LAKELAND, Fla. (BP)–From a baseball perspective, last year was a season Mike Maroth would like to forget.
The lefty lost 21 games for the Detroit Tigers — the most losses for a Major League pitcher since Brian Kingman lost 20 games for Oakland in 1980. The Tigers, as a whole, turned in a dismal 43-119 record.
But from a spiritual perspective, Maroth is grateful for the season that would give other pitchers nightmares. He says it sharpened his faith and allowed him to display that faith for others to see.
“The best thing that happened, probably, was that people kept an eye on me,” Maroth said. “They wanted to see how I handled it.”
Maroth didn’t let the losing get to him, although he admits it was a struggle all season long, both personally and collectively as a team. Losing is no fun for ballplayers — Maroth included — and the Detroit clubhouse wasn’t a happy place most of the time.
“I think everybody knew that it was going to be a pretty hard year last year, being so young,” said Maroth, an Orlando native who attends church at Windermere (Fla.) First Baptist Church. “We didn’t know what to expect, but nobody expected that we were going to go through what we did.”
Jeff Totten, the baseball chapel leader for the Detroit Tigers, said Maroth was a shining example of faithfulness throughout the season.
“Mike was very faithful throughout the entire year, faithful to Christ and faithful to his teammates and his profession,” Totten said. “It took some courage and some humility at times to remain faithful in those situations. In every situation he never stopped trying to live for Christ.”
His reliance on God is what got him through the difficult season, and Maroth took comfort in verses like James 1:2-3 that promise God’s presence in the midst of trials. He knew that despite the hard times, God was still with him and hadn’t abandoned him.
“God doesn’t look at the numbers, for one thing,” Maroth said. “I strongly believe that when we go through trials and struggles, there’s something for us to learn. God’s trying to teach us something or get our attention. I had to really stay close to the Lord during that time so I didn’t start falling away. It’s so easy for us as Christians to all of a sudden turn the other way when we’re going through struggles and look the other way and try to do it on our own.”
He certainly had the opportunity to do it on his own, when Tigers manager Alan Trammel approached Maroth about shutting down the season prematurely to avoid reaching the dreaded 20-loss mark. Trammel said he was still confident in Maroth’s ability as a pitcher, especially since Maroth kept the Tigers in the game when he was on the mound, but he left the decision up to Maroth.
Maroth politely declined Trammel’s offer.
“I said I wanted to keep pitching,” Maroth said. “This is where I’m supposed to be. This is where God placed me. If I was to quit or decide I’m going to stop, that would have been my decision and not God’s decision. That’s the way I look at it. God had put me in that situation and he didn’t want me to back out. I was going to go full force. He knew what was going to happen. He had it planned out.”
As Maroth and the Tigers prepare for a new season, the players have gladly left 2003 behind them. The Tigers added a couple of veterans during the off-season by signing Ivan Rodriguez and Fernando Vina, and Maroth said the mood in the clubhouse this spring is totally different from last year.
“We’re so much improved,” he said. “The mood in the clubhouse is a lot more upbeat. Everybody seems to be more relaxed.”
On the field, Maroth doesn’t have any specific goals for the new season except to stay healthy and to give the team a chance to win every time he plays. As a pitcher, he knows that the outcome of a game is largely beyond his control.
“The only stat that I know I can control are walks, because I’m the one that throws the ball,” he said. “If I don’t throw it over the plate, of course it’s going to equal walks.”
Off the field, he also hopes he can build on what he established last year with his teammates. Totten said he heard comments by many players — even those who don’t profess to be Christians — about how much they respected Maroth for the way he handled himself last year. Many of the Tigers saw someone of character and faith who faces trials gracefully, and Maroth is optimistic that will open even more doors for him to witness to others.
“Last year, being able to see God work around me really helped me get through the year,” he said. “It gave me a lot of opportunities to talk about my faith. From that standpoint, I look at it as great.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MIKE MAROTH.