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)–Jake Westbrook has been a model of consistency for the Cleveland Indians.
Over the past three seasons, Westbrook has started at least 30 games and pitched more than 210 innings each year. His win totals over the same period have been 14, 15 and 15.
Indians manager Eric Wedge knows he can give the ball to Westbrook, who will pitch seven solid innings and give the team a good chance to win most of the time.
For Westbrook, that consistency doesn’t stop when he steps off the field. He strives for the same outcome when it comes to his spiritual life as well.
“Just like baseball’s a routine, you have that routine in your life where you spend time with Jesus in prayer, in quiet time and in reading the Word,” Westbrook said. “When you do that, everything else starts to fit in place.”
Westbrook will be the first to admit he doesn’t always achieve that goal of spending time with the Lord daily, but it’s still something for which he strives. And it has been since he became a Christian while a student at Madison County High School in Danielsville, Ga., where he started attending meetings of the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter.
“One night after FCA, the message really spoke to me,” Westbrook said. “I sat down in my room and just prayed to God and gave my heart to Christ right there in my room. I’ve just been trying to live my life for Him. It’s not easy, but it’s a process.”
Robby Brown, pastor of Westbrook’s home church, Trinity Baptist Church in Danielsville, said Westbrook and his family are faithful church members when they’re home during the off-season.
“He’s just a great guy,” Brown said. “When he’s at home he’s one of the good old boys around here. He certainly doesn’t act like a celebrity or anything like that. It’s very rare that he misses a Sunday when he’s at home.”
Brown said the church prays regularly for Westbrook during the season, when he’s away from his family and unable to attend church regularly. Westbrook appreciates the support, because he knows the challenges involved with being disconnected from his local church.
“It’s tough, because we play just about every day,” Westbrook said. “We’re playing a baseball game every Sunday at 1. We very rarely get a chance to go to church. That’s why it’s so important in the off-season to make sure you go every Sunday. It’s important to have that in your life.”
In the absence of regular church attendance during the season, Westbrook tries to make the most of opportunities that are available for worship and Bible study. He’s one of the leaders in the team’s Baseball Chapel chapter, and he also participates in a Bible study every week with some of his teammates. Westbrook said these meetings provide Christian fellowship and accountability that is so important in the life of believers.
For the past few seasons, Westbrook relied heavily on Cleveland catcher Josh Bard as an accountability partner. But the Indians traded Bard to San Diego over the winter, and Westbrook acknowledged that he’d miss his friend and brother in Christ.
But he also recognizes God’s hand in the whole situation.
“The way God works, Josh got traded and then we picked up Paul Byrd,” Westbrook said. Byrd is another Christian who has a reputation of being a spiritual leader in the clubhouse.
Though Westbrook enjoys his life as a baseball player, he admits it’s not always easy -– especially when it comes to his family. He and his wife Heather have an 18-month-old son, Parker.
His family is with him during the season when the Indians are playing at home in Cleveland, and they’re also with Westbrook throughout spring training. When Westbrook is on the road during the season, his wife and son typically go back to their home in Georgia.
“Last year was my first experience with being away from Parker,” Westbrook said. “It’s hard enough to be away from your wife, but to start having to be away from both my wife and my little boy, it’s tough. That’s one of the sacrifices that I have to make, and they’re willing to make, for me to fulfill my dream of playing of baseball.”
Westbrook knows that he is living his dream. And he’s thankful to the One who has made it possible for him to do so.
“Everything that I’ve been given, the success that I’ve had, I know it comes from Jesus Christ,” he said. “I feel like it’s my part to let everybody know that and kind of live my life accordingly and let people see Him through my actions and my speech. The things I have and the things I’ve accomplished aren’t anything I’ve done, but are blessings that have been given to me by God.”