Game Seven of the 1992 World Series. Atlanta's John Smoltz is on the mound. The Minnesota Twins are baffled by his hard slider. He hasn't given up a run in more than seven innings. Soon, it appears, he will be the hero. And the Atlanta Braves will be the World Champions.
But it isn't to be. Not yet, anyway. Minnesota wins in extra innings. Several years later, after Atlanta wins a World Series, Smoltz looks back with a mature perspective.
I wasn't ready for that kind of success," he says. His wife, Dyan, agrees. The first time Atlanta went to the World Series (in '92), the Smoltzes had just purchased a house, Dyan was pregnant, and "I don't think our marriage could have handled an entire off-season of being World Champions," she says. They were not spiritually prepared for the added pressure of being in the limelight.
"Deep down, I wanted to be approved by people," Smoltz says. "I was more concerned about my appearance and what others thought of me more than about the substance or quality of my life."
He reacted to the media. He reacted to the fans. He reacted to everything. But over the years of the Braves' success, a transformation has taken place.
"Flash forward three years. This time, the Braves won the World Series. This time, the Smoltzes could handle it. There had been a change of perspective. Spiritual maturity.
"We're so confused by public opinion and the world's view that we get mixed up on what's important," Smoltz says. "As competitive as I am, I now realize that the bottom line is getting right with God first. Then everything else will fall into place."
Instead of letting God just draw the outline of his life, Smoltz decided to let him color it in, too. It wasn't enough that he was a husband, father and successful baseball player. He wanted to be the kind of husband and father God wanted him to be, and he wanted to handle success on God's terms.
The year after winning the 1995 World Series, Smoltz lost his first game of the season, but he said he felt great. Then he won an incredible 14 in a row. With every win, media scrutiny increased. With every win, the now calm, easygoing Smoltz would tell the media, "I'll be the same man when I lose."
Finally, he lost. And guess what? He was the same calm, easygoing man.
"It just allowed me to show what can happen when you let God take control of every day of your life," he states. "As a younger man, I was so worried about so many thins. Now, I worry less, and I focus on doing my job and living my life the way God wants me to. As good of a year as I had in '96 (winning the National League Cy Young Award), I didn't get consumed by it or caught up in it, although the traps were numerous. I know people are still watching. I know people are saying, See, he's going to lose, and he's going to go back to being the same old kind of guy.' But only God knows my heart."
Only God know he gave up the big ego-the big ego that can spell big trouble.
"When you have a big ego, especially in sports, you're going to have a tough time," Smoltz says. He suggests having a big God instead, specifically, following Jesus Christ.
"The things I do, it's not me!" Smoltz says.
John believes Jesus Christ is exactly who he says he is: the "Way, the Truth and the Life-THE one through whom we can have eternal life (see John 14:6). Smoltz studies the Bible to learn about Jesus-and about how to handle life.
"No matter where you look in the Bible, it amazes me how it applies to something in your life," Smoltz notes. "I wish everyone would turn to Jesus and to the Bible. So many say, Let me do my own thing for a while and I'll change in a couple of years.' The sad thing is, you may never get there. We don't control the next breath."
Jesus has freed John from the struggles of the past.
"I don't have to prove anything to anybody." John says with relief. "I know following Jesus works," he says, "but don't believe what I'm saying. I may fail you. Believe what the Bible says. You've go to go to the Bible."
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