EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth was in Florida recently to do a series of stories from baseball’s spring training. Baseball season began April 3.
JUPITER, Fla. (BP)–With his 4-year-old son Blaise dying of brain cancer, St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league pitcher Toby Borland had just one wish.
“I told my uncle, before my little boy dies I want to be able to see him smile,” Borland said.
Not long after that, with little Blaise in a coma, Borland was sitting at the foot of his hospital bed. His wish then came true.
“I turned and looked, and he had his eyes open. He was looking up and smiling,” Borland said. “I jump up and run over there and kind of put my hand under his neck and back and pick him up. I felt of his chest — he was smiling and looking — he wasn’t breathing. He died right there. But I got to see him smile.”
That chapter of Borland’s life was one of immense difficulty, and not just because of what happened to his son. Blaise lost his 14-month battle with brain cancer after two surgeries plus chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
About the same time, Borland was going through a rough divorce and his brother was dying of AIDS. In addition, he had a tumor taken out of his jaw and found out he needed Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm –- a procedure which requires months of rehabilitation.
But through it all, Borland says his faith in God was strengthened.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Borland said. “People go through tragedy every day. I was going through a lot at one time. No one’s exempt from tragedy or hardship, and there’s always somebody a lot worse off than you are.”
After Blaise died, Borland said he had questions for God.
“I was a Christian and I asked why,” he said. “But somewhere along the line I changed the why to who.”
Borland came to the realization that God would take care of him through the trials.
“Things kind of started falling into place then,” he said. “My faith grew. I knew God was in control of everything. It was a tough time for me, but I grew a lot.”
He learned patience through the experience, and he came to understand the value of going through a time of darkness. Borland said the difference between a mountain and a valley is that nothing grows on a mountain top, whereas a valley usually is fertile.
“If you look at the times in your life where you’re at the lowest part, that’s when you really get close to God,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot, but I’ve really been blessed. I don’t hate God. I love God.”
Four years later, Borland is now reaping God’s blessings. He has since remarried, and he and his wife have two daughters. He also has a stepson who’s the same age Blaise would be.
His arm is healthy, and he hopes to begin this baseball season with the Memphis Redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate.
When he talks about the toughest days of his life, Borland said the biblical story of Job often comes to mind. And it reminds him that as difficult as his trials have been, they could have been worse.
“At least I’m not by a fire, with a hot stick, picking sores like Job was,” Borland said. “Until I get to that point, I consider myself pretty lucky and pretty fortunate.”
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.