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.
JUPITER, Fla. (BP)–In some ways, Braden Looper’s baseball career has come full circle.
The St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher was drafted by the Cardinals in 1996 but only appeared in four games with the team before being traded to Florida after the 1998 season.
Looper spent five years with the Marlins and two years with the New York Mets before signing with St. Louis as a free agent this winter.
So while he’s back with the team where he started his career, he’s also back with the team where he became a Christian.
“I grew up as a kid going to church, but I really wasn’t saved until 1998 in big league camp with the Cardinals,” Looper said. “I went to a Bible study with my wife and one of my teammates shared the Gospel with me, and that was the day God entered my heart.”
That teammate was Danny Sheaffer, now the manager for the Memphis Redbirds, the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate. Looper is just one of the players Sheaffer has led to the Lord over the years.
“Sometimes we’re there and used by the Holy Spirit just to be a tool and a seed-planter, and the other times we get to close the deal,” Sheaffer said. “It’s exciting to hear from somebody like Braden or some of the others who, several years later, come up and tell you how instrumental you were in their life.”
As a Christian, Looper knows he’s in a position to minister to his teammates. And while being on the road away from his family can be tough, and life as a baseball player can have its temptations, Looper tries to set an example to his teammates.
“The older I get, the less tempting it is,” he said. “You need to be a part of the guys and what’s going on. You’re around these guys more than you are your family. So you need to have relationships with them and build bridges so when someone has a question you can be there.”
Looper said being a Christian doesn’t affect the way he plays the game of baseball. He’s competitive, and he has an idea what kind of baseball player Jesus would be.
“I don’t like to lose,” Looper said. “I’ve always said that if Jesus had been a baseball player He’d have been brushing guys off the plate, too.”
Still, he said there’s a difference in how he approaches the game as a whole.
“Baseball’s not number one,” Looper said. “Obviously it’s hugely important. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But when things go wrong, I have something else there. I don’t know how people do it without it.”