Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Former MLB infielder and World Series champion Jay Bell on spiritual epiphanies, the dangers of the performance mentality and the importance of humility

posted by Chad Bonham

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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Jay Bell

When you hear conversations about former Major League infielder Jay Bell, words like “steady,” “consistent” and “solid” are often thrown around. He wasn’t the flashiest player to grace the diamond and rarely put up gaudy numbers, yet his 18-year career that included stops in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Arizona and New York (with the Mets) yielded two All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove Award, a Silver Slugger Award and a World Series ring in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.

Since retiring in 2003, Bell has spent some time coaching but now works primarily in the non-profit realm for the Baseball Assistance Team while enjoying his family on a full-time basis. Known as one of his eras most well-respected Christian athletes, Bell shares his thoughts on key Bible principles and some watershed events in his Christian walk:

Bonham: What have been some pivotal moments in your spiritual journey?

Jay Bell

Bell: The first was when I got married. My wife and I really held each other accountable and ever since our marriage has been based on our relationship with Christ. I also relied on other strong Christian teammates like Andre Thornton, Brett Butler, Don Gordon and Chris Bando. Another pivotal moment happened in 1996. I was still holding on to the game very tightly. I was having a tough year and one game I remember grounding out and right at that moment as I was jogging back to the dugout I felt myself give the game up to the Lord. It wasn’t a magic formula. It didn’t allow me to get any more hits or score any more runs or be any more successful, it was just the fact that when I finally gave the game over to God, that was the point that I started enjoying the game for what it was in the good times and in the bad.

Bonham: What is a biblical principle that guides your life?

Bell: Philippians 2 talks about being imitators of Christ. That’s been the biggest thing for me. You learn it more as a coach than you do as a player. As a player you tend to go through Spring Training trying to do what you have to do to get ready for the season so you can have success and so the team can have success. As a player, you tend to be more concerned about yourself. You can still be a team player but there’s some selfishness that goes along with it. It’s not a bad selfishness. It’s a good selfishness. But still, you’re concerned about yourself.

As a coach, you’re not as concerned about yourself. You concern yourself with everybody but you. So the focus is different. Yet, in both situations, the key for me was not looking at my interest but thinking of others as higher than myself, and making sure that my attitude was the same as the attitude of Jesus. I always tried to be as humble as I possibly could. Those were also the types of players that I was drawn to like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine and Jeff King.

Bonham: What is your approach to evangelism?

Bell: There are multiple facets to evangelism. Baseball players and coaches live together for about 200 days out of the year. You have a platform with these guys. But they see you and they know you well. You have to earn the right to share Christ with these guys. You don’t want to beat them over the head with a Bible. But you want to make sure that you’re living out the Bible every day. When those opportunities come, then you can share the Bible and God’s Word vocally. You want to be prepared for that.

Bonham: What do you tell young athletes about the dangers of being wrapped up in performance like you once were?

Bell: What I tell my kids and what I tell young players is that you only have one name. You want to make sure you can maintain the integrity of that name. Because once you lose it, you lose it for good. The odds of you getting it back are extremely slim. If you’re name is important to you, then you should do everything you can possibly do to preserve it.

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Bell: Philippians 2:5-8. This is what a Christian walk should look like. It doesn’t mean you have to be meek. You just need to be humble. As an athlete, you want to try to win. You want to do everything you can do to win but there needs to be a humility that comes with that in order to really allow people to look at you and see that there’s something you’ve got that they want. It’s not about the game. It’s not about anything else. It’s about how a solid believer conducts himself when people are watching.

Join us tomorrow for a conversation with Los Angeles Angels outfielder and nine-time Gold Glove award winner Torii Hunter.

A conversation with NHL All-Star Jarome Iginla

posted by Chad Bonham

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Jarome Iginla (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

In 14 seasons, Iginla has appeared in six All-Star Games, led the league in scoring once and set Calgary records for goals, points and games played. On the ice, he’s also known as one the NHL’s fiercest competitors.

But when the Calgary Flames right wing unlaces his skates, he is perhaps just as notorious for being one of the game’s nicest guys. Iginla participates in many community events and donates $2,000 to charity for every goal he scores. In this interview, he talks about his unique upbringing, being black in the NHL and how a troubling question drew him closer to God:

Chad Bonham: You’ve won two Olympic gold medals for Canada, but I would imagine that first one at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 must have been pretty special since it broke a 50-year drought for your home country.

Jarome Iginla donates $2,000 to charity for every goal he scores (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

Jarome Iginla: That’s one the best experiences I’ve had in hockey. I got a chance to play with Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman and Joe Sacik. It’s a big adjustment. You go from playing against them to seeing your jersey hanging in the same room as theirs. It was difficult not to be in awe. Then we ended up winning the tournament. I remember the first day showing up and seeing all those jerseys hanging and seeing mine over in the corner. I was one of the younger guys and I had a makeshift area because there weren’t enough lockers. But it was a huge thrill and I think I probably took a picture or something.

The gold medal game against the U.S. team probably the most exciting game I’ve been a part of. It was so fast. The fans were so passionate. Half of them were American fans and the other half was Canadian. They were going at it the whole game. It was such a good game. You get on the ice and go as hard as you can. You don’t have time to be nervous. You get off the ice and you’re nervous again because you’re watching as a fan. You want to win the gold medal so bad. It turned out the way we wanted it to turn out. It was every emotion—nervousness, excitement and adrenaline—all in one game.

Bonham: Tell me about your unique upbringing.

Iginla with his mother Susan Schuchard

Iginla: My parents divorced when I was one year old. (My mother has) always been Buddhist so that’s a little unique. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of other friends that had Buddhist parents. So, yeah there was (some confusion). My mom was very good about it. She was very open. In that area I had a lot of questions because (Buddhists) do believe in different things. She didn’t force it on me by any means.

Bonham: When did you first start to get serious about your Christian faith?

Iginla: My dad was raised Muslim but became a Christian after moving from Africa to Canada. I’ve always believed in God but I remember one time I was traveling on a juniors hockey trip and my roommate asked me, “What if there is no God? What if you die and it’s just black?” I just kept telling him, “No, there has to be a God!” But he got me thinking and it actually scared me for a little bit. I’d never really thought about it that deep. It was just from what I’d read. I’d never thought about it personally. So that bothered me and I tried not to think about that for a while. About a year later, I went to my dad to talk about it. He told me I should ask God to take my fears away. If I felt peace after praying, I would have proof that God exists. That’s probably my defining moment. I’m peaceful with that (question) now. That was probably the most bothersome question that I can ever remember asking myself. When my dad told me that, it was probably the start of my own personal relationship. My dad has always been the biggest influence on my faith.

Bonham: As one of the longer-standing black athletes in the NHL that has less than 30 currently playing, do you feel like a trailblazer for others pursuing opportunities in professional hockey?

Iginla gets his teammates ready for action (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames)

Iginla: When I grew up, I was the only black kid on my team. I was aware of that. I really was. I was very fortunate. My teammates were always great. But sometimes there’d be a small incident here or there with another team or with some parents in the crowd. Some kids would say, “Why are you trying to be in the NHL? There’s no black players in the NHL.” I remember those questions back then and honestly, it meant so much to me to be able to say, “Oh yeah, there are black players in the NHL.” Grant Fuhr at the time was starring in Edmonton and winning Stanley Cups and he was an All-Star. Then I did try to pick out as many black players in the NHL so I could have somebody. I watched Claude Vilgrain who played in New Jersey or Tony McKegney. I am proud to be a black player in the NHL. I know how much those other guys meant to me so maybe there’s kids that are having similar questions asked of them or maybe they’re having some tough times. It would be an honor if I was at all a role model for kids that want to play in the NHL.

Inspiring Athletes: A look back at some things you may have missed

posted by Chad Bonham

In case you’ve missed anything these past few weeks, Inspiring Athletes has been bringing you some pretty amazing interviews with athletes and coaches from across the sports world including some fairly significant high-profile names. A quick way to catch up is to take a look at some of these interviews that have been posted since the blog launched in May.

Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Richard Petty (NASCAR Hall of Fame legend)

Darrell Waltrip (NASCAR Hall of Fame legend)

Rickie Fowler (PGA golfer)

Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500 Champion)

And please click “Like” on every page so you can send these article to all of your friends!

Also, check out my Christian music blog Whole Notes including a recent interview with Switchfoot’s Jerome Fontamillas.

Trevor Bayne still the same after Daytona victory

posted by Chad Bonham

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SPECIAL REPORT: Trevor Bayne

It was just last October when Michael Waltrip Racing dropped 19-year old Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne over sponsorship issues. Even though Bayne was ranked seventh in points and was clearly one of NASCAR’s rising stars, the Knoxville, Tenn., native found himself looking for a new ride just days before the race in Kansas.

Bayne never lost hope and was quickly picked up by Roush-Fenway for whom he will drive throughout the 2011 season. Even then, few had heard of Bayne outside of NASCAR’s media circles and the sports most hardcore fans.

That all changed this past Sunday when Bayne shocked the stock car racing world and became a household name with his improbable victory at the Daytona 500. He did so driving the #21 car for the legendary Woods Brothers.

“This just shows you how powerful God is,” Bayne told ESPN in Victory Lane after the spectacular finish.

Even Carl Edwards, whom Bayne masterfully blocked all the way to the finish line, was compelled to heap mounds of praise on the kid that outraced him.

“Trevor Bayne is a good guy,” Edwards told ESPN. “He’s a cool guy.”

Trevor Bayne (Photo courtesy NASCAR)

Bayne celebrated his 20th birthday a day earlier but has turned the life-changing experience into something much more than a self-indulgent moment. Bayne, who earned just over $1.4 million with the victory, traveled to Mexico during the offseason to work with orphans through Back2Back Ministries and he made sure to use his platform to raise awareness for the cause.

“Hopefully this money will help us get some more races, and there are a lot of foundations and ministries that need support,” Bayne told reporters. “Back2Back Ministries in Mexico is one, and there are a lot of good organizations that need some help, and we will help them out as much as we can.”

Personally, Bayne’s reaction and response were no big surprise. NASCAR chaplains and his fellow drivers alike have only had great things to say about his faith in God and his steadfast desire to live it out in a very real way.In fact, Bayne meets every Saturday morning just before Nationwide qualifying for a Bible study with some of his fellow Christian peers such as Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell. He is also a regular attendee of weekly services hosted by Motor Racing Outreach.

“It’s awesome to have MRO here, to have believers and followers, most importantly followers,” Bayne told me last October. “That’s been a core support for me because we’re not home on the weekends. A lot of times we get back late. We try to get back to church as much as we can, but the Cup races are on Sunday. It’s good to have that support here.”

Bayne was raised in various Baptist and Methodist churches but also likes to attend a non-denominational house of worship in Mooresville, NC as well. And as many saw on Sunday (and will continue to see throughout this season), Bayne’s infectious smile and boy-next-door attitude is a true reflection of what’s in his heart.

“I want to be real,” Bayne told me. “I don’t want to pose as anything. I don’t want to pose as a tough guy. I don’t want to pose as a nice guy. Whatever Trevor Bayne is, that’s what I’m going to be. Staying humble is the key to this. I try to let that shine through. This can be gone in a second.”

Inspiring Athletes will be posting a full interview with Bayne in the near future.

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