Cleveland Indians' Carlos Baerga is Back!
by Michelle L. Levigne

Carlos Baerga is back home. Home with the Indians. Closer than ever with his wife, Miriam; daughter Carla, 9; and son Carlo Giovanni, 3. More important, home with God.

The last time he played with the Indians, he didn't say much about his faith, shy when it came to talking about God. Now, he's a new man. Why?

"When I got traded before from Cleveland, I realized I was living my life really different from before I came to the Big Leagues. I've been a Christian almost since I was born. My family is Christian. My wife's father is a pastor, of the church where we used to go. So it was a different situation."

Like the journey in "Pilgrim's Progress," Baerga reached the distracting town of Vanity Fair and left the road to the Celestial City. Fortunately, God wouldn't allow him to stay there.

"When I came up to the Big Leagues, I was forgetting about God, I wasn't talking about Him the way I should have talked to my teammates. ... Sometimes when you forget about God, He kind of stops you and says 'Well, I'm the one who brought you to the Big Leagues, I'm the one who gave you all these gifts that you have."

So God allowed things to change, to send Baerga on a journey not quite of his choosing. He readily admits that his career matched his Christian journey -- down and away from where he wanted to be. He wasn't spending time with his family or going to church or studying the Bible, as he knew he should. Stepping down from the Big Leagues gave him more time to think, to assess his situation and to realize what was going wrong. Baerga responded to God's wake-up call and acted on what he learned.

"This was the best thing that happened to me. My wife was praying for me all the time. She realized that I was changing everything. I wasn't getting time to go to church and stuff like that. A lot of things happen. I know a lot of people are saying 'Well, Carlos Baerga isn't being the same person.' The best thing that happened is that I started going back to church, and I give all the credit to God."

His face clearly shows his new joy, when he talks about what God did to him and for him. He glows, talking about his renewed Christian life.

The rest of the world can see the change in him, too. Referring to the 'brawl' between the Angels and the Indians on Aug. 31, one sports commentator named him "Carlos the Peacemaker."

What is the most important thing he wants people to know about him now, compared to the last time he was with the Indians?

"What I want people to realize, no matter if I pull the same numbers that I used to pull before, that I got God in my life. The joy is going to be there no matter if I do good or I don't do good. Because I think God's got a reason for everything. I just want to live a clean life, working with God every day. Every time I talk to a person and they accept Jesus Christ, that's a gold medal that I have for me up there."

That's a statistic that lasts.

"I try to explain to the kids, to the young guys, a lot of things in there, they look good but the next day there's going to be some damage for you, so you try to live a clean life. With Jesus Christ you can have the same happiness that you can have outside. A lot of people think that we are bored now, that we don't go out and drink and stuff like that, but that's going to damage the body. You might be happy now, but the next day you're going to think, 'What am I doing? I'm drinking, I don't feel the same.' So why do you need that in your life?"

What about the future? What kind of service does he think God will lead him into when he leaves baseball? He isn't thinking about that just yet. He's concentrating on the 'now' God has given him, and doing whatever God brings his way.

"I think these few years God has given me here, I think it's for a reason, to spread the words of God to everybody. I would like to play at least three more years. That's what I'm praying God to give me, so that I can help all the people that I can help."

There's a ministry right now Baerga and Miriam have discovered. They're obeying the Lord's leading and helping other sports families who are going through what they went through before God stepped in.

"Me and my wife, we are helping a lot of married friends. You go on the road trips, you're spending a lot of time out of the house. There's a lot of temptation, a lot of things that can take you away from your family, a lot of divorce. We've got so many friends that used to play with us, they still play with us, they're getting close to divorce, we pray for them. I remember one time we played New York for the World Series, we talked to (our friends), now they are together, going to church. That's what keeps me going every day."

But when he and other Christians on the team are on the road, away from their families, away from their home churches, how do they stay strong and avoid temptation?

"My church in Puerto Rico records me video tapes, so when I go on road trips I bring my VCR and we watch videos and I invite a couple guys to watch the preaching on tape. We try at least twice a week to have a Bible Study with the players, stuff like that.

"We have to stay together. There are so many temptations that can take you away, it can change your life and I don't want that to happen again. ... I got more time with my family, more time to be in church. I talk to my teammates. I've been gaining a couple guys to become Christians too. That's the work God put us here to do and I keep talking about God all the time."

More important, God has put a hunger in Baerga's spirit, and that helps keep the change going in his life, inside and out. "Before, I didn't even like to read. Now I'm reading the Bible and I read Christian books so I stay strong. I keep praying. I want to know more about Jesus Christ."

How does this change in his life impact his attitude toward heading back to the American League Championships and the World Series?

"I feel really good ... I say the one who made this trade was Jesus Christ. I even said to the manager, 'You're the manager. It's over. I think Jesus Christ used your life to do something like that, so I can change.' It's probably the best thing that happened to me."

When Baerga talked with Connection Magazine on September 1, he had only been back in Cleveland a few weeks. He hadn't had time to find a home church -- but he was looking.

Just before Baerga arrived for the interview, two boys, Sam and George Lucarelli were down on the field with their father, Jay, getting autographs on baseballs. When asked about Carlos Baerga their responses included: "He's really good." "I think he's awesome." "It's good to have him back."

Carlos Baerga is back home, bringing others home, and living by his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13. (NIV) "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." C