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SPRING TRAINING: More than something up his sleeve

EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth has gone to spring training to field some feature stories about Christians in the Big Leagues as they prepare for the coming season. This is the first in a series.

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–When Atlanta Braves pitcher Russ Ortiz is on the mound and needs a calming influence at a tense moment, all he has to do is look under the bill of his cap.

Ortiz always keeps a Bible verse written there, a practice he began to help settle himself down and focus more intently.

“When I started doing it, what it basically did was help me put things in perspective,” Ortiz said. “I was having a hard time concentrating inning by inning. I just need to go hitter by hitter and not worry about what happened last inning or what I need to do for the next inning or the rest of the game.”

The verse changes from year to year, depending upon what catches Ortiz’s eye. Sometimes a verse will jump out at him, especially if it deals with something Ortiz has been praying about.

This year, he’ll likely select a verse about living a disciplined Christian life, because Ortiz readily admits that doing so is sometimes a struggle for him.

“Unfortunately, I’m not very disciplined outside of baseball. I wish I was,” Ortiz said. “Being a believer frees me up from a whole lot of stuff. I’ve always realized that and always have that with me, but I struggle with the consistent, daily reading and studying the Word. Sometimes that affects how my day goes as far as my work and my effort. That’s one of the things that I continually pray about, that I’ll be able to get on the track and stay on the track as far as studying the Word. That’s one thing this year that I’m working on.”

Accountability is a big help, especially over a long baseball season. Ortiz is grateful for Christian teammates like John Smoltz, Paul Byrd, J.D. Drew and Julio Franco, among others, who can provide each other with that accountability and with Christian fellowship.

When he’s on the mound, Ortiz thinks his Christian faith helps him be a competitor, and few could argue with the results of Ortiz’s intensity. Last year he won 21 games for the Braves, and he has won 14 or more games for five straight seasons.

Ortiz said those who understand the Christian walk know that “they need to be warriors, they need to be the most aggressive out there, because our Lord wouldn’t want anything less.”

    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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