As a freshman at Arizona State University six years ago, Trevor Williams assumed he would be playing baseball for quite some time. However, a serious injury incurred by one of his teammates in only the third game of the season would quickly change that mindset.
In February of 2011, Cory Hahn broke his neck while sliding headfirst into second base. That ended his hopes of playing professionally, and it made Williams wonder if he was supposed to continue in baseball himself. After increased prayer and Mass attendance, Williams became more certain that baseball was what he should be doing, but this reassurance would come with a different view of the game. Now the San Diego, California, native appreciates baseball, yet with the knowledge that it is not the be-all and end-all of life, and that it will not last forever.
Williams recently spoke of the wisdom gained from challenging times, the Pirates’ 2017 season and the overall impact being Catholic has had on him.
What are your thoughts on this season so far?
We’ve been dealt some tough cards with player suspensions, but we do have a lot of great guys from the minor leagues to fill the holes. Our record isn’t fantastic, but we’ve been competitive almost every game. That’s basically the goal — to do what we can right here and now, instead of looking ahead, since that can get you into trouble. Playing one baseball game today should be more than enough to hold your attention, since baseball can be so unpredictable.
I don’t really have an expansive, overall baseball goal; I just want to be the best I can be on any given day. Whatever day it is, whatever team I’m with, whatever inning I’m in and whatever batter I’m facing, I just want to pitch that one pitch well. Then pitch the next pitch well, and the next one — all one at a time. It’s good to break the game down into small segments like that
Was baseball always your favorite sport?
Baseball was the only sport I was any good at. I couldn’t throw a spiral in football, had a terrible jump shot in basketball, and was an all-around mess in sports outside of baseball. I was chubby, which didn’t help my athletic skills, but I’ve since gotten leaner.
I went to some Chargers games growing up, but to a lot more Padres games, since baseball was my thing as a kid. I think, even after my playing career is over, I’ll still be in baseball in some capacity. I’ve been around the game my whole life, and that will likely continue for years to come.
Did you get to meet Philip Rivers at any of the Chargers games?
I didn’t get to meet him at any games, but I did get to meet him at church. He’s a devout Catholic who has a great philosophy for maintaining balance in life. He knows that faith is first, family second, and football last among those three. That philosophy has helped me in baseball, because I can keep baseball on the field and kind of shut off my mind, as far as the game goes, when I’m with family and/or at church, or anywhere else outside of baseball.
Probably most people think that putting baseball first would make you really great at it, but the exact opposite has happened when I’ve done that. If baseball, or anything less than God, is placed on the highest pedestal, it will dominate us and disrupt our peace. God alone is meant to be most important, so our self-made idols will inevitably disappoint us.
You went to ASU. Did you ever run into Chris Nyman at an alumni game or see his name on a plaque?
I got to meet with a lot of former ASU players, but I don’t remember meeting Chris or seeing his name. ASU has tons of players who were drafted and who made it to a Major League roster; they might even lead all Division I schools in those categories. Who knows, though, maybe I will meet Chris when my son is old enough to start school; I might be ordering home-schooling books from Seton Home Study.
I understand Chris likes the Latin Mass, and I’ve already gotten to go to one. Some friends from ASU told me I had to go, so I did. It was quiet, prayerful and beautiful, but there was no pipe organ, chant, incense or anything like that. I’ll have to go to a “High Mass” to get those things, but I’m glad my friends told me about it. I met a lot of good Catholics at ASU, and I’m still in touch with some of them.
Another Catholic angle to my time at ASU was my major, history. They didn’t have a Church history major in particular, but just a simple glance at the centuries of Catholicism is impressive. The same group has passed along the teachings and practices of Christ for 2,000 years, which can be seen and heard in sacred writings, sacred music, church architecture, the sacraments and the lives of the saints. That rich history shows that our Church had a divine Founder; otherwise, it would not have lasted for as long as it has, nor would it have produced so much good for the world.
The outward results of the Church’s mission are impressive to you.
The history of the Church, along with its hierarchical structure, are two of the most impressive things for me. For any group of people to succeed, it needs to be clear how the people relate to each other. In Christianity, you don’t baptize yourself; someone else does. In baseball, you don’t draft yourself; someone else does. Once you’re baptized into the body of Christ, you’re part of a definite group of believers with plenty of people in authority over you to guide you along the right path.
Not everyone has the same say or sway in the Church, and that’s the case with baseball. Once you’re on a team, there are players in different positions — some starters and backups. Then there are umpires, coaches, managers and owners. Everyone has his own role to play within a clear set of rules, and that makes for order in the game. Without that order, there’s not really a game, and the same can be said of a religion. If it’s not apparent who’s in charge or what’s supposed to be done, how much good can come out of it?
Was there a tough time your faith got you through?
My father was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer in October of 2015. I prayed a continual novena to St. Jude with my wife and her family during that time, and his cancer is now in remission. That’s an example of a good result from a Catholic practice.
Another tough thing occurred only a few games into my collegiate baseball career. One of my teammates at ASU —who was also my roommate and had been a high-school teammate at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana — broke his neck sliding into second base. It was by far the scariest thing I’ve seen on a baseball field. Even though guys do get injured, you just don’t expect to see something as serious as that.
My teammate, whose name is Cory Hahn, was paralyzed from the chest down. That really got me to slow my pace and think about life. I kind of assumed we would both play baseball through college and then in the pros, but I stopped to consider if maybe God wanted me to do something else. When your friend and teammate goes from playing baseball on a Division I team to not even being able to walk, that’s a really tough thing to handle.
I prayed more and went to Mass more. I discerned that I was still supposed to play baseball, but I’m probably doing that now with a lot more gratitude than I otherwise would have. The game is a gift from God, and what I do with it is my gift back to him. It’s kind of like a little kid who gets raw materials from his father and then he makes something with them.
Even though Cory can’t play baseball, he is still involved in the game as the coordinator of pro scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was also a groomsman at my wedding.
What are some of the things about married life that you enjoy most?
It’s a great blessing to bring new lives into the world through the sacrament of marriage. There’s nothing more important, on a natural level, than that. My wife, Jackie, and I are very fortunate to have our healthy and happy 1 1/2-year-old son, Isaac, to interact with.
Babies are cute, but from a father’s point of view, there’s more to do with kids when they can walk, start to talk, hold things and pass them along, etc. Now that Isaac is more interactive, we can play more. He’s already immersed in baseball, and one of his words is “ball,” so he already has part of the lingo down for being an announcer or umpire.
I don’t know if Isaac will be involved in baseball as an adult, but I think I will be, in one form or another, for a long time. The Pirates emphasize that we’ll be former players a lot longer than we will be current players, so we should enjoy playing the game while it lasts. Cory learned that early on, and I’m still trying to keep it in mind so that I don’t take playing too seriously and so that, when the time comes, I’m ready to move into coaching, scouting or something else around the game.
That’s a good attitude to have in life overall, too. As uncomfortable as it might be, we’ll have to adjust to undesired or unexpected things, all the while having the faith to know that everything is sent by God for our eternal good. We’re being perfected here for heaven, so if we have a good attitude with that ultimate goal in mind, then the tough things themselves can be seen positively and with gratitude, because they help us to attain our goal.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.