There are times when we face trials and uncertainty in our day to day living. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, experienced the kind of highs and lows last season that tested his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nieuwenhuis started the 2015 season on the New York Mets active roster. On May 19th he was ‘designated for assignment,’ meaning he was demoted to the minor league. On May 27th the Mets traded him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and placed on the active roster. Then, on June 10th the Angels designated Kirk for assignment to actually release him. To complete the cycle, on June 13th the New York Mets claimed him and immediately sent him to AAA Las Vegas before promoting him to the Mets active roster which he stayed on all the way through to the World Series.
“2015 was a really significant year for me spiritually in terms of trust with all the challenges I faced,” exclaims Kirk. “Just the whole process of being traded twice, demoted, released, and ending up in the World Series with the team that first traded me, really put things in perspective for me.”
Kirk’s father had always talked to him about having a proper perspective on things that happen. Kirk really did not take it too seriously, always saying, “Thanks, that’s good advice dad.” Kirk adds, “I really didn’t know what it meant by proper perspective. However, last year God put me through some challenges that really put baseball in perspective for me. The Lord taught me that baseball is not really that big in the grand scheme of things.”
Nieuwenhuis learned through his experience with Athletes in Action you live for eternity and you think in terms of an eternal perspective. “When you think about it in those terms, this whole baseball thing is not really that big. We will play baseball a short time; but compared to eternity, it is really tiny. When you put your worth or your identity in Christ, it puts everything in its proper place.” Nieuwenhuis was picked up on waivers on December 23, 2015 by the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2016 season.
Kirk grew up in the church. At a young age he went to church every Sunday, and he made a profession of faith in 8th grade at a Christian Reform Church. Since they moved around often, the family attended different churches at different locations. “It wasn’t until my college sophomore year in 2007 while playing for the Athletes in Action baseball team in Alaska,” states Kirk, “that really changed my life. The Lord really spoke to my heart, and I renewed my commitment to Him. It was a really moving experience for me, and I felt the Lord was leading me in a new direction. That summer I learned a lot about faith and following Christ, and it made a lasting impact on my life.”
The summer experience with AIA in Alaska consisted of an AIA team playing local teams. In the process, the teams would meet before each game where one of the AIA players would share a short Gospel message. Then, one of the AIA players would share their personal testimony or story. The game would be played, and it would end with prayer.
“I felt the experience really put on my heart that witnessing our faith with others cannot be neglected by Christians,” comments Nieuwenhuis. “This last off-season I was able to share my whole 2015 experience of two trades, release, minor league demotions and concluding with the World Series, at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) huddle group near our home in the Seattle area. I shared how I had to trust in the Lord while facing the uncertainty of where will I be going next. It made my faith in Christ stronger when I approached the whole process in the proper perspective. I am not a good public speaker. However, I felt the Lord called me to speak, and I could not ignore it.”
Teammate Chase Anderson shares, “I first met Kirk in spring training (2016), and we became friends when our wives became friends. He has this quiet confidence about himself. Kirk is the same guy every day as he goes about his business, and he treats people with respect. To see what the Lord is doing in his life is pretty cool. It is great to have a guy who played in the spotlight of New York not letting the big city change him. Kirk is such a humble servant of the Lord, a living example of Christ. He is a great Christian teammate and friend.”
Kirk’s parents, Bob and Joan, live in Castle Rock, Colorado. He has a sister, Krista, who will soon make Kirk an uncle for a second time. They also make their home in Castle Rock. Bob was involved in the trucking business which took him and the family from California to Salt Lake City to Southwest Texas to the Denver area.
Kirk went to Denver Christian High School where he played baseball, basketball, and football. He participated in the weekly meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes high school huddle group. Kirk was a star running back who led his team to a state championship (2004), resulting in receiving scholarship offers from the Air Force, Colorado State, and the University of Colorado. Instead, he chose to accept a scholarship to play baseball at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. He helped take his team to back to back NAIA World Series in 2007 and 2008. Kirk was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round of the 2008 major league baseball draft, and he made his major league debut on April 7, 2012.
“I love Job,” states Nieuwenhuis, “Job is a great book in the Bible, and a friend and I went through it this spring. The verse that sticks out to me is Job 1:21: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ That kind of summarizes a lot of things. I also like I John 1:8-10: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar…..’ It is pretty heavy, but it is the essence of our faith. Those two verses are my favorites right now.”
Brewers bullpen pitching coach, Lee Tunnell, shares: “From the first time I saw Kirk in spring training in February (2016), even though we had not talked, you could see a certain aura about him that would tell you he was a Believer. From when we were in chapel together and our conversations, I could describe Kirk as steady and legit (as a Christian).
“My wife, Bethany, and I met in 2011,” exclaims Kirk, “I was living in Pasadena, and one evening I was going out to eat with friends from the Azusa baseball team. I thought it was going to be a bunch of guys, but they brought along a few girls. Bethany was one of them. She caught my eye, and we started dating soon after that night. We got married on November 16, 2013.
The week after Kirk and Bethany got home from their honeymoon they went to the Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) conference. “It was a great conference and a lot of fun,” Kirk comments. “The conference is for professional baseball players. There were outstanding speakers, like Francis Chan and David Platt, with David Crowder leading worship with some of his songs. There were about 250 people, and it was a great time of fellowship with other Believers. There were a variety of seminars on subjects, like Christian marriage and finances, and we had an opportunity to share our personal stories. We also went to PAO in 2014 and plan to go this year.”
After the PAO conference Kirk and Bethany had a couple of months before the 2014 spring training was to begin. They had met in southern California, but both had expressed an interest at looking elsewhere to live. Kirk explains, “We thought we would try Colorado where I was from or the Redding (CA) area where she was from. But we decided to try Seattle for those two months. We went up there and hung out with some friends. We loved it so much we ended up staying.”
What was extraordinary, they had no family in the area, but they found a church that drew them to the area. “We attend Canyon Hills Community Church in Bothell, Washington. The worship and fellowship is wonderful, and we became involved in a great food bank ministry that operates out of our church building. We are a part of that every week. We have a lot of friends in the church, and our church has been a blessing for sure.”
Brewers chaplain, Steve Sonderman, shares, “Kirk is a young man whose roots go deep with Jesus and is released to live for him. He and his wife, Bethany, have become dear friends, and I am so excited about what God is doing in and through them.”
Professional baseball players are no different than anyone else when it comes to struggles. Being a Christian and being in the clubhouse with a room full of guys can be a struggle to fit in. “I think it goes back to proper perspective,” Kirk explains, “One of the biggest struggles is keeping baseball in its proper place. Keeping anything I like to do, whether it’s playing golf in the off-season or whatever, has to be kept in its proper place. Christ always seems to bring things into proper perspective. Being in a relationship with Christ really helps to know what is really important.”
“My walk-up song when I go to bat is ‘Lift Your Head Weary Sinner’ by David Crowder. It just reminds me of the idea of perspective while going up to bat. Beside that it is a song I like.”
Kirk heard a good analogy from a friend regarding having a personal relationship with Christ. He shares, “As baseball players we play catch every day, and it is not like we would forget how to play catch. But we play catch every day anyway. It seems repetitive, but it is something we need to do to be sharp at our craft and stay current. We think about our relationship with Christ and how reading God’s Word and praying and really listening to God in our prayer time is something we need to do every day to stay sharp in our faith and stay current in our relationship with Him. It helps us to gain spiritual insight and proper perspective for our lives.”
Written by Bruce Darnall, Lake Mills, WI
Photos by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers