Inspiring Athletes

Lance Berkman experiences a renaissance in St. Louis

After spending most of his career in Houston (where he is still revered), Lance Berkman headed to New York for a half-season stint with the Yankees in 2010 before signing a free agency deal that landed him in St. Louis to play for the Astros’ N.L. Central rival Cardinals. It’s been a strange site to behold.

Even stranger, however, has been the first baseman turned right fielder’s unexpected resurgence. Berkman’s numbers had been tapering off over the past two or three seasons mostly due to minor injuries here and there. But now, the 35-year old looks more like his 25-year old self. After the first 55 games, Berkman had 15 home runs, 45 RBI’s and equally impressive batting average (.324) and slugging percentage (.621) numbers.

Click here for a look at one of Berkman’s impressive at-bats from last week:

Ray Lewis takes orphaned boy under his wings

He may be one of the fiercest defensive players to ever play the game. He may also be one of the most maligned (if not misunderstood) characters to emerge from the NFL ranks. But despite the public perception, Ray Lewis may just have one of football’s biggest hearts.

Case in point, Lewis has made a special connection with a 10-year old named La’Shaun Armstrong who was left orphaned when his mother drowned herself and three children by driving a van into the Hudson River on April 12th of this year. The Baltimore Ravens linebacker, along with former NFL cornerback Reggie Howard recently invited Armstrong to a fundraiser for their organization United Athletes Foundation. The event’s proceeds will in part go to create a relief fund for the boy’s mentoring, counseling and tutoring.

Armstrong was the sole survivor of the tragic incident. He escaped through a van window after the vehicle crashed into the water and was rescued by a passing driver. Inspiring Athletes is pursuing an interview with Lewis to discuss this story. In the meantime, you can read more about it here.

Dwight Howard mobilizes volunteer force in tornado-riddled Southeast

It’s hard to miss a guy like Dwight Howard. Being 6-11 will make you stand out no matter where you go. But imagine the looks the Orlando Magic center got while spending quality time helping the victims of the April 27th tornado that ravaged Alabama. Howard spent June 2nd and 3rd, along with fellow NBA player Josh Powell, on behalf of his D12 Foundation.

Howard assisted Habitat For Humanity in Birmingham one day before heading to Tuscaloosa where he donated $10,000 to the city’s Disaster Relief Fund and hosted a gathering for victims and volunteers. Check out the video below to hear Howard talk about the experience:

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Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for an interview with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Duke.

FRIDAY FEATURE: Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier turned 25 earlier this week but he doesn’t look a day over 16. Maybe that’s why uninformed onlookers might be surprised to see the baby-faced NASCAR driving strapping into his #31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet and hitting the track at speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour.

Justin Allgaier

With two wins under his belt, including last weekend’s STP 200 at Chicagoland Speedway, Allgaier is on a fast track to significant success. I had a chance to catch up with Allgaier at a race in Texas and here’s what the 2009 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year had to say about his upbringing, marrying his childhood sweetheart and dealing with the dangers of stock car racing:

Bonham: Growing up, you spent a lot of time around racing due to your dad’s work with Hoosier Tire Distributors. Is that ultimately how you got your start in racing?

Allgaier: Yeah, I started when I was five years old. My dad (Mike) was on the road a lot, so my mom (Dorothy) was always looking for things for me to do that would excite me. I always wanted to be with my dad. I always wanted to be at the racetrack. She knew that wasn’t a possibility. We went to a quarter midget racetrack and a friend of mine was racing. We watched him race and I fell in love with it. My dad called home that night and said there was no way I was going to race quarter midgets. We went around and around for five or ten minutes until I said, “But mom said.” Needless to say, I’ve been racing ever since. My dad didn’t want me in the racing business, but he said if I wanted to do it, he wanted to give him every opportunity to succeed. So we went out and raced hard and we did it right. That’s what got us to this point. I’ve got great parents and I respect them a lot for what they’ve done for my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s really cool that my dad had enough insight and know-how to give me every opportunity to make it at the next level.

Bonham: Tell me a little bit about your faith background.

Allgaier: I grew up attending Riverton Christian Church. It was a big part of my life. When you’re traveling and when you’re racing a lot, it’s tough. When you sit down at one church, it’s tough to be there every week. We were very fortunate that most of the series that we raced in had a chaplain. But the Riverton church was always my home base and I still go back there when we go back to Illinois. I owe a lot to that church. I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way.

Bonham: What are some of the challenges that come with the NASCAR lifestyle?

Allgaier: Every day in life there are challenges; whether you’re an accountant, a race car driver or whatever you do. Obviously in this sport, there are more challenges than maybe others but I’ve just had to put my faith in God. This is the person I am and I’m not going to shy away from it. I don’t think I’ve changed as a person from early in my career when I was able to be in church every Sunday morning to now. It’s really great for us because we have (Motor Racing Outreach). But it’s tough. There are days you find yourself saying things or doing things you wish you hadn’t done. But I hope that I’ve done a good enough job so that when people look at me they automatically know that’s the kind of person I am.

Bonham: What biblical principle most guides your life?

Allgaier: Luke 9:23. That basically says (people need) to follow Jesus and not me. Even though I feel like I want people to understand who I am and what I’m about, I still understand that I’m not perfect. It’s tough because it’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life and not care any more. But that’s a principle that’s stuck in my head. Another thing is that you can’t judge people. Unfortunately, there are people here who aren’t Christian and judge people really bad. That’s one thing that’s kind of my pet peeve.

Bonham: Are you comfortable in a role that requires you to be the personality behind a race team?

Allgaier drives a practice lap in the #31 Brandt Chevrolet (Photo courtesy of

Allgaier: It’s not just the driver. It’s the car. It’s the resources. I’m only as good as the guys around me. I don’t put much faith in me as a race car driver. I’m glad that I have the talent to go out and be competitive and run out front. But at the end of the day, I know that it’s not me that’s doing it. That’s basically how I have to look at it.

Bonham: What do you take away from the experience of racing against Sprint Cup drivers on a regular basis in the Nationwide Series?

Allgaier: It’s very educational. You can learn a lot from them. There are some extremely talented race car drivers over there. At the end of the day, I have to look at it like they’re no better than I am. We’re all at God’s mercy. We all have to give it 110 percent. There are days that I’ve gone out and said, “There’s no way I can go out and beat these guys” and then gone out and drove circles around them. And there’s been days I’ve thought I was the greatest race car driver in the world and they drive circles around me. So you have to put that part of it in perspective.

Bonham: What do you think about what Morgan Shepherd is doing in the Nationwide Series with his #89 Faith Motorsports team?

Allgaier: To come out here and travel and do the things that he has to do, I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I would want to put myself through that kind of stress. But I think that shows dedication. This isn’t an easy sport whether you’ve got the most money and the best equipment in the world or whether you’re in Morgan’s situation. So to go out and do what he does, I’ve got to give him credit for that for sure. He would have quit 10 or 15 years if “Racing with Jesus” had not been on the car. He feels like that’s a good way to get the message out. Racetracks are places where people tend to come to lose their inhibitions a little bit and let loose and relax. It’s probably not always a good thing. So for him, it’s a good way to get people to just think. Most people don’t think about (God) until they see something or they hear something. And then they think, “Wait, maybe this isn’t the right way to do it.”

Bonham: How has being married, especially at such a young age, impacted your racing career?

Allgaier: I grew up extremely fast. I was racing at the age of five. I was racing on a semi-national level by the time I was 16. It makes you grow up fast. I met my wife when we were 15 years old. I knew within 15 minutes of meeting her, that’s who I wanted to marry. There are days that its tough, but she’s able to travel with me to all the races. When you’re away from home 35 weekends a year, she’s very supportive of my racing and she’s my best friend and my worst critic. When I don’t do things right, she’s the first one to tell me about it. When I do things right, she’s the first one to praise me for it. I’m very glad she’s able to be a part of what I do. That makes it a lot easier.

Bonham: How long do you see yourself doing this?

Allgaier celebrates his STP 300 victory at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4, 2011 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Allgaier: You look at what Mark Martin has been able to do in his career and I hope I’m still as competitive as he is at 50. But I’ve always said I want to do this while its fun and I want to do it as long as I can be competitive. When I’m not competitive anymore, I don’t want to put time, people and resources to base use if I can’t get the job done. Even now, if I’m not getting the job done, something’s got to be changed. I feel very strongly about that. I hope that I am still racing at 50, as long as I can get out of bed. I don’t even know how (Mark) gets out of bed some mornings. He took hits all those years without the best safety equipment and the softer walls.

Bonham: How do you internally deal with the inherent dangers that come with this sport?

Allgaier: Its just part of the sport. I’ve wrecked my fair share of cars. I’ve had my fair share of injuries. If you put too much focus on it or you really worry about it, it’s going to consume you. That’s never good. There’s always a chance that I might not walk away from a racetrack. I don’t ever want to think about that, but I’m prepared if something happens. I hope that nothing ever does. That’s definitely a risk. My wife understands that. I’m definitely at peace with what God wants me to do. I have a lot of faith in that.

Have a great weekend! Check back next week for interviews with Davone Bess, Clint Hurdle and Richard Petty.

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There’s something missing in New York–at least every five days or so. It’s the recognizable gait of retired Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte as he trots from the warmup bullpen to the mound for another start. These days, you’re much more likely to see Pettitte running around with his wife and four children as he enjoys retired life in his South Texas home.

But it’s hard to forget what Pettitte accomplished on the field. In 16 seasons, he won 240 games, was named to three All-Star teams, won five World Series titles and was named 2001 ALCS MVP. Pettitte also set a Major League record with 19 post-season victories. Here’s what he’s up to these days:

Bonham: How have you been keeping busy since retiring from baseball?

Andy Pettitte (Photo courtesy of New York Yankees)

Pettitte: I have been pouring myself into my wife and kids. I spend a couple of days a week with my wife. I play some golf, spend time at my ranch, serve in our church, take care of our city league fields and piddle around the house. Then, when the kids get home from school it’s crazy with all they have going on.

Bonham: How much do you keep up baseball, specifically the Yankees?

Pettitte: Zero. I don’t have time. I try to keep up with the Yankees but it’s very hard to. Now that summer is here I think I’ll be able to keep up with it more.

Bonham: Is there anything you miss about not playing?

Pettitte: Yes. I miss the guys. I miss working more than anything. I guess as a man it’s built in us to work. I miss jogging out to the mound at Yankee stadium.

Bonham: So what are you working on these days?

Pettitte: I’m trying to pour myself into my home church. This first year away from baseball I wanted to just pour myself into church family and my family. I’ll start praying soon for God’s direction. A lot of people are asking me to do a lot of different things.

Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen is best known for his speed on the bases and play-making ability in the outfield. So perhaps that’s why he was one of the last Pirates you’d expect to end last night’s 12-inning 3-2 win against the Diamondbacks with a walk-off home run.

You can check out the exciting at-bat (along with other game highlights) here.

Andrew McCutchen (Photo by David Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It was McCutchen’s 10th home run of the season and his second career walk-off home run. Perhaps just as significant for the Pirates is where the win puts the team in the standings. Pittsburgh is now 30-30 and poised to do something it hasn’t done in 19 years–produce a winning season. The team’s last winning record was in 1992 (99-66) and resulted in an National League Championship Series appearance where they lost to Atlanta. The losing hasn’t just been bad. It’s been brutal. The Pirates have lost more than 100 games twice during that stretch (including last year’s 105 losses) and seven other times, the team has lost 90 or more games.

Inspiring Athletes is pursuing an interview with McCutchen for a forthcoming feature, but in the meantime, you can read more from the outspoken Christian athlete here.

And be looking for more from the Pirates over the next two weeks with interviews from manager Clint Hurdle and outfielder Matt Diaz.