up and providing for them. Jesus showed up on that frightful day for Robbie Ray, and He continues to be there for Ray every day, growing the brotherhood of Christ in the clubhouse of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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