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Outfielder credits prayer for helping him make Olympics

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is in Beijing Aug. 6-16 covering the 2008 Olympics for Baptist Press. He is assisted with photography by David McIntyre, a freelancer based in Asia. Baptist Press will publish features about Christian athletes in the Olympics, give results of their competition as well as highlight and summarize the Summer Games. Also, Tim will blog throughout each day about his experiences with athletes, coaches and the Chinese people. He will continue his coverage from the U.S. from Aug. 17-25.

BEIJING (BP)–In all likelihood, Matt LaPorta will have a standout career in professional baseball.

LaPorta, left fielder for the Akron Aeros, the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, came to the franchise in the trade that sent Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in early July.

Teams don’t typically give up pitchers like Sabathia for second-rate prospects. The Indians expect great things from LaPorta, who prior to the trade had hit 20 home runs for Huntsville to lead the Southern League in that category.

But no matter what the future holds for LaPorta in the big leagues, he’ll tell you that representing his country in the Olympics is “a huge deal.”

“I’m so thankful. My fiancée and I, we’ve been doing a lot of praying about it. God definitely answered our prayers and has given me the opportunity to play on the Olympic team,” LaPorta said.

“It’s going to be up there with the pinnacle of my career,” he continued. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

LaPorta, a native of Port Charlotte, Fla., was raised as a Catholic but eventually stopped going to church altogether. During his high school years, a good friend was committed to changing that. The friend kept hounding LaPorta about going to church with him until LaPorta finally relented.

He began attending the nondenominational church with his friend and gave his life to Christ in November 1999.

“Since then, my life has definitely changed,” LaPorta said.

His baseball skills took him to the University of Florida, where he established himself as a bona fide star during his sophomore season, hitting .328 with 26 home runs and 79 RBIs.

LaPorta’s junior year, however, was disappointing. His average dropped to .259 and his power declined as well. Still, the Boston Red Sox selected him in the 14th round of the amateur draft, and LaPorta had a decision to make: Go pro or stay for his senior season.

Many of his friends were encouraging him to leave school and take the money he was being offered. But LaPorta devoted the matter to prayer and he got his answer from the Lord.

“I felt like He led me back to school for my senior year,” LaPorta said. “When everybody thought that was a crazy decision, I knew that the Lord was going to come through for me. I had no worries at all.”

In his senior season, LaPorta rebounded in a big way. He hit .402 that season and the Brewers selected him in the first round of that year’s draft, the seventh pick overall.

As LaPorta has honed his baseball skills, he also has grown in his walk with the Lord. He’s often recognized as an outspoken Christian who’s not reluctant to talk about his beliefs.

“I go out there every day, and I go out to have fun,” LaPorta said. “Whether I do good or bad, that’s not the point. That’s not the point of life for me.

“The point of life for me is to spread the Gospel and bring more people to the Kingdom of Jesus.

“Sometimes it’s tough,” LaPorta said, “but you’ve got to realize there was a man who died for my sins and now is my God and my king.”
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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