When I first started playing baseball, my favorite player was Lance Berkman. Lance was a first baseman for the Houston Astros, and a great hitter. I remember watching him hit in the Home Run Derby during the early 2000's when the All-Star Game came to Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. It was unbelievable! I was amazed! I even bought and sported Rice Baseball gear simply because Lance had been an All-American there. Lance Berkman was the reason why I was number seventeen when I first started playing baseball outside of little league. I wanted to be just like him.
Fast forward to high school, and along with all kinds of physical growth and refinement of baseball skills, there was another number change. I chose the number forty during my junior year of high school. I had just transferred over to Houston Christian High School, and that transfer was largely unplanned. I had gone to a different school from third grade through my sophomore year of high school. All my friends had been at my previous school. I grew up there. But my sophomore season, albeit marked by some bright spots, was largely covered in adversity the entire spring. For the first time in my life, I dealt with an injury that kept me from playing, and even worse, I dealt with unmet expectations by people I had called friends for quite some time. After battling my injury all season, not finding out until the tail-end diagnosis of the injury, and then dealing with all the backlash throughout the season of being "overrated" and "soft," my family and I decided a change in scenery would be good. So, to Houston Christian I went, and the number change came right with it. I chose the number forty because of how it's used in the Bible. The number forty is often used to denote long periods of trial and adversity, and even in some cases, seasons of waiting. God flooded the Earth for forty days and forty nights. The Israelites waited for forty years in the desert before being let into the promised land. Moses was up on Mount Sinai for forty days before coming down with the ten commandments. Jesus went without food and water for forty days, and during those forty days endured many temptations from the devil, overcoming all of them. The number forty was used intentionally throughout Scripture to denote seasons of adversity and trial, and with my transfer in mind, I felt the number forty fit well as I sought to overcome the adversity I found myself in.
So, here's the crazy thing. I actually wanted to be number forty when I came to TCU. I remember asking Coach Schlossnagle if I could have the number, even though I knew it was already in use. He simply said I couldn't have the number, and needed to pick a different one. So, I was at a loss. I liked the number forty. I was still amidst some adversity at that time in my life, and had begun to find my identity in that number. I embraced adversity, and beat it. That was me. The overcomer.
And while I still believe God has designed me to be an overcomer, He had something else in mind. The number thirty-three.
I chose number thirty three for a few reasons. Some of the reasons were foundational, meaning, they were largely the driving force behind the selection. But some have been emergent, meaning, I've come to discover stronger convictions as to why thirty-three is a good number for me.
The first and most basic reason I chose number thirty-three is simply because it was one of the numbers available at the time. I had a few other choices after number forty got shot down, and those other choices got shot down too. I'm glad they did.
The foundational reason behind choosing number thirty-three was it's relation to Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Although historians still dispute the exact number, many agree that Jesus lived on the Earth for thirty-three years, as well as died and resurrected at age thirty-three. I figured thinking of Jesus when I chose my number was probably a good way to go, so I ran with it. Then the fun began.
The emergent reasons behind choosing number thirty-three are timely and meaningful, to say the least. The Lord has revealed them to me in His time, in specific seasons, for blessed reasons, and I'll share them with you, briefly.
The first added conviction behind number thirty-three came during my Junior year at TCU. I was studying my way through the book of Matthew in August of 2014, and although I had come across the Scripture before, Matthew 6:33 hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you." The context of the verse is actually a chapter on anxiety and how Jesus says a Christian should handle worry and fear. After speaking to the needs of the birds of the air being met, and even the care and beauty of the flowers of the field that are worthless in comparison to God's creation of man, Jesus says the secret isn't worrying about the needs that have to be met. No, the focus of the heart should be seeking the Lord first, above all else, believing that all of our needs will be met by Him. Jesus is commanding us to surrender our worries, fears, anxieties, and hopes to Him in belief that He will take care of us, and moreover, the best care of us because He loves us and is for us. This was timely for me because I was coming off of two injury-marred seasons, and then a summer in which my perfectionism, pride, and fear of failure collided in Mankato, Minnesota. God used that summer to expose me, and change me. But He also used that collision to prepare me and rebuild me for what He had just around the bend. Matthew 6:33 was an earlier reminder of that Truth, and although I didn't know what would go on over the next ten months, God put that Scripture on my heart, and it added deeper meaning to my chosen number of thirty-three. For the record, Matthew 6:33 is the inscription I have on the side of my glove. It's one of my favorite verses, and I reflect on it often.
I've realized that as much as I've changed since I was a rugrat starting to play ball, there's some things that really haven't changed much, if at all. I chose number seventeen because I wanted to be like Lance Berkman when I played baseball. That was my dude. I chose number twenty-two as I started to pitch more because I wanted to be like Roger Clemens. He was my favorite pitcher growing up; I looked up to him. I chose number forty because I had found myself in the middle of an injury and some suffering. It wasn't easy being hurt and having to sit out for the first time, not knowing the diagnosis of the injury for six weeks until we did the right test. It was even harder having to deal with the harsh words and fickleness of the people I had grown up with, and even some coaches. Adversity marked that season in my life, and I saw myself as an overcomer. So, I chose number forty.
Recently, I realized those numbers identified who I was, or at least, signified who I wanted to be at that time in my life. I wanted to be like Lance Berkman. I wanted to be like Roger Clemens. I wanted to be an overcomer. It's in the midst of this realization that I've come to conclude my strongest conviction behind being number thirty-three.
I'm number thirty-three because I want to be like Jesus. I'm number thirty-three because my significance doesn't come from my stats, my draft stock, my college world series rings, or my degree, but from Jesus. I'm number thirty-three because I don't play baseball for my glory, but for the glory of God who gave me these gifts to enjoy Him and know Him more. I'm number thirty-three because my testimony isn't about me, but it's about the One who's saved me time and time again from my frailty, my sin, and my brokenness. I'm number thirty-three because every time I put on my jersey, and go out there to compete and play the game I love, I want people to know that it's not the name on the front or on the back of my jersey that makes me somebody. No, it's the number that points to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ- He is the One who makes me "somebody."
The same is true for everyone who places their faith in Him as their Redeemer, Savior, Lord, and eternal King. Jesus says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that if anyone places their faith in Him as those things, they will be saved from their sin and reconciled back to God for the rest of eternity. The Scriptures say that our Victory is found in Him. He says that our past means nothing. He says that our future is everything but uncertain. And He says that our present is a gift to be enjoyed through Him- the Way, the Truth, and the Life, eternal.
So when I take that ball, and I get ready to win the pitch at hand, understand that I wear the number thirty-three because of my King that has saved me by grace through faith in Him. It's my daily reminder that no matter how far I go in this game, no matter what injuries I face, no matter what my statistics say, I play for the glory of God. I play baseball so that I can enjoy and know God more through this gift He has given me, and so that I can share the testimony God has given me through Jesus and His redeeming work in my life, one day at a time.
It's not about me. It's about Him. And let me tell you, there's immense freedom in that. Praise Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Always.