A Voice in the Desert

Arizona shortstop Jay Bell expands his faith and career through a big-league decision.

by Will Greer

When it comes to professional baseball player, Jay Bell stands bases apart from the rest.

For starters, he’s the 11th batter in the history of the game to hit a home run on his first major league pitch, which he did in 1986 with Cleveland. Then last year, Jay set two career bests, belting 21 home runs and 92 RBIs for Kansas City—more than any other shortstop in Royals’ history. Setting those lofty records earned him the title of K.C.’s Player of the Year.

The 32-year-old slugger made sports headlines again when he signed a five-year, $34- million contract last November with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs are one of this year’s two expansion teams in the major leagues. While excitement builds among fans, many baseball insiders don’t expect a stellar season from Arizona or the other newcomer, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

This raises an obvious question: Since Jay’s nearing the end of his career—and has never been to the World Series—why would he risk playing for an organization that many say is a long shot? What’s more, how did his faith play into his decision?

I Caught up with Jay at spring training and got his angle on growing pains, giving your all and going to God for everything.

Power Hitter
How does it feel being part of a brand-new team this year?

Jay: It’s interesting because we’ve got a bunch of guys here from different organizations, so everyone’s used to doing things differently. What’s terrific is that Buck Showalter (Diamondbacks’ manager) is a great man of baseball. He understands exactly what he wants from his players and expects us to comply with his wishes.

How did your faith in Christ play a role in your decision to play for Arizona?
After the 1997 season, my wife and I had prayed about what we were going to do in the future, especially how long I would end up playing. We felt that a five-year plan would be best for us. The free-agent system is terrific, but I was uncomfortable with the process of teams bidding for me.

Jerry Colangelo (owner of the Diamondbacks) contacted me before anybody else had mentioned anything about a contract and offered me one that was outstanding. My wife and I prayed about it and asked the opinion of some trusted Christian friends. Later, when I was flying out to Arizona to sign, I was still a little unsure, so I prayed that I would get confirmation in making the right decision.

Verification came when I met Jerry in person and learned he had a strong desire to speak out for Christ, and that he was looking to build a team of players full of character.

Speaking of faith, tell us how you came to Christ?
I accepted Jesus at an outreach concert at my church when I was 12. A band played music, and then a speaker presented the gospel. I had heard this message before but hadn’t really paid attention to it. I knew I hadn’t accepted Christ into my life, even though I had a clear understanding of who He was. Today I know I’m still a sinner and that I fall short, but I have the knowledge that I’ve been forgiven.

What was the greatest struggle you faced as a teenager?
Being selfish and not thinking of others. Most young people have the desire to do great things and to make an impact in whatever they do. The problem comes when they try to do everything by themselves and don’t let God orchestrate things. I guess what I’ve learned is that God is in control, and I need to pray through all decisions.

What’s your strategy on sharing your faith?
Actions speak louder than words most of the time. You need to gain favor through people seeing how you react to things. Once you gain that favor, you can take action. God has put each of us in a situation to share His love. It may be to one or 1 million, but you can influence someone. I try not to do it on my own, but to let God’s Spirit use me in the best way possible.

What goals do you have as an athlete?
It’s every player’s goal to reach the World Series, and it’s very important to me, so I strive for it. At the same time I realize that whether I perform well or not, or my team performs well or not, I have to be consistent in sharing the gospel. My primary objective is being true to what God has given me, and hopefully He will find me faithful.

What advice would you give to a teen guy?
Hard work pays off, so in whatever you do, do it with determination. Spiritually, allow God to use you in the way He desires. Don’t step in and try to do God’s job. Acknowledge that He is your boss and He’s going to control you if you let Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says it all: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

Breakaway Magazine, July, 1998, Vol. 9. No. 7, published by Focus on the family. Copyright 1998. Focus on the Family. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.