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Baseball all-star, scout apply lessons learned to Christian life

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“Drugs took me down a road I didn’t really want to go, and they kept me there much, much longer than I wanted to stay, and they cost me a price that I really didn’t want to pay.”
Such was the testimony of former Kansas City Royals catcher Darrell Porter during a Dec. 9 chapel service at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Associate Royals scout Al Jiron also spoke during the service.
Seminary President Mark Coppenger introduced Porter as a four-time American League all-star who played professional baseball 17 years. Coppenger went on to note that in 1982 Porter was named both the National League championship MVP as well as the World Series MVP. After being introduced, however, Porter told listeners of another distinction he had during his baseball career.
“We did talk about being all-star, we did talk about being the most valuable player in a World Series, playing 17 years in professional baseball,” said Porter, who currently serves on the Kansas City board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “But one thing that wasn’t mentioned was that, even in that time in my life, I was something else: I was a drug addict and I was an alcoholic.”
Speaking at the Kansas City, Mo., campus, Porter told of his history as an athlete and drug user. Porter recounted the elation of winning after the championship game of his first little league season, as he was carried around on the shoulders of his coach amidst cheering teammates and parents.
“That left an indelible impression on a young 9-year-old’s life,” Porter recalled. “Sports at that point became a way of life for me. I knew after that if I performed well as an athlete that people would treat me special. My self-worth was well intertwined with my performance on an athletic field.”
Sports continued to be the foundation of his life through high school, Porter recounted. After graduating from high school, he signed a letter of intent to play football for the University of Oklahoma. Five days later, however, he signed a professional baseball contract. Although professional baseball was extremely challenging, Porter said he got off to a great start as he went to the plate for the first time and hit the ball over the center field fence.
“Well, that was the last fastball I saw all year long,” Porter said with a grin. “If you know anything at all about baseball, you know that an Oklahoma boy can hit a fastball. But if you put a little wrinkle in it, and throw him a curveball, you can stand him on his ears. Well, I’ve got to tell you: They stood me on my ear.”
Porter’s subsequent struggles in the game led to discouragement and depression.
“I wanted to quit,” he said. “What I had counted on for so long to pump me up didn’t do it. You see, I was unsuccessful in sports for the first time in my life, and I didn’t know how to handle it, and I was miserable.”
It was during this time that his teammates began to encourage Porter to join them for a drink at a local bar. Although he initially refused, out of desperation he went along with them one afternoon.
“Finally, in my misery and in my loneliness, I said yes and went out and had a drink,” Porter said. “And I can remember in that bar that day, they said, ‘We’re not going to leave this room until this table is filled with empty beer bottles.’ And you know what? The first one tasted real bad to me. The next one didn’t taste so bad. And then I started feeling really pretty good. And I could have cared less that I was a thousand miles from home. I could have cared less that I was hitting .180. I had sort of found myself a friend.”
Soon, Porter said, both alcohol and drugs became an established part of his life. His poor record on the field, however, led to his being traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1977. When he arrived in Kansas City, Porter decided to re-evaluate his life and renewed his commitment to the success that had brought him fulfillment as a youth. His next three seasons were his best ever, and in 1979 he was voted the best catcher in baseball. Yet he still felt empty inside.
“I had reached my goal to become the very best,” Porter said. “And at the end of that season, I sat down in my house, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, nothing has really changed. This success is really overrated.’ Yet I had everything the world would say would make you happy. I spent my entire life trying to be the best, believing that success would fulfill me, and you know what it did? It left me disillusioned, lost and without hope.”
As he entered spring training for the next year, Porter heard another professional player describe to the team the devastation of alcoholism in his life. As Porter listened, he knew he had to get help.
“It was a mirror,” Porter said. “What he was saying was me.”
Porter was sent by the Royals to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. It was there he began to read a Bible he had recently been given. While reading Jeremiah 29:11-14, he found hope for the first time.
“I was without hope, so this became my hope,” Porter explained. “I began to pray, to fellowship with other believers and to read my Bible. That was the beginning of my faith in God.”
When he returned to the Royals after rehabilitation, a Christian teammate asked to room with him. He soon became more than just a roommate to Porter.
“Jerry became my tutor in my faith, but he also became something else for me, something I think we all need,” Porter said. “He became an accountability partner for me. He became someone who knew my struggle, and who knew the commitment I had made to quit doing drugs. So he became someone who could hold me accountable to my commitment. God delivered me through that process.”
Today, Porter promotes the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ “One Way to Play Drug Free” program. He said the program emphasizes the same elements he and his roommate used to keep him off of drugs: faith, commitment and accountability.
“All of us must keep our priorities in order and our focus on the right things,” Porter said. “If you don’t, sin will take you down a road you don’t want to go, and it will keep you there a lot longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you much, much more than you want to pay.
“In a world that tells you so many lies, that offers so much bad, let’s reach out for something that’s really, really good,” Porter continued, “or let’s give something that’s really, really good, and that’s a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

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  • Clinton Wolf