Sports Spectrum Weekly

Former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel makes MLB debut: 'God reignited that spark in me'

Mark Appel‘s major league debut was always supposed to be a big deal. Drafted No. 1 overall by his hometown Houston Astros in 2013, Appel was seen as a can’t-miss prospect and future cornerstone of the organization. His arrival in the big leagues did ultimately garner plenty of attention, just not for the reasons anyone thought it would.

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Nine years after being picked by the Astros, Appel took the mound in a Major League Baseball game for the first time Wednesday night at the age of 30. In between were injuries, plenty of frustration and a decision to walk away from the game entirely.

Now, Appel holds the distinction of being the oldest No. 1 pick at the time of his big league debut. He threw a scoreless ninth inning for the Philadelphia Phillies in their 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, giving up one hit and recording the first strikeout of his MLB career.

After the game, Appel gave all the glory to God for allowing him to realize a dream Appel himself had accepted would never become reality.

“Literally, what’s happening right now in my life is only by the grace of God,” he told MLB Network. “I was literally hopeless. I had given up on ever having this day come. But I think God reignited that spark in me, and I think when God does something like that, it can take time, but it can be hard to stop.”

Appel spent five seasons in Houston’s and Philadelphia’s minor league systems before stepping away in 2018. He returned in 2021 and made 23 appearances for the Phillies’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

Used exclusively out of the bullpen by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this season, Appel was 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings at the Triple-A level.

“You obviously have this dream of getting to the big leagues, but for me this is just like gravy,” Appel said after getting called up over the weekend. “All the other stuff was taken care of. I didn’t need for this to happen this year for me to feel like it was a successful year. All of this is gravy. I’m just soaking it all in. It’s awesome.”

Throughout his baseball journey, Appel has been open about his faith in Christ. He grew up in a Christian home and was baptized at age 10. Over time, he developed a personal relationship with God and came to understand the importance of the relational aspect of being a Christian.

“I think initially when I was saved, the Gospel was something that was, ‘OK, this is kind of my get-out-of-jail-free card, this is my forgiveness — forgiveness from sins and my eternal life that’s been gifted to me,’” Appel said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2018. “Now, instead of it still kind of being about me, it starts to just really be only about God and His glory.”

On the podcast, Appel also talked about how he leaned on his faith as he struggled to meet the baseball expectations that were placed upon him. He shared that after a poor outing in High-A, he went into the locker room as the game was still going on and started throwing baseballs at the wall to relieve stress.

In that moment, Appel felt a sense of peace and was reminded of Philippians 4:11-13.

“There is contentment to be had in Christ, and Christ is the one who will give me the strength to be content in the circumstance,” he said reflecting on that experience. “It was just kind of this eye-opening lesson and revelation that God just kind of reminded me and showed me His truth in Scripture.”

Appel returned to the Sports Spectrum Podcast in February to discuss why he started playing baseball again and what inspired his viral tweet about the lesson’s he’s learned along his journey.

At that point, Appel was still deciding whether he was going to participate in the 2022 season. He said last week 2022 might be it. It might not. That decision will come with time and prayer.

He was already at peace with everything before making the big leagues, so he doesn’t think moving to the next chapter of his life will be difficult when that day comes.

“I think at the end of the day, I just want to have peace and closure about my career and all the good and bad that’s happened in my baseball career,” Appel said on the podcast. “And I think once I have closure, I think I’ll be really, really happy to move on.”

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