EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth recently visited Florida to do a series of stories on spring training as baseball players get ready to begin a new season
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (BP)–Cleveland Indians pitcher Paul Byrd knows what it’s like to be hunted. That’s exactly how he describes his conversion.
“I came to know the Lord at Louisiana State University,” Byrd said. “I had a guy who was our chapel leader who was affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ. He was the first time I heard what I call the hardcore version of the Gospel -– the exclusiveness of Jesus.”
But the first time he heard the message, Byrd thought he was listening to someone from a cult convey a message that sounded ridiculous and extreme.
“I had a religious background,” Byrd said. “I just never really read the Bible a lot. From that point on, it was like Jesus just kind of started to hunt me down in my heart. I couldn’t get away from it.”
Byrd started reading the Bible and discovered for himself the exclusive claims Christ made -– that He alone is the only way to salvation. That there is no other name under heaven given among men by which they must be saved.
He realized that the whole point of the Bible is the exclusivity of Christ. Though it didn’t sound right at first, Byrd came to embrace that truth.
“It was a mixture of being scared and being drawn to Jesus,” he said. “Over the years I’ve realized that God is good and the Gospel is so powerful. It’s just really changed me on the inside, and that happened somewhere in the early ’90s.”
Now, a decade and a half later, Byrd often assumes the role of a spiritual leader in the clubhouse. He’s not hesitant to talk about his beliefs with others.
“I let it flow naturally. I don’t force that or don’t try to sell fire insurance,” Byrd said. “I love my wife like crazy, and so every now and then, I’m going to talk about her. I love my kids. Same thing. I love God, and I talk about Him. I don’t want to get on guys’ nerves, but I do (talk about God).”
But while Byrd is always happy to talk about his faith in Christ, he tries to concentrate his efforts on those who show an interest in hearing.
“It’s just a couple of guys,” Byrd said. “I figure Jesus worked with 12, but He really built into three. Sometimes it’s just one or two guys, and that’s all you do.”
Byrd’s reason for that is simple. He knows he’s always going to be in the minority, and he realizes most people will reject Jesus Christ.
“People get surprised at that,” he said. “It’s like they get angry because there’s not this huge revival, and everybody doesn’t believe in Jesus. If that would happen, the Bible would be wrong and then we’d have bigger problems. I don’t panic when the whole locker room doesn’t believe the way I believe.”