EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth was in Florida last week to do a series of stories from spring training as baseball players get ready to begin a new season.
LAKELAND, Fla. (BP)–Church involvement during the season is practically non-existent for baseball players. So Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth wanted to make the most of the time he had during the winter.
Maroth and his wife, members of First Baptist Church in Windermere, Fla., started a home group Bible study during the off season. Maroth said he has enjoyed the experience.
“It’s been great,” he said. “Every home group that we’ve been involved with, the age group was a little bit higher than where we were. We felt led to start a home group that was our age because there’s not too many of them out there. It’s been awesome.”
About 10 people meet at the Maroth home outside Orlando on Sunday evenings. Over the past few months the group completed a study on the Book of James and is currently in the middle of Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God.”
Because the group members are close to the same age, Maroth said the fellowship has been special. It’s allowed him to connect with other young married couples facing the same challenges in marriage and in parenting.
“It’s been good to get to know people,” he said. “Church isn’t just for going on Sundays. It’s a family. This off-season we really made that commitment to get involved and meet new people in the church and start building on that family and building relationships.”
Maroth is coming off a season in which he won 11 games with a 4.31 earned run average. That followed a tough 2003, when Maroth lost 21 games -– the most losses for a Major League pitcher since Brian Kingman lost 20 games for Oakland in 1980.
It would have been easy for Maroth during that 2003 season to have ended the year prematurely to avoid the dubious 20-loss mark. Detroit manager Alan Trammel even offered to skip Maroth in the rotation so he couldn’t earn that distinction.
But Maroth politely declined the 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.”
He attributes the rebound in 2004 to an improved team around him.
“We were able to go out there and stay in games,” he said. “We did a lot better last year as a team, and that played a huge part.”
This year, with Detroit’s acquisition of an impact player like Magglio Ordonez, Maroth is expecting things to be even better.
“I expect us to win our division, I really do,” he said. “I think we have a great team. I don’t think we have any weaknesses on our team all the way around.”
The Tigers have also added pitchers Troy Percival and Kyle Farnsworth to bolster their bullpen.
“Adding their talent to the bullpen will help us get to that next level, and that next level is being in contention and fighting for the division,” Maroth said.
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He writes a weekly column on sports and faith for BP Sports.