It’s amazing how God can speak to us through various events that occur in our cities and in the case of me last week, our favorite sports teams and athletes. Growing up in Cleveland, OH I’ve loved the Tribe since my Grandfather first began teaching me about baseball when I was eight years old. This past week, Indians closer Chris Perez drew attention to from the media when he diverted from his usual happy, cheerful and friendly personality by slamming the fans all around north east Ohio for their lack of support for the Indians since they are in first place. He also expressed anger over being booed in his outing on May 17th in which he got himself into a jam in a tie game, but worked out of it. “It p**sed me off" Perez was quoted as saying. He then said that ‘the Indians are a first place team and we are LAST in the league in attendance?? Come on fans get out here and enjoy this, your team is in first place!”
When I read these statements from Perez (who I have lovingly nicknamed “Rockstar” due to his long hair and scraggily beard) something inside of me was stirred up! I agreed with his gutsy statements completely, and felt he deserved major kudos for being willing to express how he felt. How he felt, that is what hit me immediately. You see, I myself, and I think so many sports fans sometimes forget that baseball players are human just like we are, and they have feelings too! When they are booed, it hurts, and that hurt leads to anger! Especially when it is an unjust booing. If Perez had given up three runs and ‘blown the game’ it would kinda makes sense for him to be booed, but to be booed just because he got into a jam is ridiculous and totally un-called for!
This leads me to the scripture verse that I felt drawn to through all this. I have been reading and journaling through Hebrews this past two weeks, and we then studied the specific passage I am about to share with you this past week at my Bible Study (amazing how we God speaks a passage to your heart, he allows it to come to you from multiple sources!). Here it is:
“Take care, brothers, less there be in any of you and evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
-Hebrews 3:12-13 (ESV)
“Exhort one another every day” from verse 13 stands out to me like fireworks on the fourth of July. Exhort means to ‘strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something’ Our author of Hebrews (whom that actually is, is a classic Bible mystery) is speaking here of course to the Church and every member of the body encouraging one another to be walking out their faith, but I somehow think this can apply to encouraging one another to do our best with the gifts God has given us too (1 Peter 4:10-11) To tie this back to Rockstar, as fans of the Indians and him, it is our job to show our support with the gifts God has given him, which is his case would be the ability to throw a ball 95 miles and hour with movement!
It was pretty cool how this story panned out as the week went on. You see Perez made these statements on Saturday night (May 19th), and then did not pitch Sunday, and the Tribe then had an off day Monday. Tuesday night the Tribe opened a three game series against Division favorite the Detroit Tigers and if a save situation were to present itself in the ninth inning everyone knew Rockstar would be coming in. The question was how would he be received by the fans for the first time since making those strong statements?
I had the opportunity to attend last Tuesday night’s game with my Mom, and wore my Chris Perez jersey as a sign of support for him and what he said. Sure enough, the Tribe played really well, and led 5-3 going into the top of the ninth. Then as the scoreboard flashed flames mixed with highlights of Chris Perez striking opposing batters out, Perez walked down the steps from the bullpen and onto the field…
As this was happening the crowd of over 15,000 people stood up in unison and began to cheer as loud as they could. Rockstar began his walk to the mound and the entire stadium was roaring, cheering loudly in full support mixed with thankfulness and perhaps for some apology for booing in the past. Here was a guy willing to speak his mind and we fans had the chance to show him we like that here in Cleveland. As the ninth inning progressed Perez would put a couple runners on and then come back to retire the Tigers two best hitters in striking out Miguel Cabrera and getting Prince Fielder to ground out to shortstop to end the game, only to be then given another standing ovation as “Cleveland Rocks” blasted out of the stadium speakers!
Perez would state after the game that he did not know what to expect from fans as he entered the game, but that he was truly humbled by the standing ovation, and thankful to the fans. As it would turn out, the standing ovation continued the next two games, as Perez would earn the save in all three wins of a three game sweep of the beasts from Motown, and Perez stated after Thursday afternoons 2-1 win that this had truly been a week he would never forget. Sometimes that is what exhorting someone looks like, it is letting them know you believe in them, and their ability to use the gifts God has given them, even if that gift is to play a game really, really well!