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 Saturday night’s 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. During 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.