My sister and I had arrived two hours early for the epic Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals matchup at Wrigley Field. As Cardinals fans since birth (born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri), we were decked out in Cardinal Red, cheering for our boys wandering around the outfield stretching, fielding grounders, and catching pop fly balls. We watched as Cubs fans around us yelled down at the players, calling out for freebies and attention to no avail. “It’s this guy’s birthday!,” a desperate dad cried down to the field from a few rows over. “Throw him a ball!”
After several minutes of observation, I decided to jump into the fun. After spotting Skip Schumaker, Cardinals 2nd baseman, about 40 yards in front of us, my sister and I knew exactly what to do.
“WE LOVE YOU, SKIP!”
Sure enough, he whipped his head around at the call to see which obnoxious Cubs fans were trying to get his attention. When he saw our Cardinal Red, beaming faces, and heart-shaped figures we were making with our hands, it was a matter of moments before he chucked a practice ball our direction.
“THANK YOU, SKIP!” we yelled out to him.
He waved to us, and trotted back toward the infield. Parents, fans, and security were all chuckling at our expose, and we were on cloud nine, enjoying our catch and recognition from a professional baseball player who plays an integral part in a World Series franchise and makes millions of dollars every year.
It wasn’t five minutes later that Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook trotted over to catch a fly ball in center field.
“WE LOVE YOU, JAKE!” we called out.
He made the catch, and, sure enough, second time’s a charm – Jake looked up, saw our smiling faces and Cardinal Red, and chucked a ball our direction. Before he could wander away, I decided to take a leap of faith.
“Hey, Jake!” I yelled after him. “Will you sign my ball??”
He hesitated, and in that moment, I felt time stand still. I began to backpedal when I said, “It’s totally okay if you don’—,” but, in the moment when he started walking back toward me, gasps resounded in the crowd, I heard a few “Oh. My. Gosh.”‘s, and, being the nifty journalist I am, I snagged a pen out of my pocket and tossed the ball down to him with it.
My sister couldn’t believe it. The little birthday boy couldn’t believe it either. People rushed the front row to try and get a piece of the action, but without missing a beat, I kept my eyes on the prize and tried to figure out, as a journalist, what could I possibly ask this professional baseball player that he hadn’t heard before? So, I started:
“Who’s your role model?”
“In baseball? Greg Maddux.“
“What would you be doing if you could do anything in the world?”
“This,” he said without hesitation, as he pointed at the ground he was standing on – Wrigley’s running track surrounding the outfield. “I love it.”
“So you’ll go out and get a win for us today?”
“You got it,” he said*.
(*the Cardinals didn’t win, but then again, Westbrook wasn’t pitching. I have full faith that the day would have turned out differently if he had been :P)
“And you’ll head to the World Series this fall?!”
And he smiled as he turned to walk back to the infield.
Sure, I didn’t manage to get any information out of him that would have won a Pulitzer Prize, and almost felt like I’d failed as a Christian journalist because I hadn’t even asked him if he loved Jesus, but I’m happy to say that, in our 30-second interview, I discovered the following things about Jake Westbrook: He’s a man of conviction, and is doing what he loves.
Actions speak louder than words: after doing a bit of Wikipedia research (he has his own page!), it turns out he’s one of the few pitchers in history to have won a World Series game AND hit a grand slam. Those are absolutely God-given talents, and knowing God loves him and gifted him with those abilities for thousands of baseball fans to enjoy around the world is, like, the best thing ever. But life is more than baseball, and I wonder if he ever feels boxed in by ERA, RBIs, and box scores.
That’s why, as he walked back to the diamond, I decided I’ll be adding him to the list of celebrities I pray for on a semi-regular basis – the love and compassion he has for his fans (displayed in taking 5 minutes to chat with us and sign some autographs) was obvious, and his optimism, commitment and hope for future success are qualities that could only belong to a St. Louis Cardinal. So, until we meet again at Busch Stadium or the ivy outfield wall at Wrigley, I’ll look forward to cheering and praying he and the Cards through a successful postseason!