(Photo: The Christian Post / Lee Warren)
A minor league stop with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers was not on Jeff Suppan’s itinerary this spring, but you wouldn’t know it by his actions.
The former National League Championship Series MVP, who started Game Seven of the 2006 World Series for St. Louis Cardinals, signed autographs at Werner Park in Omaha before the season home opener on Saturday and he chatted with young fans – taking special note of what their t-shirts and baseball caps said so he could ask them questions.
“I’ve always enjoyed that,” Suppan told The Christian Post. “We have a 30 second opportunity and I’ve always viewed that as a way to be positive, to connect with them. For me, growing up in California, I used to wonder where ballplayers worked out and why I never saw them. Interacting with them is a chance to show we’re all real people and I think the kids usually enjoy that.”
Suppan signed a minor league contract with the 2010 world champion San Francisco Giants before the 2011 season, knowing there was only one pitching spot open on the roster. After he was informed he didn’t receive that spot, the 16-year-veteran began looking for another opportunity.
In addition to pitching for Boston, Arizona, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Milwaukee over the years, he also pitched for the Kansas City Royals from 1998-2002, where he was the Opening Day starter several times.
The 36-year-old certainly has nothing left to prove, but he’s still passionate about the game and he still wants to pitch, so he returned to the Royals’ organization [Omaha is the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate].
“The last two years have been a battle,” Suppan told The Christian Post on Saturday. “For 10 or 11 years I was strong. I was healthy. I was making all my starts. Then, over the last two years I’ve had a torn oblique and I missed some time. I also had a little bit of a neck issue coming out of Spring Training is 2010.
“So, going into this season, I just wanted to prove that I was healthy. I chose to sign a minor league deal with the Giants and I felt really good about Spring Training. I thought I threw the ball well. With that door closing, another door opened with the Royals. I knew I was going to have to go to the minor leagues with most of the teams I was going to be signing with, so I had a comfort in knowing I’ve played with this organization.”
Suppan is a guy who likes to process – that applies to both the game of baseball and his faith in Christ. He grew up in a Christian family and attended a small, all-boys Catholic high school in Encino, Calif. He credits his parents for setting the tone for his spiritual life, but there came a time when he wanted to understand his faith on a deeper level.
“At about 18 or 19, I started studying apologetics, and really trying to understand these things I believed in and why I believed in them,” Suppan said. “I always compare it to my athletic career where, as a pitcher I know why I do what I do. I know why I’m going to lift my leg to this height. I know why I want to use a certain grip on the ball.
“I wanted to take that same explanation I had in my athletic career and apply it to my faith. I wanted to know why I believed in Jesus. I wanted to know why I believed in the Trinity. So I started studying and I got some answers.”
All these years later, no matter how hectic life gets for him, he is intentional about staying on track spiritually.
“Daily Mass is crucial,” Suppan said. “I believe in taking time to read the Bible a lot – daily. That is very challenging I think. Talking with other Christians is important, surrounding yourself with a good faith base. It’s doing the small things daily.
“For some it might be hard to go out and give 15 minutes for autographs when you’re getting ready for a game, but you offer that up and do it joyfully. I think those are important things that continue to help you build your faith.
“Watching good TV, reading good books – those are important things and I think that once you surround yourself with those things you start to become aware of where evil lives and how it comes to us. A lot of times it’s very subtle and we’re not consciously aware of it until it’s too late, until we have to deal with a problem.”
As Suppan thinks about his career, hoping he’ll get another shot at the big leagues, he says he is meditating on Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“Trying to live in the present moment – that’s how Jesus wants us to live,” Suppan said. “He doesn’t want us to live in the past. Live in this present moment and what you do today for him is where you’re at. That’s all we have.
“I don’t know what God’s plan is for me [regarding my playing career]. I just know that I feel good, I feel strong and I want to continue to play.”