Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz on eternal perspective, evangelism and giving it everything he’s got

posted by Chad Bonham

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this interview was originally posted, Diaz has returned to the Atlanta Braves.

Somehow, you’d think having just under a .300 career batting average might qualify a Major League player for superstar status. But somehow, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz (pronounced DIE-az) has spent nine seasons well below the radar. And that’s okay with him.

Diaz, who happens to be the brother of national Christian recording artist Jonny Diaz, is happy to be a productive team player and more importantly someone whom teammates and fans alike can look to as an example of God’s love. In this interview, Diaz talks to me about eternal perspective, evangelism and exemplifying Christ by giving everything he’s got on the field:

Bonham: How did you become a Christian?

Diaz: I grew up in a ministry family. My dad was a preacher. I received Christ at a Dawson McCallister meeting when I was 13 years old, but I didn’t ask Him to be my Lord until I was 19. I remember when I was unpacking luggage and settling into in my college dorm. I saw a Bible my mom had packed for me. Everything I read that night hit me in the face. I randomly opened it to the passages in Revelation about being lukewarm. I realized that I had been living lukewarm. I wanted the best of both worlds. I wanted to fit in. And there’s nothing wrong with fitting in if it’s within God’s will, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the things that I wanted. That’s when my faith became real to me.

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

Matt Diaz (Photo by David Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Diaz: What I love about the Bible is that it’s a group of stories but it’s all telling one main story. It’s about Jesus Christ. The story is not about me. That takes a lot of the pressure off me, but it also puts the responsibility on me to point people to who the true story is about. It’s given me an eternal perspective on things. With baseball, it helps because I know that this isn’t all there is in life. If I have a great game, I don’t get too high. If I have a terrible game, I don’t get too low. I know that there’s more to this life and we were created for more than just to play a game.

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Diaz: Philippians 1:6. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” That goes back to that eternal perspective. God has made some promises and He’s never broken one yet. I get to live assured that He’s going to keep His promises. It has to be (my favorite verse). I have it tattooed on my left arm. My wife would kill me if I said anything else. It’s a daily reminder. That was the only way I could get the tattoo.

Bonham: How do you deal with the ups and downs of baseball?

Diaz: I’ve been sent down to the minor leagues six or seven times in my career. You’ve just got to have that stability. It’s huge. It’s comforting. And it’s reassuring. To be part of something in this world that’s constantly changing like baseball, it’s awesome to have your hope anchored in something that’s so stable.

Bonham: How do you approach your call as a Christian to reach out to those who don’t believe in Jesus?

Diaz: We Christians sometimes think we need a plan for evangelism. I don’t think Jesus had an evangelism plan. I think He just interacted with the people He came into contact with. That’s what I try to do. I just try to find ways to love the people that I’m around. It’s hard sometimes because I’m selfish and I want to focus inwardly but when I can fight against that and look at other people’s needs, it’s really a stark contrast to what people are used to in such a selfish environment. It’s really an effective evangelism tool. Who would have known that Jesus knew what He was talking about?

Bonham: Does the fact that fans are watching and know you are a Christian change the way you conduct your business?

Diaz: If I break up a double play with a hard slide, people will say, “What would Jesus do?” I’ll tell them, “He would have planted them into the outfield wall.” My Jesus cleared the temple too. That doesn’t mean He lost His cool. It was calculated and He did what He needed to be done to represent His Father. Jesus is my role model and He is whom I try to follow. Everything I do, I know I’m representing Him. Does it mean I do it well all the time? No. But I do ask for forgiveness for the times I bring Him a bad name.

Danny Wuerffel fights rare autoimmune disease

posted by Chad Bonham

For a lot of reasons, I was hit particularly hard upon hearing the recent news that Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback Danny Wuerffel is fighting Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that causes paralysis. You can read more details about his situation here.

Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the 1996 Heisman Trophy.

Danny is one of the greatest examples of servant leadership that I’ve ever met. He is the executive director of Desire Street Ministries and someone who has always put others’ needs before his own. Desire Street was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but Wuerffel led the charge to restore the ministry. During the summer of 2009, I was blessed to lead a group of young people to New Orleans to help with cleanup projects as Desire Street worked towards a reopening of all facilities.

Another reason Danny’s condition hits me is because we are both the father of three. I’m sure his faith is being challenged as he not only considers his personal health but also the security and well-being of his children. I’m writing this post, however, for two primary reasons:

1. Pray for Danny Wuerffel, his family and the people of Desire Street Ministries.

2. Believe that God has something special already planned out through this situation. I base that statement on my firm belief in Romans 8:28.

The Inspirational Sports Report: Waltrip gets into NASCAR’s HOF, Edwards nabs Pro Stock victory in Bristol and Thomas leads Bruins to the Cup

posted by Chad Bonham

It was another busy week of sports that started with the Mavericks’ defeat of the All-Star stacked Miami Heat for the NBA title and ended with Northern Irish phenom Rory McIlroy destroying the PGA field at the Congressional and becoming the youngest winner in U.S. Open history. Here are a few notes from this week’s Inspirational Sports Report:

Darrell Waltrip inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame’s latest class

It happened a little later than many expected, but NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip was finally voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the organization’s third class. He will be officially inducted next January along with Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough and Richie Evans.

Waltrip currently serves as a race analyst for Fox Sports and as a show co-host for SPEED but was recognized by the Hall for his 84 Cup wins and three championships. Waltrip was excited when his name was announced, but as he told me last fall, it means nothing without his faith in God.

“At some point, we’ve all realized there’s a lot more in life than just winning races,” Waltrip told me. “I hear that a lot. As I was becoming successful, I’d listen to other athletes and they’d say, ‘Well I had it all, but there was something missing.’ There’s always that, ‘There’s something missing.’ It’s that void you have in your life when you don’t know the Lord.”

You can read the full interview with Waltrip by clicking here.

Mike Edwards pulls off NHRA Pro Stock three-peat at Bristol

NHRA Pro Stock veteran Mike Edwards picked up his second win of the season, 30th of his career and third consecutive at Bristol Dragway by defeating Erica Enders in the finals of the Thunder Valley Nationals yesterday.

Edwards crossed the finish line in 6.685 at 205.79 mile per hour in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. The 2009 series champion also jumped up to second in points and now trails Jason Line by just 24 points. But Edwards maintains that his work with Young Life, a popular national youth ministry that allows teens from every race city to attend special events hosted by Edwards’ team, is far more important.

“Life’s all about Christ,” Edwards told me. “It’s not about winning races. I want people to think of me as somebody who stands up for Christ even in an environment that’s pretty brutal at times. I want to stand out from all the other drivers.”

Be looking for more from my interview with Edwards in an upcoming Q&A right here on Inspiring Athletes.

Tim Thomas is rock solid in goal for Stanley Cup champion Bruins

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas not only had a career year, he was a huge part of his team’s Stanley Cup championship against the Vancouver Canucks that concluded in game seven last Wednesday night. Thomas was selected the Conn Smythe Trophy winner given to the playoff MVP and became just the second American-born NHL player to do so. Thomas also became the oldest winner of the award at 37 years, 62 days.

Off the ice, Thomas is a faithful member of the Church of Christ in Burlington, Mass. His brother Jake is a youth pastor in Mission, Texas.

Come back tomorrow for a Tuesday Conversation with Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz. Also this week, interviews with NHL star Jarome Iginla, former MLB infielder Jay Bell and Los Angeles outfielder Torii Hunter.

A conversation with Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle

posted by Chad Bonham

Clint Hurdle is doing something no one has done in quite a while. He’s turning the Pittsburgh Pirates into winners—well, at least half the time. Under Hurdle’s first-year leadership, the Pirates have been flirting with .500 throughout the first two months of the season. This is especially remarkable considering Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season in 18 years and lost an astounding 105 games in 2010.

But for Hurdle, who spent 10 years playing in the Major Leagues, his success on the field (including leading the Colorado Rockies to its first World Series appearance) has been tempered by a desire to live out his faith in a very real and public way:

Bonham: Why is it so important for you to support organizations such as Baseball Chapel and Fellowship of Christian Athletes?

Hurdle: It’s a way of sharing. It’s a way of being accountable and being responsible. It puts more emphasis on what you say when your actions are backing you up. You’re going out and meeting kids, finding out their needs and where their hearts are and what challenges or problems they have. Things are different for 13 year olds then when I was 13. I need to go out and take the temperature of the different groups in my home church. It’s a strong part of the nurturing of your relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s going to make your active in a lot of different ways. I just don’t think that if you truly develop that relationship with Christ that you can keep quiet about it or that you can sit in your house and not get out. You’re going to be more involved.

Bonham: What’s your favorite scripture?

Hurdle: Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s the one that’s become the most fertile and the most meaningful for my soul. It reminds me that with challenge comes opportunity.

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