After a lengthy 14-year career, MLB pitcher Jeremy Affeldt left the game he loves with a lot of incredible memories including three World Series championships with the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012 and 2014). More importantly, he found a way to impact his teammates, the fans, and the community through a strong desire to live out his faith in the real world.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Affeldt talks about what led him to become a Christian, how he demonstrated his faith in the clubhouse, and how biblical accountability helped him stay on track:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your upbringing.
Jeremy Affeldt: I was raised in Christian home. I was a military kid and at one point we were stationed in Guam. We would just go to whatever church was around. So I had a dose of everything—different philosophies, different theologies, different ways of worship. I was raised in a Christian family and I attended a Christian school. I knew who God was but I didn’t really get too in depth into my relationship with Him. I started reading the Bible and I started going through some things with the school counselor and it started to come alive to me. I started understanding that Jesus is alive and the Bible is really the living Word. My attitude started changing. I started seeing people as human beings that Jesus loved and since Jesus loved me, I need to start loving them. It was an interesting time in my life and I even apologized to a lot of people in my class for how I treated them.
Bonham: What helped you get through those early days as a high school graduate trying to make it to the big leagues?
Affeldt: My girlfriend, who I later married, gave me a Bible right before I went to Florida to play summer ball. I didn’t have anything else to do. So after the games, I just sat in my hotel room. I was 18 years old and scared to death. I’d never been away from my family, so I just started reading the Bible. I just kept reading and reading and reading. Eventually I got interested in theology and I bought a lot of books and started to gain confidence in my personal beliefs. That’s when my journey became my own.
Bonham: What biblical principle guides your life?
Affeldt: Ecclesiastes 10:10. I need to sharpen my axe at all times. Being sharp spiritually is going to help me have success in my walk with Christ. Sharpening my axe in baseball means that when I get to field, I think only about baseball. I concentrate on my skills. I ask lots of questions. I ask God to show me things on the mound, show me things that I need to do better. I even ask Him to teach me how to pitch. He understands how it all works.
Bonham: How did your faith play out in the clubhouse?
Affeldt: I was called to love my teammates and serve them. I had a lot of fun with them too. I hung out with them. I joked around with them. But I also had times where I served them. If someone wanted a bottle of water, I tried to go get it for them. I haven’t always been the best at being a servant, but I’m trying a lot harder to do that. I tried to show my teammates by loving on them and asking how their families were doing to show them the Gospel. I wanted to encourage my teammates because this is a game of failure so the more I could do that with the guys, the better off they’d be.
Bonham: How did you deal with baseball’s daily grind?
Affeldt: I’ve worked really hard at being consistent in throwing strikes. I tried my best to know my body and how certain pitches feel out of my hand. If I made a great pitch and the guy hits it, I can’t control that. I can throw a pitch down the middle and the guy might pop it up. I can’t control what happens after I throw a baseball. So I’ve got to believe that God’s given me a talent to be the best I can possibly be and when I go out there I have done everything that I can possibly do to prepare to pitch that day. Everything else is out of my hands. Ultimately as a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe God has my destiny in my hands. The Bible says that hard work brings success so I know that if I work really hard at becoming the best that I can be, I’ve got to believe that those principles are going to come to pass. I’m going to have success. I can only control certain things. I can’t control the outcome of a situation. But I can work hard. I can prepare. I can sharpen my axe. I can everything I can possibly do and then sometimes God’s going to go the rest of the way.
Bonham: What do you believe is your responsibility as a Christian athlete?
Affeldt: My responsibility as a believer is the Great Commission—to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Baseball is part of the world. That’s going into the world. Baseball is a huge, worldly, materialistic place. It’s my responsibility to go into that world and preach the Gospel. I have a platform and part of my responsibility is to use that platform that God has given me to bring Him glory. Ultimately, that is who I am. Baseball is what I do. It’s not who I am. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I need to use what I do to show people who I am. We can’t become an island. We can’t be a reflection of Jesus if we’re hiding our reflection. We have to be around non-believers. However, we have to be built up in our faith. I’ll go out and eat with the guys but then they might go do some things that I don’t think are morally correct. So I just go back to the hotel. It’s okay to hang out with them. I just don’t go as far as they go. They know I’m approachable but they also know that I don’t compromise my values. You can’t compromise your values but you can’t let your values compromise your faith and keep you from spending time with people who don’t share your values.
Bonham: What is your message to other Christian athletes?
Affeldt: There comes a time as a Christian ballplayer, you’ve got to act like a Christian ballplayer. That means you work really hard at what you do. You go all out, knowing that you’re working for the One who created you as a perfect workmanship. We play for the audience of One so let’s make sure we work hard using the gifts that He has given us.
(Photos: San Francisco Giants; Aunti Juli via commons.wikimedia.org)