Winter 2022 magazine

Seattle Mariners sign 'Jesus Follower' and 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray

The Seattle Mariners announced Tuesday night that they had finalized a five-year contract with pitching ace Robbie Ray worth $115 million, according to MLB.com. The deal, which includes an opt-out after the third season and a full no-trade clause, is the second largest in franchise history.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Ray, who turned 30 in October, is coming off the best season of his professional baseball career. He went 13-7 with 32 starts (193 1/3 innings) in his one full season with the Toronto Blue Jays, leading the American League with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.045 WHIP. He led all of MLB with 248 strikeouts while walking just 52.

Ray’s breakout season made him a clear choice for the AL Cy Young Award, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes. After winning the award, Ray thanked God in an interview for the MLB Network.

“First and foremost I’d like to thank God for giving me the ability to play this game that I love to play,” Ray said.

In addition to Ray’s ability to play baseball, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto wanted to add a leader to his pitching staff. Dipoto said in a statement, “Adding our league’s reigning Cy Young Award winner is exciting. He’s a high-character person, as well as one of the preeminent strikeout pitchers in the game. Robbie brings real presence to the front of our rotation.”

The Mariners finished 90-72 in 2021, just five games behind the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, but they missed a wildcard spot in the postseason by two games. The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001. Now Ray and the Mariners’ front office hope he can replicate his performance in Seattle and put them over the top.

“I can’t wait to get started here in Seattle. I’m here to win,” Ray said, according to the Associated Press. “There’s something special going on here with the team coming off a 90-win season and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

The 2021 campaign was a bounce-back season of sorts for Ray. He had spent most of his career in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, even making his only All-Star appearance in 2017. Yet after his ERA ballooned to 4.34 in 2019 and then 7.84 through most of 2020, Arizona traded Ray to Toronto.

He credits Jesus for sustaining him during the peaks and valleys of his baseball career.

He had grown up attending church, but it wasn’t until the 2012 offseason, following a disappointing year in the minor leagues (he was drafted out of high school by Washington in the 12th round of the 2010 MLB Draft), that God brought him to saving faith in Christ.

“I went home that offseason and I thought I was done,” Ray told Sports Spectrum in 2018. “I thought baseball was done. I was like, ‘God, why are you doing this to me? Why?!’”

Ray said God answered: “‘I’m not doing this TO you. I am doing this FOR you. 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 Ray fully realized that he was playing for himself rather than playing to honor God.

Now Ray — who describes himself as a “Follower of Christ” on Twitter and a “Jesus Follower” on Instagram — will seek to point others to Christ with his newfound platform.

He references one of his favorite verses, Matthew 5:16, in his Twitter bio:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16 

RELATED STORIES:
Robbie Ray is sustained by Christ during stellar bounce-back season
Robbie Ray says Christ has sustained him through his baseball journey
TABLE FORTY PODCAST: Chicago White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn
Pitcher Josh Lindblom: ‘Everyone has a story of God’s faithfulness’