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Baseball Stars Pujols, Hamilton, Zito Speak Frankly About Faith

February 22, 2013

Story by Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Jak Keyser

 

For Barry Zito, the decision to give his life to God happened just a couple years ago, after he fell in love with the woman he recently married. But it took years of self-inflicted suffering and a car accident for him to figure it out.

Josh Hamilton resisted spirituality for years and favored drugs over an understanding of Jesus Christ. After dropping out of baseball, he was stoned when his grandmother confronted him one night. Her tears and the pain in her voice shook him to his core. Since then, and in spite of the daily struggle to stay clean, he has never left Jesus' side.

Although he is known as one of the most humble people in baseball, Albert Pujols said he, too, struggles with his faith amid the media pressure, road trips and separation from his family during the season - yet he reminds himself to stay focused to share his faith with the world since it takes "just a half-second to destroy" years of spiritual growth.

Zito, Hamilton and Pujols - three of the most popular and accomplished players in Major League Baseball - testified Thursday to a packed GCU Arena about their sins, their spiritual transformation, and how giving their lives to God helped bring them peace on the field.

GCU Arena was nearly full for Thursday night's "Tales From the Dugout" event featuring the testimony of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Barry Zito. Former GCU baseball star Tim Salmon co-hosted the "Tales From the Dugout" event with ESPN analyst and former big-leaguer Aaron Boone. The total All-Star appearances, trophies and other accolades of the current players are staggering, though the hosts have had their memorable moments. Salmon won the 1993 American League Rookie of the Year and the 2002 World Series in 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. Boone played with six teams over 12 years,

but he is best known for the walk-off homer he hit for the New York Yankees in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to beat the Boston Red Sox.

The event, brought to GCU by the non-profit Tales From the Tour, centered on the overlap between spirituality and sports. Tales From the Tour (www.TalesFromTheTour.org) hosted a similar event with pro golfers last year during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Proceeds from auctioned baseball memorabilia through the GCU event will benefit Arizona Urban Youth Excel ministries of Phoenix.

Pujols, 33, told the audience that he reminds fans who tell him that their children idolize him, that he idolizes Jesus. The Angels signed Pujols last season to a 10-year deal worth around $254 million. But he struggled in the first half of the beginning of the 2012 season. He said prayer helped him rebound and stay centered on God.

"Whether I go 5-for-5 or I go 0-for-4, God is there always," said Pujols, a three-time MVP and two-time World Series champion.

"We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Pujols said. "Maybe one of you guys out there is searching for that, you have that empty hole in your heart and maybe tonight is the night, you never know."

Pujols said it's important to communicate with God through prayer, to "find what that purpose is and follow it" to a more fulfilling life.

Zito, 34, "came to God" in 2011 after years of feeling spiritually empty. The left-handed pitcher parlayed his success with the Oakland A's in the early part of his career to sign a $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. But he struggled for years and was held off the Giants' World Series roster in 2010, when the team beat Hamilton's Texas Rangers. Zito said the emptiness he felt during that series was a reflection of his selfishness, being so focused on his own image.

"I don't even think my friends wanted to hang out with me, I was so delusional I didn't even know what was going on," Zito told the Arena crowd about his conversion to Christianity.

The pitcher was hospitalized in a car accident near his Los Angeles home a couple years ago, which also led him to the Lord. He rebounded last year to outduel Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the World Series to help the Giants win their second championship in three years.

"I had so much more peace in my life. ... Crazy things happen when you just get out of the way and trust God," Zito said.

Hamilton, 31, is constantly under the microscope. He has an "accountability manager" who travels with him to make sure he steers clear of alcohol, drugs and other bad decisions.

Hamilton's story about rebounding from intense drug addiction is well-documented, although it was the first time the well-known Christian athlete had appeared at GCU. He told the audience about the demon tattoos on his body from his years of dope addiction and the pain he inflicted on his family through his substance abuse. He said one night at his grandmother's house helped turn him back to God's Word.

"God opened my heart and just cleared my mind," Hamilton said. "He allowed me to see the pain in her face, the tears rolling down her face. For the first time, I understood."

Now it's all about making better choices and keeping the Word at hand every day.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu.