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Will Startup: mixing purpose with passion

 

Erie Seawolves

Erie Seawolves pitcher Will Startup counts any and every place in life a ministry opportunity. Startup grew up at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, where his dad, Don, is the worship pastor.

ERIE — After pitching two solid innings for the Erie (Pa.) Seawolves on July 17 Will Startup injured his ankle fielding a bunt single.

The injury came just days after a stellar performance for the Western Division in the Eastern League All Star Classic. Startup has experienced some high moments and challenging experiences in his quest to make it to the major leagues, but his faith has sustained him through it all.

In high school Startup played baseball for the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, where his team won state championships his junior and senior years. He was recruited by the Georgia Bulldogs, played in the College World Series as a sophomore, and was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round of the 2005 first-year player draft.

On Feb. 8, 2010 the Baltimore Orioles signed Startup as a minor league free agent, but he was subsequently released by the organization and spent most of last year in independent baseball.

Startup explained, “This past off-season I still had the desire to play professional baseball. I did feel the odds were stacked against me. But I am reminded of the Scripture where God says, ‘Is my hand too short?’

“But in a world of pessimists, optimists, and realists, I fall in the optimistic category. The truth is that it is very hard to get back into affiliated baseball once you leave. I didn’t leave of my own choosing, but I felt in my heart the need to prepare for the upcoming season. I had no agent, but an official list of every general manager, assistant general manager, and farm director in baseball.

“I wrote all 90 people a personal email describing who I was, my situation, and my desire to play. A handful of teams responded and Detroit was one of the teams that wanted to watch me pitch. When it came time for me to throw for Detroit I had about 12 family members and friends there to watch me throw for the scout.

“Nobody made a noise. I felt like I was throwing in a vacuum, but God allowed me to throw one of the best bullpen sessions I have ever thrown. It was soon thereafter they that they called and invited me to spring training.”

At the end of spring training Startup was assigned to the Seawolves. He reports, “I have pitched in snow twice and could not be more thankful. Playing baseball in the snow is better than not playing baseball.”

Startup has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Tigers organization this season. After the first month of the season he complied an ERA of 2.18 and had four saves to his credit.

By mid-July, Startup had 28 strikeouts and only 11 walks and a 4-1 record. Opponents have a paltry .213 batting average against him.

"If you are willing to be used by God He will show up in a big way. He wants to show you His power."

Will Startup

When Startup signs a baseball he puts Luke 9:23 underneath his name. In that verse Luke records the words of Jesus, who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Startup explains, “What that means to me is there are many things that I need to deny for the sake of the cross. I understand the only reason I am playing baseball is because God gave me this ability and He wants me to make Him known to those in my sphere of influence. I am so glad God has made me aware of my purpose and I get to mix it with my passion.

“It has been an amazing journey and I eagerly look forward to what God is going to do. I expect Him to do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine. My focus is preparing my mind, body, and spirit for the road ahead and expecting God to win. I believe that is what He wants from all of us.

“No farmer can reap a harvest if he has not yet prepared for it. If you want to gather the harvest you must prepare for it.”

Startup is leading a Bible study for his teammates on the Seawolves team and realizes that getting some involved takes some “gentle nudging.” He commented, “I have to realize we are all at different stages of our walk with Christ. Some are relatively new converts and some do not have a relationship with Christ yet. I realize the importance of trying to speak to all different stages so that everyone can take something away from our study.

Lauren Startup

Maya, who belongs to the Erie, PA family hosting Will, Lauren, and Copeland Startup, gets a hug from Copeland. A sudden near-death experience for Copeland last year while Will Startup was pitching for a team in an independent league became a watershed moment for the family’s faith. Currently, Will pitches in the Detroit Tigers organization.

“I feel that I have to be connected to God daily so I can be sensitive to what God would have me say. It is challenging to try to communicate to everyone on his specific wavelength. At the same time I have to be careful not to let ‘locker room talk’ drag me down and trap me.

“I have had the wonderful privilege of praying with some teammates spontaneously. God has given me great opportunities here, but I believe God gives all of us great opportunities if we will be sensitive to His leadership. If you are willing to be used by God He will show up in a big way. He wants to show you His power. That is a great thing about having a daily relationship with Him.”

Startup’s solid convictions and strong faith are the products of a Christian home. Will is the son of Don and Allison Startup. Don is the worship pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville. Drew Startup, Will’s brother, is the student pastor at Cartersville First Baptist Church.

The Seawolves’ hurler gratefully admits, “I grew up in a Christian home. I knew from the beginning that our household was different than that of my friends. My parents rightly monitored the things we watched on TV and the video games we played.

“I learned early what Jesus did on the cross for my sins and received a good foundation in Christianity and the stories of the Bible. There were times when I wished I could have played the coolest, newest video games or watched some of the movies that my friends were watching, but now I know that my parents were protecting my heart.

“There are certain things you can’t ‘unsee’ and I feel my parents did a good job of explaining why I wasn’t allowed to put certain things into my brain.

“I absolutely loved my childhood. Of course, I made my share of mistakes and most of them came at the expense of my brothers. I had great role models as a young boy in my dad and older brother. I also had a younger brother with whom I shared a lot of common interests.”

Startup’s Christian heritage has prepared him to be a strong witness in professional baseball and has sustained him amidst the rigors and unexpected turns and twists of the game he loves.

"When I recall that time in our lives it blows me away that God spared our son."

Will Startup

He recalls, “Last season, while my wife, Lauren, and I were in independent baseball, we were being grown in our faith greatly. We were scrapping to survive in independent ball and God was honoring that with a strong Christian team.

“I remember the first Bible study we had in June consisted of 18 guys huddled in a hotel room after midnight. That was the last study I had before receiving news that our son experienced a sudden death event.

“Lauren and I felt we had given everything to God and were actively leaning on the Lord when this catastrophe occurred. Our son, Copeland, was being cared for by Lauren’s mother when he collapsed in her arms. Lauren was in Virginia for a week completing classes for her Master’s Degree. I was in Texas playing baseball.

“Lauren’s mother quickly sprang into action, ordering 911 calls and performing CPR along with two neighbors. Although he survived we spent 40 grueling days in the hospital as our son clung to his life and fought hard to regain many of the abilities he had lost after experiencing about 10 minutes of not breathing.

“When I recall that time in our lives it blows me away that God spared our son. I am reminded that Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ We need God’s strength daily.

“He does not say, ‘Give us our weekly groceries and come back and see me next week. God wants our hearts everyday! What is better than that?”

Copeland had a similar episode in June that involved a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, but is doing well now. Meanwhile his dad is waiting in hopes of a call that will move him from the AA Erie Seawolves to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens and ultimately to the Detroit Tigers.