Teams enter World Series on emotional, spiritual highs
by Andrew Branch
Posted 10/21/14, 08:00 am
San Francisco outfielder Travis Ishikawa doesn’t recall rounding the bases after hitting a three-run, walk-off home run Thursday night that beat the St. Louis Cardinals and sent the Giants to the World Series.
“The next thing I remember was being thrown down with my jersey ripped off, and then, finally, I was just so out of breath from yelling and screaming, and I had to have guys help me stand back up to finish celebrating,” he said following the 6-3 win in Game 5 in the National League Championship Series.
The 31-year-old outfielder played only 62 games this season and considered quitting baseball altogether. “I’m just so thankful that the Lord Jesus Christ let me stay—gave me the perseverance to continue playing,” he managed to stutter to Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews after the game.
Ishikawa became a Christian following an injury-plagued season with the Giants in 2006. After he took a pitch to the face, he met a Christian dental assistant whom he would later marry. “I spent the offseason going to church, listening, and really understanding that Jesus was real and that what He did was the most incredible thing anyone has done in the history of the world,” Ishikawa said in a 2011 interview.
Injuries and slumps forced him to find his worth in God rather than in his game. Through his wife and friends he learned “what it really meant to lift all frustrations up to God and let Him take care of everything.”
Things wouldn’t get easier after that 2011 interview. After becoming a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, Ishikawa bounced between the minor and major leagues for several seasons, which often kept him away from his wife and three children.
Ishikawa decided to give baseball one last shot this season, starting the year with Pittsburgh, but the Pirates cut him in April. The Giants reacquired him but sent him to the minors immediately. “I just remember calling a buddy of mine, halfway through the year, crying,” he said. “I was putting every effort I possibly could into the hitting [and] didn’t look like I could hit a ball on a tee if you put it there.”
But San Francisco gave him a chance in late July in the outfield, a position he had never played and he has stuck with the team ever since.
On Thursday, San Francisco relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt set the stage for Ishikawa’s game-winning homer by getting the Giants out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth. Affeldt was one of Ishikawa’s mentors as a new Christian during long seasons with little time for church fellowship. Ishikawa called Affeldt “one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever known about the Bible.”
Affeldt began his career with the Kansas City Royals, whom the Giants will meet in Game 1 of the World Series tonight. He still has friends in Kansas City. “They were texting me saying there were fireworks going on all over the neighborhood and all that stuff,” Affeldt said after the Royals won the pennant. “The city is definitely excited.”
The Royals are 8-0 in these playoffs, winning gritty games with defense, base stealing, and sacrifice flies. They’re no strangers to big hits, though. Their four home runs in extra innings this October are the most in major league history. Once the laughing stock of the league—their 28-year playoff drought was the longest in the majors—they’re the fan favorite for the Fall Classic after finishing off the Baltimore Orioles in four games.
Kansas City fan and Christian music artist Matthew West recently took “Royals,” the hit song by 17-year-old New Zealand pop star Lorde, and rewrote it into a viral Kansas City baseball anthem. The original song was partly inspired by an old photo of Royals great George Brett. But Lorde’s lyrics “we will never be royals” left much to be desired for West. “Can't have that negativity at a time like this!” West tweeted.
Don’t expect to hear either rendition in San Francisco anytime soon, though. Some Bay Area radio stations have declared their airwaves “‘Royals-free zones” for the series, refusing to play Lorde’s tune.