When you have a walk-up song titled “Soldado de guerro,” you know you have a fighter. The title is Soldier of War (for Christ). Milwaukee Brewer infielder, Elian Herrera, is such a person. The title is fitting once you know Elian’s story. For Elian, it will be a long, tough fight to get to the top.
Elian, the only son (4 sisters) to Martin Herrera and Gladys Ramirez, started playing Little League baseball at eight years old in his hometown of San Padro de Marcoris, Dominican Republic. It is a town with the reputation for sending Dominican players to the major leagues.
Each year Elian would move up in the baseball program until he reached age 16. At age 16 he moved into a higher level baseball with the hopes of going professional. “After two years of hard training,” shares Elian, “I signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a catcher on the on May 14, 2003. I began my career in the Dominican Summer league.”
Elian spent three summer seasons in the Dominican league with little success and no advancement. It got to the point in 2007 he was considering quitting, or as he shares in a testimonial, “Throw in the Towel.” Luckily, his father suggested he “think carefully.. I don’t want you to look in the mirror and have regrets.. and wished you had done more.” Elian went on to play in the Rookie Night League in Ogden, Utah, for the Dodgers where he did very well.
Elian stayed in the Rookie Night League in Utah in 2008. However, the Dodgers changed his position to the outfield. “I put up good numbers, and they rewarded me with a promotion to high A ball, but I got injured.” Elian became frustrated, having spent six years in Dominican and Rookie Leagues and now getting hurt. He again wanted to step away from baseball. But he decided to fight on.
The 2009 season found Elian starting in middle A ball and moving up to high A ball where he had his best year since signing with the Dodger organization. Elian even started playing some as a utility infielder.
While playing early in the 2009 season in Midland, Michigan, Elian was invited by a friend to dinner with a group of other friends. That evening Elian met his future wife, Staci, and they immediately hit it off. They were married a year later. They have four children, Mason, Kiley, Elli, and Andre, and they reside in Birch Run, Michigan, in the off-season.
2010 was a year which was the beginning for good things (besides getting married) to happen. But it did not start that way. Elian began the season in AA ball, but his performance was not what he had hoped, especially if he wanted to make it to the major leagues.
Elian approached the manager, Carlos Subero, about leaving the team because of the poor season and because he was anxious about providing for his family. As luck would have it (or more accurately, as God’s plan continues to play out), Subero not only talked about baseball, he shared about Jesus and what Jesus did on the Cross for us.
Elian shares, “I always believed in God, but I had not accepted Jesus in my life. I moved from AA to AAA and back. I was having a tough time. One day we were having Baseball Chapel, and there was a rain delay. So chapel went longer than usual. Carlos would share the chapel message in Spanish. What was being shared touched my heart, and I accepted Jesus into my life that day.”
Little did Elian know that the 2011 season would be his defining year when it comes to his faith. He was playing AA ball, and he was having a hard time again. Manager Subero brought Elian into his office to say that Elian needs to step up his game and handle the pressure of the game or they will have to release him.
“That night I went home,” shares Elian, “and I got down on my knees to pray. I tried doing things my way just by working hard but nothing changed. I just prayed from now on I am going to put everything in the Lord’s hands.”
He continues, “If You, Lord, want me to go home, I will go home. Maybe baseball is not for me. But Lord, if You want me to stay here, I am going to stay here for You. I gave total control of my life to God. From that moment, the season changed. I started playing really good and people ask why the difference. I told them I don’t play for me; I play for Him.”
Elian’s game continued to improve. He started 2012 in AAA. And, after 9+ years in the minor leagues, Elian got his call up to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Elian’s debut was May 15, 2012. On November 4, 2013 Elian was claimed on waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers. He began the 2014 season with the Brewer organization.
Milwaukee Brewer team chaplain is Steve Sonderman. He comments, “Elian is a great man of God. His faith is contagious, and he always has a big smile on his face. Elian likes to talk about what the Lord is doing in his life. He wants to grow as a Christian and strengthen his faith.”
Elian’s favorite Scripture verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He shares, “When I was in the minor leagues, there were times I wanted to quit. I was discouraged. I stayed at the same level and did not move up. However, once I accepted Christ into my life and let Him take control, things turned around for me. I play for Him.”
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers catcher, states, “Elian is a guy who is really unashamed of his Christian faith. He has his Bible open in his locker every day, and he has been a good influence on the team in a Christian way.”
Jesus has changed Elian’s life. He explains, “I am so different now that I think more about Jesus. I see what He has done for us and still doing for us. Now I try to see everything the way He would see it. I always ask ‘what would Jesus do’ in each situation. I try to share my life the way He reaches out to us daily.”
“Elian is a man of great integrity,” states Marcus Hanel, Brewer bullpen catcher. “He is reading the Word (the Bible) constantly and not ashamed of doing so. You see a man who is living his faith in a way that will bring glory and honor to our King. It is amazing to see the work that he is doing through God.”
Elian and Staci have done much when it comes to witnessing and sharing the love of Jesus. They do not ask for recognition; they just want to help others. They have taken toys to the Dominican Republic to share for those in need. They have given out school notebooks and school supplies. Elian, Staci and some friends in Michigan are planning to obtain baseball equipment and uniforms for Little League teams. They have reached out to help in Michigan as well.
Teammate, Scooter Gennett, comments, “Elian has been very positive and consistent in his faith. You know he is a Christian by the way he is living it out in his life and in his efforts to help others get closer to God. He is such a giving person.”
Something important to Elian is the T-shirts he shared with all of his Dominican teammates and the teammates in Milwaukee who want it. The picture on the shirt is a figure with arms and hands raised above his head. The shirt says in Spanish “Yo Juego Para Cristo” which says “I play for Christ.” Elian shares, “When I get on base, I say thank you to God as I lift my arms to Him. Someone said to me ‘you play for Milwaukee.’ I said ‘I play for Christ first.’ If I play for Him, I play for 100%. If I did that, then the team gets the best I have.”
By Bruce A. Darnall, Lake Mills, WI
Photos by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers and Bruce Darnall