Baseball, drugs and Easter

Last year, Mollie looked at stories about baseball opening games on Good Friday. This year, we have the sacred and secular traditions colliding again as the Red Sox prepare to take on the Yankees on Easter Sunday. As opening day nears, reporters are profiling athletes--some new, some old.

The Boston Globe offers a dramatic tale of a former baseball star's resurrection from drugs to Jesus. Here's how the story begins:

Bernie Carbo launched the greatest pinch-hit home run in Red Sox history. He admitted he was high on drugs during the 1975 World Series.

"I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some [amphetamines], took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit," Carbo said.

The Sox were four outs from elimination against Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in Game 6 when Carbo came off the bench to smash a three-run home run into the center-field bleachers, tying the score at 6-6. The blast set up Carlton Fisk's arm-waving, 12th-inning walkoff home run for the ages.

"I threw away my career," said Carbo, 62. "If I knew Jesus Christ was my savior at 17, I would have been one heck of a ballplayer, a near Hall of Famer. Instead, I wanted to die."

The reporter sets this up really nicely, allowing Carbo to tell it how he sees it but using a compelling quote to get us to keep reading. It's a heart-warming story, and I'm glad the reporter included some references to the former athlete's religious beliefs.

Carbo, who conducts a fantasy camp each year at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., that combines baseball and gospel, in 1993 founded the Diamond Club Ministry, a Christian evangelical organization. He played for six major league teams in his 12-year career, and he batted .264 with 96 home runs and 358 RBIs in 1,010 games. But he was out of baseball by age 33.

Carbo, who said he hasn't touched alcohol or drugs in 15 years, travels throughout New England every summer preaching at youth camps, 12-step programs, prisons, and churches. He uses the nominal money from his fantasy camp to pay expenses.

The story focuses on how Carbo experienced some thrilling athletic opportunities while falling into some seriously dark times of his life. It reminds me a little bit of Josh Hamilton's story, though that story may take a few more turns. In this case, I wish the story would've provided a few more details about Carbo's ministry, what kind of church he attends now, and what he says when he preaches.

The author spends some time explaining how Carbo's trainer introduced him to speed, setting him on a downward spiral towards more drug abuse. Carbo also spoke of troubles in the home. His father was an adulterer and a batterer, and Carbo told the reporter that an older cousin sexually abused him when he was 9. The story moves on to Carbo's highlights, including his appearance at the World Series, but transitions back to darker times.

While playing in a senior league in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1989-90, Carbo hit rock bottom. His mother had committed suicide, his father died two months later, and his family was disintegrating. He was spending $32,000 a month on drugs, mostly cocaine.

One day, at a hotel across the street from the ballpark, he staggered bleary-eyed to the swimming pool.

"I wanted to drown," he said.

Dalton Jones, a member of the Red Sox 1967 Impossible Dream team, took one look at Carbo and said, "You need Jesus."

"And I prayed to take Jesus into my life," said Carbo.

If I could be a little picky, I wish he would explain this in the same kind of detail he did when Carbo first experienced drugs. Maybe it was a 5-second split decision, but was there more to it? However, it's not easy for reporters to explain a person's conversion experience, so I applaud the writer's effort. We soon find out that Carbo's come-to-Jesus-moment didn't change his drug addiction.

"I ended up in a Tampa hospital," he said. "Five [hundred] beds in a hospital and I'm in a room with a Baptist pastor."

Together they studied the Bible.

Carbo said his life is more fun now. He moved to Alabama and met his wife, Tammy, a school counselor.

"I said God told me you need to be with me, and she looked at me and said, 'God ain't told me nothing yet.' I went out to my car and gave her all my drugs and told her my story. I married her four months later."

It didn't happen overnight, but the resurrection of Bernardo Carbo continues.

Man, it sure seems like it happened overnight. Again, I know there are only so many words you can use, but the bulk of it is spent on his past drug use. More salacious I suppose? That's what Deadspin, Yahoo, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and Boston Globe itself took away from it.

Bringing it full circle, we find out where Carbo's life has taken him to this point.

He managed the Pensacola Pelicans for three seasons, then decided the Lord wanted him doing his ministry full-time.

"To watch people come back to the Lord, it's better than hitting that World Series home run in 1975. Guaranteed. Ten times. Hundreds of times better," he said.

"I don't want anybody going to Hell."

For a story that doesn't explore Carbo's views on Hell whatsoever, this ending feels a little bit flat to me. Nevertheless, I'm glad the reporter was open to exploring this man's faith and how it turned his life around. He connects the dots pretty well and doesn't keep faith on the sidelines. A few more details would have made the piece a home run.

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