Welcome back for a two-for-one special here at the “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog! As always, likes and shares on the social media platform of your choosing are greatly appreciated, as are topic suggestions (and other responses) via the Contact page.
For those of you who care about such things, the MLB regular season is winding down, as the postseason is set to begin on October 2 with the first wild card game. As such, it seems fitting that we take a look at the religious backgrounds of a couple of sluggers, Josh Hamilton and Josh Willingham, this week. Both stars have been suggested to me as potential topics by readers, so let’s see where the evidence takes us.
First up is Josh Hamilton (1981-), a former first overall pick and five-time All-Star who achieved his greatest professional success during his tenure with the Texas Rangers from 2008-2012. Hamilton’s power behind the plate was truly remarkable and earned him a number of batting awards during that five-year span, including both American League MVP and ALCS MVP honors in 2010. Sadly, Hamilton’s career was hampered by his on-again, off-again struggles with addiction, though through it all, he used his fame as a platform to share his faith–appearing, for instance, in the “I am Second” series of video Bible studies alongside a number of other prominent athletes and celebrities. (1) Too, Hamilton spoke in 2011 at a benefit for Lubbock Christian University’s baseball program; LCU is affiliated, of course, with Churches of Christ. (2)
Details about Hamilton’s specific church connection are hard to come by, however. Mike Yorkey’s Playing with Purpose: Inside the Lives and Faith of the Major Leagues’ Top Players includes an entire chapter on Hamilton’s career, addiction issues, and faith, even going so far as to give an account of his decision to rededicate himself to his church. However, the book does not list that church, and certain details would seem to indicate that it might not have been a Church of Christ.
At that moment, Josh recommitted his life to Christ. Unlike the first time he prayed to accept Christ, this time he followed through with action. His life began to change as he started reading his Bible, praying, and going to church with his aunt and uncle. (3)
While the passage does not specifically rule out the link between Hamilton and Churches of Christ, the description of Hamilton accepting Christ via prayer would seem to make the connection unlikely, other than the aforementioned speaking engagement at Lubbock Christian.
Our other subject du jour is also a baseball-playing Josh: this time, Josh Willingham (1979-), who spent time with the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, and three other clubs during his decade-plus MLB career. Willingham’s best season came in 2012, the year he won a Silver Slugger Award with the Twins–although one could argue that his 2009 season, in which he hit two grand slams in one game (in back to back innings, no less!) contained his single greatest moment as a professional player.
Willingham was well known for his faith during his time in MLB, and, like Hamilton, he was featured in the previously mentioned Playing with Purpose book. (Hamilton, according to one source, even described Willingham as “a big man, but he’s got a soft side to him and loves the Lord.”) (4)
Our best source, as is so often the case, is an article in the Christian Chronicle–in this instance, a 2010 feature on Willingham which concisely describes him as a “faithful Church of Christ member who attends the Cross Point congregation in Florence, Ala., in the offseason.” (5) I can also add, from my own personal experience, that Willingham graduated from Mars Hill Bible School several years ahead of me; I even took batting lessons from him when he was in high school (or perhaps beginning college) and I was in Little League. Obviously, the baseball career didn’t pan out for me, but that probably had more to do with the student than the teacher.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! In two weeks’ time, the blog will return with a slightly out-of-the-ordinary topic: a famous actress potentially linked with the International Church of Christ, or ICOC, a group which broke away from Churches of Christ in the late 1980s and early 1990s. See you then!
(1) “Josh Hamilton discussion guide,” I am Second, 2013, accessed August 12, 2018, http://www.iamsecond.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Josh_Hamilton_DiscussionGuide.pdf.
(2) Irie Price, “Hamilton talks about faith journey,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, February 15, 2011, accessed August 12, 2018, http://www.lubbockonline.com/faith/2011-02-15/hamilton-talks-about-faith-journey.
(3) Mike Yorkey, Playing with Purpose: Inside the Lives and Faith of the Major Leagues’ Top Players. With Jesse Florea and Joshua Cooley. Ebook, 2012. https://books.google.com/books/about/Playing_with_Purpose_Baseball.html?id=KKvE8CFBDiEC.
(4) Bobby Ross Jr., “Major-league blowup: Baseball star Josh Willingham talks about his first ejection,” Christian Chronicle, May 10, 2011, accessed August 12, 2018, https://christianchronicle.org/major-league-blowup-baseball-star-josh-willingham-talks-about-his-first-ejection/.
(5) Bobby Ross Jr., “Major-leaguer Josh Willingham ‘the real deal,'” Christian Chronicle, May 7, 2010, accessed August 12, 2018, https://christianchronicle.org/major-leaguer-josh-willingham-the-real-deal/.