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Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

The Inspirational Sports Report: Lance Berkman, Josh Hamilton highlight All-Star teams; Ragan wins first Sprint Cup race

posted by Chad Bonham

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Happy Fourth of July to all the Inspiring Athletes readers out there! I trust you are having a blessed and safe holiday weekend with your friends and family. There was plenty of sports action last week but here are a couple of things that caught my eye:

Lance Berkman and Josh Hamilton among All-Star Game starters

On Sunday, Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, Ariz., and both include several notable Christian athletes headlined by National League starter Lance Berkman (St. Louis Cardinals) and American League starter Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers).

Others to make the July 12th classic include N.L., pitchers Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Brian Wilson (San Francisco Giants) and Heath Bell (San Diego Padres); N.L., starting second baseman Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers); N.L., reserves Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals), Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals) and Carlos Beltran (New York Mets); A.L., starting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez; and A.L., pitcher Mariano Rivera (New York Yankees).

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Click here for complete American and National League All-Star rosters.

David Ragan snags first career Sprint Cup victory in Daytona

Roush-Fenway Racing driver David Ragan picked up his first career Sprint Cup victory at the Coke ZERO 400 in Daytona over the weekend. Driving in the #6 UPS Ford, Ragan held off a charging field amid two green-white-checkered starts.

Ragan came into NASCAR’s elite level with high expectations after winning the 2007 Nationwide (then Busch) Series Rookie of the Year award. Throughout the four-and-a-half-year drought, the Unadilla, Georgia, native always kept the faith. For more on that story, click here to read the Inspiring Athletes interview with Ragan.

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Rickie Fowler knocks down blind hole-in-one in DC

posted by Chad Bonham

So Rickie Fowler didn’t come up with his first PGA win at the AT&T National today. In fact, his fourth round 74 dropped him from first down to 13th in the final standings. But the rising star did do something pretty impressive last month that some of you might have missed. Check out this 100-yard blind tee shot Fowler made at a promotional event in Washington, DC:

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If you want to hear more from Fowler, click here for an interview I conducted with him earlier in the season.

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A conversation with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman

posted by Chad Bonham

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It might still seem strange for diehard baseball fans to see Lance Berkman in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. After all, he spent the previous 11 and a half seasons (Berkman played the second half of 2010 with the Yankees) as a core member of the Houston Astros.

But no matter where Berkman is playing, there’s one thing of which fans can be certain. The six-time All-Star is passionate about winning, but he’s even more passionate about sharing his faith. Here’s what Berkman told me about his spiritual journey, his love of the Bible and how living for God and competing hard are one and the same:

Bonham: Tell me about your spiritual journey.

Berkman: I was raised in church by Christian parents and I was baptized when I was 11 years old. But I didn’t really have a good understanding of what the Gospel was really all about until college. It’s a time when you’re getting out from your parents’ supervision and you’re starting to think for yourself maybe for the first time. That was the case with me. That’s when my faith became my own. The Lord used a lot of people to bring me to that point. One of them was my brother-in-law Jake Baker and the other was my wife Cara when we were dating. She continues to help me grow spiritually. So it really began my sophomore year at Rice (University) and it’s a work in progress to this day.

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Lance Berkman (Photo by Tony Firriolo/MLB Photos via Getty Images; Courtesy MLB)

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Berkman: John 15:5. It’s my favorite because a lot of people who will say, “Well, I’m a good person.” There’s a theology out there that says if the good you do outweighs the bad that you do, that means you’re a good person therefore you’re in good standing with God. That verse really hits home for me because anything we do that’s good apart from the power and the name of Jesus Christ, not that it doesn’t count, but from a spiritual standpoint, it’s not edifying. It’s not worth much. The only way that we can truly have a purpose and an enriching life experience is to do all things in Christ and through the power of Christ. What happens when we’re all about doing good works and we’re doing that outside of the power of Christ is that we end up getting the glory and the whole point of this deal is that God gets the glory. That verse beautifully illustrates that point.

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Bonham: How important is it for you to use your influence as a clubhouse leader to share your faith?

Berkman: It’s extremely important. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of using your platform or using the position that you’ve been given to affect good in every circumstance that you’re in. Obviously, the only reason I’m where I am is because God has gifted me and He has seen fit to put me where I am. I have to honor that by using my influence and my status on the team and in the game of baseball for good and to His purpose.

Bonham: How do you go about making a difference in the lives of your teammates?

Berkman: The key to dealing with people in general is that they have to know that you care about them. You have to deal with people in gentleness. You have to come along side of them. You can’t push them. You can’t pull them. You have to walk with them. In order to do that, you’ve got to demonstrate care for that individual. That’s my whole thing. I want my teammates to know that I care about them personally. I care about what happens with them on and off the field. When you are in that position, you earn the right to speak into their lives. I try to let guys know that I do care about them and consequently I think they’ll listen to me when I have something to say.

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Bonham: How encouraging is it to know that there are several players in the league who are also strong believers?

Berkman: You certainly know the guys on the other teams that share your values and beliefs. There is sort of a loose fraternity. At the same time, I know that every time I’m up there against Jake Peavy, I know he’s trying to strike me out just as hard as I’m trying to take him deep. The good thing about being a Christian is that you have that perspective. Then you can really have fun. Then it’s a fun competition. After it’s over with, it’s over. That’s actually a benefit to have some Christian guys competing because they understand that there’s more than just the outcome to the confrontation that’s important.

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Bonham: How do you use your platform as a leader in the clubhouse to speak into the lives of other players?

Berkman: The key to dealing with people in general is that they have to know that you care about them. You have to deal with people in gentleness. You have to come along side of them. You can’t push them. You can’t pull them. You have to walk with them. In order to do that, you’ve got to demonstrate care for that individual. That’s my whole thing. I want my teammates to know that I care about them personally. I care about what happens with them on and off the field. When you are in that position, you earn the right to speak into their lives. I try to let guys know that I do care about them and consequently I think they’ll listen to me when I have something to say. One thing I do enjoy as a guy who’s been around for a while, I see these younger guys coming in and I always like to help them if I can and give them advice. It is difficult. Having been through it, I can reach out to those young guys and make sure that everything is good with them.

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David Ragan gets first career Sprint Cup victory at Coke Zero 400 in Daytona

posted by Chad Bonham

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David Ragan celebrates after his victory at the Coke ZERO 400 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Courtesy NASCAR))

It’s been a long four and half years for David Ragan. He took over for the legendary Mark Martin at Roush-Fenway Racing in the #6 car but despite several close calls (including the Daytona 500 earlier this year) had yet to register a victory at NASCAR’s elite level.

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That all changed Saturday night when Ragan (with help from his teammate Matt Kenseth) survived a pair of green-white-checker starts at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, Fla., and picked up his first career Sprint Cup win in the process. If you didn’t know Ragan was one of the best stock car racers in the world, well, you just wouldn’t know. He’s a prototypical unassuming, boy-next-door type with virtually no ego.

During the down times as an independent driver, Ragan says he relied on his strong faith in God that was passed down to him by his parents and grandparents.

“There were a lot of tough nights when we only had one race car and I tore it up and we didn’t know if we had enough funds to keep racing,” Ragan told me outside his hauler during an interview at Texas Motor Speedway. “That’s when you have to ask the Lord for some help and some guidance to do the right thing. A lot of times it’s tough to make the decision on your own. You know what you want to do and it always helps to have someone to rely on to help you out. I can remember some tough nights where I was questioning myself. “Can I really drive?” or, “Is this the right thing for me to do?” But at the end of the day, a lot of prayers were answered and certainly things worked out for the good.”

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For the full transcript of my interview with Ragan, click here.

For more Inspiring Athletes interviews with NASCAR drivers, click on the links below and be watching next week for interviews with Trevor Bayne and Kyle Petty:

Justin Allgaier

Richard Petty

Darrell Waltrip

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