It was the stuff dreams are made of championship game, bottom of the ninth, two outs, one run down, runner on third it was the very sort of dream every kid has while playing baseball in the backyard. Only this was real. It was the 1996 College Championship game. And I was at the plate. I swung at the first pitch, and sent it over the fence for the championship-winning hit.
Millions of people saw it happen. The game was broadcast on national TV. The replays were shown over and over. I won an Espy because of it. To this day, people still come up to me and say, "you're the guy who hit the home run."
But what very few people know is that just a month and a half before that championship game, I wasn't sure I would ever swing a bat again.
It had been quite a journey to that championship season with LSU in 1996. I started playing in Little League, and I wasn't very good. I was put in the outfield, where I couldn't do too much damage. I remember having to bunt every time up.
But I stuck with it, and my skills improved.
I went to LSU on an academic scholarship, and just hoped that I might be able to play on the team. I was red-shirted my first year, and then, my second year, in 1995, I had a pretty good year. In fact I played on the USA National Team.
And in 1996, I was a pre-season All-American.
But 11 games into the season, I hurt my hand. I sat out a month, and tried to come back, but the pain was even worse. I sat out another month. That was the lowest point in my baseball career. Here I was a pre-season All American, hoping to get drafted to play in the major leagues, and I had already missed two months of the season.
And the worst part was no one could diagnose my injury. It seemed to be one of those mysterious ailments that bring an end to a career. I wasn't sure I would be able to play again.
That's when I came to the turning point. I got down on my knees, and I prayed, "God, if baseball is what You want me to do in life, then I will do it and give all the glory to You. But if You have something else for me, if You want me to do something completely different, outside of baseball, then I'll do it and serve You in that way."
Two days later, the cause of my pain was finally discovered. I had a broken bone in my hand. I had surgery, and was soon playing again. And it wasn't long before I was at the plate in that championship game, waiting to take the swing that so many people would remember.
And the blessings have continued to come. I was on the 1996 Olympic team, when we won a Bronze Medal, in 1998 I played AA ball in the Rangers and Pirates organization, and in 1999, I played second base for the Pirates and even finished 3rd in the voting for Rookie of the Year.
When my wife and I are back home, in Louisiana, back in the church where I grew up, we love being around other Christians. It gives us so much strength, and allows us to deal with the difficulties and instability of playing in the big leagues.
And when I'm home, I like to talk to the kids. And I tell them that I was no different than they are. I sat in Sunday School classes too. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior just like they have. And God has great plans for every one of them, perhaps not in baseball, but in whatever way He chooses for them to serve Him.
And that's the real joy serving Him and giving Him the glory in whatever we do.
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