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Leah Hickman

Jon Peters at Fireman’s Park in Brenham (Leah Hickman)

Sports

Crushing expectations

A former high-school pitcher who couldn’t seem to lose finally finds lasting victory 

Jon Peters, who in 1989 set the record for the most consecutive wins of any high-school baseball pitcher—51—gave pesky reporters a lot of God talk: “Anytime I felt that the media were getting too close … all I had to do was mention God, and you could see them step back.” Peters regularly thanked God during interviews, because he didn’t want the world to know that he was full of fears and had even attempted suicide.

Thirty years later we spoke with Peters at Fireman’s Park in Brenham, Texas, where he set the record. He talked about his years of alcoholism and his divorce—but also explained how eight years ago he started believing in Jesus for real. Here’s his story of high-school pitching with national news outlets filming, a life crumbling, and hope returning.

IT WAS APRIL 28, 1989. Five thousand people packed the stands inside Fireman’s Park, home of the Brenham Cubs. Outside the right field fence, high schoolers sat in lawn chairs atop a plywood platform rigged up on a forklift. Networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and ESPN waited on top of the first base dugout, ready to watch Jon Peters make baseball history.

The 6-foot-2-inch right-handed pitcher needed one more victory to trump the record of 50 consecutive wins. Peters walked to the mound with his green cap pulled low over his eyes. He wore No. 21 on his dark green baseball jersey—the number of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. 

“Is this going to be the game I lose?” Peters thought as he readied to throw the first pitch. He threw a fastball. Strike. After that, he was in the zone. Baseball was his “happy place.”

By the fifth inning Brenham led 9-0, one run short of the 10-run mercy rule. Peters had done his job from the mound, garnering 12 strikeouts and allowing no hits. With two outs, the talented pitcher stepped into the batter’s box. Peters drove in the winning run, and his team went crazy. Journalists rushed the field with cameras clicking and lights flashing. 

“I didn’t want all this hoopla,” Peters remembers. He had the record, but he was most excited for the nosy reporters to leave. The day before he’d been in a big fight with his girlfriend and tried to commit suicide by swallowing three-fourths of a bottle of Tylenol. He was terrified reporters would find out who he really was. So he mentioned God, and they backed off. 

Peters craved affirmation but knew from his childhood baseball years that sometimes attention brought shame. He remembers when his pants unsnapped as he struck out trying to hit a ball on a tee and fell into the dusty dirt. Try as he might, the chubby Peters couldn’t refasten them. Dejected, he walked back to the dugout amid his teammates’ laughter. 

In high school he sought affirmation from his girlfriend. He was insecure and often told her they should break up and date other people. He hoped she’d say no and tell him how much she loved him. One time she took his suggestion and went on a date with one of his friends. The day before his record-breaking game, Peters found out and attempted suicide. His big win brought them back together but only for a week. That summer Peters turned to alcohol to fuel his waning confidence. 

Even after high school the Brenham community gave Peters some of the affirmation he wanted, but not always for the best. Peters was 19 when a police officer pulled him over for drinking and driving. He was a freshman at Texas A&M, back in Brenham with his roommate, driving 86 miles per hour. The officer checked his driver’s license and asked, “Are you the baseball pitcher?” When Peters said yes, the officer wished him a safe trip and let him go. “I should have been in jail,” says Peters.

Despite the high expectations of people in his hometown, Peters never made it through another full baseball season. At A&M he fought a cycle of arm injuries and recoveries that ended prospects of a professional baseball career. He saw his injured arm as a relief and an excuse to leave baseball. He would never again have to face the possibility of losing a game: “I was relieved because I didn’t have to prove anything.” He hoped this quiet departure from the field would cement his status as the high-school phenom rather than the college failure. But his high-school reputation faded, and his drinking habit escalated.

AT 2:30 A.M. ON MARCH 27, 2010, Peters woke up alone and alive. Newly divorced and living away from his wife and two children, he had tried for 16 hours to drink himself to death. He knew he needed to ask for help, so he started making phone calls. Most went unanswered, but Wes Weatherred, his boss from the insurance agency, picked up. Peters broke down in tears and said he wanted to die. Weatherred sped to his house; listened as Peters spoke of his insecurity, pride, and alcoholism; and promised to help him find a rehab center. Two rehab centers and one relapse later, Peters was free from his addiction.  

In January 2011 a friend from Alcoholics Anonymous invited Peters to a Christian men’s retreat. Although hesitant to accept, Peters remembered his counselor’s advice to “be open, be honest, and be willing.” He went but almost left during a small-group session when he felt judged for his alcoholism and divorce. He stayed because of his counselor’s advice. 

At an evening chapel he heard about human brokenness and the need for a Savior. Peters says that during a visual exercise he closed his eyes and imagined Jesus with open arms telling him to jump. In that moment, he felt he finally understood God’s unconditional love, despite his brokenness: “It was like hope turned on.” 

His ex-wife noticed a change in him. After their daughter’s soccer game, she was frustrated with the coach and asked Peters if she should email him. He told her to think about it and suggested talking to the coach in person. His ex was surprised: “What in the world has come over you?” He was the one who had filed for divorce in 2010 and been too prideful to reconcile. Suddenly, he was recommending humility and restraint. 

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Leah Hickman

Jon Peters at Fireman’s Park in Brenham (Leah Hickman)

Sports

Crushing expectations

A former high-school pitcher who couldn’t seem to lose finally finds lasting victory 

Jon Peters, who in 1989 set the record for the most consecutive wins of any high-school baseball pitcher—51—gave pesky reporters a lot of God talk: “Anytime I felt that the media were getting too close … all I had to do was mention God, and you could see them step back.” Peters regularly thanked God during interviews, because he didn’t want the world to know that he was full of fears and had even attempted suicide.

Thirty years later we spoke with Peters at Fireman’s Park in Brenham, Texas, where he set the record. He talked about his years of alcoholism and his divorce—but also explained how eight years ago he started believing in Jesus for real. Here’s his story of high-school pitching with national news outlets filming, a life crumbling, and hope returning.

IT WAS APRIL 28, 1989. Five thousand people packed the stands inside Fireman’s Park, home of the Brenham Cubs. Outside the right field fence, high schoolers sat in lawn chairs atop a plywood platform rigged up on a forklift. Networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and ESPN waited on top of the first base dugout, ready to watch Jon Peters make baseball history.

The 6-foot-2-inch right-handed pitcher needed one more victory to trump the record of 50 consecutive wins. Peters walked to the mound with his green cap pulled low over his eyes. He wore No. 21 on his dark green baseball jersey—the number of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. 

“Is this going to be the game I lose?” Peters thought as he readied to throw the first pitch. He threw a fastball. Strike. After that, he was in the zone. Baseball was his “happy place.”

By the fifth inning Brenham led 9-0, one run short of the 10-run mercy rule. Peters had done his job from the mound, garnering 12 strikeouts and allowing no hits. With two outs, the talented pitcher stepped into the batter’s box. Peters drove in the winning run, and his team went crazy. Journalists rushed the field with cameras clicking and lights flashing. 

“I didn’t want all this hoopla,” Peters remembers. He had the record, but he was most excited for the nosy reporters to leave. The day before he’d been in a big fight with his girlfriend and tried to commit suicide by swallowing three-fourths of a bottle of Tylenol. He was terrified reporters would find out who he really was. So he mentioned God, and they backed off. 

Peters craved affirmation but knew from his childhood baseball years that sometimes attention brought shame. He remembers when his pants unsnapped as he struck out trying to hit a ball on a tee and fell into the dusty dirt. Try as he might, the chubby Peters couldn’t refasten them. Dejected, he walked back to the dugout amid his teammates’ laughter. 

In high school he sought affirmation from his girlfriend. He was insecure and often told her they should break up and date other people. He hoped she’d say no and tell him how much she loved him. One time she took his suggestion and went on a date with one of his friends. The day before his record-breaking game, Peters found out and attempted suicide. His big win brought them back together but only for a week. That summer Peters turned to alcohol to fuel his waning confidence. 

Even after high school the Brenham community gave Peters some of the affirmation he wanted, but not always for the best. Peters was 19 when a police officer pulled him over for drinking and driving. He was a freshman at Texas A&M, back in Brenham with his roommate, driving 86 miles per hour. The officer checked his driver’s license and asked, “Are you the baseball pitcher?” When Peters said yes, the officer wished him a safe trip and let him go. “I should have been in jail,” says Peters.

Despite the high expectations of people in his hometown, Peters never made it through another full baseball season. At A&M he fought a cycle of arm injuries and recoveries that ended prospects of a professional baseball career. He saw his injured arm as a relief and an excuse to leave baseball. He would never again have to face the possibility of losing a game: “I was relieved because I didn’t have to prove anything.” He hoped this quiet departure from the field would cement his status as the high-school phenom rather than the college failure. But his high-school reputation faded, and his drinking habit escalated.

AT 2:30 A.M. ON MARCH 27, 2010, Peters woke up alone and alive. Newly divorced and living away from his wife and two children, he had tried for 16 hours to drink himself to death. He knew he needed to ask for help, so he started making phone calls. Most went unanswered, but Wes Weatherred, his boss from the insurance agency, picked up. Peters broke down in tears and said he wanted to die. Weatherred sped to his house; listened as Peters spoke of his insecurity, pride, and alcoholism; and promised to help him find a rehab center. Two rehab centers and one relapse later, Peters was free from his addiction.  

In January 2011 a friend from Alcoholics Anonymous invited Peters to a Christian men’s retreat. Although hesitant to accept, Peters remembered his counselor’s advice to “be open, be honest, and be willing.” He went but almost left during a small-group session when he felt judged for his alcoholism and divorce. He stayed because of his counselor’s advice. 

At an evening chapel he heard about human brokenness and the need for a Savior. Peters says that during a visual exercise he closed his eyes and imagined Jesus with open arms telling him to jump. In that moment, he felt he finally understood God’s unconditional love, despite his brokenness: “It was like hope turned on.” 

His ex-wife noticed a change in him. After their daughter’s soccer game, she was frustrated with the coach and asked Peters if she should email him. He told her to think about it and suggested talking to the coach in person. His ex was surprised: “What in the world has come over you?” He was the one who had filed for divorce in 2010 and been too prideful to reconcile. Suddenly, he was recommending humility and restraint. 

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Epic Games via AP

Kyle Giersdorf (Epic Games via AP)

Sports

Gamers in Queens

The Fortnite World Cup shows a video game’s remarkable popularity

A sold-out crowd in the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens roared as Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf lifted the Fortnite World Cup Solo trophy above his head on July 28. Inside the arena, which usually hosts the U.S. Open, purple and blue lights cut through the smoke and confetti filling the air to focus on the 16-year-old as he celebrated winning the first-ever Fortnite World Cup, a tournament for players of the popular Fortnite online game. The $3 million first-place prize was the largest ever awarded at a gaming tournament.

Forty million people had competed for 10 weeks to try to reach the World Cup finals in New York City. The finals lasted three days, awarded $30 million in winnings, and showcased the hottest e-sport right now. Colleges, including Christian ones like Olivet Nazarene, have begun offering e-sport scholarships.

In just two years, Fortnite has become one of the most popular video games in history. As of March 2019, the game had amassed almost 250 million players. It pulls in billions of dollars in revenue, even though it is free to download (developer Epic Games makes money through in-game purchases).

Fortnite’s design appeals broadly across age groups. It differs from other popular shooting games by refraining from showing blood. It combines the appeal of online multiplayer games with virtual storytelling: Players can attend live events like concerts with other players inside the game. The colorful design, thematic costumes, and trendy dances that players can earn for their characters have set Fortnite apart as a brand.

None of these concepts is new to gaming, but Fortnite has expanded their reach. It contains three game modes: Fortnite: Save the World (a post-apocalyptic survival game), Fortnite Creative, and the most popular, Fortnite Battle Royale.

Fortnite Battle Royale, a third-person shooting free-for-all, was the focus of the World Cup. In Battle Royale, 100 starting players build their surroundings and then battle. A purple storm slowly closes in, forcing the players into a smaller and smaller space and killing those who cannot move quickly enough. Those who manage to avoid the storm and take out all of the competition earn a “Victory Royale.” 

As serious competition began on the second day of the finals, anxious parents, gaming teams, and players’ agents filled the stands. Media swarmed the lower levels of the stadium. In place of the usual tennis court, a two-story gaming station towered above the crowd. The walls were covered with video screens, allowing the audience to see each player’s face as he competed.

Cheers and moans rose with each player’s elimination. Matches often came down to the final seconds of play, accompanied by the announcers’ excited commentary. On the last day, Bugha overwhelmed his competition with elimination after elimination. 


Fortnite flak

Kids who score “kills” on Fortnite might consider themselves virtual heroes, but some parents view them as addicts. The enormous popularity of Fortnite has moms, dads, and teachers alike complaining about children and teens playing the game in class (on mobile phones) and skipping sleep in order to battle online after midnight.

Some studies have suggested video games can improve brain function. Others differ. Some players struggle to control their hobby: A LendEDU survey last year found that Fortnite players on average spend six to 10 hours per week on the game, with 35 percent admitting they’d missed school time in order to play.

Parents tell of teens growing angry when made to put their consoles away. Blogger and former teacher Erika Sanzi wrote that she leveraged her kids’ love of Fortnite as motivation: “They’ll race to get their homework done so they can play.”

The appeal is partly social. As they play, Fortnite gamers typically talk to one another on headsets, creating a virtual, after-school meeting place for friends. (The chat function is unfiltered, though, and players may use it to bully or swear at rivals.)

Fortnite’s violence is cartoonish, but game characters, including some sexualized female characters, do shoot one another with realistic guns. Some research has linked violent video games to aggressive behavior in children, but the data is conflicted. China and Japan have large gaming industries but relatively few gun deaths. —Daniel James Devine

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