Last year at this time we had the privilege of staying at a friend’s condo in Scottsdale, AZ and taking in some pre-season baseball games in the “Cactus League.” Along with their return players from last year, each team has numerous players that are trying hard to impress the coaches and to get an opportunity to play in the Major League (starting next Monday). Some will, but many will be assigned to minor league teams with the hopes of doing well and possibly getting called up, and if not, ending up at spring training again next year.
Matt Bush was a star shortstop in high school who could throw in the 90’s. In 2004, he was the first pick by his hometown San Diego Padres, signing for $3.15 million. He had a thing for fancy cars, so with his signing bonus, purchased a Range Rover for $75,000, and soon added a BMW, an Escalade, an Audi, a Bentley and five Mercedes!
Unfortunately Matt not only had a thing for expensive cars, but also had a drinking problem. He had grown up with an alcoholic father and had his first drink at age 11. He was drinking on a regular basis by Junior High. Because of his drinking problem, Matt was arrested three times in the space of four months in 2009. While drunk, he crashed the Escalade in a parking lot. It took six policemen to subdue him.
Matt relates how he hated himself for what he had become and felt like a total failure. He hated himself during practice and games. Then he would jump in an expensive car and felt like somebody. He said, “Those were my devils: money, fame, and cars, but all the while I was hollow inside.”
It bottomed out with one more joyride in 2012, one in which Bush crashed three times in just hours. He backed into a car on an illegal U-turn, then hit a light pole, and finally ran into 72-year old Anthony Tufano who was riding a motor cycle, leaving him unconscious on the asphalt, his brain hemorrhaging, his lung collapsed, his face fractured, his ribs cracked and eight vertebrae broken. Matt was arrested and sentenced to 51 months in prison in Jasper, Florida. (He had been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and then to the Tampa Bay Rays.) Matt had $600 left in his bank account, his long-term girlfriend stopped writing to him, his agent dropped him, and his parents couldn’t afford to fly from California to visit. Matt was extremely depressed and had thoughts of suicide (But God had other plans!).
He never touched a baseball for his first two years in prison. He didn’t read about baseball or watch any baseball on television. But one day some inmates invited him to play right field for their softball team against a visiting church team. One of the visiting batters smashed a line drive off the right-field wall. The batter was trotting casually from second to third when a screaming, laser-like throw traveled 250 feet through the air to the third baseman. The inmates finally discovered who Matt Bush was!
In February 2016, he was released to a half-way house where got his hands on an old, scuffed baseball. Often inmates would pick a target for him—a tree, a distant road sign—and he hit each one. Then his dad mailed him a couple gloves and three baseballs and he began throwing again. He was soon visited by Ray Silver, minor league manager and player advisor for the Texas Rangers. Silver had a baseball academy in Florida where Bush had lived for a couple months in 2010. Silver helped players deal with alcoholism and drug addictions and shared his Christian faith. He had helped another #1 pick, Josh Hamilton, manage his addiction and return to baseball after a four-year lay-off, to become the American League MVP.
Silver would come weekly to counsel Bush and to play catch in a restaurant parking lot. The Rangers sent scouts to the half-way house to visit with Matt and watch him throw.
In spite of Bush’s horrendous record of alcoholism and arrests, Jan Daniels, the Ranger president and general manager, who has a reputation for giving second chances, decided to give Bush another chance. Bush told Daniels he wanted to be held accountable. He wanted a “zero-tolerance policy” written into his contract that guaranteed his release if he broke certain rules. The team requested that his father travel with him at the family’s expense throughout the season and stay with Bush in his hotel rooms. (Even Josh Hamilton had relapsed twice.) His 12-step sponsor also stays in continuous contact. Matt Bush is back throwing 98-100 mph for the San Francisco Giants. He has been given a second chance and will need to continue to make one good decision at a time, followed by another and another. But, PTL he’s back!
I can’t help but think of numerous Bible character who had glaring weaknesses and made some very bad choices and messed things up royally, but God restored them and gave them a fresh start. One of them, King David of Israel, even committed adultery and then murder to try to cover his tracks. He was very miserable, unable to sleep and suffering physically, but God sent Nathan to confront him. David repented and God restored him to fellowship, although David’s family suffered the consequences of his sin for years to come. Psa. 32:3,4 describes David’s condition before he repented: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” But then comes the change: “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide…and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (v. 5). Psalm 51:1-13 gives further detail of David’s confession: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness..blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit….”
If we are willing to turn to God and admit our sin, God is ready and able to forgive and give us a fresh start. Oh, we may still face some of the results of our sin (reaping what we sowed …Gal. 6, 7,8), but we can have our joy and inner peace restored and be back walking with the Lord. And, by the way, God called David, “A man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22 cf I Sam. 13:14).