11/22/2009 - Florida Marlins; Chris Coghlan Walking the base path of a righteous man
Florida Marlins' Chris Coghlan walking
the base path of a righteous man
The Marlins' Chris Coghlan hit .321 with a .390 on-base percentage while learning how
to lead off and play the outfield for the first time in his professional career.
BY DAN LE BATARD
Do you talk to God in the outfield?
``Yes,'' baseball's best rookie says. ``It isn't praying. It's a conversation. Like you'd have with a friend. It's a relationship.''
How much temptation surrounds you in the major leagues?
``Every single day, it's a battle,'' he says. ``Women. Drugs. Alcohol. So many things grasp
at you. It's easy to get caught up in the things that surround this game.''
You don't drink?
``Maybe a glass of wine or a beer with dinner,'' he says. ``Not to excess.''
How do you handle lust as a single man?
``Praying,'' he says. ``Surrounding myself with other believers. Fellowship.''
``I don't feel comfortable answering that question and opening up doors with my teammates,'' he says.
Chris Coghlan is, all at once, eager to share his beliefs but concerned about how they'll be received. Religion can bring peace, and religion can start wars. Coghlan knows how off-putting some people find vocal faith today, as movements gather to escort God out of school, out of court, out of the Pledge of Allegiance and off the dollar bill.
Sports is America's great escape, the playground sanctuary surrounded by life's tensions, and many fans prefer to visit it without being inconvenienced by having race, politics or religion being brought near the fun and games. ``I'd like to thank the Lord,'' in the interview after a big hit is often followed by rolled eyes, head shakes and the question, ``What? God didn't like the pitcher?'' The only criticism you'll find of University of Florida messiah Tim Tebow, an All-American in every way, is that he is too preachy when he isn't performing circumcisions while on religious missions.
HUMBLE IN BELIEFS
So Coghlan isn't thumping you in the face with a Bible or shoving judgmental holier-than-thou down your throat. He's sharing his truth, which he isn't suggesting needs to be your truth. Again and again, he says, ``I don't think I'm better than anyone else in this world. Please make that clear. Please emphasize that.'' The best one or not, he's still a rookie, finding his voice, and he's just answering questions honestly, which is how he aspires to do everything. Ichiro Suzuki, another Rookie of the Year once, stretches his hamstrings in all that downtime players get between pitches in the outfield; Coghlan recites Scripture.
``It's my food to grow,'' he says. ``I play for Him -- not for me, not for money, not for the game.''
What's wrong with a man being humble in his moment of greatness? Giving his glory to God instead of soaking it all in for himself? Humans have corrupted religion's principles, using it to fly airplanes into buildings, but how can it be wrong for a man to win Rookie of the Year and be filled with such joy that his immediate reaction isn't me-me-me but rather to bow his head in blessed gratitude? Coghlan isn't force-feeding you his faith. He just knows, sure as that glove fits on his hand, that he isn't out in left field all alone.
But, as gentle and polite as he can be, he wants you to understand something else clearly, too: ``When it is time to play, it is time to play,'' he says. In other words, if you are grabbing a possible double-play relay around second base, rest assured that Coghlan and Jesus Christ are coming straight for your knees. And if you throw at one of Coghlan's Marlins teammates, good God, what's coming out of that dugout ain't going to feel very pious.
Coghlan lost his father at 15 and was angry for a long time after that. Interesting, though, in baseball and in attitude, how the most subtle adjustments can make the difference between foul and sweet spot. Coghlan decided one day -- and it was very much a decision -- that he could lament all the lost years without his father or he could celebrate the 15 great ones that he got. And so Dad taught him baseball, and Dad plays with him still. He chooses to share the victories instead of wallow in loss, by God.
THE PROPER PATH
Coghlan won't go into details of how and when he found fulfillment beyond saying that it happened 20 months ago and that ``I always had a good heart and good intentions, but I was selfish. Very selfish. And cocky. Living for me. That led me down bad paths. I was just lost and tired of being empty. I wasn't depressed, just empty. I wasn't suffering. I just knew something was missing. So I submitted myself. Best decision of my life.''
Baseball got a lot easier after that. It isn't easy winning this award -- an award won by the likes of Willie Mays, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols -- when you aren't even in the big leagues for the first month of the season. Isn't easy hitting .321 with a .390 on-base percentage while learning how to lead off and play the outfield for the first time as a converted second baseman. It isn't easy putting up better numbers against the world's best pitchers than you did in the Southern League, the Florida League and the New York-Penn League.
``A blessing,'' Coghlan calls this season.
It's hard to argue.
And why would you?