July 29, 2012

On Baseball: Faith and fastballs: It works for these Sea Dogs

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - When reliever Josh Fields jogs in from the bullpen, entering a game in the late innings, the routine is the same.

click image to enlarge

Josh Fields, a reliever for the Portland Sea Dogs, is one of several players open about their spiritual faith. “There is a real person behind that uniform,” says team chaplain Bob McClure.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

"I throw my warmup pitches. They throw the ball around the horn. I get the ball back from the third baseman," Fields said.

"I always take off my cap and say a little prayer before I take the mound, just try to remind myself why I'm here.

"I'm not here to gain glory for myself."

Those who know Fields, or follow him on Twitter, realize the glory is not for the Portland Sea Dogs, or the Boston Red Sox organization.

Fields calls his mindset "an eternal perspective" as he talks to God before he throws a pitch.

But Fields also knows that Manager Kevin Boles did not summon him to lead a prayer revival on the mound (although the skipper often joins Fields and for the team's Sunday chapel service).

Fields needs to deliver his lively fastball, get batters out and win a baseball game.

"One thing I always pray for is 'God, make me an animal out here.' I want to dominate these guys. I want to go after them as hard as I can -- 100 percent -- and not back down."

Fields is one of several Portland players open about his faith. He will likely be one of the speakers this Tuesday, when the Sea Dogs host Faith and Family night at Hadlock Field.

Shortly after the gates open at 5:30 p.m., team chaplain Bob McClure and a few players will meet with fans in the left field bleachers, to talk about faith.

Faith and sports have had a relationship through the years. The Boston Red Sox, affectionately known as "Idiots" after they won the 2004 World Series, actually featured several faith-filled players on its roster (a fact we explored in a story published March 8, 2005: "Sox Credit Faith for Inner Strength").

Currently, there is the fascination with Tim Tebow, an NFL quarterback both criticized and celebrated for his public displays and pronouncements of his faith.

Tebow has said his faith makes him a better player. Others make the jump that Tebow is saying God helps Tebow's team win.

Others know better.

"Winning or losing. I don't think God cares too much about that," said Sea Dogs outfielder Peter Hissey who, like Fields, is a regular at McClure's chapel services, as well as the Bible study meeting the players put together.

McClure, who once played baseball for the University of Southern Maine and is now involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has been the Sea Dogs chaplain for 17 years. It is a volunteer position, as McClure happens by Hadlock often, especially on Sundays.

He will have at least a dozen players and coaches attend his brief chapel service at the ballpark, while chatting with others when he can.

"Just build relationships with the guys and see where they're at," McClure said.

For these players, their spirituality is not another lever to improve their game, but a way to improve their lives.

"There is a real person behind that uniform," McClure said.

McClure said he has dealt with several quality players -- in character and ability -- through the years, but this 2012 Sea Dogs team stands out.

"It's a great group of young men," he said.

Fields, 26, came to the Sea Dogs last year after being traded to the Red Sox from Seattle. A former first-round draft pick, Fields said his first season in pro ball, in 2009, was a tough one.

"Really difficult a sense of isolation," Fields said. "I was constantly around things trying to pull you in different directions."

Fields said several fellow believers have made his time with the Sea Dogs enjoyable. But he lauds the whole team.

"We got a pretty good group of guys here," Fields said. "Not a lot of guys who are just out for themselves. I think we have really good chemistry. Every team has cliques, but everyone gets along.

"Everyone is striving to get to the big leagues. But I feel everyone is enjoying their time here."

For players like Fields, Hissey and others, their character stems from their spiritual belief. Their tweets, including those of reliever Aaron Kurcz, are filled with scripture and inspirational sayings.

But there is also fun. Fields and Kurcz began a Twitter name -- @7MisFitToys -- representing the Portland bullpen (bunch of misfits, get it?). The tweets often shows pictures of random misfit toys they find, as well as other silliness. They have 785 followers to date. "Just something fun to do," Kurcz said.

Kurcz enjoys a laugh, but he is also intense, especially after a rough game when he's not making the pitches he's capable of.

"The toughest thing for me is a bad outing, and getting angry about it. I've been getting better about it," Kurcz said. "Of course, I don't want to go out there and do bad. I want to do the best I can. If I have a bad outing, sure I'm going to be mad about it. But I'm not going to dwell on it for a couple of days."

Players who take their belief in God seriously are not robots, nor are they less hungry to succeed, say the players.

"As I walk with my faith, the pressure of this sport has kind of been lifted," Hissey said. "My faith allows me to be more intense on the field and more focused."

And that brings us back to Fields, and his prayer to be an animal on the mound.

"I would agree that it doesn't matter to God if we win or lose out there, or whether I am successful in the eyes of men out on the field," Fields said. "In the light of eternity, it's not going to matter.

"(But) I love this game. I want to succeed. I want to be the best that ever played the game, just like everyone here. (My faith) allows me to focus more on task and be aggressive, and not get caught up in the moment and panic.

"I'm not successful every time out there. If I go down, I'm going to go down, doing my best and fighting as hard as I can."

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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