San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt revealed that he doesn’t want to be remembered as a world baseball champion, but rather as a follower of Jesus Christ. He said that he found joy in praising God in his gift of playing baseball and loving his neighbors as his calling.
This past weekend, Affeldt, who joined SF Giants in 2009 and helped them win two World Series in the last three years, shared his journey of coming to understand how to love God and use his professional baseball career as the platform to spread the Gospel at the weekend services of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, Calif.
At age 17, Affeldt signed with Kansas City Royals just out of Northwest Christian High School and made the team at 22. He thought that he had made it – reaching stardom and is able to spread the Gospel through his career. Yet within four years, he suffered an injury and was part of a team that lost over 100 games; he became miserable and joyless.
He said that he didn’t understand why if God has called him into baseball that he would be so miserable. “People look at me and I try to promote Jesus with that kind of attitude…no one really wants in on that."
Hearing Affeldt’s frustrations, Affeldt’s spiritual mentor handed him a book called “The Vision and the Vow” written by Peter Greig, founder of 24/7 prayer. The first part of the book is the poem called “The Vision”, and second part is “The Vow” that explains the poem. Someone asked Greig, “What is the big idea? What is the vision?” Greig said, “The vision is Jesus...” and then he wrote a long poem about it on a coffeehouse wall, which started going viral, touching the hearts of whoever reads it and eventually reaching back to himself.
After reading the poem, Affeldt said he wanted to quit major league baseball, because he couldn’t understand how he is supposed carry the vision of Jesus while the vision of an athlete is about self-promotion inside the selfish world.
“Why would my God, who is a selfless God, come up to me and say that I’m going to gift you the most selfish lifestyles on the earth, and it frustrated me and I wanted it out,” said the 33 year old pitcher.
(Photo: Timotius Tjahjadi)
Then, Affeldt, whose father is German, read the second part of Greig’s book, in which Count Zinzendorf, who lived in the 1600s and whose family owned lots of estates, and his friends from college made the vow: “No man shall live for himself.” The vow has three criteria: love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, love our neighbors as ourselves, and use the platform that we’ve given and go into the world and preach the Gospel. Zinzendorf started a prayer movement with the Moravians in church history.
Reading this vow, Affeldt in his heart desired to live as Zinzendorf had lived. In 2006, Affeldt was traded to Colorado Rockies. While he didn’t immediately see how to live out that vow in the platform of baseball and continue to struggle in his job and faith, he began reading the Bible each morning to try to find the answer. One day, Affeldt read the story of the Pharisees and Sadducees questioning Jesus on the laws of Moses and the what is the greatest of all commandments.
“As a believer in Jesus Christ, I always have said that I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But what got me that day was, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ As if for the first time, I saw what Jesus was saying, that the two commandments, taken together, are like one single commandment,” he said.
Affeldt realized that his calling is not the same as what he does for a living, but it is to love the Lord God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and it is to love my neighbor as myself.
"It doesn’t say 'Commandments' but 'Commandment.' Loving God and loving your neighbor is the same thing," he explained. "You cannot love your neighbor without loving God. You can’t claim to love God unless you love your neighbor as yourself."
Affeldt said that he had been too focused on trying to make a name for himself. He felt that Jesus was telling him, “You are missing the boat! I’ve gifted you in baseball, but that is not your calling.”
Since then, the dots started to connect together for him. Affeldt realized that the reason why he didn’t have joy before was because he was just concerned about himself and his stats, but joy is found "when you mix your calling with your gift, you will find your vocation or job."
As a father of three boys, Affeldt said that he does not want his children to remember him as the major league baseball player or the world champion, because most people would not remember how many innings he pitched in the World Series; however, he plays with a lot of other players who bank on people remembering their stats, which is their identity.
Affeldt said whenever he is on the mount pitching, he is pitching for Jesus Christ – those who cannot eat, drink, for women and children who are caught in sex trafficking, and for those who don’t have houses to live in.
“I cannot raise my three boys who are trying to be leaders in their community and be selfish in nature. I want them to be selfless. Do it for somebody else, but do not do it for yourself,” he said.
The first time he came to San Francisco was when he was playing for Kansas City Royals, where he had to dress up as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz and run through the streets as part of a Rookie initiation. He said he didn’t like the city for its morality and politics, but now he “absolutely” loves the city.
Contrary to what he thought when he signed in 2008, Affeldt said that Jesus is in the lives of every homeless person and child that you see. He asks the crowd to go into that city and love the ‘least of these.’
"Everybody in here has the same problem I have. You all have a job. You're all trying to provide for your families. You all have performance-based jobs, because if you don't do your job right you don't have a job. You all have that same situation. I thought it was just being an athlete. No. It's everybody's problem, and it's everybody's problem of wondering why they go to their job," he said.
"If you don’t promote Jesus, you are not doing your vocation,” he said. “Your calling is to love God and love your neighbor within the gifting you've been given... and when you do that, you will find joy, because I have found it.”
When Affeldt started playing for SF Giants, he read through the Bible four to five times, and the passage that really came alive for him was the Parable of the Sheep and Goats from Matthew 25. He said, "God showed me this Scripture, and he said, 'Jeremy, this is the vision of Jesus. This is how you live under that vow of, "No man shall live for himself." This is what you have to recognize.'"
“When I pitch, I pitch with complete joy... When I stand on my mount, I pitch with everything I have because that is my worship,” said Affeldt, who would be found praising and asking God for wisdom in playing the game. “Your gifting is your worship. Your calling is to love God and neighbors – those who cannot eat, drink, being trafficked, being in pain – and you need to figure out what their pains are and help them, whether they are saved or not, because all men are created in the image of God. Christ hung out with the prostitutes… he saw them and understood their pain. He loved them.”
Affeldt said that he wants to stir a movement in loving the neighbors as Jesus had done.
“When I pitch, I do not pitch for myself. I pitch to glorify my God and King. In order to represent Him well, I’ve got to put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt after a game and go back out into the real world and let everybody know that I think they exist,” he said. “I pitch for the least of these. I hope that when you go to your jobs and your classrooms that you think about the least of these. When you do, you will find your joy in your job and at your job. That’s the movement that I am starting.”
Affeldt is a relief pitcher for San Francisco Giants that won the 2012 and 2010 World Series baseball Champions and a generous philanthropist. He has a youth ministry foundation, tweets daily about global action to help the poor and blogs daily on Christian discipleship.