By Rob Rains
While the first half of his first season with the Cardinals has not gone as well as Paul Goldschmidt would have liked on the field, there is at least one aspect of his move to St. Louis which has gone as expected.
“Every place is different, and that’s something cool that I looked forward to when I was coming over (to St. Louis),” Goldschmidt said. “You get a new perspective and get to meet new people and see that there are things I don’t know, things that other people know.”
Goldschmidt and the Cardinals will open the post-All Star game schedule on Friday night at Busch Stadium, when Goldschmidt will play his first game against the Diamondbacks, the team that drafted him, developed him and brought him to the majors in 2009.
While he was becoming an All-Star in the desert, another important change was occurring in Goldschmidt’s life – the development of his Christian faith.
Goldschmidt will get a chance to talk about his personal journey after Sunday’s game, when he will be the featured speaker at the annual Christian Family Day program.
“I wasn’t a Christian up until about four or five years ago, so I am still pretty young in my faith,” Goldschmidt said. “I grew up going to church but definitely got away from it for a while.”
It was after he arrived in Arizona that Goldschmidt was invited along with his wife Amy to a Bible study in the off-season. They went, more to develop relationships with his teammates and coaches socially, at least in the beginning. Gradually it developed into something more.
“Before as an outsider I was like, ‘Oh man, as a Christian you have to be perfect and all these people think they’re perfect,’” Goldschmidt said. “Let’s be honest, there’s no one on this planet who is perfect and I think we all know that. I started to see that with those guys; we all make mistakes, not just baseball mistakes but real-life mistakes.
“That was one of my big introductions that opened my mind to who Jesus was and is, and what the Bible says. Knowing that now, as much as I am trying to do good and live my life a certain way, I am falling short every day.”
Motivated by his Arizona coaches and teammates such as Turner Ward and Brian Hommel, the Diamondbacks chaplain, Goldschmidt’s curiosity increased. He began to read and study the Bible and was inspired by what he read.
“It was a process; reading the Bible can take a while to understand it,” Goldschmidt said. “People spend their entire lives reading and studying the Bible and don’t have a full understanding, which is what makes the Bible amazing.”
While many people who become Christians after reaching adulthood can point to a specific day or moment when that occurred, that didn’t happen with Goldschmidt.
“I don’t have a day where I went, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said. “It was just like ‘this make sense,’ or ‘this isn’t what I thought before.’ I asked some questions to guys on the team, explored myself, read the Bible. The process definitely was a couple of years. It was like, “OK, I guess I believe that,’ then kind of questioning what does that mean, and reading more. Then you just make a decision if that’s how I want to live my life. It’s still a process. I’m still learning.”
Trying to continue growing his faith was one of the reasons Goldschmidt was excited about joining the Cardinals, who he knew had a good group of Christian players in the clubhouse. He had a past relationship with Matt Carpenter, a former high school and college rival in Texas, and had met Adam Wainwright at a retreat for professional athletes.
“We were shooting ducks one weekend, but we ended up shooting the breeze more than we shot ducks,” Wainwright said.
The two have become closer as teammates, and have now started playing chess on the road, where they also spend a good deal of time talking.
“It’s been a good thing,” Wainwright said. “Anytime you can grow closer with a teammate off the field your team is going to be better for it.”
Wainwright, for one, has watched how Goldschmidt has relied on his faith when the baseball side of his life doesn’t always go as well as he wants.
“He’s just consistent,” Wainwright said. “He’s very level-headed, he handles struggles, the fame of what he does and the success of what he does. He’s very even-keeled.”
For Goldschmidt, much of his first three months in a Cardinals uniform have to be considered disappointing, at least compared to his previous seasons. He has relied on his faith, however, to know his season – and that of his team – can turn around quickly.
He comes into Friday night’s game in as good a position as he has been all season, having at least one hit in his last seven games with six RBIs, one more than he had in the entire month of June. He has hit 16 homers, putting him on a pace for his third consecutive 30-homer season.
Becoming a Christian didn’t make Goldschmidt more successful on the field, but it has helped him deal with some of the tough times.
“I always tried to play the game to the best of my ability as hard as I could,” Goldschmidt said. “Maybe I’ve changed as a human, my views have changed, but I’m playing the game just as hard if not harder. I think sometimes the outside view of Christians is that the guy doesn’t care about baseball, doesn’t care if they win, and I think that’s the farthest thing from the truth.
“That’s the way I’ve been taught. You’re supposed to go out there and compete with everything you have. I believe you should use the gifts that Jesus has given you and use them to glorify Him.
“I enjoy baseball more. I enjoy the competition and try to go out there and have another reason to play and give it your full effort because you are appreciative of what Jesus has given you.”
Goldschmidt learned those lessons early in his life, when he was just beginning to play baseball, and he also realizes now the foundation of many of his beliefs were established by his parents and the way he was raised.
“There’s a lot of lessons my parents taught me that are Biblical truths,” he said. “That was definitely how my parents tried to raise me. It kind of made sense as I read the Bible, maybe not fulling knowing if that’s where it came from. My parents were huge influences on me, the way they raised me and set the example.
“In early childhood there’s things you just had to do at our house and I’m appreciative that they raised me that way.”
Part of those lessons included not putting an over-emphasis on baseball.
“The big picture is where you understand that baseball is not everything in life,” Goldschmidt said, “but I feel like I always kind of had that. I don’t think I ever lived my life to be a baseball player. I was always aware of how tough it was to make it to the big leagues, even when I signed out of college I was like ‘this probably isn’t the smartest move to chase my dream to be a professional ballplayer.’ I always had a backup plan for a job. I love baseball but there’s always been other things in my life like my family that are way more important than baseball.”
Even though he has now achieved great success in the game, and reaped the financial rewards of that success, his attitude hasn’t changed. He is prouder of how his faith has grown and helped him become who he is, on as well as off the field.
“There’s so many failures, that’s why the game is so great,” Goldschmidt said. “You strike out, but you can look at it as a failure or as a learning opportunity. I try to look at it that way every day and every at-bat. … My faith only makes baseball even better. I enjoy the competition and I try to go out there with another reason to play and give my full effort because you are appreciative of what Jesus has given you rather than just being out there for another reason.
“Everybody has a foundation they are trying to live their life by, mine is just the Lord’s word and the Bible and what He said. I’m coming up short with that all the time. I get selfish like everyone. I get angry like everyone. I make decisions for my own good even though I know I shouldn’t.
“I’m always growing. It’s more about the journey and learning from your experiences and making mistakes … Definitely my goal is to make my faith in Jesus the center and most important thing in my life. It only grows the other parts of my life.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports