By DAVID MAY
WILLOW PARK – Peppered with anecdotes from his stellar baseball career, former Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg gave witness to his Christian faith and told how it changed his life before a crowd of about 200 at the recent annual Trinity Christian Academy dinner and fundraiser.
Now senior executive vice president of the Rangers and president of the Texas Rangers Foundation, the 62-year-old Sundberg discussed a childhood spent, at times unpleasantly, playing baseball. That was largely because of his father, who Sundberg described as often judgmental, negative and a harsh disciplinarian, rather than supportive and encouraging.
A gifted athlete, Sundberg recalled a youth game in which he hit three home runs. Afterward his father, focused on the negative.
“He said, ‘You know the time you struck out? You dropped your elbow.’ The message was you failed,” Sundberg said. “Forget the home runs.
“I grew up thinking I was not that good and was always falling short of the mark.”
Sundberg said as he developed, one of his approaches as a hitter was to get one hit a game because if he could do that, he would be a successful ballplayer. Baseball is a game in which a hitter who collects a hit in one-third of his at bats – in other words fails to get a hit two-thirds of the time – can become a star with a .333 batting average.
“If I got a hit my first time up, then I would want a hit my second time,” he said. “Then if I got a hit the second time up, I would want to get a hit the third time. I set myself up for failure. … I was not living the dream. Instead, I was miserable and selfish.”
Sundberg – “Sunny” to teammates and fans – became anything but a failure as a college and professional player. The Illinois native attended Iowa University. In 1973 Texas – in just its second season in Arlington after the franchise moved from Washington, D.C. – selected him in the first round of secondary free agent draft. In 1974, Sundberg went from playing Class A ball to being called up to the major league team. In his rookie season he was named a reserve player in the 1974 All-Star Game and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting, won by teammate and first baseman Mike Hargrove.
The next season, 1975, Sundberg recorded 101 assists, becoming the first American League catcher to accomplish that since World War II. Sundberg went on two win six consecutive gold gloves – the honor given a major league player for being the best at his position – from 1976 to 1981. In 1983, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and, after one season there, was traded to Kansas City, where in 1985 he helped lead the Royals to a stunning seven-game World Series win and championship over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sundberg was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1987, then came back to the Rangers where he ended his career after the 1989 season. In his 16-year professional playing career, the three-time All-Star had a career batting average of .248, hit 95 home runs and collected 624 RBIs.
He said as a young man a conservation he had with a pitcher about Christianity changed his life. He said he began to read the Bible, and went to his knees in prayer to invite the Lord into his heart.
“Christianity is about relationships, and loving God first,” he said. “Christ is the foundation.”
He said he learned life is not about perfection – as his father demanded – but about acceptance, love and forgiveness.
“It’s not about perfection,” he said. “My father loved me depending on my performance. Harsh. He was ready to show me if I did something wrong.”
He urged parents to “take off the cap,” at times, to not always be the coach.
“What kids really want is the parent. The loving, caring, nurturing side,” Sundberg said.
He spoke of his son who, thanks to his dad, grew up around and playing baseball. While attending Auburn University, he told his father he wanted to quit baseball.
“He said, ‘I don’t really like baseball. I only did it to be around you,’” Sundberg said.
He said he had no problem with his son’s decision because he knew playing sports and pushing oneself to become a college or professional athlete is an “unhealthy passion.”
One humorous anecdote Sundberg shared was when his son was about 4 years old and lobbed him a question.
“‘Why do you run to first base, then walk to the dugout? Why don’t you stay at first base?’”
In thanking TCA for having him, Sundberg called the event one of his favorite speaking engagements and closed his speech in prayer.
Jim Sundberg speaks at Trinity Christian Academy fundraiser
By DAVID MAY
- Aledo ExtrA
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