By Stan Friedman
BALTIMORE, MD (September 21, 2012) – After outfielder Nate McLouth hit a walk-off single that kept the Orioles tied for first place with the Yankees, he was mobbed by his teammates.
Teammate Chris Davis even picked up McLouth, slung him over his shoulders, and carried him through a scrum of Orioles. “He’s a beast,” McLouth said, laughing while recalling the moment. “He threw me around like I was nothing. Like a rag doll.”
But it was a great ride.
The ride has been dizzying – but not in the good kind of way – in recent years for McLouth, who hails from Whitehall, Michigan, where he attended the Evangelical Covenant Church.
McLouth won a Gold Glove award while playing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008, the same year he almost became the hero of the 15-inning All-Star Game when he threw a strike from centerfield to nail Dioner Navarro at the plate and stop the potentially winning run from scoring. Later, it appeared he would swing the National League to victory, but the long shot he hit fell several feet short of going over the wall, and the American League went on to win.
McLouth also won the Roberto Clemente Award that year for “the Pirates player who best exemplifies the standard of excellence achieved by Clemente.” Still the Pirates traded him to the Atlanta Braves the next year where his fielding remained strong, but his hitting fell apart and he was beset by injuries that cost him significant time on the field.
He was sent to the minors, brought back up, and sent down again due to his streaky hitting. His former team, the Pirates, took him back, but cut ties with him this past May.
But the Orioles saw something in him they still liked and offered him a minor league contract in June, and he started in the team’s Norfolk, Virginia, club.
The move was not well received by Orioles fans, who sneered that the team had wasted money on “a washed up” player. Among the comments: “I’d be happy to see Avery come up. I think we’re more likely to see Lew Ford or Nate McLouth, because we have offended the gods,” and, “There is no chance that we will call up Nate McLouth.”
They’re not saying that now.
McLouth is known for his disciplined work habits, and he soon earned a spot in the Orioles lineup. Writers now declare that McLouth has become one of the unlikely reasons the team has notched its first winning season in 17 years and is battling the New York Yankees for first place.
He moved up to hitting in the third spot and now is the team’s lead-off batter. His hitting in September has made him a frequent focus of news highlights reels. There was the squeeze play, the game-winning single, and earlier this week on Monday he belted a lead-off homerun to spark the Orioles to a sweep of the Seattle Mariners to keep pace with the Yankees.
There also are the video clips that show him twice stealing home runs by snagging the ball as it sailed above the fence. And there was the diving catch. Now observers are gushing.
“It’s a pretty big swing from where I’ve been, but you never know what path your career is going to take,” said McLouth, the day after he hit the lead-off homer.
One sportswriter opined, “It’s easier to understand how McLouth was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2008. Who knew that he took a time machine from Norfolk to Baltimore?”
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, but that’s okay because it’s the path my career has taken,” McLouth said. “It’s nice to be ascending again.”
McLouth’s faith helps him keep a healthy perspective through the painful stretches – when he wondered whether he would make it back to “the show” – and the stretches of success.
“If you have baseball on a pedestal, then that stuff can really affect you. It can really affect your joy,” he said. “As a person, it can take a toll on you.”
“That’s really one of the big lessons that I’ve learned,” McLouth said. “When you’re going through struggles at the time, it’s tough to deal with. But when you make it through, you realize how much stronger your faith has become. You learn things, although you might not have known it at the time.”
Keeping a correct perspective is far from easy, however. “It’s really hard because people make such a big deal out of you being in the major leagues. It’s a battle like anything else. Spending time in my Bible and times in prayer helps to reinforce that baseball doesn’t take the wrong place in my life.”
McLouth keeps to his routine of reading his Bible each morning and doing devotionals throughout the day. “There are so many cool Bible apps and devotional apps for the iPad,” he said. McLouth brings the same attitude to maintain the devotional schedule that he has since his days in high school. “You train yourself to do that like anything else you do,” he explained.
“Sometimes discipline involves doing things that might not be on the top of your list at the moment, but I still read my Bible when I wake up,” said McLouth, who added he is currently halfway through “The Essential 100” reading plan.
Just as the interview was concluding, McLouth did something no other public figure with whom I’ve talked has done. He quickly said, “One more thing!” He wanted to be sure to say he had been reading the book Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. “I read that book about two months ago. The minute I finished it, I started to read it again. That book has helped me more than I can put into words.”
McLouth, who moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, after getting married in 2009, said his wife helps keep him grounded. Quoting Proverbs 18:22, he notes, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.”
Part of that goodness is that she is not a rabid baseball fan. “She comes to a few games a year, but we never talk about baseball,” McLouth said. “It’s nice to come home and not talk about work.”
Still, others will continue to talk about him.