Baseball: Mike Sweeney's Faith Helps Him Beat the Odds--Again
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Mike Sweeney, advisory chairman of Catholic Athletes for Christ, was invited to spring training this year by the Seattle Mariners, but cautioned that he was a "long shot" to make the team. A 36 year old, 16 year veteran and five-time All-Star, most baseball "experts" believed Mike´s playing days were behind him. Plagued by knee and back problems the past few seasons, the Mariners wouldn´t even promise him a minor league contract at the start of camp. One of the most prominent Catholics in professional sports has once again persevered to overcome obstacles, inspiring us with what can be achieved when we put Jesus Christ first in our life.
P>GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Catholic Online) - Mike Sweeney, advisory chairman of Catholic Athletes for Christ, was invited to spring training this year by the Seattle Mariners, but cautioned that he was a "long shot" to make the team. A 36 year old, 16 year veteran and five-time All-Star, most baseball "experts" believed Mike´s playing days were behind him. Plagued by knee and back problems the past few seasons, the Mariners wouldn´t even promise him a minor league contract at the start of camp.
That was before Mike tore apart the Cactus League with an unbelievable .543 batting average, earning a spot on Seattle´s roster as well as in the hearts of even the most skeptical pundits. He is beginning his 17th season in the major leagues, another chapter in a life and career that Mike long ago turned over to Jesus Christ.
Mike´s life literally began with prayer helping him beat the odds. Born two months prematurely, doctors told his parents that most likely he would not survive due to a respiratory ailment. Mike´s father, a devout Catholic, went out on a street corner and prayed fervently all night that his son´s life might be spared. When he returned to the hospital he was told that his son was breathing normally and was out of danger.
Mike followed in his father´s footsteps as a man of prayer, and also chose his initial career path—Mike´s dad had once played in the California Angels´ minor league system. Mike was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals, where at one point his dreams of becoming a major league player seemed to be dashed. Told by a coach he had a "zero percent chance" of playing in the majors, Mike was crushed. He immediately turned to the long established rock-solid foundation of his life—his relationship with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
While attending Mass on Ash Wednesday shortly after receiving this bitter news, Mike glanced at a sticker of a tandem bicycle that had been placed on his Bible a few years before at a Confirmation retreat. The person on the front seat of a tandem bicycle steers the vehicle; the person in the back simply pedals and trusts the one in front to steer. Fully embracing the meaning of this symbol for the first time, Mike´s life was changed forever. In the foreword to my book Living the Eucharist Through Sports, he wrote:
"As I began to weep, I realized that Jesus was calling me to a place of submission where I had never been before. His whisper to my soul challenged me to get off the front seat of the bike where I had been in so many areas of my life and assume the seat on the back of the bicycle while pedaling my heart out and trusting my savior with the rest. As tears flowed down my cheeks, I prayed to God that I was sick of trying to steer the direction of my life and I was ready to surrender it all to Him, including my career. Rather than playing for my family and teammates, I wanted to play for Jesus even if it meant the demise of my baseball career. As I made this vow to God, the pressure and anxiety that paralyzed me for years on the athletic field was now gone. My role was simply this: to sit on the back of that tandem bicycle where the handle bars do not move and simply pedal. Not for my parents, not for my friends, not for my manager. I was to do it for Jesus."
Five All-Star games, 1502 base hits, 207 home runs, and 883 RBI´s later (along with a .298 career batting average), Mike Sweeney is still pedaling at the back of the bike and letting Jesus do the steering. The accomplishments don´t end at the baseball field; Mike and his wife Shara have been very active in youth ministry, pro-life causes, and expanding opportunities for Catholic athletes to regularly receive the sacraments. "The Eucharist is our common language of communication," says Mike. "Provision of Holy Communion allows athletes to transcend language and other communication barriers and truly unite as one body in Christ. It supernaturally penetrates the hardness of hearts, permeates the receptive soul."
It´s amazing what can be accomplished when we move to the back of the bike.
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