A ‘Royal’ Southern Baptist who won’t play ball with Satan
By Allen Palmeri
May 11, 2004
|Royals relief pitcher Scott Sullivan, who grew up Southern Baptist in rural Alabama, has been a Christian since age 9.|
KANSAS CITY – Scott Sullivan was reared in Ebenezer Baptist Church in rural Alabama — record attendance 36. The closest town was Carrollton — population 950.
“We call them towns but they’re just spots on the map, not even that,” Sullivan said. “I grew up in communities — just a group of people who lived close to each other.”
Sullivan is about as Southern Baptist as they come.
He received Christ as his personal savior at age 9 thanks to his mother, who was “the driving force behind us being exposed to the Word of God. She was a Sunday School teacher,” he said, reflecting on a path that has led him from the plains of eastern rural Alabama to the bright lights and notoriety of Major League Baseball. Now 33, he is a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals and one of the more stable influences in the clubhouse.
Not surprisingly, he’s still Southern Baptist. He and his wife, Leann, have been attending First Baptist Church, Opelika. The church is located just outside Auburn, Ala., where Scott played college baseball and now lives in the off-season.
“Members here are keeping up with him,” said Steve Scoggins, pastor of First Opelika. “It’s got me reading the box scores for Kansas City. I think the world of him. He’s a humble, godly guy. You would never pick him out as a star athlete. He’s such a family man. I just love Scott and Leann and their family. They’re a good model for people.”
Sullivan was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1993. He spent 10 years in the Reds organization, building a reputation as one of the more durable relief pitchers in baseball. He is the only pitcher in history to lead the major leagues in relief innings pitched for four consecutive seasons (1998-2001), and from 1995-2003, his 665 1/3 relief innings led the majors.
When the Reds traded him to the Chicago White Sox last season, Reds’ players were outraged. Some said it made them sick. They had that much respect for Sullivan as a leader in the clubhouse.
Rather than complain, Sullivan found joy in the move. He befriended a second baseman with the White Sox named Tony Graffanino, who signed with the Royals as a free agent in the off-season. Sullivan did the same and requested a locker next to Graffanino. Now they make quite a pair.
Before an April 28 game against the Texas Rangers, Graffanino shared an extra copy of The Pathway with his brother in Christ. Both men were observed reading it on their locker room stools as they casually conversed.
“I think the brothers here on the team realize that there’s obviously a greater purpose to what we’re doing than just trying to go out there and win ballgames,” Graffanino said. “Winning ballgames is great, but we can glorify God through the struggles also. You just get strength from each other.
“There are guys on other teams that I’ve played with that I’ve been friends with, and then there are guys on teams that I’ve played with that I’ve become brothers with. I think the brothers definitely keep in touch. I haven’t fallen away from keeping in contact with too many of the guys that I’ve bonded with spiritually.”
Sullivan is quick to say he can produce “all the dirt” on Graffanino if you want it. “I sit here and just soak in the wisdom,” Sullivan joked.
On the serious side, both men listen to the Holy Spirit. Sullivan said he has been under conviction the last couple of years to become a stronger leader for his wife of 10 years and their three children. He knows he must select a vibrant home church, and First Opelika is the leading candidate. He said he would like to settle the membership question this off-season.
“They have a tremendous ministry there,” Sullivan said. “The church is really alive. The Holy Spirit is among them. You just get a warm and fuzzy feeling about the spiritual heart condition of that church.”
Scoggins said it’s all about God.
“God is doing a work in our church,” Scoggins said. “I tread carefully when we talk about what God is doing, but it is a refreshing time here at First Baptist.”
The travel demands of Major League Baseball can stretch a Christian and make his walk with Jesus inconsistent. Sullivan said he must battle to walk humbly and steadily with his Lord.
“You’ve got a long road trip, you get up, you’ve got a room by yourself, and you can order room service and spend some time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “Then when you get back home, three children and a wife and extra priorities can somehow cut into that time, and also obligations with your job. I go a couple of days and I’m like, ‘What am I doing? No wonder I’m all cranky. I need to get back into the Word.’”
That’s where friends like Graffanino can help.
“Baseball’s a tough game,” Graffanino said. “There are a lot of ups and downs, but when you know that you can have quality fellowship in the clubhouse, the hotel rooms and away from the field, it kind of puts things back in perspective.”
For Sullivan, the ultimate way he keeps things in perspective is by returning to the many graces of God.
“I enjoy seeking wisdom from the all-incredible Source,” he said.