I’ve never been much of a sports fan, either as a participant or an observer. In school, I was always the last person to be chosen for any sports team; that honor speaks volumes about both my aptitude for sports and my interest level. My enthusiasm for watching sports events has long hovered at a similar level.
Except in the mid-1990s, in Seattle (where we lived at the time), and during the golden years of the Seattle Mariners. Show me someone who didn’t get caught up in Mariners fever during those years and I’ll show you someone who was living in a cave.
There were plenty of heroes to choose from. You remember some of the names. Ken Griffey, Jr. Alex Rodriguez. Randy Johnson. Edgar Martinez. Rich Amaral.
“Whoa,” you say. “Who was that last one? Rich Ama-what?”
That would be Rich Amaral, my personal hero from those almost magical years of Mariners baseball. “How can Amaral possibly be included in the same paragraph with Griffey, ‘A-Rod,’ and the others?” you ask. Let me explain.
Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1983, Rich Amaral spent the next eight-plus years in the minor leagues. Many would have given up the dream of making it to the major leagues. Amaral didn’t. He knew his job: to help whatever team he was playing for win baseball games. He knew his job and he did it, with precious little recognition or fanfare.
Until the Mariners purchased his contract in 1991. Finally, Amaral was a major league rookie. At age 29. After the 1992 season, the Mariners brought in Lou Piniella as their new general manager. Piniella looked at only one thing when evaluating a player: “Can he help me win?” He found out that Rich Amaral could.
Amaral played most of eight seasons for the Mariners and was an integral part of their success in the mid-1990s. He was the ultimate utility player, playing every position for the Mariners but catcher and pitcher. In his 10-year career in the majors, he played at least 40 games at seven different positions. Rich Amaral knew his job — to help win baseball games — and he did it.
So what are the lessons in all of this? I believe there are at least two.
First, Amaral was a “utility player,” which greatly increased his value to the team. “Utility player” is baseball talk for “able to play more than position.” Are you a utility player for your congregation? Our various churches in the Helena area have nearly infinite needs: someone to lead the singing, someone to work with the teenagers, someone to look after the elderly, someone to teach in the nursery, someone to bring in a meal for the family who just lost a loved one, someone to visit those in the hospital or nursing home, etc., etc. Are you willing to try new things, to stretch yourself a bit and feel a little uneasy, to see if there are other ways you could serve God and bless the lives of His children? You don’t have to be a Rich Amaral and play seven different major league positions, but think of the value you could bring to your congregation just by saying, “I could do that!”
Second, Rich Amaral knew what his job was, and he did it without much recognition or fanfare. Do you know what “your job” is in life, what you can do that is uniquely yours and brings real value to those around you? For many of us, that’s a very difficult question to answer. But we need to find that answer.
A humble Basque priest knew what his “job” in life was and then did it. Sharon Tennyson, a registered nurse, observed this good man’s Christ-like love during a 16-hour shift with a gravely ill patient. Her account of his actions appeared in the book “Teach Only Love,” by Gerald Jampolsky:
“The room was quiet…. curtains pulled to reduce sensory stimulation…. the environment is a tense peace, if that is possible. A little Basque priest comes in making his usual rounds. He inquires quietly about my patient’s condition with real concern. I am touched as he walks to the bed rail, holds his hand — palm down — about twelve inches over this man’s head, and begins to pray silently. Minutes later he makes a sweeping low cross over the top part of my patient, and quietly fades out of the room.
“I am aware of tears in my eyes. Why does this touch the heart and soul within me so? This little priest, looking to be in his sixties, salt and pepper hair, no taller than five foot three inches, walks around the hospital comforting the grieving, encouraging the sick and praying for the dying. And here he is today, praying over and loving a sleeping man who doesn’t even know him or know he is there.
“And this is his work in the world.”
Rich Amaral and this good Basque priest each knew their work in this world. And they did it.