Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pennant races and MVPs

It's been fun to follow the Texas Rangers baseball team this season. I try not to get too wrapped up in following sports teams and players, because I know it is just a game and it really shouldn't affect my life one way or another whether my favorite teams win or lose. But I'd be lying if I said I don't like it a lot more when the Rangers, the Texas Aggies (all sports), the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks and now the Oklahoma City Thunder win than when they lose.

Along the way, I tend to latch onto favorite players, and right now my favorite player on the Rangers is Josh Hamilton. I became familiar with his story (great promise, a plunge into drug addiction, saved by the grace of God and somehow playing baseball at a high level again) shortly after he was acquired by the Rangers in early 2008. I've continued to follow it through highs (2008), not-so-highs (2009) and back to high form (this year). He was on pace for an MVP season until he injured his ribs making a spectacular catch to get an out on Sept. 4.

I guess baseball pennant races and Most Valuable Player awards have to come down to numbers, and if a player misses the last month of the season because he's injured (even if it was from a spectacular, all-out play), that has to diminish his value. Josh will probably win the American League batting title with his .361 average (plus he still has a .414 on-base percentage and .635 slugging percentage). but since his home runs, RBIs and hits are stuck on 31, 97 and 183, other players are pulling away.

But as much as I hate not getting to watch Josh play, his absence seems to have had some value for the Rangers in that some of the other players have finally stepped back up. Maybe they would have anyway, but they sure didn't seem to be. Before Josh's most recent injury, the team's record was much better with him playing than without. Since then, I doubt that's the case. But without the cushion he had helped them build, it's possible these recent games wouldn't have even had much meaning.

Anyway, the thing I see happening right now is that sports writers and fans commenting on articles and blogs are clamoring for Josh to hurry back, even though the Rangers are winning without him. The sentiment seems to be that if he wants to be MVP, he should muscle up and play through pain. But at what cost? Rush to come back to try to regain MVP numbers (an effort that will be more difficult if he's not ready to return) and risk further injury that could keep him out of postseason play?

And after all, it IS a team sport, isn't it?

Perhaps Josh's value to the Rangers is greater if he puts his health and full recovery above his chase for the award.

Regardless, whether the "I Am Second" (a Christ-focused evangelism program) man wins the MVP is in the hands of the true MVP: God.

Josh was second in the Home Run Derby in 2008, and God seemed to use that to God's glory. I think the same thing could happen with this MVP race. I hope Josh doesn't lose sight of what's most important -- the "game" of living for Christ. That may not be the most important thing for all people in sports or life, but my observation is that for people who have a testimony such as Josh's, it really must be the important thing. He's already discussed examples of struggles that have followed when he's lost sight of the higher purpose. I don't know what any of that means for whatever steps he'll take to get back into the game. I do know I'll be interested in seeing how this plays out.

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