From pitching in iconic baseball cities like Chicago, Boston and Cleveland to fighting his way up the minor league ranks, pitcher Justin Masterson has experienced just about everything the sport can throw this way. But in every circumstance, he remains committed to his family and his faith.
In this conversation with CSJ Managing Editor Chad Bonham, Masterson talks about his childhood as a pastor’s kid, his favorite Bible passages, and the tricky subject of competition:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your spiritual upbringing.
Justin Masterson: I grew up in a Christian household. My dad’s a pastor and sometimes that’s good or bad. There have been a lot of pastor’s kids who have been some of the worst rebels you’ll ever meet at least when they’re younger and then they tend to grow out of it. But I’ve been blessed to have a relationship with God since I was a little kid.
Bonham: What biblical principle do you find most inspirational in your personal life?
Masterson: One thing I’ve lived by spurs from my favorite verse which is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That was a revelation for me. As Paul was writing that, he was in his weakest time physically. He wasn’t talking about how he could do anything he wanted to do like lift a boulder up or something like that. He was coming more from the mental side of realizing that when you’re at your weakest, Christ will be there with you. He’ll give you the strength. There’s never a time that you can’t do something. That’s been a motto for me. No matter what’s going on, I know I can still call on God to get through whatever hardship there might be.
Bonham: How do you deal with the fact that up-and-down nature of a long baseball season?
Masterson: I could have woke up today, maybe slept on my arm wrong, and never be able to pitch again. If I’m not okay with that, then for me, I think that would be a problem. Not that I don’t want to play anymore, but there are so many more important things to me than the game of baseball. There’s my faith and my wife and those types of things. But for me it’s just appreciating every day that you’re given. I always have this conversation with some of the guys on the team. A player gets a hit and you always see him on first base hitting his chest and pointing to the sky. But when he struck out last time, you didn’t see him do that. It’s true. It’s not that you’re excited that you struck out but you should thank the Lord that you had the chance to strike out. Some people may not totally understand that concept, but that’s the thing. I’m here. I’m breathing. I have the breath of life. That’s especially important to remember in the hard times. If I give up the game winning home run, I wasn’t the first to do that and I won’t be the last, but I had a chance to do it. I just have to come back tomorrow and do what I know to do.
Bonham: How do you find a balance between the win-at-all-costs mentality and your desire to live first and foremost in a way that pleases God?
Masterson: I’m playing a game and I’m a competitor. So when I go out to play, that’s the thing that turns on. If someone were to watch me throughout a season, they’ll know that every single time I go out on the mound, they’re going to get the best that I have on that day. There’s no way they can think I don’t care. In order to continue to be at that level day after day, you can’t dwell on what happened. If something bad happens and you start dwelling on it, that leads to an inability to move on and just continue to live the life that the Lord has given you. People have thought that about me. They talk to me and they see this laid-back guy who’s just having a good time, who’s just happy to be here, happy to be alive and yet when they see me on the mound they’re just like, “Man, you’re ferocious. You’re not afraid to pitch to guys.” And they ask, “How do you do it?” I’m playing. I want to do my best. I want to win. I’m enjoying life when I’m not out there but if you’re going to give me a task at hand, I’m going to do everything I can to do it to the best of my ability.
Bonham: Do you feel a specific responsibility as a Christian athlete with a sizeable platform?
Masterson: It’s all about being a light for Christ. People say that and then you wonder, “Well how do you do that?” For me, I’m not going to jump up in your face and tell you that you’re going to Hell. It’s more of a lifestyle. As I show my lifestyle, I’m trying to live out what Jesus has called me to do. What I’ve learned is that so often guys will say one thing while they’re doing other things. They’ll judge someone in one respect and then they’re doing the same thing if not worse in a different respect. Even if you’re a Christian, you’re not going to do everything right. You’re not perfect. That’s why we have Jesus Christ in our life, because we aren’t perfect. But for me, it’s just taking the opportunities I’m given to share with people why I’m so happy and why my life is so great because I have Jesus in my life. It’s really just building up Christ and showing who He really is. It’s the Holy Spirit who’s going to do the work in their heart. You build Christ up and then it’s just taking the opportunity if it’s there. When you dealing with baseball players, it can be a process. You’ve got a lot of strong-willed individuals. That’s what makes them good at what they do and it makes them strong in what they believe or don’t believe. There’s a need for Christ within the baseball world. That’s why I’m happy to be here so I can proclaim His name.
Bonham: How important is it for you to maintain healthy relationships with other believers during the season?
Masterson: What goes in your ears and into your mind is what’s going to come out. That’s where the fellowship is key. When you’re in the clubhouse, good things aren’t necessarily always going into your head. There are a lot of great guys that I love to death but a lot of the things said, you’re probably not going to be talking to your wife about or anyone else for that matter. That’s why you need to have the quality inputs going into your head. You need to have the Word of God going into your heart. It’s good to read on your own and have a personal study time, but there’s a sense of community when you have some time with other believers. It’s really easy to feel like you’re alone—like you’re the only Christian, the only person believing. Then you can start falling into the paths that aren’t good because you don’t notice it. It’s like the Casting Crowns song. It’s a “Slow Fade.” That’s such a truth. All of the sudden it’s a little thing, and then if you don’t have someone helping you, you continue down a path that’s not good. When I’m pitching, I can feel if I’m doing some things wrong. But it’s the coaches and the other players who are watching me that might be able to see something that I can’t see or I don’t feel. It’s that type of concept that I take into my daily walk with Christ. I need someone else just to have another set of eyes—someone I can talk to and bounce things off and really dig deeper because more than likely they’ll come from a different perspective. That’s something you’ve got to have because that’s what helps you to grow stronger and become closer to God.
(Photos: Keith Allison)