Fall 2021 SS Magazine

All-Star Closers For Christ: Mark Melancon, Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is back after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shortened season without the Midsummer Classic.

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Making repeat appearances on the roster are three Christ-following closers: Mark Melancon of the San Diego Padres (league-leading 27 saves), Liam Hendriks of the Chicago White Sox (23) and Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago Cubs (20).

Together, the trio has combined for 70 saves this season and 14 total All-Star appearances. Each of them has also been vocal about their faith in Jesus throughout their careers.

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Making his fourth All-Star appearance, Melancon arrives in Denver as the MLB saves leader with 27 in 31 opportunities. Aside from a few hiccups, Melancon has been virtually untouchable this season. He converted 14 straight save opportunities to start the year, including a perfect nine-for-nine in April to earn him National League Reliever of the Month honors.

In his first season with the Padres, Melancon has already notched his highest save total since his All-Star 2016 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals, when he ended the season with 47. He’s more than halfway to his career-high total of 51, which he set in 2015 with the Pirates.

Melancon, who describes himself as a “Jesus believer” on Twitter, has played for eight teams in his 13-year career. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s gotten involved in the community and has been open about his faith, often speaking at ballpark faith events and in media interviews. His faith is what has helped him deal with the success and failures that are an inevitable part of baseball, particularly as a relief pitcher.

“The highs are great. The lows are low in this game,” Melancon said on Sports Spectrum’s Table Forty Podcast earlier this year. “So having that foundation kind of keeps it even keel, which is so important because you can run yourself off a bridge and then the next day, you’re living the high life. You kind of see those ebbs and flows in a lot of guys, and I think your faith is huge in that regard — kind of keeping you grounded.

“For me, I always get joy when I run into the pitching mound, coming through the gates in the bullpen. I always say a prayer. That time for me is so meaningful, because it’s kind of like, ‘Lord, let your will be done. Give me courage. Give me strength.’ I’m just so happy to be able to be out here and help use this platform in a good way.”

Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
In his first year with the White Sox, Hendriks is putting together arguably the finest season of his career and will be making his second All-Star Game appearance. He’s leading the American League in saves with 23 in 27 opportunities, and he’s just two away from his career high of 25 saves, set in 2019 with the Oakland Athletics, his first All-Star season.

Hendriks converted all eight of his save chances in May and made 13 appearances en route to being named AL Reliever of the Month, making him the first White Sox pitcher to be named Reliever of the Month. In 11 2/3 innings pitched in May, he didn’t allow an earned run while striking out 19 and walking just two batters. He boasts a 0.76 walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched (WHIP) this season.

The 32-year-old Australia native made a name for himself closing games for the A’s before signing with the White Sox. He’s one of three Australian-born players to play in an All-Star Game.

When he’s not closing games, Hendriks is an active participant in team chapels and Bible studies, and he and his wife, Kristi, regularly give back to various organizations and causes. He said his motive in doing so is simply out of obedience and following the example Jesus set.

“You look at all the references through the Bible, of Jesus giving back,” Hendriks said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2019. “Giving what you can, doing what you can, [is important]. Not too many people have a similar platform as athletes. … I’m going to use my platform, I’m going to make sure people know they can use theirs. I want to be known … not only for what I do on the field, but what I do off the field and do in people’s lives.”

 

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Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
It’s been vintage Kimbrel in 2021, and he’s earned his eighth All-Star Game selection. After not signing with a team until two months into the 2019 season, then playing through a pandemic-shortened 2020, the veteran reliever struggled the last couple of seasons to find the success that had made him an All-Star nearly every year of his career.

But this season, the 33-year-old Kimbrel has converted 20 of 22 save chances and has already surpassed his 2019 saves total of 13. He’s given up just two earned runs all season and boasts a 0.663 WHIP mark — the second lowest of his career. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been and his walk rate is the lowest it’s been since 2017.

Kimbrel has had a decorated career, including a World Series win with the Boston Red Sox in 2018, but he said that all pales in comparison to the importance of his relationship with Jesus.

“At one point in my life, I had everything that I wanted, but something was still missing,” Kimbrel told Sports Spectrum at a conference shortly after the 2019 season. “I think that’s a story that a lot of people can tell who’ve had success, who’ve made money. All those things don’t fill you. They sometimes make you more empty and the only answer is Jesus and what we can do to let everyone know who He is. … That is our mission as Christians is to let everyone know who Jesus is and that should be our fulfillment.”

Kimbrel will look to help the Cubs make a strong second half push to get back to winning in the playoffs, something they haven’t done since 2017.

First pitch for Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

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