Conversation: John Smoltz
As John Smoltz pitches in his 18th year with the Atlanta Braves, itÕs doubtful anyone will argue where this seasoned player already stands from a historical perspective. HeÕs gone to five World Series (including a championship in 1995), six All-Star Games and collected a Cy Young Award.
But if you ask Smoltz about his most significant moment, heÕll likely point back to a life-changing event that had absolutely nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with true immortality — the kind you canÕt even find in Cooperstown.
HereÕs what Smoltz told Chad Bonham, a writer for TodayÕs Pentecostal Evangel, about his impact on the game, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
tpe: Each time you prepare for a new season, whatÕs the first thing that comes to mind?
SMOLTZ: I canÕt believe IÕve played this long. I canÕt believe IÕve been to this many spring trainings. Never would I have dreamed IÕd be playing this many years.
tpe: What do you remember most about your first few seasons in the major leagues?
SMOLTZ: I got my brains beat in early. My success was never right out of the gate. I learned how to pitch through humiliation and error along with Tom Glavine. We took our lumps. Then we started to mature as pitchers and we started to get better players, and of course Greg Maddux came in. Next thing you know, weÕre one of the formidable clubs and one the best rotations in all of baseball. It became an exciting time, a competitive time. We pushed each other. We learned from each other. It became just a great, great 10 years.
tpe: What was your favorite moment from the BravesÕ successful run during the 1990s?
SMOLTZ: What stands out the most for me personally is playing with those two great pitchers, Glavine and Maddux, and to play golf with them and to see the amount of Cy Youngs they have won. But what obviously will always stand out is the 1995 world championship. To win that which we had been pursuing for so many years will always stand out as one of the greatest accomplishments of my baseball career.
tpe: What circumstances led to your temporary move to the bullpen?
SMOLTZ: There were various mutual decisions both on my part but also the clubÕs desire to move me to the bullpen. They felt that it made the club stronger. They felt that it gave us a better chance to win. I may not have agreed with it at the time, but I did submit to it.
tpe: When did you first experience a personal relationship with Christ?
SMOLTZ: ItÕs been an incredible journey. In 1995 I prayed to receive Christ. I was always a person who wanted to be good. I wanted to live a good life and do the good things. Just teach me how to be good — thatÕs what I wanted to be.
I didnÕt understand a personal relationship with Christ. I didnÕt understand what it meant until I was able to take hold of that and really experience ChristÕs freedom.
My life has changed drastically. From 1995 to this point IÕve just grown with the help of the Spirit and grown with the help of accountability partners. I just feel blessed and I know God has had a hand in it.
tpe: What role does Baseball Chapel play in your life?
SMOLTZ: Baseball Chapel is our church. Personally, itÕs my church. ItÕs the service IÕve been able to attend on Sundays. We play every day, so we can rarely go to a standard church. But Baseball Chapel has offered me so much wisdom and counseling. ItÕs my spiritual nourishment. ItÕs the meat that sustains who a lot of players are as Christians. Baseball Chapel has been around for a long time. ItÕs a tried-and-true ministry that has given players a hope.
tpe: What is your approach in asking teammates and staff members to attend chapel services?
SMOLTZ: You canÕt play God. What I mean by playing God is you canÕt decide after a certain amount of time whoÕs going to come and whoÕs not going to come and decide not to waste your time. You have to constantly invite players and coaches to chapel. You have to keep inviting them and think of creative ways to present it as a service that will benefit their lives.
tpe: As the BravesÕ Baseball Chapel player representative, how do you ensure that those in authority over you feel comfortable with the operational aspects of the ministry?
SMOLTZ: You need to get to know your managerÕs likes and dislikes about when to have chapel, how long services should be and how to orchestrate them. You donÕt want to allow anything about the ministry to become a stumbling block. WeÕre paid to play baseball. ThatÕs our number one job. You donÕt want a ministry to become a stumbling block in the managerÕs eyes by somehow making you unprepared for a game. Baseball Chapel is a necessity, but it has to remain within the confines of your managerÕs guidelines because heÕs the authority and he runs the clubhouse.
tpe: WhatÕs the most effective way Christian baseball players can evangelize the clubhouse?
SMOLTZ: Living out the faith is crucial. Your words are going to be a product of living out your faith. I like the saying, ÒWhen necessary, preach the gospel.Ó I think itÕs great when people see you go through tough times, when they see how you handle circumstances. That speaks volumes to them over any theology you can hammer over their head. I think youÕve got to live it out. YouÕve got to draw from the stance you make and the line you make and then be consistent.
Chad Bonham is a journalist and producer of The ProFILES, a Christian sports television program.
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