Denard Span has quietly become one of Major League Baseball’s most reliable centerfielders and dangerous base runners while competing for playoff teams in Minnesota, Washington, and San Francisco. But even more than hitting triples, making spectacular catches, and stealing bases, he’s most interested in encouraging young kids to give the game a try, and shining the light of his Christian faith to teammates and fans.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Span talks about his faith story, what inspired him to stick with baseball, and how the life of Christ guides his daily decisions both on and off the baseball field:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your spiritual upbringing and how you became a Christian.
Denard Span: I was pretty much born into the church. I was fortunate to have two parents that were saved and kept me in church. My mom was saved at a young age. So that’s been my life. That’s all I’ve known as far back as I can remember. I didn’t start to get serious about my own salvation until I became a teenager. That’s when I started to understand that I had to do it for myself. I had to accept God and live it out myself—not through my parents, not through anyone else’s prayers.
Bonham: What got you interested in playing baseball?
Span: I was five years old when I started playing. There’s a handful of African Americans in the league right now—not a whole lot. So I think it’s important that we promote the game to the younger generation. When I was growing up, I remember that my friends and I all played baseball. But as we got older, a lot of them put baseball on the back burner. They wanted to play basketball and football. I was pretty much the only one who stuck with baseball. What got me excited about playing baseball was back in the 80s and 90s when there were a lot more African Americans playing the game. When the Mets were really good and you had guys like Darryl Strawberry. The younger guys understand why there aren’t more of us playing now and we just need to reach out into the community and show our faces more and speak out and show that there’s an opportunity to play Major League Baseball.
Bonham: How has your faith impacted your career?
Span: There are so many ups and downs in just playing the game every day. It’s so easy to lose confidence and lose faith in your ability. You can get down on yourself so quickly. But then you’re calling God a liar. He wants us to trust Him in everything. Sometimes we struggle in this game. It’s a humbling game. But by not trusting in Him, we’re pretty much calling Him a liar. Then that leads to other temptations that come with being an athlete.
Bonham: What inspires you about the life of Christ?
Span: He had such humility. Nothing deterred Him from what He believed in what He stood for. A lot of times, its hard to do that. It’s not easy being a Christian. In the world, you’re outnumbered and it might be easy to get talked out of what you stand for. But then you realize what Christ stood for and that’s what you want to strive for. Everyone’s going to fall short in some ways, but He’s the role model that I can look to and say, “that’s who I want to be like. I want to be like Him.”
Bonham: How does your faith come out in the way you interact with those around you?
Span: I never like to push anything on anybody. But if they ask, I always try to relate what I’ve gone through and tell them about the downfalls. I make sure to tell them how much God has helped me, and that without Him I wouldn’t be where I am today.
(Photos: Robert Binder/MLB Photos via Getty Images; Daniel Hartwig CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org)