My experience in baseball has not been what I expected it to be. I’ve had countless struggles both on and off the field — injuries, trades and other unforeseen circumstances. This past season I found myself on the DL for the second time in two years, missing yet another two to three months of a season, and I found myself really thinking about what my life after baseball will be like.
As I drove home with my dad at the end of last season, we had some really good conversations about my career in baseball. He could tell I was weary and worn out from the past season, as I said to him, “I think I’d still like to play, but I want to be healthy. I want to be in a place where I can compete and feel like an effective player.” I decided to workout hard in the offseason and evaluate things as spring training got closer.
It was around Christmas time when the thoughts resurfaced and I began to take a really honest evaluation of my future. I thought long and hard about my health. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get my shoulder healthy. I don’t know if I’ll need surgery or not. I also realized how isolated I have been for the last few years.
I’m an extremely relational guy; I’m most confident in who God has made me to be when I have deep relationships I can invest in with people around me. I know the enemy wants to trap me into a place where I am feeling isolated, alone and ineffective. But I realized I’ve been away from friends and family for a long time, and though it’s been a joy to sacrifice certain things in order to chase my dreams, I found myself missing something that’s really important to me.
It got to the point where what I was doing within the baseball world was not what I enjoy about the game and realized maybe it’s time to start finding out how I can be used by God, with the talents and passions He’s given me, in other areas. I can still bring glory to His name outside of baseball.
Since making the decision to step away from the game of baseball, I’ve been overwhelmed with peace and confidence. I have a lot more to give towards baseball, but I know that can and will only come when I’m in a place of good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I look forward to investing in the relationships God’s placed me in and will place me in because of my time spent in the game.
I’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from my family and close friends, both inside and outside of baseball, who have been telling me how proud they are of me and how they will always love me and stand by me regardless my profession. Many of them have sacrificed so much to allow me to chase my dream, I felt like I was letting them down by stepping away.
But they continually assure me that they don’t care about my success in the game, they aren’t holding the long hours they spent driving me to tournaments against me. They’re not demanding repayment. Their support and encouragement has been an amazing expression of their unconditional love for me. These are the people that I’ve missed and are the ones I need to surround myself with.
My friends and teammates within the game of baseball get it. They understand the struggle it can be to give your all to something only to have it not turn out the way you dreamed it would. It’s been great to talk to and gain the support of many of the guys I’ve played with over the years. I value my friendships with them a lot and I’m excited to be able to have the freedom to visit and support them at their games around the country this year.
So what’s next for me? Over the next few months I’ll be applying to business school, networking with people here in Houston, and asking a lot of questions about different industries and jobs. I’ll get a second opinion about my shoulder and figure out how to get to a healthy place. And one thing I’m really excited about is having the time and freedom to dive deeper into ministry. Whether that’s meeting with guys one-on-one or hosting a Bible study at my house, I want to use the platform God’s given me, even if it’s not one that the world would deem as successful.
“Identity” has been a common thread in my life over the years. This is something baseball players struggle with often. We’re tempted to find our worth in our job, the money we make, or the fame we receive. But all of these things are peripheral to what’s really important. When I see guys who put their hope solely in the game of baseball, I watch as it never gives them what they hoped to receive. They become crushed. When their time on the field is done, they look at themselves and think they’re not worth as much as they were during their time playing or when they were healthy. Friends, that is a lie from the pit of hell.
I’m finding joy and freedom as I walk away from the game, in which I had experienced high expectations from both internally and externally. I didn’t reach those expectations, but I can walk away knowing my identity is not found in anyone’s expectations, but only in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Knowing this, even in the midst of the most chaotic or disappointing circumstances, I can have joy because it’s all about Christ.
“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” —Philippians 4:13
— Mark Appel, former pitcher
Mark Appel is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions.
View Mark’s Increase Profile here: http://theincreasebaseball.com/author/markappel/
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