Frank Pastore was a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He came to the Reds in 1979 at the end of an era when the Reds had their greatest success with the team known as the “Big Red Machine.”
In 1975, he signed a contract with Cincinnati right out of high school for the largest bonus ever paid to a Reds’ rookie up to that time. He was just out of Damien High School in Los Angeles, an all-male Catholic high school. But he wasn’t Catholic.
In fact, in an interview for my Face to Face radio ministry broadcast in 1999, he said, “I became Catholic because the tuition was cheaper.” The school was a baseball hotbed.
St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire later graduated from the same high school. Pastore not only wasn’t a sincere Catholic, he despised faith.
“I thought religion was silly,” he told me. “I was an atheist. I was a skeptic. I thought (religion) was right up there in the belief of leprechauns, fairy tales and the flat earth.”
Strangely, he wasn’t especially interested in baseball, either.
“I was not a baseball fan as a kid,” he said. “I was the kind of person looking to get rich and famous because in that was meaning in life. This looked easier than going to Harvard or Yale.”
By the time Pastore got to the big leagues in 1979, his arrogance knew no bounds. Although he had Johnny Bench as his catcher, and future Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Davey Concepcion and George Foster behind him, he saw himself as the center of the universe. He was blowing away hitters with his fastball, and he loved the standing ovations and the media attention he was receiving.
After one game against the San Francisco Giants, in which he had pitched three scoreless innings, Johnny Bench called him over.
“Never get too cocky or too arrogant, “ Bench said, “because you are only one pitch away from humility.”
That pitch came one night in June 1984 at the height of his success. He was cruising along against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax hit a line drive right up the middle. To protect his face, Pastore threw up his right arm, and the hit shattered his elbow.
“I had a million-dollar guaranteed contract, a red Porsche, a beautiful wife, but I knew then my life would never be the same,” he said.
Oddly, it was at that point he got his first taste of Christianity.
While lying on the mound, a group of Reds’ players began to pray over him.
“These guys were talking as if Christ were real,” he told me. “These guys needed some serious help because they believed in fairy tales and fiction and fantasy.”
Pastore recovered and came back in 1985, but his effectiveness was gone. His anger took over.
One night, he was invited to a barbecue and Bible study at pitcher Tom Hume’s house. He went specifically to get into an argument.
“I couldn’t understand, if there was a loving God, how my career could be allowed to end. The entire universe centered around me. I took my anger out on the guys caught up in this mythology,” Pastore said.
The leader of the group gave Pastore copies of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” Pastore went off to disprove Christianity but came back with a different conclusion. One night in Pittsburgh, while reading McDowell’s book, the light came on.
“I realized there was a historical Christ,” he told me.
When we met in 1999, Pastore was on to a new career as a professor at Talbot Theological Seminary. Later, God used Pastore’s outgoing personality for his glory in another way. In recent years, Pastore became a talk show host on KKLA, a Los Angeles Christian station.
He could take on all comers, and his following was huge.
In early November, while talking to a caller, he said, “You know I ride a motorcycle. If I were killed on the freeway tonight, and my body parts were all over the 210 freeway, I’m not on the freeway because I’m my soul, and I would be with the Lord.”
Three hours later, riding his Honda Shadow home on the Foothills Freeway, he was struck in the very manner he had talked about on his show. He lay in a coma for nearly a month.
On Dec. 17, his wife, Gina, announced that Frank, at age 55, had died. I recalled Frank’s final words from my interview with him in 1999.
“I am thrilled to know Christ and to be a part of his kingdom and to teach people the reality of that kingdom,” he said.
Columbus resident Tom Rust is founder of the national Face to Face sports ministry, a local radio broadcaster and pastor of Sardinia Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.