By freelance writers Mark Darnall & Bruce Darnall
Photo credit: Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians
Matt LaPorta, first baseman for the Cleveland Indians, grew up a Chicago Cub fan, just like his dad, Vince. When he was drafted surprisingly low, in the 13th round by the Cubs, Matt had to decide whether to take it or go to college. It was a hard decision because he always dreamed of playing for the Cubs, but he decided to enroll at the University of Florida on not only a baseball scholarship but also the highly regarded state scholarship called Florida Bright Futures. His mother, Cindy, comments, “Although Matt was disappointed with the 13th round, I shared that there is a reason for everything and we don’t know God’s plan. He was not ready for pro ball; but over the four years at Florida he grew and matured physically and spiritually. He touched many lives during his college years.”
Matt attended church regularly all through elementary school even when on occasion his parents did not attend. “I will never forget when Matt was in 7th grade,” his mother shares, “he got on his roller blades and went several blocks to a store that sold concrete statues. He brought home for me a two foot concrete statue of the Crucifix to hang in my house. He paid for it from money he saved. I treasure that to this day.”
While in middle school, he met a youth leader, Tim Gretzler, who is today still a friend. Matt started attending Freedom Bible Church, where his relationship with the Lord Jesus started to grow and take shape “to the point where he went forward to receive Christ in his heart and be saved,” shares his mother.
Upon graduating from Charlotte (FL) High School, where Matt was an excellent student and provided leadership in student government, baseball and their high school Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) huddle group, Matt moved on to the University of Florida. During his recruiting trip he met a group of students which included Dara Altman. In the fall Matt immediately sought out Florida’s FCA group. At the first meeting, he saw Dara again, who was on UF’s track team as a pole-vaulter. “I was really surprised to see him at the FCA meeting,” Dara shares, “but I thought it was neat. We became friends and we dated a little his first year. For the next three years we did not date. When he graduated in May, 2007, we began to see each other again.” Matt and Dara were married in December, 2008.
Dara was a preacher’s kid and grew up in a loving Christian environment. “I have great parents and my father was my youth pastor until I was 10,” Dara shares. “Then my parents started Grace Family Church in Tampa where my father is senior pastor. Grace is our home church which we attend in the off-season. “Pastor Craig Altman, Dara’s father, said, “Matt asked us for permission to date Dara which we were happy to see because we want him to know how much we value our daughter. We found Matt to be sensitive, teachable, and hungry to grow and learn in his faith. He had a heart to serve God in his life and looks to God to use him to influence others.”
Matt was drafted very high in the first round in 2007 by the Milwaukee Brewers and played in their farm system. In 2008 he played double A ball in Huntsville, Ala., plus a month with the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing, China. The Cleveland Indians acquired Matt in 2008. Matt made his major league debut May 3, 2009. The summer of 2010 he came up to the Indians to stay. “The best pro experience I have had so far was being called up to the major leagues and the recent first ever ‘walk off’ homerun,” says Matt.
“I first met Matt during spring training 2008 in Arizona at a church service,” says FCA staff member Brian Beltramo. “During our conversation he asked me if I could help start and lead a weekday Bible study while the Brewers were at spring training. Mind you, this is a rookie showing this spiritual leadership.”
When asked how he shares his faith, Matt responded, “I try to lead by example and ‘use words when necessary.’ I hope the way I carry myself would reflect my faith and trust in the Lord.” Beltramo emphasized, “Matt’s faith is not silent but he is very outward and not ashamed of the gospel.” One of Matt’s favorite Bible verses is Psalms 34:1: “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Matt seeks opportunities to praise the Lord.
Teammate Justin Masterson shares, “I love Matt. He is a believer on the team with whom you can talk and share joys or concerns. His love for the Lord is tremendous, and he is always searching and growing in his faith.” Masterson goes on, “He is feisty and emotional with great passion as a player and great passion for Christ. Matt is also a fun guy to be around.”
“I find Matt to be spontaneous,” says Pastor Altman, ”like when he stopped to help a stranded motorist or gives some financial assistance—to people he really does not know.” He goes on saying, “Matt is quiet and generous, but he does it in a low key way. He has a real heart for the ministry and he continues to grow in his relationship with God through Christ. He reads a lot on leadership, and he has a real heart for special needs children, like his mother who is a special education teacher.”
Dara very proudly shares, “Matt grows stronger in his faith every day and he has grown to be the spiritual leader I need at home.” She continues, “It has been fun to grow together in our faith. We try to live in peace and hope and live by example as Jesus related to people. We take whatever opportunities we have to share our faith with others.”
In May, Matt and Justin enjoyed sharing their faith at Family Faith Day. A verse Matt takes to heart is I Corinthians 1:31 which says: “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”
Like anyone in professional sports, there are many struggles that must be faced. “I find the injuries and the frustrations in wanting to perform on the field as well as being away from my wife and family the biggest struggles as an athlete and as a believer,” Matt says. “I have to constantly remind myself that it is not me who achieves but I achieve because of my Lord. One has to stay in the Word and be strong.”
Dara comments: “With all the lows and struggles in baseball, Matt has kept his eyes on God, and he has not placed blame on God. We have not changed our faith in God. God never changes, never changes the truth that we know God is good and He loves us. God’s plan for us is better than our plan. We will stay the course.”
FCA’s Beltramo shares about Matt and Dara, “My wife, Sherry, and I have developed a wonderful relationship with Matt and Dara. We asked them if they would want us to be a pastor and shepherd to them and be a role model to help them excel in their marriage.” The Beltramos speak often with them on the phone and “we pray with and for Matt and Dara. We love them. We see there is a lot of joy and love in their lives.”
“Matt was named Matthew,” his mother shares, “which means Gift from God, because we almost lost Matt at birth. We truly believe Matt was a gift from the Lord. Now as a Christian, Matt shares his gifts with others. “
When asked how has Jesus Christ changed or shaped his life, Matt says, “Christ has made me the person I am today. He has given me strength to live each day, and I trust He will continue to shape and mold me to the kind of person He wants me to be. I try to be caring, a good listener, and a faithful servant of Christ.”
The warm summer sun is giving way to the brisk autumn air, and with that comes the exchange of the baseball leather for the pigskin of the football.
With the start of a new NFL season and another college football year comes the dreams and aspirations of what may be. At the beginning of each year every team is equal, every school has a chance at winning a national championship, and every fan firmly believes that their team can make it to the Super Bowl—everyone has hope.
As individuals—it is imperative to never let go of hope—regardless if times are good or seemingly bad. It is said, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope.” You see, hope is faith that holds its hand out in the dark; hope is a means of making dreams a reality; hope is the power that gives us the courage to step out and try. Now it should be carefully noted that hope, for merely hope sake can be foolish if that hope isn’t originated in the solid foundational truth of the Bible, but hope through a proper lens and perspective is the pillar that holds up the world.
Hope fuels faith. And as Hebrews 11:1 states: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Inevitably, life will throw you a curve ball…a family member suddenly loses his job, a close friend acquires a terminal illness, a natural disaster wipes out a community. Tough times unfortunately happen, that’s reality. But even in those unexpected moments it’s important to hold onto hope—living with the same mindset that Albert Einstein did, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
June 19, 2010, will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life. On that day I was able to see God work in me in a way that I had never seen before.
The day started off very difficult and frustrating. I was playing a new position, the libero. I was enjoying it but on this particular day I was not playing well at all. After practice, I got back to my room and was down on myself and very frustrated and embarrassed by the way I had played. I prayed for God to give me confidence and strength in whatever my role was going to be for the team that night at our match.
That night, I got to start and played the entire game. My teammates continued to compliment me and lift me up which gave me the confidence to play well. At this point, I knew that God was working through me to play better. We lost in a close match but I played to the best of my ability and gave Him the glory. It was awesome.
After the match I had the opportunity to meet with one of the Brazilian players and I also gave him a [wordless gospel] bracelet because he is in the process of coming to Christ. He said he wants to pursue God and learn more. By the time we were done talking, he was crying and so appreciative of my teammates and me for the love and support we offered him. As we parted he hugged me hard for a long time.
Later that day I met up with him again because he wanted to give me a gift. He gave me his grandmother’s rosary necklace and said, “Take this, my brother.” I was in shock and awe and started to cry as I hugged him. It was an amazing moment as I saw the love we both had for each other and the connection we had made. When we said our goodbyes we hugged each other again and he said, "I love you, my brother,” and I said the same to him. Simply amazing.
On Friday, August 20, The Ohio State University football team spent the entire day in a retreat and practice session at the Legacy Center in Xenia, Ohio, home of Athletes in Action. The day featured two practice sessions by the 2009 Rose Bowl and recent five-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes. The morning started out with a light practice session, and continued, after lunch, with a full inter-squad scrimmage. The practices were closed per NCAA regulations.
The Buckeyes are ranked #2 in some 2010 pre-season forecasts. The team has nine returning starters, and the expectations are high for the first preseason game on September 2 against Marshall University.
The team had access to the 253-acre Legacy Center, and they used the four dormitories, the conference and retreat center along with the state-of-the-art sports complex with its high-quality synthetic turf.
Athletes in Action staff member Jim Schmidtke reported that the OSU coaching staff were extremely impressed with AIA personnel and the facilities. One of the OSU coordinators said to Schmidtke, “Your people were fantastic. Being in a place with such a meaningful history gave the young men a sense of destiny.”
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is a strong supporter of AIA, and he will be starting his 10th season at Ohio State after several successful seasons as head coach at Youngstown State.
Schmidtke first met Tressel when he was a quarterback coach at OSU in the early 1980’s. “He is really the same guy now. I remember telling my wife then that he was one of the best coaches I have ever met. Last night Coach Tressel was talking to the players about this facility, and the players were hanging on his every word,” Schmidtke said.
Mark Householder, president of Athletes in Action, added, “Hosting part of the OSU football camp was a dream come true for AIA. It legitimizes our sports complex and the dedicated staff who know how to serve and care for athletes and teams. We hope this is the beginning of a long-term relationship with Ohio State football.”
Athletes in Action has partnered with Sports Spectrum, a premier Christian sports magazine published quarterly, to produce the Athletes in Action magazine. Each edition of Sports Spectrum will include the AIA magazine as an eight-page section devoted to stories from the playing fields of sport ministry.
Here is what a subscription provides:
· The Athletes in Action Magazine: the latest stories from the playing fields of sports ministry
· Sports Spectrum Magazine
· “Training Table” - a devotional booklet with each issue
Subscribe to Sports Spectrum which includes the AIA Magazine and you will get AIA's discounted price of $25. Enter the code: "AIA" when ordering at www.sportsspectrum.com.
Enter code: AIA
The Athletes in Action Sports Complex will be closed to the public and media this Friday, August 20, due to The Ohio State University football team practicing at the facility. Here is what the Buckeyes athletics office is communicating about the Friday practice:
Friday, August 20th 2010, there will be no media access to practice. Because the Buckeyes are practicing off-campus on Friday, we are required by NCAA rules (Bylaw 126.96.36.199.2) to prohibit any practice visitors, including media. Additionally, we are not permitted to announce the location or publicize the practice in any way. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation.
Courtesy: UCSD Release: 07/20/10
Courtesy: UCSD Calvin Ross, standing at 6-foot-8, is a senior on the UC San Diego men's volleyball team.
By Ivan Alber UCSDTritons.com What decibel level fits your summer? Sipping iced tea in a hammock with birds chirping overhead? That's about a 40. Building sandcastles, flying a kite and taking road trips? You're on cruise control at a 70. Meanwhile, Calvin Ross' 2010 "vacation" is cranking at a 110. Think Brazilian samba in your kitchen. Although his UC San Diego coach describes the 6-foot-8 rising senior as quiet and unassuming, Ross' summer has been just the opposite. From bump, set and spike competitions in South America to helping construct the "Hospital of the Future" in Escondido, Ross has found meaning in every summer minute. Once the spring quarter concluded on June 11, Ross joined his Athletes in Action offseason team for a few days of practice at the organization's headquarters in Ohio. After a long plane ride south, the two-week journey in Brazil began. Despite earning the reputation of a global powerhouse in soccer, Brazil is actually a regular champion in volleyball during the Olympics. During the two-week span, Ross and his Athletes in Action teammates played against four different opponents: the junior national team, the military team and two lower-level professional teams. "We ended up losing all four matches," says Ross. "The competition down in Brazil was the best I've ever faced. Being a different country, the style is a little different. It was great experience for me and the players on the team to watch the other teams and learn from their technique and strategy. Along the way, I was able to develop friendships with my teammates and our opponents." Ross' team included collegiate players from Cal Baptist, Ball State and Ohio State. One of his teammates was Brad Lawson, a member of the national champion Stanford squad that UCSD played twice in 2010. The trip wouldn't have been complete without soccer though and luck would have it that the World Cup in South Africa happened to be in full swing while Athletes in Action made their volleyball tour. "We got to see how the entire country of Brazil shut down on days where their team played," says Ross. "We were on the beach during one game and we'd hear cheering and fireworks for each goal. There was a crowd surrounding every public TV."
Upon his return to the United States, Ross experienced some rare downtime around the July 4 holiday. A few days later, he became a DPR Construction intern for a project that hits close to home. The Carlsbad, Calif., native and Santa Fe Christian High School graduate is helping with the construction of the Palomar Medical Center West project in Escondido. Deemed "The Hospital of the Future," the facility is situated on 40 acres and is designed to accommodate 360 patient beds, 12 operating rooms and a trauma center, with an overall construction budget in excess of $550 million. "Each day, I'm on the site in a mobile office," says Ross. "We are constantly looking at project maps and coordinating with different subcontractors, whether it's the suppliers of air conditioning, plumbing or fire extinguishers. The utilities might not be set up in the right way and we're always fixing problems and making changes as the project moves along." Although the internship strays somewhat from Ross has been studying in school with his Mechanical Engineering major, he knows that UCSD has left him well prepared. As the hectic summer schedule rolls along for Ross, volleyball will never leave his agenda. Entering his senior year, he and his teammates have big plans for the Tritons in the 2011 season. "Playoffs is still our goal and I definitely want that to happen in my last year," says Ross. "We've accomplished a lot of firsts for the program already and we just have to keep taking steps forward." While attending Santa Fe Christian in Solana Beach, Ross got a late jump on the sport of volleyball. He spent his earlier days as a lanky goalkeeper on the water polo team. Once he got going though, there was no turning back. "He's always put in the time and the work to become a better player," says Kevin Ring, head coach of the Tritons. "The best example of that was the summer before his freshman year. He put in the hours with our strength and conditioning coach, working out three days a week consistently, and you could see the results when fall practice started." Classes return in late September and with graduation ahead in June 2011, his classmates will grow wary of the real world that lurks. The 2010 summer that Ross split between South America and North County is shaping his mindset as a student-athlete and member of the UCSD community. He knows that the values and experiences picked up along the way will prove to be priceless once he's deemed a Triton grad. "I landed from my trip to Brazil on a Wednesday and I started my internship the next Tuesday," says Ross. "They are two totally different experiences and it was a quick transition. But that's what life is all about - transition. I feel that this is good practice."
To read this article and more, go to: http://www.ucsdtritons.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=5800&ATCLID=204969388.
Playing basketball was once an unimaginable fantasy for African children but today that dream is closer to becoming a reality. In countries where soccer is king, the sport of basketball has brought new hope and excitement to children and coaches. African athletes are using basketball as a means to escape the poverty of Africa to pursue the American dream. This newfound love of basketball has opened new doors for ministry in East African nations.
In recent years God has done amazing works in these countries. In 2006 Athletes in Action had the opportunity to share the sport of basketball and their Christian faith by hosting coaches clinics and player camps in Kenya. Since then, the movement has continued to grow and has now expanded into the neighboring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and others.
This August, AIA will be sending a team of 40 people consisting of coaches, players and humanitarian aid volunteers to support basketball ministries in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. They will be hosting more than 360 players at basketball camps and over 240 coaches at clinics. They will also be engaging in humanitarian efforts such as bringing medicine, mosquito nets and food to orphanages and schools. In a place where people are hungry for instruction in basketball, AIA is able to bring them the training they desire and talk about the Christian faith. “If we can do that we will be able to influence an entire sports culture,” says Eric N., the project director, “and that would be a great win for us.”
The goal of this trip is to raise leaders and to equip them to serve and minister in these countries in need of spiritual healing. The hope is that it will build a strong movement of believers who can use basketball as a platform to share their Christian beliefs.
By Lacey Mehling, Athletes in Action summer intern
The buzzer sounds and the players line up and shake hands after a hard-fought game, but the real “game” is just beginning for the Athletes in Action women’s basketball team as they begin to share their personal faith stories and engage in spiritual conversations with their opponents and other people in Mexico.
The 11-member team travelled to Puebla, Mexico where they used their passion and skills in basketball to not only compete, but to make a spiritual impact. They saw God transform the lives of many people there, but perhaps most remarkable was the work He did in the hearts of the players themselves.
With many deep emotional wounds and from very different backgrounds, the team was brought together for a higher purpose than only competition. At the training camp God began working through the team members to help each other cope with struggles and personal heartaches and to prepare them to reach out to others in Mexico.
One team member describes the importance of her teammates in helping her overcome a tragic event in her life, “I lost half of my heart three years ago; y’all have been putting the pieces back together.” She says, “The principles [AIA taught at the training camp] have been huge in my life in melting my pride because of finding my identity as an athlete.”
To many, basketball is just a game, but for this team it was a means to share and experience God’s love. As the team discipler Rachel S. put it, “The girls were unified in Spirit and purpose in a unique way, and it was evident in how they played on the court and in how they engaged in community off of the court.”
By Lacey Mehling, Athletes in Action summer intern
The men’s volleyball team set out to the Columbus airport without enough visas for everyone to board the plane to Brazil. They weren’t even sure they would be able to travel together as a team, but they went in faith believing that God wanted them to go and that He would work it out for them.
They were able to pick up their visas on the way to the airport, just in time for them to make their flight. “Everything just came together. From getting invited by the Brazilian Volleyball Federation to play, to getting everything set up and financed, to getting the visas, God seemed to line it up perfectly,” said Shari H., team staff member.
They stayed at the Junior National Training Center in Rio de Janeiro, a volleyball player’s paradise, where they played against the nation’s elite players. While there, they had the opportunity to talk about their personal faith and minister to these young players who were thirsty to understand what made the American players so different.
From there they travelled to the Brazilian Athlete Military Base outside of Rio, where they practiced with Olympic-caliber players. They also gave AIA resources to the Brazilian players and prayed with them.
In Sao Paulo the team was hosted by a church and invited to play in recreation centers around the city. When playing these teams they gave them Bibles and The Prize DVD which features two Christian Brazilian soccer players.
The way the AIA team played and interacted with one another also spoke volumes to their opponents. As Shari noted, “The Brazilian coaches even commented on how their players were adapting to the playing style of our team—encouraging and lifting up one another.”
The team faced struggles on the court, where they won very few games. “They faced some humbling losses, but they were able to glorify God through it all,” Shari says. “We had many successes in our interactions with players off the court, which made it all worth it.”