The young ballplayer told it to me straight.
“There is no amount of money, there is no amount of hits, there is nothing that can take the place of that thing Jesus Christ puts in our hearts,” said Daniel Murphy.
We were in the visitor’s dugout at Cincinnati’s Great America Ball Park on a late-September day in 2013 and the New York Mets were in town to play the Reds. There were six days left in the season, and Daniel Murphy, the Mets second baseman, admitted that he was tired and maybe “a little prickly.” The Mets were 22 games out of first and this game meant nothing. But to Murphy, it was an opportunity to talk about his favorite subject, Jesus Christ.
Who could imagine that in 2015, the name of Daniel Murphy would be on the lips of nearly everyone who knows anything about baseball?
With his hitting and fielding, Murphy led the young Mets into the World Series against Kansas City, dashing the hopes of the Chicago Cubs and their fans who thought that finally, this would be their year. In the National League Championship Series against the Cubs, Murphy was named the series MVP. He set a record by hitting a home run in six consecutive games including games in the previous series when the Mets ousted the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in the interview with Murphy back in 2013, he often mentioned that his biggest fear was putting himself first and not making Jesus the Lord of his life.
“This game of baseball can still be the idol of my life,” he says, “and he (Jesus) is trying to strip me of that. I struggle with it. I struggle with trying to die daily and make this body a living sacrifice.”
His words sound like those of a long-time Christian, but the spiritual journey of Daniel Murphy is a remarkable one. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, the 30-year-old infielder grew up in a Christian home.
There were three sons, but as he told me, “I was the Prodigal Son with baseball as my God.”
In 2011, while leading the league in hitting, Murphy suffered a knee injury late in the season. Frustrated, he went home to talk to his mother, and she told him that she “loved him and couldn’t fathom how God was going to judge him.”
It was then that he reevaluated his life and gave his heart to Jesus Christ. His wife followed suit and gave her life to Christ two weeks later. The couple now sees the knee injury as a blessing.
In the time since that day, Murphy has not avoided controversy.
In 2012, with his wife about to give birth, he avoided opening day and the following day to be home for the event. The Mets fans and local sports talk shows heavily criticized him for “not showing up for work.” In our time together, he talked about mentioning Jesus in interviews.
“I try not to talk about God or Lord. I try to use (the word) Jesus. That is the most polarizing name on the planet. It is like throwing live snakes on the table. So in interviews, anytime people give me praise or even when I am struggling, I point them and point myself back to Jesus as the center of my life.”
The next few weeks could be extremely profitable for Murphy, but it seems unlikely that he won’t stay grounded in the faith. He says his favorite passage is John 16:33. As Jesus prepared his disciples for what was to come, he said, “I have told you all this so you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Columbus’ Tom Rust is founder of the national Face To Face sports ministry, a local radio sports broadcaster, and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.