Before the Game:
The pre-game dugout perspective of a Braves game offers a different and exciting lens from which to watch as preparations get underway for the game of the day. Watching each player come out one by one in their white unstained uniforms, each going for batting practice and warm up sprints, the pressure amidst the team atmosphere is friendly and fun. In the background are thousands of empty seats, and in less than 2 hours the fans would be expecting a big win and kids would be lost in their own dream, hoping to one day take that very same field in perhaps their own Braves uniform. That was certainly the case years ago when one small fan wondered if dreams really do come true.
Dreams Do Come True:
The answer was yes for one particular dreamer, Gwinnett County native Jeff Francoeur.
The dream of watching the Braves as a kid and becoming a Brave as a young adult is now an exciting reality. “This is where I’ve lived all 22 years of my life, I’ve been coming to this stadium and the Fulton County stadium since I was 2 and 3 years old, now playing for family and friends is awesome.”
Having played T-ball since he was three, always in the back of his mind was making it to the big leagues. It was only a few years ago that he was starring in Gwinnett County’s Parkview High School as a key player in not one but two teams. Throughout his junior and senior years, he helped lead the Panthers to four consecutive championships in baseball and football. Team records still show Jeff with season records for the most pass completions for a touchdown and the most interceptions, assisting his team in winning a 5A football title. In addition, Francoeur had a winning home run in two games to win the baseball title as well.
Francoeur was raised as a Christian, attending Sola Fide Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lawrenceville since he can remember. His foundation growing up was solid, as his parents, David and Karen, nurtured his faith from as far back as he can remember. Officially giving his life to Christ in the 10th grade, he still remains close to his Offensive Coordinator who helped mold his faith during his high school years. With his relationship with God the most important thing in his life, he realizes that being an athlete is not what makes him happy or defines who he is. “Baseball defines a part of my life, and it’s a joy, but at the end of the day it’s not what makes me who I am.”
Being a Role Model:
Understanding his position as a role model, he takes seriously the fact that parents and children alike look to him to live out his Christian values in his every day life. Wearing Joshua 1:9 (Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go) on his batting glove, it’s a small way to demonstrate his faith by wearing one of his favorite Scriptures. Francoeur explains that after he was hit with 95 miles per hour fastball in the face in 2004, his mother Karen repeated that verse before and after his surgery. Five weeks later he was back in the game, armed with God’s Word. His hope is that His batting gloves will land in the hands of a young fan that will see that Scripture and realize where his real strength comes from. “You go through a hundred pair of batting gloves a year, so when you are done, you can toss it to a kid.”
At 22 years of age, Jeff’s life experience is sure to change over the years, as he becomes more well known and most likely wealthy, temptation will be something he deals with on a daily basis. Yet his faith is how he plans to remain true to his moral convictions, also remaining focused on God even when he is not performing at his personal best.
A grand slam home run the week prior had just ended an “awful” month for Jeff, offering a chance for him to show his real character when things were not going well. Jeff felt like he was being tested during a trial that seemed to go on for weeks. “I had never had to struggle that bad, and that was a test of faith for me. As I get older, I will have to keep my priorities in order no matter how things are going at the time. You’ve got to know that being a role model comes with this job, and try to steer as many kids in the right direction, no matter what else may be going on in your life.”
Living his dream at 22 years of age, Jeff certainly gives credit to God for blessing him with this opportunity as well as his talent, knowing this platform in his life is for Him to glorify God. When discussing how he might encourage other Christians to live their dreams as well, no matter what the age, his was simple advise, but very true words that can be lived by. “First and foremost, you don’t want to bring home your struggles to your family. When I’m 0 for 4, I don’t want to bring that into my relationship with my girlfriend, I need to leave that at the ballpark. That was especially true for my dad, I wanted him to come home and be my dad, not live out whether he had a bad or good day at work. This world is full of material things, someday we will be in heaven and it will be one big party. We easily focus on worldly things that are temporary, there are better things out there, and we need to focus things that are eternal.”
There seems to be a great deal of expectations in Jeff as he begins his second year as a Brave, and with that pressure Jeff is reminded that performance is key. Being a Delta spokesperson adds to the expectation of his becoming a key figure in the Braves organization for years to come. For Jeff, it’s got to be one game at a time. “I can tell you right now I struggled in April, getting consumed in this game, being consumed with thoughts of trying to be good and thinking ‘OK God help me out.’ It’s always when things are going bad that we cry out to God. You just have to know that the Lord is going to be with you in the good and the bad and He really does always have the best in mind for us.”
A Real Home Run Perspective:
Daily time with God is also important to Jeff’s faith, and his ability to stay disciplined in His character. “It’s great to go to church, it’s great to go to Bible studies, it’s great to go to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) but what people really need to do is build a personal relationship with Christ. For me, that is taking time every morning to set my alarm and make sure the first 30 minutes of the day is built for my quiet time, no matter what else I have to do that day. If I don’t do that, I get going in so many different directions and can easily get lost in every thing else. This makes me feel so alive and more real. I’m not perfect, I do miss sometimes, but that is important to me in living out my faith. The great thing about God is He is always there.”
Summing it all up, Jeff knows what really counts is winning souls for Christ, and even though baseball is an easy platform to get lost in, his heart is right on when it comes to understanding the bottom line in Christianity. “Baseball is great, but if you lose sight of why you are here, you are in for the wrong reason. Seeing a brother come to Christ or a teammate making a turn around is probably the most rewarding thing about playing baseball.”
Reading about such a grounded young man at the young age of 22 can be encouraging in a world of such moral questions. However, as his career unfolds in years to come, the readers of ACF in Atlanta can participate in this young mans career by praying for Him to remain strong in His Faith, and that he would never lose sight of the real Light of his life. We need strong role models, but it’s our place to pray for them that would remain strong in the Lord and protected by His Word.